The Dio Disciples, the all-star tribute to the legacy of the late Ronnie James Dio, has begun its latest North American tour this month. The tour began on October 20 in San Luis Obispo, California, it then has an important gig at the ‘Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund’ Awards Gala on Halloween (more information on the Gala here), and ends in Allentown PA on November 20. For this tour, the band consists of vocalists Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest) and Oni Logan (Lynch Mob), guitarist Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria, Rough Cutt), bassist Bjorn Englen (Yngwie Malmsteen), keyboardist Scott Warren (Dio,Heaven & Hell), and drummer Simon Wright (Dio, AC/DC, UFO), and it coincides with the release of the album The Very Beast of Dio Vol. 2, a best of extravaganza which covers Dio’s later albums/material.
The entire experience of a Dio Disciples show is almost like a communal get-together where Dio fans can come and share their stories with one another, and quite often — if they stick around long enough — with the members of the Disciples.
The following is an interview with drummer Simon Wright (above, second-to-last on the right), who played as a member of the band Dio twice, from 1990–91 and 1998–2010. With Dio he has recorded four studio albums (Lock up the Wolves, Magica, Killing the Dragon and Master of the Moon) and two live albums (Evil or Divine – Live In New York City and Holy Diver – Live).
You stated in an interview recently that the Dio Disciples solidified when musicians involved in Dio’s music had the feeling that they “couldn’t let go” after Ronnie’s death. Can you elaborate on that feeling a little bit more?
Simon Wright: After Ronnie passed, it felt like the best thing was to start the band and remember him and his music. It was just a feeling that we all had. We felt like we had to do something. We couldn’t just forget it, you know. We needed to do something because he meant so much to us.
I think fans like tributes like this, too.
Wright: It seems that way. So far we’ve played quite a few shows and the fans seem to like what we’re doing and they seem to appreciate what we’re doing, too. Because we’re doing this out of total respect, remembering our friend.
There’s some criticism that it’s just an opportunity …
Wright: Well, we were expecting that. Not everybody’s gonna like it for some reason or another. But Ronnie was like a father to us, so … the best thing I could say to people who are kind of dubious about what we’re doing is to come and see and check it out for yourself. We’re doing this with total respect and that’s really the bottom line.
Well, even with good deeds people will say something.
Wright: It’s very true. I mean, it is. You can’t please everybody all the time. We know why we’re doing this, you know. And that’s the important thing.
Is it hard to maintain a supergroup of sorts without all the egos getting in the way? How is this different than the day-to-day experience of, say, a traditional band like AC/DC?
Wright: Well, first of all with Dio Disciples there’s absolutely no egos going on. We’re all doing this for Ronnie, so it’s not really about us, it’s about him. The only difficult thing about Dio Disciples is getting everybody together. Everybody’s got different projects. I’ve got different projects going on the side. Tim does stuff. Craig does stuff … and sometimes it’s difficult to get everybody together and actually do this.
Yeah, even (bassist) James LoMenzo was busy running a race on network television (The Amazing Race).
Wright: Yeah (laughs). Unfortunately, he was doing that and he couldn’t be involved with what we’re doing now. So we got a really cool guy, Bjorn Englen. A big fan of Ronnie’s and an amazing bass player. He played with Yngwie Malmsteen and it clicked straight away.
I was surprised that David “Rock” Feinstein of the Rods never became involved. He was in Elf, obviously close to Ronnie. He even recorded something with Ronnie, “The Code,” before Ronnie passed away.
Wright: Well, yeah, Rock is Ronnie’s cousin but he’s kind of busy, too. Rock’s gonna come play with us on Halloween. We’re doing a benefit. But Rock’s always welcome, of course. He’s family.
You also have (guitarist) Rowan Robertson joining the Disciples onstage on October 28, right?
Wright: Yeah, we thought that would be a good idea, to invite Rowan because he’s part of the Dio family, too. He’s gonna play with us in Ventura (California).
Pretty cool for the fans.. It makes it seem very spontaneous.
Wright: Well, yeah, that’s what we’re trying to do. Ronnie surrounded himself with a lot of musicians over the years so we’d like to bring some of them in, at least —when it’s convenient to them, when they’re not working or don’t have a schedule, they can jump on board and get up and play.
In another interview you said that the band might throw in a few curveballs — dig a little deep in Ronnie’s catalog.
Wright: Ronnie left such a massive catalog of great songs. We try to delve into there and try to do stuff that is not the norm. Obviously, we have to do the hits: “Rainbow in the Dark, Heaven and Hell” and “We Rock” and stuff, but we like to try to mix it up. Because we try to think like the fans and we are fans even though we were in his band. You know, it’s a bit of a treat for us to go back and look at his catalog. On the last tour we did, we played a song called “The Shed” which is a Rainbow song [off of 1978's Long Live Rock 'n' Roll]. I don’t think they ever did that live. So we try to think like that and make it as interesting as possible.
What about doing songs by Elf or even the Prophets [other Ronnie James Dio bands]?
Wright: Well, yeah, we thought about that. It’s a little bit of a change in musical style and direction, but at some point I think we’re gonna throw in an Elf song or maybe even some deep Black Sabbath cuts and maybe even a Heaven and Hell song at times.
But even if you chose a song from Elf, or even The Prophets, you can give it a heavy metal tone.
Wright: Yeah. Me and Craig have ideas for a couple Elf songs, so we’re gonna work on that. It’s difficult because there are so many great songs that we’d probably end up doing like a four-hour set, you know (laughs).
What about any unreleased material that Dio was working on?
Wright: Yeah, there were some demos. He started work on Magica II and III. There’s a track on the new release The Beast …Volume 2” called “Electra,” which I think was gonna be on Magica II and III, as well. But it’s a good indication of how the music was gonna turn out. And there are other demos. There were like three or four but they’re just in the demo stage.
Would you ever think of taking those demos and recording?
Wright: Well, I’m not exactly sure what’s gonna happen. It might be something like that but we’ve got to handle it very delicately. It’s got to be done with the utmost respect. We’ll see.
It’d be nice to give the fans something. There are songs the fans should be aware of, hearing the creativity of the artist.
Wright: Well, Ronnie was always very creative. He was always pushing himself to try slightly new things and stuff, trying to be a little diverse. On the demos, if I remember right, it was going in a very cool direction. Unfortunately, Magica II and III won’t be finished. We’ve really got to handle it with care because it’s not a full album and it’s only three or four songs. Wendy (Dio) has got to give us the okay — however she’d want to deal with it.
Perhaps people don’t realize, this is all fully supported by Wendy Dio … so who knows? There might be a recording. You never know.
Wright: Yep, Wendy holds the keys to that, so we’ll just wait and see what she decides to do. You know, Wendy has a lot of material which she’s amassed over the years so there’s some really cool stuff. I know she’s got some good stuff. I think there’ll be a few more live releases and stuff along the way.
For those who haven’t seen Dio Disciples live yet, how do Ripper and Oni share vocals onstage?
Wright: The way of Tim and our other singer Toby Jepson — who unfortunately can’t do this tour because he has commitments in England with production and engineering — some songs they will do individually and some they will sing together or elaborate on parts together. It really works well. They do it with total respect and they ‘re always have Ronnie in mind. And the thing is, they’re all really good friends, which is really strange for singers. Get two singers in the same room, and, you know … (laughs)
The last tour (in 2011) … it seems like you can’t say enough good things about it.
Wright: Yeah, it seemed to go very well. We work well as a unit. And people seem to get what we’re doing. And the crowds have been growing and growing.
Do you get a chance to talk to the fans?
Wright: Oh, we do that all the time. After we finish, we come out and say ‘Hello’ and ‘What’s up?’ to everybody, yeah. It’s cool because they have really heartfelt stories about when they met Ronnie. And they’ll tell us all kinds of stuff, like what he meant to them and everything about when they went to a show: what happened on the way, what happened when they got there, what they thought of the songs, what they thought of Ronnie. It’s just really cool. They’re some great stories.
One thing you hear from fans is that when they met Ronnie, they thought he was one of the nicest guys they’ve met, especially as far as a celebrity.
Wright: It’s true. He had a way of connecting with people and bringing them in. He treated everybody the same. And he had a terrific memory, and I’ve said this before, he’d remember people’s names and what happened when they met the last time. And he’d remember their family, their mom’s names. He had this incredible memory for all that. He was a really special person.
Yeah, and people appreciate that.
Wright: They do. You know what’s weird? Ronnie had so much stuff going on — business-wise, singing-wise, the whole thing — and yet he would always remember people and meet his fans. They were the most important thing to him.
Do you have a Ronnie story that you can share?
Wright: Well, when I first met him in ’85, when I was with AC/DC, we were doing Monsters of Rock. It was one of those bills where it was just a bunch of stellar bands and Ronnie was on the bill. I got to sit down with him afterwards and stuff, and I just found him to be the most smart, funny guy. It was just amazing when I first met him. When you meet him — and a lot of people attest to this — you don’t forget. You always remember your first meeting with him, you know. He was just so cool. He was a great guy.
I think he really would have appreciated the band, Dio Disciples.
Wright: I hope so. That’s all we can do is hope, you know. We have a feeling that he’s kind of proud of what we’re doing but we’ll never know for sure.
Just the kind of guy he was. You imagine he would have loved it.
Wright: I think he would understand what we are doing and I think he’d give it the thumbs up. We’re doing this out of total respect for him. We knew him so well. We kind of know what we’re doing (laughs).