A Tribute to Ronnie James Dio from Vinny Appice

Famed drummer also unveils new Kill Devil Hill project and reveals what’s in his memorabilia collection

By Peter Lindblad

Tributes for Ronnie James Dio have been pouring in since the iconic heavy metal singer’s death back in May. The sense of loss throughout the metal community is still palpable, and even now, one of his closest friends and musical conspirators can hardly believe he’s gone.

“He was a leader, a father figure, a brother, musician … it was like he was going to live forever,” said Vinny Appice, who served as drummer for Black Sabbath during the Dio years and subsequently followed Dio when the singer left Sabbath in the acrimonious aftermath of Live Evil to form his own project, the hugely successful fantasy-metal outfit Dio.

Sabbath was in a state of flux when Vinny Appice joined the band in 1980. One year earlier, following the unceremonious dismissal of Ozzy Osbourne, Dio was plugged in to replace the legendary wild man as the band’s singer. Beset with personal problems of his own, bassist Geezer Butler exiled himself from Sabbath during the lion’s share of the writing sessions for Heaven and Hell, the band’s first album with Dio, with Geoff Nicholls of Quartz at the ready just in case Butler wasn’t coming back – he would eventually become Sabbath’s keyboardist, however. And then there’s the fuzzy evidence of the involvement of former Elf and Rainbow bassist Craig Gruber in Sabbath during the whole Heaven and Hell period; he left when Butler returned.

As for Appice, he had to fill the shoes of none other than Bill Ward as Sabbath’s drummer in the middle of the band’s tour backing Heaven and Hell. He had to learn the songs on the fly as Sabbath was preparing for a huge outdoor show in Hawaii. As time went on, Appice and Dio grew close, understandable considering their similar East Coast backgrounds.

“We’d always say, ‘I’ll kick you in the ass.’ He’d kick me in the ass onstage. We had the same New York attitude,” said Appice.

On the other hand, Butler and Iommi were British, born and bred. And when arguments erupted over the making of Live Evil, it was Iommi and Butler on one side and the Americans, Appice and Dio, on the other. So, when Dio left Sabbath, it was only natural that Appice would go with him, even though, according to Appice, he didn’t really take sides in the dispute and had gotten along with everybody in Sabbath.
In Dio, Appice saw something special, and it wasn’t just that magnificent voice.

“First of all, it’s just the way he sang, you know,” said Appice, when asked what it was that made Dio such a unique talent. “I’ve never been around anybody who sang like that – just soul and heart, you know. The way he sounded, the sound of his voice, and then he was just totally into his music – totally loved it. And it was just nice to be around somebody so strong. He was a great leader, and just an incredible voice. It made you feel secure. You know, if I stay with this guy, nothing’s going to happen. That’s why his death was a shock. Man, this is one of the strongest persons I’ve ever met in my life. He was a leader, a father figure, a brother, musician … it was like he was going to live forever. Or if he got sick, he’ll beat it. And that’s why it’s a shock. Man, he went down. He had so many qualities. It was so easy to be drawn to him.”

As so many people were, be they fans or fellow musicians who idolized Dio. Not surprisingly, Appice has wonderful memories of his days with Sabbath, Dio and Heaven and Hell. And, as expected, over the years, Appice has accumulated many prized mementos from those halcyon days.

“Obviously, I got gold and platinum records,” said Appice. “And then I got different things that were given to the band, one from Madison Square Garden in 1980 [that marked how the band] sold a million dollars worth of tickets, cool stuff. Years ago, you used to get a lot of swag; there were Black Sabbath bags that only the band had, Black Sabbath robes … it was like that kind of stuff, some old posters, not a lot. And Dio, I got a lot of the same kind of stuff, plaques and different things like that. There are some pictures, but that’s about it. Not a whole bunch of stuff.”

What are the pieces that mean the most to him?
“Well, all the gold records,” says Appice. “So, all the gold records and platinum records; those are priceless."

As has been reported recently, Appice has a new project going called Kill Devil Hill with former Pantera bassist Rex Brown “ … and two unknown guys – Dewey Bragg on vocals and Mark Zavon on guitar. And this stuff kicks butt. Right now it’s called Kill Devil Hill, but we might change the name, so we’re working on that right at this moment and it’ll be out next year. So there’s a lot more stuff coming along.”

And Appice isn’t closing the door on his days with Sabbath’s survivors. “We might continue. Who knows?”


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