Home > Concert Review, Interview > Issue #611.5 Dio Disciples!

Issue #611.5 Dio Disciples!

Mini-Issue #611.5
October 7, 2011

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-Happy Friday! Here’s a double shot of Dio Disciples. Horns up! – Tim

by Tim Wadzinski (tsw512@yahoo.com)

-Interview w/ Craig Goldy & Tim “Ripper” Owens (Dio Disciples)
September 29, 2011

One of the greatest rock voices of all time was silenced on May 16, 2010, when Ronnie James Dio passed away. The rock and metal worlds mourned long and hard, and various tribute songs and projects started popping up almost immediately. But there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Dio Disciples. Although Ronnie was most active with Heaven & Hell in the months leading up to his death, his solo band was still intact. Earlier this year, under the aegis of Ronnie’s wife and manager Wendy, those musicians — guitarist Craig Goldy, bassist Rudy Sarzo, keyboardist Scott Warren, and drummer Simon Wright — decided to recruit not one but two singers — Tim “Ripper” Owens and Toby Jepson — and head out on the road, to celebrate Ronnie’s life by bringing his music to his fans. I was able to speak to Goldy and Owens prior to the Chicago stop on their leg of US dates. I was curious to find out more about how the project coalesced, and what the future holds. Read on…

DETRITUS: What was the spark that originally brought this thing together?

CRAIG GOLDY: It was originally from Wendy. Ronnie passed away — he’s family to us — so when any important family member dies a family will do something at least once or twice a year in remembrance of that person. It’s similar to this. Wendy wanted to do something to keep his music alive, you know? And a lot of people took it upon themselves to start doing Ronnie’s music — I’m sure some of them had a good heart and some of them didn’t — and she wanted to wait a little bit. I can’t speak for her but from my perspective it seemed like she wanted to wait for the dust to settle from all the cockroaches and everything. (laughs) You know, for when it was the proper time for us to actually do it. But it was basically Wendy’s idea.

D: Obviously the core band was Ronnie’s band, but there had to be a vocalist search.

CG: Yes.

D: And for not only one, but two. How did that unfold? Who decided there should be two?

CG: Well in my world it was always Tim. Ronnie’s always believed in Tim, and so did Wendy. In fact Wendy has been managing Ripper for quite a while. So when this started he was automatically the first one we thought of, just because he’s so good. Honestly, I called him up one time — I’d seen something on YouTube — and we were just gonna see how things would seem, you know? I saw him doing some Rainbow and Black Sabbath stuff and said, “Man, this is gonna be so badass.” ‘Cause I get embarrassed when I hear other singers try to sing Ronnie’s music. Because he’s such an amazing vocalist they often embarrass themselves. Tim has just been amazing.

D: So you got a phone call…?

TIM “RIPPER” OWENS: Well we were always talking from the start. Wendy mentioned it to me and said “We’re thinking about doing this. Do you want to do it?” It wasn’t even, you know… they didn’t really even have to ask me. I’d had some summer solo tours lined up, and some other things lined up, and I just emptied out my schedule, period. Being a friend of Ronnie’s, and not only having Wendy be my manager but be a friend of mine, and knowing these guys it was an honor to do this, and to celebrate Ronnie. So there was no doubt I would do it. I was excited. I thought right away that we should look into another singer as well because I didn’t want in *any* way for it to look like — at least from my point of view — someone was trying to replace Ronnie. I think that bringing Toby in makes it more of a celebration. It has more of the spirit of what we’re doing.

D: I admit I haven’t kept up with Toby’s career. I know he was in Little Angels a while back, and didn’t he just produce the latest Saxon album? Is he more behind the scenes now?

TRO: He’s sung for Fastway for years now; he just did the new Fastway record. And yeah, he does a lot of producing and stuff like that now. He’s still out there — the difference is he was bigger in the UK than the US. That’s what’s even more exciting for me when we did the European leg of the tour. I don’t think at that time we were positive what we were gonna do on this US leg — if we were gonna have Toby, or an American, or we were gonna have somebody else — but once we did that leg of the tour, I came back and the first thing I did was call Wendy and say “There’s no question Toby has to do this. He gets it and he’s great to be with.” So even if, over here, he didn’t have as big of a following, it was a no-brainer to me. He’s great and he’s fun to be with.

D: It makes sense that you would be with these guys, due to all the history between you, Wendy, and the guys. But what was the connection with Toby? Were some of you friends with him? Did you admire his work?

TRO: Originally I think it was an agent who was booking the European tour. We were talking about it and he kinda said “You know, I got a guy. You should check into Toby Jepson.” I think that’s what did it.

CG: Yeah. We were considering who we could have as a guest vocalist. And when he found that out, it was exactly as Tim said — he said, “I got a guy for you.” (laughs)

D: The “I got a guy…” thing. (laughs)

CG: “I got a guy!”

TRO: “I got a guy who knows a guy who has a friend who knows a guy…” (laughs)

D: How did you decide what songs to play? I’ve seen set lists from some European shows, and I’m assuming it was the same set every night, where it looked like a “best of” type set. Was there ever an idea to pull out some more atypical songs?

TRO: We did!

CG: Yeah, we did. At first we were gonna go out and do all the songs that we hardly ever did, as a special treat for the fans. But then little by little, as we were putting everything all together, one, and trying to make it special for the fans, two, the more we thought of it it was like what Tim was saying — it’s a celebration of Ronnie’s music. And then Wendy decided it should be more of the classics, especially when we first started, to pay more honor to Ronnie’s music that, you know, unifies everybody — everybody knows these particular songs. And then like Tim had said, this time around we snuck in a couple of songs that we haven’t played before, ever. Depending on how things go — we’re supposed to be doing more in January and February — and I’m sure we’re gonna be slotting in a few more surprises here and there. Especially with YouTube, you don’t want to do the same set every time because people will say, “Why should I go? I can just watch it on YouTube.”

D: Well, that may be true but something like this project is pretty unique…

CG: Very. It’s an experience that any Dio fan should do. You can talk about what it is, and the true heart behind it — we have true and pure intentions and everything — but once you see the crowd actually start to connect with the band, we’re reuniting Ronnie’s fans with his music, live. There comes a special moment every single night where the crowd and the band just kind of unifies and becomes one. It’s a great connection. It’s *such* a great experience. It’s just really beautiful.

D: So what was the process? You get the list of songs but now you have to decide who sings what, or maybe there will be some duets. How did that work?

TRO: It just came together. It was funny ’cause we started with one idea, then we started rehearsing and it started changing. We had to figure out which ones fit the voice, and you know, it really started at the first rehearsal. I mapped it out originally, kinda thought about it, and then when we started rehearsing it changed right away. Sometimes we actually mix it up; we change it up anyways. We even change it up now. I used to sing “Man On The Silver Mountain” by myself, but I said to Toby, “Why don’t you sing this with me?” So we mix it up a lot, but we try to get a game plan and work on it.

D: Craig, I came across a statement you’d made online — I’m not sure how long after Ronnie had passed that you made it — where you basically said he was the reason anyone even knows who you are.

CG: That’s right.

D: It was very heartfelt and profound. I know what you said earlier about this being like a family, and celebrating a lost loved one, but was there ever any reluctance, or fear that this project might not come off well?

CG: Oh, of course. Yeah. It’s just the human factor alone, there’s that “Is this going to be what we hope it can be?” There was plenty of that at first. (laughs)

D: You all seem pretty easygoing, and you’re veterans of this lifestyle. Is this fun, like a normal band would be on tour, or is there more pressure than a regular tour? How is this different?

TRO: I don’t feel any pressure. It’s fun in different ways. Obviously it’s more emotional than any tour that you would do. I mean, on stage every night emotions just pour out of you, really. It’s amazing how they come out every night.

CG: I know.

TRO: Right? We did a whole European tour and then last night I *really* had some emotions. It’s just like, you know, everybody has a sense of humor, everybody gets along, we’re all friends, we’ve known each other for years. Then you get Toby to come in, who’s like somebody who’s known each other for years. The crew, management, Steve [Mignardi] the tour manager, everything… So it’s a mixed thing. Yeah we have fun but on the other hand, you know… These guys — for me to turn around and see these guys doing it — I think it’s probably what makes it even more emotional for me, ’cause you’re standing on stage with Ronnie’s band… What I’d usually do is load my equipment up before Ronnie played and open up for him, you know? (laughs) I’d rather be doing that now. But I think that’s probably even more of the emotions — I tell you, you can just channel him, you can feel him looking down going “You just did that wrong, Tim.” (laughs)

CG: (cracks up)

TRO: You know? Right?

D: Do any of you feel like you have to be perfect every night, to be true to the legacy?

CG: There’s a little bit of that, yeah, but I mean…

TRO: Well I do that for myself anyway.

CG: Exactly.

TRO: I’m my own worst critic. Being perfect, I would want to do that for every show, whether it’s singing at my restaurant or singing at Bob’s Grill, or an arena.

CG: That’s right. Yeah. It’s a little bit of both.

TRO: (pointing to Craig) He *is* perfect every night.

CG: (laughs)

D: You touched on this a bit. I read some of the European reviews and every single one commented on how emotional the whole evening was, from the people outside waiting in line before the show to the looks on your faces while you’re playing. Does that get any easier to deal with?

CG: Not for me. It just switches. One night it might be one song and the next night it might be another song. Or it might be a moment because of memories. It might be because I see someone in the crowd breaking down. It’s just different every night.

TRO: Yeah, you really see it in people’s faces, but it does change with different songs. (pauses to think) I can’t remember which one it was last night but I remember talking between, the song ended… I dunno. I do a lot of staring upwards during the show.

CG: (laughs)

TRO: There’s a lot of pointing to the sky, horns held high…

D: Tim, obviously everyone knows your background now. You followed one legendary singer when you joined Judas Priest. And this is very different — as you said earlier, you are not replacing anyone here — but how does it feel to be walking in another legend’s shoes?

TRO: It’s totally different with this one, due to the fact that I’m not replacing anyone. I sing… You know, my voice fits the songs.

CG: Yes.

TRO: But it’s me singing like myself. So I don’t feel it. Once again I feel more pressure of just singing the songs well, as I want to sing as my own self. You know, listen… there’s only one Ronnie. You can take an army — you can take a choir of singers — and they’re not gonna be Ronnie up on the stage. I’m just there being myself and celebrating. That’s all I want to do. And good night or bad, it’s always from the heart up on stage. That’s all I can do, is get up there and do that.

CG: That’s right.

TRO: But it is *totally* different doing the Judas Priest thing, and now, because I was always going to be in that shadow, of Rob, and fill his shoes. But this is not even the same thing.

D: Has anyone criticized this project?

CG: At first — that’s what ties back in to the earlier questions about worries or pressure about pulling this thing off the way we hoped to. There were a lot of naysayers. There’s always going to be those types of people, who think we’re in it for the wrong reasons. It was nice, though, because afterwards the reviews were really very flattering.

TRO: It stopped it.

CG: A lot of it stopped.

TRO: A lot of it stopped once that first [show happened]… It was nice. ‘Cause they *saw* it.

CG: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. And we would say stuff like that in the interviews sometimes. We’d say “Once you see the looks on our faces…” Because you can read and you can hear but when you see it face-to-face, one-on-one so to speak, then you know whether it’s real or not. You’re always gonna know if it’s real or not. But you have to go and see for yourself. You can’t just sit back on a couch and make judgment calls when you haven’t even experienced it, or met someone, or been there firsthand.

D: This is probably a dumb question but was anybody surprised by the global outpouring when Ronnie passed away? If you were online at all you saw statements coming out every day from every band, every musician. Other performers have passed away — and this year has also been kind of ugly — but I’ve never seen anything like what happened with Ronnie.

CG: Well just because of knowing him, and him being such a nice person, he gave his all to everybody. Every single person he met, he would give his all to that person. And he never stopped. So to someone who didn’t know him it would probably seem quite surprising that he touched so many lives and was such a big deal. But being with him in his band for so many years, and all the guys — Scott, Simon, and Rudy, and everybody that’s ever been in his band and worked with him on a daily basis — had all seen the same thing. We’d see how much time he put in to his fans and how much time he’d put into people. You just don’t forget that kind of thing.

D: Are there any plans to record and release something, maybe to raise money for cancer research? A live DVD or something?

CG: I think we’re getting ready to do something like that.

TRO: We’re in the works, figuring it out. We’re taking it one step at a time, and making sure we do it right. The Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund is something different than Dio Disciples, and if Dio Disciples does do something for that, we’d put it out there saying in big bold letters that we’re doing something. But at this moment it’s a different entity. But we are looking, at the end of this American run, to get a concert on DVD, and doing some interviews. But like I said, you know, we just to make sure we do it right. Even tour-wise we just get one tour at a time and don’t look down the road too far.

D: It just seems like a logical thing to do, given Ronnie’s past record of helping people, with Hear ‘N Aid and other endeavors. It would seem to be another cool way to honor him.

CG: That’s right.

TRO: Wendy really does a great thing with the Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund. It’s really amazing. She has so many big, big, big things coming up — it’s just amazing what she’s doing with that, it really is. This next year there are a lot of big things coming up. I know she’s looking at doing a record the right way, with big celebrity guests and artists, and doing concerts. But those are things she’s doing, the right way. It’s amazing, the money she’s already raised on that, and I can’t imagine how much money she’s going to raise this coming year.

D: You’ve mentioned there are more Dio Disciples tour dates coming. But would you consider recording a studio album?

CG: If it made sense, yes. But it’s just like Ripper was saying — we’re doing everything just as long as it’s right, and we don’t really look too far down the road. You do have to treat this thing a special sort of way because we’re honoring his legacy. So if that’s the next step we take in the natural course of honoring his legacy then that answer would be yes. But we don’t want to do something that looks to people like, “Okay, here we go! Let’s go try to make some money off this thing!” ‘Cause that’s exactly what people would think — that’s what they thought when we first started this. So little by little we want to let it take its natural course and let it grow its natural way. If that’s the course it takes then that’s what we’ll do. It would be great to do something like that — I mean, the talent that’s on this stage with Ripper and Toby, and Rudy Sarzo and Simon Wright and Scott Warren — it would be a shame not to. But like Ripper was saying, at the same time it needs to be done right if it’s gonna be done at all.

D: Of course. I just wondered about the future of this project. Tim, are you still with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band? He’s got a tour coming up. Then there’s a new Charred Walls Of The Damned record coming out.

TRO: Yeah, I’m on that Yngwie tour. And the thing about Charred Walls Of The Damned [with drummer Richard Christy] is it was a very well-received album — the first one got good reviews; the new one comes out in October, and it’s getting great reviews again — but it doesn’t really take up my time because we don’t tour. It’s out on Metal Blade and the album does fairly well, but we both kind of have other things. The Yngwie thing doesn’t really take up time, either; it’s just a little bit of a tour. The things that take up most of my time next year, especially, would be Dio Disciples and then my solo stuff. I’ll probably tour solo most of the time. But this is gonna be the big one for me.

D: The reason I asked about a studio album is because I want to know if there could be something related to Ronnie. There have been rumors that MAGICA 2 was in the works.

CG: Yes, he and I were writing that together.

D: Or would you consider forming a “new” band without any obvious reference to the past?

TRO: What I think would end up happening is, well, obviously you can’t have a band name with the word Dio in there, and I think Disciples is probably already taken…

CG: (laughs)

TRO: Whatever we do, you know, we’ll figure out a name using all the letters from our last names. It will make no sense whatsoever — we’ll make up our own word so someone can’t take the name.

CG: So someone can’t take the name…? (laughs)

D: I heard there was a show canceled on this tour?

CG: Yeah, Minnesota tomorrow night.

TRO: I’m not exactly sure what was going on…

CG: Actually, we’re not getting along but we just decided to make it seem like everything’s cool. (laughs)

TRO: Yep, Chicago is it!

CG: No, we really don’t know why but it wasn’t our call.

TRO: I think Ronnie looked down and said, “Ninth show in a row? Let’s get rid of that!” (laughs)

I think Ronnie would be proud of these guys. Take a look at the various live videos all over YouTube if you still need convincing that they mean it, and are in it for the right reasons. And stay tuned to the Dio Disciples Facebook page for announcements of new tour dates.

Relevant links:


Dio Disciples

Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund

by Tim Wadzinski (tsw512@yahoo.com)

-Dio Disciples/The Last Vegas
House Of Blues, Chicago, IL
September 29, 2011

I never got to see Heaven & Hell so with Ronnie James Dio’s passing last year I figured that, outside of a band covering a song here or there, I’d heard the last of Dio’s music in a live setting. Then came word of the Dio Disciples tribute/celebration project earlier this year — hope was not lost! I thought it was cool Ronnie’s band reconvened to do this, but I admit I was extremely curious about the selection of co-singers Tim “Ripper” Owens and Toby Jepson (Little Angels, Fastway, Gun). I’m a fan of Owens, but I wondered how he’d hold up under the scrutiny of Dio’s ardent followers, and I had no idea how Jepson would fit into the vocal mix with Owens. Could these guys really pull it off? And would anyone be overcome with emotion? So many questions and expectations for this night…

The Last Vegas (40 mins.)

I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of this Chicago band, but they definitely have my attention now. Their fun, rocking nine- or ten-song set was full of brash, catchy, sleazy hard rock in the vein of vintage Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, and Skid Row, with a little Jet-like rock and Motorhead-like speed/punk sprinkled in for good measure. Singer Chad Cherry kept me guessing all night; at first I actually thought he was the Mick Jagger-clone contestant from CBS’ old “Rock Star: INXS” TV show. I mean, wow, this guy had all the slippery swagger of the Stones front man. His vocals were all over the place, in a good way. He’s got (at least) two distinct voices like an Axl Rose or Sebastian Bach, and at times he also sounded a lot like Tesla’s Jeff Keith. And he paid homage to Dio’s demonic mascot Murray by pointing back at the huge DIO banner and saying “That thing used to scare me as a kid!” Any way you slice it, he was a very charismatic and capable front man. Guitarists Adam Arling and Johnny Wator ably traded off on the solos, bassist Danny Smash held everything together, and drummer Nate Arling pounded and kept me amused with his old-school style.

Put it this way — I liked what I saw and heard so much that after The Last Vegas’ set I scurried back to the merch area to pick up their 2009 release WHATEVER GETS YOU OFF (co-produced by the band and heavyweights Nikki Sixx, DJ Ashba, and Marti Frederiksen) and chat briefly with Cherry. I certainly hope to see more of this band, and a new album is due very soon.

Dio Disciples (95 mins.)
intro / Stand Up And Shout / Holy Diver / Don’t Talk To Strangers (w/ short drum solo) / The Shed (Subtle) / Kill The King / Egypt (The Chains Are On) / medley: Catch The Rainbow/Stargazer / The Mob Rules / Discovery (tape) / Magica Theme / Lord Of The Last Day / All The Fools Sailed Away / band intro’s / The Last In Line / Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll / Man On The Silver Mountain / Heaven & Hell // Rainbow In The Dark / We Rock

Here we go… I’d seen the set list from a couple of recent European shows so I thought I knew what I was in for. The curtain parted and there was the band: guitarist Craig Goldy, bassist Rudy Sarzo, keyboardist Scott Warren, and drummer Simon Wright. After a short, taped intro featuring Ronnie’s voice speaking some of his song and album titles poetically, Tim “Ripper” Owens walked out and they broke into a trio of classics from HOLY DIVER. Immediately, I was happily surprised at how easily Owens’ voice melded into these songs. He’s not a mere Dio clone by any stretch of the imagination, and it just *worked*. The opening salvo ended with a brief solo by Wright. Then it got interesting…

I expected Toby Jepson to come out for the next song but instead Owens introduced a “Rainbow classic” that I just did *not* recognize. It started with a tasty solo from Goldy, and then opened up into a stomping groove. I was at a loss and only found out much later that the track was “The Shed (Subtle)” off of 1978’s LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. Deep cut, there, eh? (Okay, so, I just proved I’m not a true Dio Disciple — a Dio Acolyte, perhaps?) Rainbow burner “Kill The King” ensued, and Jepson finally emerged, to duet with Owens. Killer, indeed.

After another nice Goldy spotlight solo, Jepson took center stage for “Catch The Rainbow” and did a great job. His warmer tone was a nice contrast/juxtaposition to Owens’ more metallic bent. He fit in seamlessly, too, with no hints of apprehension at all. In fact, he commanded the stage and got the crowd going even more than they already were. Owens came back out during the medley with “Stargazer.” Of course there was a medley — it *is* a celebration of all things Dio, right?

Owens and the band ripped through the first Black Sabbath tune of the evening, “The Mob Rules.” This classic rocker was always a highlight of Dio’s live set for me, and the Disciples’ rendition held true to form. Next up was a parcel of material from Dio’s concept album, 2000’s MAGICA, complete with intro tape “Discovery” and lush instrumental “Magica Theme,” followed up by the plodding “Lord Of The Last Day,” sung by Jepson. Then came the lone DREAM EVIL track, “All The Fools Sailed Away,” with both singers sharing the load.

After a brief pause to introduce the band members and catch a breath, Jepson sang the mellow intro to “The Last In Line” before Owens took over when it kicked in. Awesome, simply put. These guys were kicking ass and taking names, all in the name of Ronnie. Owens handled “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll,” with its requisite crowd sing-along, before another duet on the final Rainbow song, “Man On The Silver Mountain.” The second and final Sabbath track, the epic “Heaven & Hell,” closed the main part of the set and, curiously, did *not* include the extra section that Ronnie always added in live versions. Afterwards the band left the stage but we knew it wouldn’t be for long…

The guys came back out after a pretty short break. Someone in the front row handed Owens a Budweiser tall boy, with which he promptly proposed a toast to Ronnie, and the crowd happily joined in. He then sang a great version of “Rainbow In The Dark,” before pointing out Ronnie’s widow Wendy in one of the opera boxes overlooking the stage. He asked the crowd to wave, say “Thanks, Wendy!,” and blow her a kiss. And we did. 🙂 The night ended with one more duet, on the smokin’ “We Rock.”

So if you’re keeping score at home, the European set lists I saw included “King Of Rock And Roll,” “Neon Knights,” “Straight Through The Heart,” “Children Of The Sea,” and “Killing The Dragon,” but we got “The Shed (Subtle),” “Kill The King,” “The Mob Rules,” “All The Fools Sailed Away,” and the MAGICA suite. An interesting trade, to be sure.

But more important than dissecting the set list, I just want to say that these guys did a fantastic job of keeping Ronnie’s spirit alive without letting anything overwhelm them. This was still a rock ‘n’ roll party, not a funereal occasion. (Rudy Sarzo’s animated, finger-licking antics put an exclamation point on that. :)) There were numerous acknowledgements of the fallen icon, with metal horns galore and Owens gazing upwards from time to time, but the guys struck an excellent balance between reverence and celebration. I can’t wait to see what’s next in the evolution of this project.

Relevant links:


Dio Disciples

The Last Vegas

*** OUT ***

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