Once Upon a Silver Mountain
A Tribute to Ronnie James Dio
By D’Monic Boris Lee
Once upon a silver mountain, while talking to strangers, crossing a Rainbow in the Dark to enter the Gates of Babylon, I was the Last in Line at the record department of K-Mart (formerly TSS/Tower Records) on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens, New York. Within my grasp, I held a tape I never saw before this evening. The smoking angels on the album followed by the words, “Heaven and Hell,” drew me to the cassette immediately. You see, I was on a mission this day to purchase my first ever Black Sabbath cassette tape (not my first to own, first to purchase with my own cash), and though when I grabbed the album I expected Ozzy on the record (I was still new to the Sabbath library at this time and not aware of who sang on what record), when I got home and played the tape to hear an unfamiliar voice flowing through my speakers, this new divine sound entranced me.
Black Sabbath connected with me on levels I need not explain, and as with many other teens of my generation listening to Metal Music, I owe my mentality surviving those confused years of adolescent adventures to Sabbath. Sabbath fronted by Ozzy touched my darker side and gave me reasonable understanding that I was not the only one to think the world was dark, or see that it disguised the real evil about us as the righteous messages our parents were programmed to believe.
Then the day I was introduced to Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio at the vocal helms, not only was my darker side intrigued and comforted, a new energy flowed through me. My story telling creativity was born. The spark of my imagination to write, open my mind to reading, and finally find strength in feeling cool about digging dragons and mystical things, was set free. I was lost in the voice, the musical energy, and the totality of this transition Sabbath had gone through. To have my favorite band split into two-separate entities was like giving me a second slice of pizza from a fresh pie, but it was just as delicious as the first slice because the cheese was just as good. (Poor analogy, but you can dig it.)
For several days I played the first Sabbath album with DIO over and over in my double cassette boom-box. Each song on the record was a shot of adrenaline to my desire to create. It was a new meditation for my soul, and ignition for my pursuit to want to sing someday. I don’t recall very many things with an intricate detail from that point in my life much anymore, as other things over the years have replaced said memories with more prominent shit, like “Did you pay the fucking phone bill this morning?” or, “Why does she always have to drag out telling me what’s up her ass this time? Can’t she just come out and say, ‘I don’t like how you were paying more attention to breathing than me last night,’” meanwhile I had a severe head-cold and found breathing sort of important. Fellas, you hear me? Anyway, I digress.
With my memories fading, I can sit here and say I recall playing the Heaven and Hell album over and over like I just played it for the first time tonight. It was the only album I was listening to once I tore it out of the cellophane wrapper. Each song hitting a different chord within my mind. The two tracks that received the most rewinds from my cassette player were, “Lonely is the Word,” and the title track to the masterpiece of Sabbath’s rebirth, “Heaven and Hell.” To this day, arguably my favorite Sabbath songs of all time, with “I,” being in the mix, “Falling off the Edge of the World,” and really to save typing time and run-on-sentences, I like everything in the DIO era Sabbath library with the exceptions of “Over and Over,” and “Eating the Cannibals.” (Leave the “That’s not Sabbath, it’s Heaven and Hell,” argument at the door. It’s Sabbath with a marketing separation so fans understood they were not playing anymore Ozzy era tunes while DIO was at the front of the band and finally doing the Dio Years the justice it always deserved.)
Black Sabbath with DIO, or as I call them, “The One True Sabbath,” is my favorite Metal Band of all time. That line-up influenced more than just my creativity. DIO influenced my taste in vocalist, and soon after my discovering him with the Sabs, I would embark on listening to his solo career works, eventually traveling back in time to his Rainbow days. For every time I opened up a new cassette tape with the words Dio on the album cover, or any band he was involved with, I felt that same creative, energetic pulse forge into my mind and soul. Thus I deciphered it was not just Sabbath that was such an influence on my imagination, but it was indeed the Holy Diver himself, DI0.
New York City, 1991. I spent many a night here with my good friends, Joe, Anthony and Brian, playing a game called RIFTS. 95% of the time I was the Game Master, and 100% of the time there was some Black Sabbath, Danzig, Ozzy, Led Zeppelin, or GOOD Metallica, playing on my previously mentioned radio. And of course, there was DI0. This was a time where my imagination was opened to new things like Science-Fiction post-apocalyptic worlds that were created by Magical Rey Lines, transforming all that was known into all that should not be. A perfect accompaniment to being lost in the “DIO-verse,” of Dragons, Kings and Medieval things. I truly enjoyed sitting there with these three guys creating a world I developed from my imagination (with the help of the game itself, but I used what was there in the game to formulate the scenarios my mind came up with) where sword yielding werewolves battled “Juicer” snipers, Cyber Knights (sort of Jedi Knight), Techno-Wizards, Glitter Boys, and Coalition Patrols in the middle of a traveling Vampire Circus, or in dark enchanted forest where a 10,000-year-old dragon reigned supreme. All those game missions playing out to the soundtrack of DIO era Sabbath, is why I ended up being a writer today. DI0’s musical influence on my imagination while creating stories for my friends to walk through themselves, is really the starting point for my fictional works and even this column. Without DI0, I may not have used abandoned church’s as often as I did for scene settings, or would I have had Gargoyles and Demons steadily appear in campaigns. These early days of creation for me have never been lost, and there is not a time that I don’t listen to the Heaven and Hell album and recall a glimpse of those days with Joe, Anthony and Brian, as they chowed down microwaved popcorn and we all took a break to eat Domino’s Pizza (who had opened in our neighborhood) while I conjured up the next destructive Daemon they would face. Great times.
With time passing comes change, and in that change my creative taste moved on from creating a world of Kings and Queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams, to music. I was playing guitar more in the late 90s and again, DIO was there to influence my creative direction. At this point in my life, I was getting good enough on the guitar to learn to play songs “By ear.” Of course the Ozzy era of Sabbath would be my first venture into breaking down riffs by listening to them, but not long after that I followed up with all things DIO. I recall learning the riff to Holy Diver, and thinking how cool it was to play something from his solo works, as I had already learned the main riff to Heaven and Hell, and a decent enough version of Children of the Sea. These were times when random friends gathered and guitars ended up in hands, strings strummed and a “DIO Circle, was spawned. A riff would be played, somebody would start signing, and we were jamming. Funny thing to this is at the time I was playing a Kramer Focus guitar (my favorite guitar to date) and the stripped off paint job looked a great deal like that of guitarist Tracy G, who was DIO’s riff writer at the time.
With time comes change, and not too far down the road from these days of jamming DIO tunes on the guitar or belting out my own renditions of Children of the Sea, Stargazer, or Neon Knights, I found myself writing a book about the New York City Vampyre culture, which I was an active participant within. It was here that I found many a Rock-and-roll Children, and raising horns to DIO. With my writing about this culture, I also started my first trek into fictional writing. The soundtrack to these early fictional works, DIO. The album of greatest writing influence, Magica.
Magica was the album that reunited DIO with his fans in creative totality, as he released what I feel is one of best conceptual records ever made. The stories told by the music of Magica, coupled by DIO’s own 20 minute long Magica narrative at the end of the album, took me back to the days I played RIFTS with Joe, Anthony and Brian, sparking the Mental Magician living within my mind to create again. If there was ever a quintessential DIO album that showcased his career’s creative course in one spell cast serving, Magica is it. There are elements of Rainbow, Sabbath, DIO’s solo work, and even Elf if you listen hard enough. Magica would also be the creative soundtrack to several stories I wrote during college, one of which ended up in my top ten best-thriller finalist of 2020 book, The Shadows of Insanity (which you can buy HERE via my shameless plugging link).
The album released in the year 2000 and ironically, that would be a year that I ended up living in both New York City and Las Vegas, setting me up to see DIO on tour twice that year in both cities. Point of fact, the DIO performance I saw in April 2000 at the House of Blues in Vegas, was the best show I have ever been to. It was enjoyable from the opening song, “Sunset Superman,” to the closing encore, “We Rock,” with DIO interacting with the audience, while he basically played Magica in its entirety, minus one song. Having Jimmy Bain and Craig Goldy back in the band helped the music return to the formula that made DIO famous, and he has gone on record to say the album would not have been possible without the musicians he had working with him in its creation.
Then in December 2020, I would see DIO perform again in New York City at the Roseland Ballroom, along with Doro and Yngwie Malmsteen. Another great gig, where DIO seemed to rush through the song set, but still put on an intense performance of the Magic album, now two songs shy of the entire album, and the edition of “Heaven and Hell” brought into the set instead. During this brief return to New York City where I saw DIO, I began writing the sequel to my previous book, Planet Vampyre, and yes, this was in part to DIO’s music motivating my mind to create, create, create.
DIO and I would cross paths one more time, March 2001, in Springfield, Oregon, at the Hollywood Taxi on North Main Street. DIO played a show in this venue, which was literally the size of the now defunct Loaded on Hollywood Blvd. I met Wendy Dio outside of the bar/venue, as I was one of the first handful of fans to be there, so I could ensure a suitable spot to watch the show from. Wendy was plugging the show, and I asked her, “Who lied to Ronnie to get him to play a gig in this place, which is the size of a living room?” I recall her saying it was being done as a favor to a friend since he had a free night on the tour before heading up to Portland for the next show. I also met Craig Goldy, Jimmy Bain, and Scott Warren. The three of them all came to the bar at one time or another prior to the show to get a drink and talk with fans. I did not know who Scott Warren was then, so when he started talking to me, I thought he was just a random roadie. Cool guy, as were Jimmy and Craig for the hello and goodbyes we had.
Though I never completed that book, I would later go onto take portions of what the book would be, and join that with the previous book, Planet Vampyre, creating a re-edited version of the tome. When would I write and edit this book? In 2009, while listening to the re-united DIO era of Sabbath, under the moniker, Heaven and Hell. The song I played into the grave while working on the editing, “Bible Black.” A song I consider one of DIO’s best songs, and a classic Sabbath tune equal to anything they released on their earlier albums.
The Devil You Know, from The One True Sabbath reunited, reunited me with playing guitar, singing, and as I mentioned writing. To hear new music from a band I never thought was going to do more than the follow up tour they embarked on to support Black Sabbath: The DIO Years, invigorated me just my much as my first listening to “Neon Knights” so many years prior. Unfortunately, The Devil You Know would be the final studio album for DIO.
For a final album, it was classic metal music, with a modern feel. The One True Sabbath did something on this record they never did before… wrote songs that fit the classic traditional metal sound like on their first release, Heaven and Hell, heavier more brooding riffs like those from Dehumanizer, and even put out tunes that had a modern metal mosh to them that the kids of today could bond with their parents with over. “Hey dad, this band is great! You should check ‘em out! I think that DIO dude you like so much is signing!,” kind of bonding.
Over the course of my life, DIO’s music has been the most influential force behind my creativity outside of my imagination. It all started in my garage, running RPG campaigns over 30-years ago as Neon Nights played, which metamorphosed into writing a Top-Ten-Finalist for Best Thriller of 2020, and the column you are reading now. There will always be Kings and Queens, Dragon and mystical things, evil and divine, running through my mind, and a DIO tune subtle heard when they draw near.
Though DIO is gone from this realm, his music left behind a legacy that truly is Magick at its core. The little man with the big voice. Let’s all raise our horns in salute to the Man on the Silver Mountain, and sing along….
“It goes on and on, on and on, it’s….. Heaven and Hell.”
Once upon a silver mountain, the Holy Diver spoke to the Children of the Sea about Fever Dreams, and how One Night in the City, they would find a Lady Starstruck by Voodoo, who would Stand Up and Shout before turning Invisible, leaving them Hungry for Heaven. Only The King of Rock-and-Roll and his Neon Knights could help them solve the Mystery of the Sacred Heart, and set them free of the Night People, to Catch the Rainbow and cross over Strange Highways, passed the Snake Charmer, and into The Temple of the King. There they’d locate the Bible Black, to read the Letters From Earth, and learn it was not Too Late to defeat the Computer God. After All, they had a Time Machine, and with the Push of a button, it would be time to be Killing the Dragon again.