Lisa Purcell

Metal Diaries: The Ronnie James Dio Story


(Caution: This story has a LOT of background crap before I get to the Ronnie part. I always get carried away!)

In the late, late 70′s  to like ’80-81, I was hot’n’ heavy with my guitar player boyfriend Adrian. We  lived near each other and went to the same high school. We first met when we were about 12, and became friends,because we liked the same music and in turn, had lots in common.By the time we hit  High School, we sometimes skipped school together, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes at the luncheonette or Bagel King,always keeping an eye out for anyone who might rat us out.  Adrian was really nice, and remained friendly with me despite the fact that my younger brothers would often shoot at us with BB guns for sport, – our latch-key style ‘supervision’ sorely lacking. Still, Adrian walked me to my door almost daily. I had a feeling he liked me as a little more than a friend, but was never really sure. I thought of him as purely ‘friend’ material. We lost touch when I moved and went to a different school. Then one night, a couple of years later, as I was getting a chili-dog at Duchess with my friend Tara (we had to have been stoned. Those dogs ruled when one had the munchies!) I heard someone calling my name from the parking lot- and looked over to see this total fox – long dark hair, dressed cool, a rocker- and wondered who he could be as he began walking towards us. ‘Well, well, well- who do we have here?’ I whispered to Tara, eyebrows raised. Once we were face to face. I was still clueless,so I couldn’t believe it when he said ‘Lisa, you dummy! It’s me- Adrian!’ Wtf? I did a double take. It was Adrian all right, but the past two years had been veddy veddy good to him! In fact:Day-am! He told me he had formed a band, and was playing guitar all day, every day-when he wasn’t at work painting houses. My heart went pit-a-frikkin’ pat and that was all she wrote. Tara and I were house-sitting at the time for her brother right around the corner from Duchess, so we invited Adrian over. Tara went out with her boyfriend later that night, and Adrian and I talked till dawn. (I would have slept with him right off, but had my ridiculous little ‘thing’ about that.Not to mention I’d only ‘done it’ a few times at that point, and I’m pretty sure the same went for Adrian) So I waited 24 hours for ‘ moral clearance’, and then Adrian and I- both 17, ‘learned the ropes together’ by staying wrapped up in each for a week, and only coming up for air to go to work, or to eat.  After that, we were a couple for two years.

Our version of ‘decor’

Adrian was the my first musician boyfriend, a complete ‘trial-by-fire’ insight into what it was really like dating a musician from the ground up. Among the surprises: The rehearsing that went on for hours on end-and  which I could not have stood, had I not been a voracious reader.(I  read approximately 1,666. books in two years!) The repetition of the same song or riff over and over and over and over again,not to mention the band in-fighting, and the bitchy girlfriends of the other band mates (not me of coarse, I was a peach!), not to mention the reeling in of completely overblown egos. It was a mini soap opera. On the bright side, Adrian had a great stereo system and about 1,000 record albums, so with a good pair of headphones, I was able to make some of the most rockin’ mix tapes (cassettes) ever! ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ by Rainbow, followed by ‘Dallas 1PM’ by Saxon, ‘Lights Out’ (live!) by UFO, and maybe a little ‘Take Your Whiskey Home’ by VH….The combinations were endless. I considered myself quite the ‘mixologist’. When I played these tapes at the local hangouts, blasting  them out of the back of my inherited maroon and white Grand Prix, strangers would come up to me and say ‘Oh my God! What station do you have on?’ No station, I’d say, just one of my mix-tapes (beaming with pride!) ‘Wow! You should be on the radio!” was a comment I often got and I was, but that’s  another story.

Little Guitars…

After the first year with Adrian, I knew the ropes. I became proficient in things like: Re-wound pick-ups, Flangers,Echo-plex’s, EQ’s, Delays, Distortion boxes and whammy bars, plus the differences between Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, Gibson’s, Dean, Charvells, BC Rich’s  and any other house favorites. I spent a LOT of time at guitar stores with Adrian,every place from Manny’s on 48th Street in New York City to the local Norwalk stores, to those in New Haven, and upstate Connecticut. I’m a decently patient person -if there’s an eventual pay-off- (and I always brought a book- just in case. Nothing like reading ‘I’m With The Band’ while waiting for your boyfriend to finish molesting every guitar at Manny’s!) but sometimes it got to be a real drag. I felt like 50 percent of the time I dated Adrian was spent waiting for Adrian, and I know damn well no guy would wait on a girl like that. Of coarse, I was also buying into the whole ‘he’s gonna be a rockstar’ fantasy, and sort of saw us as a younger version of Joe and Elyssa Perry. (As if!) These were the ‘Ramen Pride’ years, our struggle. The stories we’d someday tell to rock magazines, from our beachside mansion. (haaaaaaaa!) Plus,  our love life was very hot’n’heavy, so I didn’t feel too entirely put upon.

Joe and Elyssa Perry

Anyway, we happened to be at one of these guitar shops, one Saturday morning. It was Fall, the crisp air invigorating, the leaves turning- all of that crap. The guitar store (forgot the name) was in Westport, Conn – across the street from Sam Goody’s record store, and possibly in the exact same space as the old Pink Ice Cream Parlor, from the days of yore. The  store was located on the side of the building, and you had to park in the back. Adrian was there (so he lied) just to buy Dean Markley strings, but it quickly evolved into his picking up dream guitars he couldn’t afford and holding them in his arms like newborn babies -rocking them back and forth, sometimes actually cooing. I think I was reading ‘The Sword Of Shannara’ or some ‘Zeppelin in Wales’ evoking bullshit (it could have been Tolkien, what difference did it make? They all had me thinking about climbing a mossy hill with Robert Plant) when Adrian tapped me on the arm, an alarmed look on his face. ‘Whatttt?’ I said curtly, annoyed to be yanked out of my book trance for anything less than a ‘we’re leaving’.

Ronnie with another local fave- Dee Snider

‘I…I..I just saw Ronnie Dio!’. This got my attention. I quickly scanned the store. Nothing but wannabes in corduroys waving their Dad’s credit cards.You couldn’t even find a long-hair in this neck of the woods. ‘Where?’ I asked. Adrian pointed to the big, glass, floor to ceiling windows, out towards the parking lot. He fanned his left arm in the direction of Main Street. He made sure to safely grip the Les Paul he was ‘testing out’ firmly across his chest. Even in shock, he had his priorities.He looked at me with wide eyes.  ‘He went that way’ he said, trance like. I looked at him suspiciously, like he had a fever, or was just crazy. “Lis- I know it was him! I swear!’. Ok. Time for Mama to take the controls. We’d had a long night, involving more than a few drinks and a possible sunrise sighting. ‘Ok- I’m sure it was Ronnie James Dio!-I laughed- ‘just out shopping in Westport on a Saturday morning’ And then I sweetly added, ‘You know- you look so cute when you’re tired! What’s say we go get get some lunch at John’s Best. Are we done here?’…. ‘Well- I do have one more guitar to try out…” Adrian said. Of coarse you do! I settled back into my book. But I could no longer concentrate, I really did need some food, maybe some coffee. Turns out I’d  enticed myself into wanting lunch. So I couldn’t help it when I faked an excited ‘Oh my God!’ forcing Adrian to  look up from the Les Paul. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘Oh, it’s probably nothing’ I said, pausing for effect- ‘But….I think I just saw Ozzy Osbourne ride by on a beach cruiser! And I’m pretty sure Jimmy Page was riding the handlebars!” Adrian gave me a disgusted look, shook his head, rolled his eyes and went back to his ‘testing’…..A few minutes later I burst out: ‘Oh Jesus! Is that Eddie Van Halen over by the cash register?”followed by….”Holy Crap! I just heard Randy Rhoads was spotted at the bus stop”……Adrian looked at me with slit eyes and lemon lips “I really did see him, y’know!” Whatever. Let’s just hurry up and blow this joint. Get some pizza and chill.

Dio: Dressed for a day of bargain hunting in Westport. (Have you ever tried to find low prices in Westport? Exactly!)

When I tired of the teasing, I went back to my book, tapping my leg a bit with impatience, as Adrian fawned over his latest unattainable guitar of the day. The next thing I knew, he was grabbing my arm, pulling me up out of my seat. ‘C’mon!’ he hissed. I grabbed my purse, and followed suit. We plowed through the front door of the store, and Adrian screeched “SEE? SEE?” and there, walking towards the back lot was Ronnie James frikkin Dio! His hair was very long at the time, halfway down the middle of his back, and he was carrying a rolled up ‘oriental’ rug over his shoulder (watch it, Lin fans- that’s what they called those rugs back then!) He was walking away from us. Adrian called out: ‘RONNIE!’ Ronnie stopped and turned around, as we scooted towards him. As we caught up, I was shocked to see how short he actually was! Adrian and I towered over him. Adrian reached out to help him with the rug. Ronnie let him. “Where’s your car, dude?” Adrian asked, as I was both thrilled! (It’s Ronnie James Dio!) and disappointed (he’s so tiny! How can I fantasize about us living together in a big castle complete with moat and dragon, now that I have this information?) But no mind. “I LOOOVE you!” I burst out, and Ronnie grinned, looking up at me ‘Well, thank you!” he said, ‘that’s very nice of you!’. His voice was ridiculously deep. He led us to his car (it was silver, maybe a Benz?) and popped the trunk. Adrian helped him maneuver the carpet in, and Ronnie commented ‘Yup! Just out rug shopping. Very rock’n’roll!” Ronnie was in Black Sabbath at this time, and Adrian and I began gushing: “I LOOOVE Heaven and Hell! Me too! ‘Neon Knights!”Die Young!’ We loved you in Rainbow, too! Man On The Silver Mountain! Fucking Stargazer! You rock, dude!” I wanted to get on my knees and (watch it there, pal!) hug him-and be eye-level with him when I did! He was sooo nice! He jingled his keys after closing the trunk, and extricated himself from our shameless fawning. ‘Well, kids. Gotta go. See you at the Shows!” He shook both of our hands (“I’m never washing my hands again!” I swore) and we moved safely out of the way of the car as he backed out, then drove away. The minute Ronnie was out of sight, Adrian took me to task. “I TOLD you I saw him! I TOLD YOU!” “Yeah, yeah’ I admitted. “But would you have believed me if I was all like: Ronnie Dio just walked by?” “Probably not” he admitted. “Okay then, let’s hurry up and get your strings. We need get back  and TELL people!” -and boy did we ever!

Heavy Metal Parking Lot- Literally!

Ronnie James Dio recently died of cancer. It was a huge loss of what always seemed like a nice guy, and who was tailor made for heavy metal.You never hear stories about Ronnie being a diva, or of him being rude. He had an amazing voice, and made such great music! He will forever be missed, but never forgotten.He truly is ‘The Man On The Silver Mountain!’



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