What kind of vocal training or exercises do you do?
“No to both.”
No to both . . . ?
“I’ve never had vocal training and I never do exercises.”
How do you decide in your mind how you’re going to tackle a specific verse? You have a lot of dynamics, I think, in your singing.
“It’s a matter of what you’re singing. I mean, certainly in the rock & roll world, you have to understand what you’re singing. Luckily for me, I write most of my own material. If it’s important to you, you’ll try to portray it, or sing it in a way that people will feel the emotion from it. So it’s just a matter of understanding what you’re singing, and dealing with it as a spoken word, not just a singing part. Too many people get caught up in their own voices.”
I think that’s probably one of your strong points, is you’ve consistently seemed to have done that throughout your career, to have made the song better.
“Well, you know, it’s a matter of going and always making sure that I did that to something early on, that I always made sure that I did. The words are very important to me, they have something to say. They weren’t just a series of notes to me, to show off my power, or show vibrato somewhere. It’s like reading a book. You know, you’re telling a story, and if you can’t do it in a way that makes the audience interested, then they’re probably not going to be listening to it.”
Yeah. Well, how would you describe the differences and similarities between Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Vivian Campbell and Tracy G. — and forgive me if I left out a guitarist or two?
“Uh, well, a lot of it is like comparing apples to oranges. I mean, you really can’t compare Tony to Richie at all. They’re completely different players. Tony is very interested in being a rhythm guitar player. I think he feels that is most important, and totally agree with him. Richie plays with one finger on the E string, and that’s his rhythm playing, and I’ve seen drummers and keyboard players do that. So, it’s hard to compare the two. Richie is obviously the much better soloist than Tony. Richie has got great technique, incredible technique, wonderful feel, great touch. Tony has all of that as a rhythm player. The riffs that he comes up with are phenomenal. He has so many of ’em. Vivian was a completely different player than the two of them. Vivian certainly had a lot of speed — and speed was a big thing at that time anyway. Plus, he also had a lot of passion in his playing, and his solos were much more intricate than most, I’d say, but with a lot of flash. He was a good rhythm player, but more of a poppy player. The kind of songs he was writing were rooted and very firm, and wouldn’t lead you astray too often. He was a great player. And then Tracy does all those things that Tony could do as a rhythm player. He knows the sound, and loves the sound, just huge. He’s got riffs coming out of his ears like Tony did. But he also was able to play with the passion of Vivian and Richie. He doesn’t have Richie’s technique, but who does, really? The thing I like the most about Tracy is that he’s experimental. He’s willing to take chances and he wants to take the music into the future.”
What would be the songs from your career that you would label as defining moments?
“I would think that the song ‘Manon the Silver Mountain,’ ‘Heaven and Hell’ was a good one. Actually, the whole album was great.”
I think most people would agree. I was talking to the guys in Atomic Opera last weekend and told ’em I was gonna talk to you.
“Great. Give ’em my regards when you talk to ’em next. Are they still together? I heard they broke up.”
Yeah, Frank is still goin’ at it and they’ve got new members. Actually, the drummer, Mark, was with ’em this past weekend. They played at a one-off festival.
“What happened to Jonas?”
He cut his hair. That was the first thing, I guess, and I can’t remember exactly why he left. But Jonas and Jonathan are out.
“I really like that band a lot. Not only are they nice people, but boy, they perform so well.”
They’re redefining their sound a little bit. They’re kind of grafting in some of their lighter moments. Their first album didn’t really sell at all, but they’re still crankin’ away.
“Frank’s a talented man, so he’ll get there.”
He wanted me to ask you whatever happened to them doing a cover of “Heaven and Hell” for the Ronnie James Dio tribute album.
“Tell him that it never came about. It wasn’t a matter of them not being included — nobody was included! It just wasn’t done.”
A lot of the songs on Angry Machines seem to deal with the human mind. How and why does this fascinate you?
“Well, I think because of the same way that I’ve always written in fantasy fairy tale. Fantasy being things that you really can’t put your finger on, either real or unreal. Much of the same way with the mind is. Unless you’re one hell of a psychiatrist or therapist or whatever, you wouldn’t know what’s going on in there. I think the mind just fascinates me, a piece of tissue in our heads, which we only use a minuscule amount of. My mind boggles at what we could do with the brain. It’s what the mind has either created or destroyed that defines its success, because I judge humans as being some form cancer on this earth. It’s easy to see what we’ve done, spread all over this planet and pretty much kicked this planet in the crotch, and while it’s still bent over, we do pretty bad things to it as well. So, it’s for that reason that I’m kind of . . . why do we do the things that we do? Why are we doing this to our world, to our children, to our loved ones, to ourselves? It’s just, I guess, in answer to your question, I would like to know why the human mind does the things that it does. So I’m talking about it, writing about it, singing about it, thinking about it, until I get the answer.”
A good artist is one who asks questions.
“I would hope so. Getting the answers is the hard part.”
How has your Roman Catholic background inspired, affected or driven your lyric writing?
“It’s given me a lot of religious turmoil in some of the songs I’ve done. I never agreed with the message of the Catholic church, and still don’t to this day. There are some things that are fine, and what I think is very important is the moral upbringing of the young people. But I mean, you could send people to the church of silly walks, and they’re gonna get that. I just disagree so much with the way the Catholic church says things like if you’re not a good person you’ll die and go to Hell, there’s a purgatory there . . . if I was talking with a Holy Ghost, it would scare the living Hell out of me. God’s Son was nailed to a piece of wood up in the air . . . instead of really explaining it all, I think, at least from my perspective, they frightened us first, and then we’re supposed to just believe everything, and follow the rules or you’ll burn in hell or something. And I just totally disagree with that. I disagree completely with that idiom. The whole attitude about birth control — I mean we are a country that took about 10,000 generations to reach the population we have now, which is 4 billion, and it’ll only take a little over 1 generation to double it, but yet, you’re supposed to not use birth control — let’s have more children! So, the Catholic church, though I think it’s important that people grow up with moral values, I just always disagreed with their tactics, which I thought were fright tactics, as opposed to sitting down and explaining the situation.”
What do you think of Jesus Christ?
“I think that He was a prophet. I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He was a great man for the time. He was the right Man for the right time. Let’s put it this way: I think He was a hell of a lot better than Michael Jackson. I think the Christ figure is a very interesting piece of work, whoever wrote that piece. A lot of embellishment went on inside of it, I’m sure, but the one positive thing I can say about it I can say is that all of the work of Jesus Christ, all of His words, all of His teachings — if they were his — are certainly very positive attitude, and are to be admired. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior, I have no problem with that at all. But if it’s not Jesus Christ, it’s Buddha, you know? I mean, we’re talking about religion in one small faction. Catholicism and Christianity are not the only religion on this planet. There have got to a situation where by there are others who are Christ-like. We ever know, in other religions, they have similar names for people. They seem to be edging the issue, because they don’t want to put everybody off about Jesus Christ. My feelings are that the teachings were great, but in my mind, my religious beliefs are that you are God, and you are Jesus Christ, and you are the devil, and I am, and all the people I know around me are. But I don’t need to go to some place and listen to somebody else to tell me whether I’m good or bad, or whether I’m right or wrong. I am my shrine. You are your shrine. We are all Jesus Christ, and again, I have no problem with anyone thinking Jesus Christ is this deity, someone up there. It’s cool.”
What do you think about His claims to be “the Way the Truth and the Life, No one comes to the Father but by Me?”
“Well, once again, I think that’s one attitude being said. That’s one creation within one religion. Again, I think it’s been said in other religions. There are Christ-like figures in other religions as well. I just have a hard time saying what you obviously want me to say, which is that there is only Jesus Christ, because there isn’t. I don’t agree with that. There are other figures in other religions who are exactly the same, who were the same thing. It doesn’t matter who you follow, as long as what you follow has good value, and can lead you down a good path.”
I definitely want you to say what you believe, and not what you perceive what I want you believe.
“Well, you know me, I’m gonna say what I believe.”
What do you think about the credibility of the Bible, specifically the New Testament?
“Well, once again, I hate to come off as doubting Thomas, you know, I’m supposed to believe without seeing the wounds in His feet and hands. But I think it’s a hell of a book. I think Whoever put it together did quite an interesting job, but I think that it was . . . I think that things were put in there to capture a group of people so they would follow a religion. Again, I think that things in the Bible are, for the most part, good. You can find inconsistencies in everything, and certainly the Bible was taken such a long period of time to have been put together, we don’t really know if some of the quotes were actually said by certain people. And it’s too long ago for us to . . . you know, we’re talking about miracles in this thing. Why aren’t there miracles today? Why? Why don’t we see miracles today? Christ could change water into wine. People rose from the dead. Why doesn’t this happen anymore? It’s probably because 2,000 years ago, somebody made up a pretty damn good story about it, and that’s what we’re believing today. And following a belief is wonderful, but I just don’t happen to be one of those people. I believe in myself, and I believe in those around me. I don’t need that to get me through my life. The Bible is a very interesting work, and I think if followed, not close to the letter, it’s a wonderful pattern for your life.”
One thing that’s always struck me about that whole thing is some of the . . . when you judge the Bible as a historical book, it does seem to stack up as well, if not better than, anything else, even the Odyssey, or some of the old ancient manuscripts.
“Well, yeah, that’s . . . you only had one author of the Odyssey. You had quite a few for the Bible. And again, that’s the problem for me. There were all those people who were writing the Bible, and just a collection of things that were written that they think were said, and what people were telling you were said at the time. I find that difficult to believe all of it’s true. But again, the Bible as a collection of rules to live by, but because of the time period it was written, I just find it very hard to live by those rules in the world we live in. but if you take the generalities of the Bible, I think it’s a wonderful piece of work, and a great way to live your life.”
The thing that bothers me about taking that conclusion is that most of the general statements that Christ made, you can look at the dead language of Greek at the time it was used, and the writing styles that shifted around 50 A.D., you can pretty much date parts of the New Testament. Then His whole claim to be the only way wouldn’t make Him a good prophet, because like a lot of Muslims believe that Jesus was a great prophet in the lineage of prophets. But a good prophet is not gonna stand up there and say, “I’m the only way to the Father.” He’s either a lair or He’s a crazy man.
“Well, with those two options, that’s pretty frightening itself.”
Well, the other option is that He’s telling the truth.
“Well, yeah, that’s true. But I’m talking about the option coming from the viewpoint of the reader. You know, that either you believe or you don’t believe. That, I find funny. You could just blindly go into it and believe it for the rest of your life. It’s a good set of rules to live by for everyone, no matter what religion you’re in. I think the interesting thing is the program, what is it, Ancient Mysteries? Mysteries of the Bible, I think it is. It’s a great program, whereby they try to explain the falling of the walls of Jericho, etc., etc., etc., and all of those things. And you get to the end of it, and you realize that, hold on a minute. It wasn’t all this blind, spiritual trust. There are actually some physical reasons why some of these things happened, which are not explained in the Bible. They’re just told to you, and you’re supposed to believe them blindly. Well, you know, if that’s what it’s like, just having somebody tell you, ‘This is what you believe, and that’s it. That’s the way it is.’ I think some of those are wrong — not all of them, but some of them are wrong. So I have a problem with someone saying ‘I am the way, and if you don’t follow my way, you’re screwed.’ That’s basically what was said, wasn’t it?”
Yeah, but I don’t think it sets it up to where you’re not allowed to be a doubting Thomas. The doubting man who questions, there’s certainly room for him to find answers to his search.
“Well, if Thomas had not, at the end of the day, been able to put his fingers into the wound, he still wouldn’t have believed. So where does that lead. the doubting Thomas is the quintessential point of what people do and don’t believe about the Bible. We don’t have the opportunity to go and stick our fingers into the hands of Christ. We don’t have that luxury. He did. That had to be proven to him, and of course, that therefore is that whole part of the Bible, which we’re supposed to blindly believe. You should not have to put your fingers in the wounds of Christ to believe that there was a Christ and that He died for all of our sins. Again, blind faith, if you believe in blind faith, and want to believe that everything is exactly what it is, then that’s fine too. But me, I just can’t take the Bible for exactly what it says, because I’ve just lived so much of life, and have learned that things are not always what they’re written to be.”
I think I would throw myself in the camp of the questioner too, and I would just say that I’ve been satisfied with my search.
“I think that’s wonderful. But for me, I’ve not really studied the Bible, nor do I intend to. Again, I’ve explained my religion to you, which is more tolerant than anything else, and I think it has its place for me. I think we all, as long as we walk a good path — and I think Jesus is a good one — we’re obviously not talking about the Jews being wrong, because they believe that Christ was not the Son of God. We’ve all been able to coexist on this level, especially the Jews, who coexist pretty well. How can we say that the Bible is, especially the New Testament, is supposed to be the only correct thing? There’s just too many other religions out there that believe too many other things.”
I’ve known men that have set out to disprove it, and have had to change their minds when they just looked at the science proving the Bible, rather than disproving it.
“Well, I have yet to see that proof, and when I do, maybe I’ll be a believer. How can anyone possibly prove to me that Christ rose from the dead? How can you prove it? I mean, who’s gonna tell me, ‘Oh, I saw that!’ That’s what I mean. It’s blind faith. You have to either believe that or not believe that. I’m not saying that I don’t believe it. I’m just saying that the real question, especially the scientific one, there are not a whole lot of scientists out there who are true believers in what happened in the Bible, because it’s such a physical aspect. So, it’s not hard for me, but I just haven’t gotten to the point where I need to believe that. I’ve came early upon the point that there is a Spirit greater than we are, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus Christ is His son. But for those who believe that, I think that’s fine. I have no problem with that at all. Certainly, if there was gonna be someone who was the Son of God, there certainly couldn’t have been anyone better than Jesus Christ, with what He went through.”
I guess, as CS Lewis puts it, if you look at the Bible text and you come with no predispositions, as in . . . one predisposition is that miracles cannot happen. And if you purge the Bible with that predisposition, you’re coming at it in a biased manner.
“Yes you are.”
But if you look at, like, the resurrection account, and you figure out historically, like, what does it mean when they put the Roman seal on a tomb? And the Roman seal is fortifies by some of the strongest men in the country at the time. And it’s a stone that’s too large for a man to move on his own. That was taken away. There were 500 witnesses at one point who saw the resurrected Christ. And the one thing that impressed me, when I looked at it, is that it at least provides a credible testimony. If it was gonna be tried in court. There are a lot of things that stand up, as far as the witnesses that saw the resurrection were alive when the New Testament was written, and so there should be a lot of books printed that disproved it, or said, “No, this isn’t true what these people believe. They’re out to lunch.”
“That should be your approach to the Bible, as far as believing in the resurrection and what not, that are going to predicate what you actually do believe. If you go into it as a doubting Thomas, and don’t care, then it doesn’t really matter. It’s for those who really want to, and need believe in that, that it’s important to. It’s not important to me. I’m not trying to belittle the historical nature of it all, but it’s not something that I think about a lot. I try to live my life more in the example of Christ than not, and that’s good enough for me.”
It’s certainly a good example. In your opinion, how does magic compare to a loving God who gave himself up . . . ?
“Well, magic is magic. Magic is not God-like, as far as, you know, I mean, you could equate magic with miracles, whether it’s real or not real. But magic is a sideline. It’s again, a thing of the mind. It’s what people want to believe. They want to believe that magic can happen, because then there’s their miracle. There are white magic and there is black magic. White magic is practiced by people who are usually God-fearing and God-believing, and all they want to do is use their own mind and their own tactic, so to speak, to discover their own lives and those around them. Black magic is completely different. It’s very dark and foreboding, and I think that it should be an approachable kind of situation. There’s nothing but negative inside of that. White magic is fine, because it’s partially religion, and it is a religion. You know, witches have religion. Not that they’re Satanists. Good witches believe in God. But magic is in the mind. I thing it’s more the words that are used.”
How do you feel about when you sand that song “Live for the King,” when you ad libbed the verses at the end on the Kerry Livgren solo album . . . how was that experience for you?
“Well, I didn’t realize that Kerry was a born again Christian. I didn’t realize that the song was a Christian song. I had no idea whatsoever, and he didn’t tell me that until after I had completed my performance. So I sang the song as to how I saw it. It wasn’t a God-like thing, and it wasn’t talking about King Leer, or something. I think the music and the lyrics that he wrote, and the way he wrote them, just led me to the way I performed it. He told me afterward that that was exactly the performance he wanted, and that he wouldn’t have done it any differently himself. So, perhaps unconsciously, I did realize what it was about, and dealt with it that way. But I honestly didn’t realize that it was a Christian song.”
That was a mark of a true professional.
“The other one, ‘Mask of the Great Deceiver,’ that we did on the other one. I kind of got the message on that one. That wasn’t so difficult. That was kind of where I was coming from anyway, in Black Sabbath at the time, and ‘Mask of the Great Deceiver,’ I mean, just the words themselves kind of conjure up images from, like bad vibes somewhere, so that wasn’t a problem. But again, after he told me what the songs were about, after I’d performed them, he told me how pleased he was and that was the way he wanted them done, I mean, I was just really gratified that was able to please him. It wasn’t something that really changed me around in a Christian or religious attitude, because I’ve always had the same one. We’re here to help each other and not to hinder each other. Maybe it’s just my beliefs in the fact that there is good and evil, and I’d rather be on the good part of it, that unconsciously directed how it came out.”
Kerry’s another one of those examples of a doubter, and he was definitely a “Religion of the Month” club member, who was seeking truth through Buddhism, Urancha, Hinduism, North American spiritism, and he came to the conclusion — he ran into New Testament Christianity, and couldn’t get around it. And he finally concluded that this was the ultimate truth.
“Well, I’m always very pleased to see people who have gotten to the point where, ‘Hey, this is what I believe in.’ I think that’s great. I just think that those are people who need to have those kind of beliefs, and I don’t. I believe in what I believe in, and what I believe in, I think, is the correct belief for me.”
Have you ever looked at the Old Testament’s forbidding of magic of all types, which would definitely fly in the face of all the white magic followers?
“I never have gotten really so into the magic vs. non magic in the Bible. I really never even thought about it. I don’t draw any of my story lines from anything that I’ve read. I’m sure that I’m affected by it, just like everything in the Bible. Consciously, I don’t think I’m really affected by something like that. Those are subjects that I just prefer to stay away from. ‘Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost,’ that was about growing up as a child, about being told that this is what I have to believe in and this is what I don’t have to believe in, and it was presented to me in a very depressing, dark and frightening way. That was a lightning streak. I don’t go off on Bible stories with these attitudes. In Black Sabbath, for example, everyone thought that everyone in that band was a Satanist, and they were cutting up babies on stage, blood dripping everywhere. It was a stupidest thing that ever happened, because everybody in that band was like a good Catholic. And it just happened to be a name. You know, once you’ve got a name like Black Sabbath, it all of the sudden conjures up all these incredible images, so they pigeonhole what you are and what you’re gonna be. But, being in a band like that, you have a tendency to write about dark things, and then you become. But like the wise professional musicians that we are, we didn’t deny anything, because it made for better publicity. I don’t think that anyone could especially that band apart and find anything from the dark side. We were just musicians and nothing else. And I use Black Sabbath as the best example of that.”
I think if I was in a band or an artist group that was called something like Holy Jihad or Terrorists for Allah, and I had this whole imagery wrapped around me of a bomber, and you come to my concerts, and there was gonna be explosions and flash pots, and I always carried the illusion of being somewhat, that I was gonna kill an Israeli in my next tour — there was no doubt, I think every once in a while, I would come away and step back, and feel kind of strange. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy or not. I just pulled it out of the air on the spot.
“Well, it’s a wrong analogy for what I was talking about. Again, Black Sabbath was just a name. There were no songs ‘Praising’ the devil . . . none. You have to look inside the work of people who . . . Holy Jihad, or ‘We are the Palestinian terrorists, and we’re gonna kill you tomorrow thing.’ It’s a different situation. Black Sabbath didn’t mean anything other than two words that were put together. They were just words. It didn’t mean that there was going to be that every Sabbath day there was gonna be a sacrifice or whatever. It wasn’t like that.”
But certainly, if you look at marketing, and whether or not the marketing has a different meaning for the artist who created it or not, you’re smart enough to know that the album cover for Holy Diver and some of the photographs and publicity shots in the Sabbath days or your early solo days, I’m sure it helped record sales, but did you feel any responsibility, or how did that feel being marketed in that way, whether or not you really . . .
“Well, that was my own problem. I won’t take the blame for that one. I won’t take the blame for it, because no one understands. The question I was always asked about that album was, ‘Why do you have a monster, or a devil figure killing a priest?’ And my reply has always been, as far as I’m concerned, it was a priest killing a monster. It’s all in what you’re told. I wanted to do it that way, because I wanted people to ask me that question, so I could say, ‘Why don’t you look inside the package?’ That was the whole point of it. Why couldn’t that devil look like he could be God. Why couldn’t he? Do we really know what God looks like? No, we don’t. We have no idea. So that was the reason I did that. It was not for marketing at all. Apparently, if you look at the Dio logo, and you turn it upside down, and look at it from left to right, it apparently looks like it says ‘devil.’ I’ve been asked about that many times. And my reply is, ‘Sorry. I don’t know anything about that. I mean, that just happens to be some incredible coincidence. You can kind of conjure up that maybe that’s what it says, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all. That lettering — how could I possibly be so bright to know that DIO written that way could possibly say ‘devil.’ I’m not that smart. A lot of things are created by people who want to create them. I don’t feel responsible at all. I feel no responsibility for doing anything in a harmful way, because always re-ask that question, ‘How do you know it’s not a monster killing a priest, or the other way around?'”
I think one of my reasons for asking that question was not so much to nail you against the wall, but to see how you felt, possibly, if you ever wondered what kind of image is being put across . . .
“Well, you know, I’m sure that that probably has happened, but it’s nothing Judas Priest, or something, didn’t do, or whomever. You know, ‘Our child died because of you.’ There does have to be some responsibility in some of that, but I don’t see people with Marlboros worrying about things . . . you know, it goes right down the line. How politically safe do we have to be? It’s all about education. If we educate our children enough for them to realize that this is not the kind of presentation that means anything. We need to tell ’em, ‘This is a good world. When you see something like that, don’t pay any attention to it.’ Then you’ve been brought up, ‘Okay, this is what it is.’ There are always going to be those who are led down a wrong path, just because of themselves. They’re perhaps not bright enough to understand, or because their genes have been put together wrong. There has to be some responsibility, certainly, but that doesn’t mean there has to be censorship on everything.”
Well, I appreciate being able to sit down and chat with you.
“No problem, Doug.”
Maybe in Austin, I can wait around with all the other nuts and chat with you after the show.
“No problem, no problem. It would be a pleasure.”
That would be great.
“Well, then I’ll see you down in Austin.”
Okay, sounds good.
“Make sure you tell Frank and the guys that I said hello, and that I hope everything is going well with them.”
“Tell Frank that as soon as that project comes up, he’s the man for it.”
Will do. I email him every other day, so I’ll let him know. Alright, well, take care Ronnie.
© Copyright 1998 HM Magazine. All rights reserved.