I first encountered Dio very indirectly. It was on a band trip to Stavern, in the southern part of Norway. We stayed at a school, sleeping on the floor in a class room. I believe the school was white, and against this white backdrop, a long-haired guitar player who I believe played the saxophone and a short-haired (read buzz cut) singer (also a sax player, I believe - although I am a little more fuzzy about that) ended up looking like silhouettes. The guitar player was playing a riff that was as powerful as it was simple, and the singer belted out lines that have been with me ever since: "Holy diver, you've been down too long in the midnight sea..."
I was hooked. Instantly. I didn't buy the album right away - as this would have been around the time it was released, but I ended up buying the record in the basement of Playtime, which also set the stage for my second chance encounter with Dio. I wrote about both Playtime and this chance encounter with Dio in an earlier entry. Later I discovered that Dio not only had played with Ritchie Blackmore (in Rainbow), but that he also sang for Black Sabbath on two studio albums and one live album, making him one of three singers who spent time with both Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, two of hard rock/heavy metal's early guitarists who developed and set the standard for what heavy metal guitars should be all about. The other two are Ian Gillan and Glen Hughes, who both spent time in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Dio immediately made his mark on Black Sabbath as well, as is evidenced by the song Heaven and Hell from 1980:
When Ronnie James Dio died after a fight with stomach cancer on May 16, he finally lost the fight against the dragon. This image has been recurring in many of his songs and albums - heavily inspired by fantasy and wizardry long before Harry Potter made it fashionable. I remember trying to decode the lyrics to The Last in Line, and I could not understand what he meant by "we're off to the witch, we may never, never, never come home but the magic that we'll feel is worth a lifetime." 25 years later and far more proficient in English, it makes more sense, although I sometimes do believe he lost meaning in the imagery in his songs.
I never met him. I never even saw him in real life. But I still feel his loss. A great voice is silenced, but his music will live on.