Photo Courtesy of David "Rock" Feinstein
The Metal Minute: Nobody could have a better appreciation for the legend of Ronnie James Dio as you were there from the beginning in Ronnie and the Prophets, which morphed to The Elves, Elf and indirectly into Rainbow. I understand Elf’s audition for Columbia Records was in attendance by Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple? Put me there in the moment, finding rock ‘n roll legends at a major label audition. One might infer that fate was destined to knight you and Ronnie into the heavy rock court, so to speak.
David "Rock" Feinstein: Well, let's see, where do I begin? We had written some songs, and of course were trying to get a record deal. At the time, a friend of ours who was working at an agency called ATI made a connection through his boss to get an audition for us with Clive Davis, the head man at Columbia at the time. We were set up to audition at a rehearsal hall in New York City for Clive Davis. We found out after-the-fact that Roger Glover and Ian Paice were interested in getting into producing other bands, so they were going to be at the audition as well. We kind of freaked out because not only was Deep Purple one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, but Ritchie Blackmore was one of my idols.
We set up in this very sterile room with just a couple of chairs set in front of us. I think we were all kind of nervous but confident at the same time. In comes Clive with a couple of other people from the label and of course, Roger and Ian. We played a few songs and that was the end of it. Later that day, we found out that Clive wanted to sign the band, and Roger and Ian wanted to produce us. Before we knew it, we were in Atlanta recording the first Elf album. Who knew the history that would develop? It was certainly a special moment.
TMM: For your latest album Bitten By the Beast, the big story aside from your two-man operation is “Metal Will Never Die,” which represents the last-known recording of Ronnie. It has a vintage, lumbering crash to it which signals Dio’s touch, be it with Sabbath or in his solo capacity and while there’s a stripped and raw cadence to the song, man, almighty, what a celebration of the man’s career. As you recall bringing Ronnie into the studio to record “Metal Will Never Die,” (and also to co-write the very cool “Gambler Gambler” on this album) what seemed most important between the two of you in capturing his essence?
DF: Ronnie and I had been speaking for years about doing a project together again. It could have been an Elf reunion, something Dio-related, him singing a song on my solo album or on a new Rods album. Every time we spoke or saw each other, we spoke about it, but the logistics of it were difficult. We lived at opposite ends of the country which made if difficult for us to set the time aside for such a project. About two years ago, Ronnie was returning home more often as his mother was taken ill. He called me one day and said, "I will be in Cortland for a few extra days; it would be a good time for me to sing a couple of songs." I was ecstatic and realized that this collaboration between the two of us was really going to happen.
Coincidentally, the day before Ronnie called, I had just written a song called "Metal Will Never Die." After hearing my demo version, Carl and I agreed that it was a perfect song for Ronnie, so it was one of the two songs we chose for him to sing. The next day I picked up Ronnie and Wendy at the airport, handed him a CD with two songs that he had never heard before, and unsurprisingly he performed world class vocal performances on both of them. One of Ronnie's unique talents was that he could give any song he sang exactly what that song needed. With the horrific turn of events that have taken place in the last year, the song "Metal Will Never Die" has become the most important song to me that I have ever written. It is the most important song to me that I will ever write. It has so much meaning, and it will become part of Ronnie's legacy as a tribute to him. It's eerie how things came together. The fact that I wrote that song so quickly and at a time when Ronnie chose to come and sing, it's like it was meant for me to write that song, and it was meant for Ronnie to sing it.
TMM: Whew, gives me the chills in a pleasant way, brother. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronnie years ago and it was one of the rare moments in my journalism career I had to get past initial jitters since I respect the man so much. I was at ease within seconds once delivering the first question since he had a fast but relaxed way of answering. He was so fond of his fans and most of his press to the point it became much of a part of his fame. I suppose that’s why it smarted so much to see the repulsive shock tactics of those Westboro Baptists in the wake of his passing. I always say Ronnie celebrated life in his music versus the accusations of those barbarians and the few detractors Ronnie ever had. From your perspective, how much did Ronnie celebrate his life and his extended family of fans?
DF: Ronnie celebrated his life to the fullest. His fans were like family to him and he appreciated them so very much. As you know because you have met him, what a kind and caring person he was. He would go out of his way to speak with everyone who wanted to speak with him, and he really listened to what they had to say. He will not only be remembered for being the great singer and musician that he was, but for being the gracious person that he really was.
TMM: Tell me about recording Bitten By the Beast with yourself and Nate Horton doing the primary work together. You have half the personnel recording this album versus your 2004 album Third Wish and yourself handling all the string instruments and vocals. Including those elements, what felt different to you laying down this album and aside from “Metal Will Never Die,” which song on this album was a signature “Rock” moment for you?
DF: I really wanted to do a solo album that was as "solo" as it could get. It was a challenge for me, but I wanted to record something that was a true representation of where I am coming from musically and as a songwriter. Nate Horton is a good friend of mine. Once he had done the drum tracks, he never heard the recording until it was totally completed.
I didn't let anyone listen to what I was doing until it was totally done because I didn't want any outside opinions. I personally wanted to be happy with what I was doing and that's all that mattered at the time. When I completed the album, I knew that "Metal Will Never Die" would be a good fit with the rest of the songs. Ronnie and I mastered the album together in California at the studio and engineer that he has worked with for years. We were both happy with the outcome of the album, and both of us felt confident that it would be well-received by the fans. Neither one of us knew what the future would bring and how important the meaning of "Metal Will Never Die" would become. As I recorded this album it was during the time that Ronnie had been diagnosed. It was a very emotional time for me, and some of the songs on this album reflect that lyrically. This whole album to me is a signature "Rock" moment for me.
TMM: Changing gears, you’re doing some dates with The Rods this year, which will no doubt bring out the old school and new legion. I want to go back the original years when The Rods first toured with Maiden in their early days. From your memory, what were those moments like? Were there any crazy or unusual stories you have and could you see back then how Maiden would soon grow to become the pinnacle of all that is metal?
DF: The early days of The Rods and touring with Maiden were incredible. We were so eager and so taken in by everything around us. We just wanted to play and give the fans everything that we could. The fans have always been so important to us. Being on tour with other bands that you idolize is always such a great feeling. The guys in Maiden were great to us. They respected what we were doing, and they treated us well as their support act. I think they respected us and realized that their goals were the same as ours. I could see that Maiden had such a positive attitude that it probably had a lot to do with the continued success that they have achieved. When you put out goodness, then goodness will come back to you. It may sound corny, but I do believe it.
(c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute