Heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio died today. He is known for singing for Black Sabbath (replacing Ozzy Osbourne), and popularizing the “devil’s horns” rock-out sign:
He also had a notable solo career. His album covers were always, uh, provocative, such as “Holy Diver” featuring the devil (making the hand sign) binding a priest in chains and casting him into the sea:
Nice, eh? That much you may already know.
What you may not know is that he recorded guest vocals for Kerry Livgren. Livgren, the uber-talented multi-instrumentalist of the band Kansas, encountered Jesus. Livgren’s music naturally reflected his changed life, and he recorded a solo album in 1980 called “Seeds of Change”.
Silly Christians, for not realizing this is how the power of Jesus spreads
But Livgren didn’t know “the rules” of his fledgling faith and the then-fledgling Christian music industry, and asked Ronnie James Dio to sing on two of the songs. Wikipedia notes that this decision “later proved somewhat controversial among Livgren’s evangelical Christian fans, as Black Sabbath and Dio were then perceived as ‘satanic’ by many Christians.” Naughty Kerry Livgren, inviting nasty satanic singers to belt out Mask of the Great Deceiver and To Live for the King!
Silly Christians, for not realizing this is how the transforming power of Jesus spreads: by inviting people to participate with you in your journey of faith. I thought this is what we were supposed to be doing? This is an example of evangelism done right. …And those are the best two songs on the album! I wish I could find my liner notes, where Kerry Livgren describes how Dio electrified the studio with his improvisations at the ends of the songs.
First, the end of Mask of the Great Deceiver:
The mask of the great deceiver
He’s gonna make you a believer
He’ll tell you lies!
He’ll bend your eyes!
The great deceiver!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
It’s an easy choice!
The time has come to sing
We’re gonna walk, walk with the king!
Open your eyes, open your eyes
The writing’s on the wall, don’t you realize
I can just picture Kerry Livgren and others behind the sound board, jaws dropping. Dio was tapping into something — or someone.
(Can anyone find a copy of the Livgren liner notes? It was written up in Kerry Livgren’s compilation album Decade. He wrote about forming a new band that toured in both bars and churches, and how flabbergasted he was when the churches told him they didn’t want just music, they expected him to preach and do altar calls. Sigh. I’m afraid evangelical churches still haven’t figured out the arts yet.)
What did Dio experience in the studio with Livgren? Did it alter his life in any way? I can’t say. But I hope he gets the chance to improvise for the Lord again. Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! It’s an easy choice!