The first six albums by legendary rock and metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio‘s band, Dio, are being released in a remastered box set, A Decade of Dio: 1983-1993, this week. (Get it from Amazon.) These are 1983’s Holy Diver, 1984’s The Last in Line, 1985’s Sacred Heart, 1987’s Dream Evil, 1990’s Lock Up the Wolves, and 1993’s Strange Highways. The initial lineup of Dio featured guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Vinny Appice, with keyboardist Claude Schnell originally playing offstage during concerts, but acknowledged as a full member by 1984. After the recording of Sacred Heart, but while touring was already underway, Campbell was fired from the band. His replacement was Craig Goldy, formerly of Giuffria and Rough Cutt.
Goldy remained with the band until 1989, co-writing much of the Dream Evil album. His greatest moments with the band, though, came during the Sacred Heart tour, which was a peak for Dio, commercially and artistically. The staging was highly ambitious, including an 18-foot robot dragon that breathed fire and shot lasers from its eyes. And Goldy’s guitar solo took ’80s shred excess to an astonishing level, including not only the expected power chords and finger-tapping fretboard pyrotechnics but baroque melodic interludes performed on an instrument laid flat, and percussive booms not that far away from things Neil Young and Keiji Haino would be doing in the early 1990s. Watch:
Craig Goldy answered questions by phone about his time with Dio in the ’80s.
So you first met Dio in the early ’80s, right? Did you two get along, creatively, right away?
Before 1983, around 1982, at an audition for Rough Cutt. And we got along instantly. It was crazy. See, Ronnie is and was my favorite singer. As I told him—well, first of all, I still get sad when I think about it, ’cause I loved Randy Rhoads, and when he passed away, the guitar player for Rough Cutt, Jake E. Lee, left that band to join Ozzy Osbourne‘s band, so auditions were set to replace Jake. At the time, I was living in a car on the streets. I came from an abusive family, and was in and out of the hospital, so to avoid further injury I decided to live on the streets at the age of 14, and Ronnie’s was the voice that I turned to, because his way of writing, that kind of music kinda called to the downtrodden and black sheep of the globe, and what seemed to piss Ronnie off in his lyrics—he was very expressive when he sang, so when he sang with anger, it was about the things that angered me, too, and the things he sang where it sounded like he was sad, that was something that would make me sad, too. So I almost felt like I knew him before I even met him. And I used to learn his melody lines on guitar, and I started to notice certain things about his lyrics. So the night of the audition, Ronnie and Wendy [Dio] rented gear for me, because all I had was a guitar. They had to find me, too; how do you find a kid that lives in his car? But I had made a demo, with the last $20 I made from giving guitar lessons, and a friend of mine moved to L.A. and the band he joined was friends with Rough Cutt, so my demo got into Ronnie’s hands. And there were all these guitar players who were ready to go, with all their stage clothes and equipment, reputations already built, but there was something in that demo that made Ronnie say, “We gotta get this kid up here.” So I get the phone call the night before, saying that Ronnie wants to be at the audition, he wants to meet you. He wants to meet me? I’m the one who wants to meet him! But there he was, the man. I still get chills thinking about it. And we started talking before the audition, and he told me, “Don’t be so overwhelmed. I’m a fan of what you do, too. I really loved the songs and the way you played on that demo. That’s why you’re here tonight.” So I told him that his lyrics, when I was learning his melody lines on the guitar, he often seemed like he would say one thing and mean another, like polarizing evil and good at once, and he grabbed my arm and said, “Yes! Yes!” almost like I’d cracked his code or something. And little did I know that night, right there, was the beginning of a 30-plus year friendship and working relationship, because I understood him so well. Even when he was in Heaven and Hell, he would call me at home and say, “Goldy, Goldy, you gotta hear this,” and he would read me his lyrics, cause he knew I knew what they would mean. So he was the producer of Rough Cutt, and we would work in the studio together, and often it would be just him and me and [the engineer], finishing things up, and one night he looked at me and said, “Goldy, if Vivian [Campbell] ever doesn’t work out, you’ll be my first choice.” And that’s why there were no auditions when Vivian was out and I was in, because he was a man of his word. We had been friends, and we’d worked together in the studio so many times together that we knew it would work.
So you just got the phone call one day and that was it, you were in?
It was in the middle of the Sacred Heart tour, and I was working with Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge, who had both just left Ozzy, and we were in a band together. Me and Rudy were just talking about that the other day. It was a real dream come true.
Your guitar solo on that Sacred Heart tour was particularly insane. Who did you feel like you were competing with, as a player, at that time? Because it was kind of that post-Van Halen shred era, so who did you see as being part of the guitar arms race?
That’s a great question. No one’s ever asked me that question before, and the answer would be everybody. Because you’re right, at that time, Eddie Van Halen had re-revolutionized rock guitar from stem to stern. It was almost like there was nothing new now. ‘Cause he had just blown everybody out of the water. But Ritchie Blackmore was the man who made me want to play guitar. So I was trying to figure out, what can I do that nobody else does? And there were a couple of things that I came up with that it turned out other guitar players were doing, though I didn’t know they were doing it. I suppose that at that time, everyone was trying to figure out what they could do that would be their thing. There’s a little clean section during that solo, where I play counterparts, almost like a piano. I play the bass notes with my right hand and the melody notes with my left hand. And then all of a sudden, Stanley Jordan pops up doing that, so shit, I can’t do that. So I kept trying to think of different things. When I was in Giuffria, I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could play the guitar like a piano, if it sat flat? And at one point, I was giving guitar lessons, and I’m sure you’ve heard of the term tablature, but for the people who don’t know what tablature means, you’re writing down the number of the fret that corresponds to the string so the person who’s reading it left to right knows where their finger’s supposed to go, onto what string in order to learn that solo note for note. So I would do that, and as I would write it out with my right hand I would tap with my left. And I thought, I wonder if I could play with one hand? So I plugged in the guitar, and because it’s a percussive type of event, the other strings that I wasn’t using would vibrate, so it was just a bunch of noise. So my first reaction was to mute the strings with my right hand. And then I started to learn to play with one hand. So then I became the guy who could play Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen solos with one hand, in San Diego. Which led to me trying to play it lying flat, like a piano. And then Dave Eisley, the singer in Giuffria, he was such a team player he would get on his knees and hold the guitar like a stand, and I would walk over and lay down a handkerchief that would mimic my muting, so I could play the guitar without a pick like a piano. So I just kept trying to come up with different things that would make people go “Wow!” That kind of stuff got Giuffria kicked off the tour with Rainbow, ’cause Ritchie Blackmore didn’t like that.
In the video, you’ve got some kind of leather strap on the guitar neck, and I figured it was functioning like an e-bow or something…
Yeah, that was to mute the strings, cause it was a percussive event, it’s all hammer-ons and pull-offs. At one point, let’s say, my third finger on my left hand would hold the string while my first finger would do the hammering and the pulling off. Or I would just do the scale up and down, or do arpeggios with both hands.
There was some big, explosive noise stuff, and some other crazy noises, too…
There was one thing that turned out to my benefit. All my friends came from rich families. So they had all the pedals, and I didn’t have any pedals, but I wanted to make sound effects, so I had to come up with a way to make sound effects without pedals. So at one point, what I once thought was working against me actually became something that set me apart. I was able to come up with wind sounds and what sounded like thunder, and I was able to move quickly, so I came up with something that almost sounded like a video game. But I was doing sound effects that didn’t rely on pedals.
Were there ever any problems with the giant robot dragon? Did it work perfectly every night, or were there nights when it wouldn’t do its job?
[Laughs] Once in a while—it was a real, fire-breathing dragon. God bless him, that man basically cut his profit margin in half just to give back. Everybody always talks about how much money was made, but they never talk about how much money was spent. That man spent a lot of money to give that kind of experience back to his audience. That was money out of his pocket, not in his pocket. A real, 18-foot fire-breathing dragon with lasers shooting out of its eyes. And once in a while it wouldn’t work as planned, but I would say 95 percent of the time it would. But every soundcheck, the fire marshal would have to come and see how this contraption was gonna be operated, and he was gonna give us the green light or the red light, yes or no. It was up to him to say, “Hey, this is a fire hazard—I’m not gonna let a bunch of longhairs set the stadium on fire.” So we’d have to audition the fire-breathing dragon for the fire marshal, and sometimes he’d say “Yeah, cool,” but sometimes they’d say no, and you’d have to use CO2. Just the steam. And it would be a bummer, ’cause all these people had paid a lot of money to come see a fire-breathing dragon and they didn’t get it, just because some pinhead who probably had a chip on his shoulder about rock musicians wouldn’t let us use the fire that night. But once in a while, even though it would work during soundcheck, it would come out almost like lava sometimes, and the whole stage was carpeted, so I’d have to go over and kinda stomp the fire out while I’m trying to play the song!
You joined after Sacred Heart, and recorded on Dream Evil. What was the writing process like, and how much did you contribute?
That’s a good question, cause at the time I didn’t realize that some of the band had become disenchanted. Ronnie gave an interview once where he said I kind of revitalized the band, but I think it was more that I revitalized Ronnie, because everybody was a little disenchanted because they thought they were supposed to get more money. And they did get more money, but unfortunately, what people didn’t see was how much money Ronnie spent. So I think people got pissed about that. In Ronnie’s world…when Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple, it was his time to call the shots with Rainbow. Ronnie didn’t get paid very well in Rainbow. And when Ozzy left, it was Tony Iommi’s time to call the shots in Black Sabbath. I remember when we were working in Rough Cutt, Ronnie was still doing concerts with Sabbath, and he was in litigation with them! Nothing against them, cause they were good friends, everybody worked it out, but back then money problems were there, because people had the pecking order. It was Tony Iommi’s time. And when it was Ronnie’s time, when he called the shots, he was a giver. And I think people got spoiled. I saw it all the time, ’cause I was there since 1983. I’d known that guy longer than some guys in his own band. So at the time, the pecking order for the writing was that Ronnie and Jimmy Bain would get together and write. Jimmy was a really good songwriter, and he sang, so he could come up with melody lines and stuff like that, but Ronnie did all the melody lines and lyrics for Dio. But at least Jimmy, because he could sing, he knew how to write vocal-friendly music, you know what I mean? So he would start with Jimmy, then he would bring in Viv, and then he would bring in the rest of the band. And that’s how he explained it to me. So I said OK, but while I was waiting for him and Jimmy to do their thing, I started coming up with ideas, and next thing I know, Ronnie calls me and says, “Well, I guess Jimmy isn’t really into this right now, so you’re up, kid.” And at that time, I had stored up about 135 ideas, so I went over to his house and we’d play each other our ideas on cassettes, and we picked the ones we liked the best and started writing, with nobody else around. And next thing you know, Ronnie still wanted to bring everybody in, so we went to rehearsals and he’d say “OK, we need a part here,” and everybody would just kinda look around, and I’d say, I’ve got an idea. And after a while, Ronnie would have to say, “Goldy, I know you’ve got an idea, but let’s give everybody else a chance. We need a part here.” But everybody would just kinda look around the room, look at the ceiling, and finally he’d say, “OK, Goldy, whadda you got,” and I would just file through the 128 ideas left, and he and I wrote eight out of the nine songs on that album that way. And we recorded the whole thing at his house. That was his process, that I thought was really smart—he would record the whole album at his house first, then go into the studio and re-record. So he knew what he wanted, and there was no wasting studio time. ‘Cause there’s always gonna be a time when you need something, when a piece isn’t happening the way you thought it would. But if you’ve got everything together, you’re not wasting any time, so you have that cushion, that little bit of time to go, “I wonder…” It was just brilliant, the way that man worked.