Short of bringing back someone from the dead, the best science can do these days is create a three-dimensional hologram – a projected image that looks and sounds like the departed.
In this way, entertainers can “return” to entertain once again.
Metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who passed away in 2010, has been technologically resurrected via a hologram, created by the Los Angeles-based company Eyellusion, which also came up with a “performing” hologram of the late Frank Zappa.
It’s traveling the country as the centerpiece of “Dio Returns,” featuring members of Dio’s band performing live, to isolated vocal tracks recorded during one of Dio’s last-ever concert tours.
The show stops at the Palladium Theater Sunday, June 2.
“When I’m backstage, and I hear Ronnie start talking, and all of a sudden the band goes into a song and Ronnie starts singing, it gives me chills every time,” says singer Tim “Ripper” Owens, who performs for part of the show. “I feel like I’m really backstage at Ronnie’s show. It’s kind of amazing.”
Owens, whose rags-to-riches-to-rags story was fictionalized for the 2001 film Rock Star (more on that in a minute), is part of the touring band, Dio Disciples, managed by Ronnie’s widow, Wendy Dio. “I was friends with Ronnie,” he explains. “He was one of the first people, out of my heroes, who really treated me great. Everybody involved with this, on this end, was friends with Ronnie.”
During his long career, the New York-born Dio sang with Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and the million-selling band that bore his name. When he died at the age of 67, he was one of the most recognizable, and successful, performers in metal.
The hologram is not an actual projected image of Dio. Eyellusion created it out of whole cloth, engineering the illusion by referencing hours of performance video and photographs. So it looks like Dio, and it sounds like Dio – but because it’s not actually Dio, there are those among his legions of fans that have declared “Dio Returns” as nothing more than a cheeseball cash grab by his widow and former musicians.
“I understand if someone doesn’t like it,” Owens says. “But what I’m sick of is the hatred that some people have. Wendy gets blamed, and really, all she’s done is spend money on this to try to make the fans happy.
“A ‘cash grab’ is Wendy sitting on her couch, owning all of Ronnie’s music. She’s grabbing all the cash from that, so she doesn’t have to do anything. Why would she spend the money to make fans happy?”
The online protestations from metal fans began in 2017, when Dio Disciples (and virtual Ronnie) toured Europe.
The American tour, which Eyellusion says featured an upgraded and significantly improved “Dio,” begins Friday in Fort Myers. “So nobody’s even seen it,” Owens declares.
The concert includes 17 songs, all with the band playing live. The hologram “sings” seven of them, with the rest distributed between Owens and co-vocalist Oni Logan (ex-Lynch Mob).
“Listen, nothing’s done not to try and make money in the long haul,” Owens says. “Anything you do. But Wendy does so much to try to make the fans happy, and it’s nonstop. And I’ll tell you what, that’s exactly how Ronnie was. No one cared that he brought a dragon out on a tour back in the day – and it was such a big tour that he lost money. No one cared about that.”
And no one in the Dio camp, he stresses, has written a book, made a movie or licensed a video game. “I guess that’s a cash grab, isn’t it?”
“Ripper” Owens was a young metal singer in Akron, Ohio when the legendary British band Judas Priest plucked him from obscurity to become their new lead vocalist.
Owens had been in a Midwestern Priest tribute band called British Steel, so he knew all the songs and could scream and bellow like the newly-departed Rob Halford. He came highly recommended.
His incredible journey was chronicled in a New York Times story, which came to the attention of Warner Bros. Motion Pictures, which hired a screenwriter and bankrolled a movie to be called Metal God, starring Mark Wahlberg.
The members of Judas Priest, when denied creative control, declined to participate in the film, which was eventually retitled Rock Star.
Tim “Ripper” Owens was changed to Chris “Izzy” Cole; the band in question was re-named Steel Dragon.
The parallels were blurred even more, according to Owens. “Obviously, I listened to Judas Priest in the ’80s in high school,” he says. “But this was set in the mid ‘90s – far from me having posters on my wall, or even being in a Judas Priest tribute band. Because I wasn’t in that at the time.
“They made it take place in the 1980s, with that whole vibe, in the big arenas. They should have made it the real story; this was 1996, when heavy metal was dead. Bands were playing at Bob’s Big Bamboo and things like that.
“But it’s pretty amazing. Listen, it’s the only time in my life I had abs. That made me really happy.”
Owens cut two albums and toured the world with Judas Priest before Halford’s (inevitable) return to the fold; he went on to sing with Iced Earth and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and joined Dio Disciples eight years ago.
There’s still a bit of star-struck fan in him, Owens says. “I meet all these people, and I’m like a kid in a candy store – hanging out in Ronnie’s house, becoming friends with him, recording with everybody I ever grew up listening to, it seems like, or being onstage with all these people.
“But I can’t act like that! I’ve just gotta be one of them. When I first met Ronnie I said ‘Man, I idolize you.’ And he said ‘Ripper, you’re one of us now.’’’
Tickets and info here.