Holy Diver Live and Evil Or Divine: Live In New York City are two new Dio live album reissues that were released last month via BMG. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the chance to talk with iconic drummer Simon Wright about the reissues, his memories of the tours and some stories of Ronnie James Dio, the Dio Returns hologram tours and Dio Disciples, as well as some new side projects and albums Simon recently recorded on. Check it out below: 

The main topic that brings us here today is of course the Dio album reissues, Holy Diver Live and Evil Or Divine: Live in New York City, and that one is particularly close to me as a New Yorker myself, but I just want to start with your thoughts on these albums being reissued now?

I think it’s great, especially at a time right now when you can’t go see any live shows. Doing Evil Or Divine and the Holy Diver Live shows was a great time because the band, we were really tight, we’d been playing a lot of shows. I remember we were really comfortable with things, we’d been throwing things in here and there, and Ronnie was singing his ass off. So it was great, they’re great memories, and I still can’t believe I was involved. You look at the track listings of these songs, classics. But they were great nights, absolutely.

So seeing these reissues coming about now, do you find yourself reminiscing on these tours?

I do, I must admit. They were great shows, like I said, the band was really tight, and Doug was playing his ass off. It’s funny though, when you play the capitals of these states and countries and stuff, you always get a lot of people come along, your friends and stuff. It makes it a little difficult at the same time, you’re glad to see them, but when you know that they’re recording a live DVD and there’s cameras everywhere, you have to step away for a minute before you play and collect your thoughts. Get ready for it, you know? Which is what happens. But I think it turned out pretty good.

Definitely, it turned out amazing! But I see what you mean, there’s an extra kind of layer of pressure that’s added to the performance there, like, “All right, this is being immortalized here with a live album”. 

Exactly! You’re thinking, “oh, I’ve got to do something in a minute”, and this guy’s talking in your ear, you’re like, “oh, I’ve gotta go”. *laughs*

*laughs* I mean, especially now, every single show is getting recorded, everyone’s got everything on their phones. Back when these albums were made originally, that wasn’t necessarily the case, you didn’t have somebody recording every single performance you did all the time, so I guess that’s the difference now.

Yeah. I find myself kind of ignoring them, but I’ve got a bit of camouflage back there, with cymbals and stuff. It must be a pain in the ass sometimes to lead singers, dealing with it. It’s almost surreal, am I singing to you or am I singing to your phone?

That’s a good point. So in the case of the Holy Diver Live record, though you weren’t on the original recording of Holy Diver, you had plenty of time playing those tracks on the road before the live album came out. So when you did that tour run, did it feel like your chance to put your own spin on those tracks?

I think so, yeah. I mean, I didn’t go over the top and I respected the parts that Vinny Appice had played, I think. At least, that’s what I tried to do, I always try to do that when I’m playing other people’s songs. Whether it be Vinny, or Bill Ward, or Cozy Powell, you respect what they’ve done. But it was great, along the years, we’d play the usual standards off of Holy Diver, like “Stand Up And Shout”, and the title track, “Holy Diver”. But to dig a little deeper into it, and do “Gypsy” and “Caught In The Middle”, “Invisible”, awesome songs, you know? And we get to play those songs in the set, it’s amazing. To build a whole set around the whole album, that was something else, I think it turned out really cool. 

Absolutely. I like when full albums are turned into tours, shows, live albums, and stuff like that, I feel like it is interesting for both the musicians and the audience, because you’re getting a new perspective. A lot of the time for albums, like you said, there are singles, certain hit tracks that will come along on tour no matter what, but you don’t always get a chance to revisit the deeper tracks, or see how they would be live. Sometimes they just get laid down in studio once and that’s that. 

Some albums have a link with each song, they link together not in a concept way, just at that moment in time when they were recorded, the sound, the feel, the energy. And you’re right, it’s good to hear those tracks, but I think it’s even better to hear the whole album. 

Definitely, and I notice that a couple of your drum solos are now featured on the reissues as well, and I love when individual solos are captured on live records, because it’s capturing that musical moment in time, whether it’s something improvised, something that just kind of happened. I wonder, do you tend to go into solos with any kind of map or plan in your mind at all, or is it just, whatever happens, happens, I’m just going to play?

That’s a good question. There are certain things that I do, little fills and little sections that I stick to that have just evolved over the years. In between, I kind of mess around but get ready for the next part, and then I’ll do that part. And I’ll get out of that and I’ll keep jiggling around a little bit, then go in for the next part that I remember. But another thing is, Ronnie was nothing but encouragement with creating a musical part of the drum solo. I’ve put in 1812 there, and Jupiter from Holst, just because it’s that same old adage of, “Oh God, not another boring drum solo”. We just decided to make it a bit more interesting, put in the music, and I think it turned out okay. 

I see what you mean, I think in Dio’s music in general, and I just mean anything to do with Ronnie, any project associated with him, there is always that sense of classic musicality that comes through. There’s always so much going on in the instrumentation and with his vocals together, but at the same time it’s never too much, never too flourishy or too distracting, still heavy metal at its roots. So I definitely see what you’re talking about there.

Yeah, you’re right, absolutely. He always had that kind of classical metal vibe in some of his songs and stuff, that kind of orchestral feeling now and again. Which I love, I think it’s amazing!

And speaking of Ronnie, of course, out of the many people who have played with him, you probably were one of the closest people to him. I actually read that once when you considering quitting music, he was actually somebody who helped you stick with it.

He did! I was having a really rough time, we were on the road in Scandinavia and I got a whole bunch of horrible phone calls from my ex-wife…well, she wasn’t my ex-wife at the time, but she wanted to be. And I think I wanted her to be, too. *laughs* I was just pissed off with the whole thing, and he said, “No, no, come back to L.A., stay at my place”. And lots of people had stayed at his house there, he had a really beautiful, big house. So I did that, and 13 years later, I was still there. We got to mess around on the house, work on the house and keep ourselves preoccupied, so I saw another side of him away from the music. We worked on music there as well, obviously, but we did a lot of building projects together and stuff, and those are times I’ll never forget. You turn around and you’re building a wall with Ronnie James Dio *laughs* like, “Wait a minute, hang on a minute, what’s going on here?” 

*laughs* That’s so funny, I love that.

And I got to know him, and he’s such a generous, funny person, really. He had his angry sides to him, he was the boss, though, he had a lot on his shoulders. Some stuff just caught up with him and he’d get angry and stuff, people have seen that, people know that. But I really, really miss him. I wish he was here.

Aww. Absolutely. Probably some of that fire is where his big heavy metal vocals came from.

That’s the thing, you know! If you listen to some of his vocals, there’s a real anger behind them. He’s not just singing for the sake of singing, he’s putting his heart and soul into some of those lyrics and that singing. He’s amazing.

I’m curious to ask you, because you were also part of the Dio Returns hologram tour, and there’s been a lot of mixed reviews on that. I personally saw it, I thought it was a great show, I though it was cool, especially as someone who unfortunately never had the chance to see Ronnie while he was still here, so that was the closest I could possibly come to seeing a depiction of him onstage. As someone so close to him, do you feel that it truly was a great tribute to him?

Yeah, I think so, that’s where we’re coming from. We just want to keep his music alive and his memory. Me and Craig, Scott Warren and Rudy as well. You can’t just walk away from it and not play that music anymore, and you can’t walk away from him like that. We were all around long enough to become part of his family, so that’s really where we’re coming from. We’re just remembering him with as much respect as possible. And that’s the whole premise behind it really, because it cost a lot of money to put it on, so it’s give and take, you know?

I mean, doing projects like Dio Returns and Dio Disciples as well, I’m sure you interact with a lot of fans that ask you about Ronnie, working with him and knowing him, or maybe have memories to share of their own, or like I said in my case, fans that never actually had the chance to see him when he was still with us. What does it mean to you to be someone who is helping to uphold his memory, and help continue his music and his stories, keeping it alive?

I feel good about doing that, and I’m happy to do it. You’re right, actually, the proof in the pudding is kind of when we meet people after the show, the fans who say what a fantastic job we’re doing and all. We don’t live for that, we do it to keep Ronnie’s memory alive and stuff like that. Like you said, people who never got a chance to see Ronnie now get a chance to get a glimpse of him in one form, the best form we can do at the moment. So yeah, it’s good to know that we’re doing a good thing. The people who don’t get it, that’s fine, just don’t show up. Sit in your bedroom and spout a lot of shit on your computer, you know, that’s fine. We’re going to get on with it anyway. *laughs*

*laughs* Now, another thing I wanted to ask you about Dio Disciples, a couple of years ago at this point, I interviewed Craig Goldy, and he mentioned that you guys had an album in the works for Dio Disciples, and I know that kind of got put on hold for the Dio Returns tour as well. I’m curious if you guys found any time during this lockdown situation to return to it at all?

No, we haven’t, really. Craig’s been doing some other recording projects, and I’ve been fortunate enough to do a couple of albums. There was nothing going on for the longest time, it’s probably like that for lots of musicians right now. But it’s still on hold, we’re concentrating on Dio Returns for the moment. We had like four or five good ideas for that album, they still need work, I think. But it’s been a long time since we’ve approached that subject, so it’s still on hold.

That’s okay, you’ve still got a lot going on for sure, especially with the Dio Returns, it’s a whole life of its own there. I’m curious what that was like to rehearse and coordinate something like that, literally half live band and one part hologram, how do you work that out in rehearsals?

Well, it was a bit strange, when I first saw the hologram, it was a little spooky. The hairs on your arm stand up a bit, it was pretty amazing. But on my end, I had to learn how to play with the click track live, because the click track runs with Ronnie’s voice, that voice is taken from different old performances, and then the band basically plays along to me and Ronnie. But I’m the one who keeps things on track, so that was a little bit terrifying first couple of times. And then you’ve got to have the guy starting the click, he’s got to be on the ball too, for the right amount of time. So it took a little bit of working out, but we finally got it sorted, I’m not afraid of it anymore. 

That’s good, but that is a bit spooky now that you say it that way, it’s like echoes of concerts gone by that you have to coordinate into one, there. It’s cool though, it’s a very innovative way of approaching this kind of thing.

Yeah! It is. Frankly, it’s the only way it can be done. But I remember one night, like I said, the monitor guy who starts the click, he started one one night and it was a different song. *laughs* I’m like, “stop!!” *laughs*

Oh my goodness, that’s funny. Well, it’s amazing to be talking to you about Dio, Ronnie, and Dio Returns stuff, but I want to just ask you, because you mentioned just now you have some albums you’ve been involved in, other projects you have going on. Maybe you can give us an outlook of what’s on the horizon for Simon Wright right now?

Sure, thanks! I mean, for the longest time, there was nothing going on, just like for a lot of musicians. But these last couple of months, I got a call from a friend of mine, Stuart Smith, he has a band called Heaven and Earth, and he asked me if I’d like to do the album. I said, “sure, that sounds cool”, and that’s pretty much done. Unfortunately, it’s going to be out in August, that’s a couple of months away, but then a couple of weeks later, my friend Kevin Goocher called, he’s a singer, has a band called Of Gods & Monsters, so I did that album as well. They’re still putting guitars on that, and vocals and stuff at the moment. It got really busy there for a couple of months, and like I said, before, there was nothing. So that was pretty good!

Yeah! Okay, so we have some band names to keep an eye out for some extracurricular work from Simon, there. 

Yeah, keep an eye out!

Absolutely. Thanks so much for your time today, really awesome getting a chance to talk with you, you are a legend in your own right, so thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Nice talking with you, Chelsea, take care now, be safe.