Ex-Black Sabbath Drummer Opens Up on Ronnie James Dio Using Vocal Backing Tracks, Reveals Song They Used It On

Drummer legend Vinnie Appice, who’s known for his work with Black Sabbath and Dio, recently appeared on the Syncin’ Stanley YouTube channel. As a part of his Cameo video message, Appice was asked to weigh in on the whole massively popular use of backing tracks for live rock bands.

And, in this video message, the drummer also revealed that Sabbath also did some of this stuff while they were working under the Heaven & Hell moniker back in the 2000s. As he reveals, Ronnie James Dio did use some vocal backing tracks to enhance the performance but it was just for one song. He explained:

“The chorus of ‘I’, we just needed some more background on it, so it was Ronnie on a keyboard. And that’s the only time we ever used it.”

Nonetheless, as Vinnie also adds, Dio wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of this. He continued:

“Ronnie hate[d] that stuff. And to do anything more than that, he would have hated it. I don’t think it’s right either. Especially if you’re singing the lyrics to a song, that’s pretty bad if you can’t sing it live. You might as well just play the tape and mime it.”

Appice concluded:

“And that was the only time we ever used that — on ‘I’. And you’ve gotta remember, too, that was 2007, 2009; he was starting to have cancer and stuff. So he wasn’t Ronnie James Dio in the ’80s or ’90s.”

Heaven and Hell - I (Wacken Festival 2009)

The song “I” comes from Black Sabbath’s 1992 album “Dehumanizer.” This marked the band’s third record with Ronnie James Dio as a vocalist and the second one with Vinnie Appice behind the drum kit.

Ronnie James Dio initially joined Black Sabbath in 1979, right after they parted ways with the original singer Ozzy Osbourne. In 1980, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward were joined by Ronnie for the landmark album “Heaven and Hell.” During the early tour in support of the record, Bill left the band and was replaced by Vinnie Appice.

The new lineup eventually released a studio album titled “Mob Rules” and, eventually, the first official live album for Black Sabbath, titled “Live Evil.” Appice and Ronnie then left the band and Sabbath continued to work with a variety of musicians throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s with Tony Iommi often remaining the only original member.

Black Sabbath - Live at the Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT (1980)

The “Dehumanizer” album saw the “Mob Rules” and “Live Evil” lineup working once again. However, the lineup broke up once again and Iommi was back to working with a constantly changing lineup of musicians until the band’s original lineup reunion in 1997.

In 2006, Dio once again joined the three original members of Sabbath under the Heaven & Hell name. After a few months, Ward was once again out and Appice joined and the group released one album titled “The Devil You Know” in 2009. The group automatically disbanded in 2010 after Ronnie’s passing.

In a 2020 interview with Ultimate Guitar, Vinny Appice looked back on Ronnie’s final days and his performances with Heaven & Hell. Asked about the final shows with Dio, Vinnie said:

“Well, the final shows, in 2009, we didn’t know he was sick. But he used to tell Tony, like, on the side of the stage, that his stomach’s bothering him. And, you know, ‘Ugh, I got gas,’ and, ‘My stomach,’ and this and that. We just thought it was something small, you know, nothing serious.

Heaven and Hell - Die Young (Wacken Festival 2009) HD

“And then, after the tour, when he went to the doctor, we found he’s got stage-four stomach cancer. And we were all, like, blown away; we were freaking out.”

“But he started getting treatments and we thought if anybody could beat this, Ronnie James Dio could beat this – because he’s such a strong person.”

“That was, like, the end of 2009, and we were planning on starting to rehearse in May of 2010. We even went into the studio, because that DVD — Wacken I think it was — there were a couple of things we had to fix, so Ronnie had to fix it.”

“We went into the studio here, him and I, but we were all nervous, like, ‘Can he sing?’ Because he was getting chemo and all that, we were like, ‘Is he gonna be able to do this?’ And so was he.”

“He was a little nervous. And he went into the studio and he nailed it. It was perfect. He just sang his parts and it was perfect. Nailed it, like he always did.”

“And then after that, we were planning on rehearsing or getting together beforehand, getting into shape, and his condition just got worse, you know?”

Heaven & Hell - Live From Radio City Music Hall (2007)

“And it got to the point where Wendy [Dio] called up and said, ‘You better come to the hospital, he’s not gonna make it.’ And then, that was it, you know. It was terrible.”

Asked about the final show with Ronnie and whether he remembers it, Vinnie replied:

“Yeah, it was Atlantic City, 2009, New Jersey, in the States. And I just remember — it was a show like every other show. You figure you don’t remember every show because there’s going to be more shows.”

“I just remember that we played ‘Neon Knights’ as the last song. And I didn’t know — none of us knew — that it was going to be the last song we played together, ever.”

Ronnie James Dio's Final Concert - Aug 29, 2009

“And then later on, when he passed, I thought, ‘That’s weird, that was the first song I played with him, and now it’s the last song I played with him.’ Freaky stuff, you know?

“But it was a great show, Ronnie sang great – he wasn’t tired or anything. He had even more energy than me, and I’m a lot younger than Ronnie was. He was just full of energy, you know. He sang great; you couldn’t tell.”

Photo: Shadowgate (Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio, 2009)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.