Interview: Guitarist Craig Goldy Talks Working with Ronnie James Dio and Touring with Dio's Disciples

In the 1980s, guitarist Craig Goldy was already enjoying a fine career playing with bands like Rough Cutt and Giuffria and compiling an impressive resume. But in 1987, when Goldy filled the coveted guitar spot in Dio, he reached a new level in the hard rock and heavy metal universe.

Goldy became Ronnie James Dio’s right-hand man and went on to co-write such Dio classics as “Dream Evil," “One More For the Road," “As Long As It’s Not About Love” and many others.

I recently chatted with Goldy before a Dio’s Disciples show in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Dio’s Disciples feature Goldy on guitar, Tim Ripper Owens and Oni Logan on vocals, Bjorn Englen on bass, Simon Wright on drums and Scott Warren on keyboards.

In this interview, Goldy revisits his past and discusses his time with arguably the greatest rock singer of all time.

GUITAR WORLD: How were you first considered for the guitar position with Dio?

Ronnie was a friend initially and was there at my audition for Rough Cutt. I had sent a demo up to a friend of mine who was in Los Angeles. He and I were working on a band together and he felt bad for leaving me behind, so he said, “If you can give me some demos, I’ll pass them around.” Then my friend’s band became friends with Rough Cutt, and I still hate saying this, but when Randy Rhoads passed away, Jake E. Lee from Rough Cutt took his place. So there was a place open in Rough Cutt.

So they found me, and Ronnie and Wendy [Dio] rented some gear for me, because all I had was a guitar. When Ronnie heard my demo tape prior to that, he wanted to meet me. He was there at the audition, and we had a chance to talk. I told him how much his music meant to me, and he got inspired and sat in on the audition. Then we started working together in the studio.

We became friends and learned that we worked really well together. One day he looked at me and said, “If it ever doesn’t work out with Vivian Campbell, you'll be my first choice." So that's how that whole thing happened. I knew he was a man of his word, but I didn't sit around with voodoo dolls of Vivian or anything [laughs]. I was in Giuffria, and that went really well. Then I was in a band with Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldrich after they had just left Ozzy in 1986. That's when I got the phone call to do Dio. It was a surprise, but at the same time, he said what he said, and he meant it.

How has the Dio's Disciples tour been going?

The tour has been really good. A lot of the places have been packed while some, not so much. Wendy authorized us to use the Dio logo as part of the Dio's Disciples name, and a lot of the promoters tend to think the tour is going to sell itself, and then they don't do anything. But that's maybe only about 2 percent of the clubs. The other 98 percent of the dates have been great, and even those 2 percent of the shows have been great. The crowds are awesome. The Anaheim House of Blues was probably a favorite of mine, and then my hometown of San Diego was really cool.

What has the reaction from the audiences been like?

There's something really special that happens when people gather together in the same room, with the same heart, mind, spirit and soul. I never know when, but it always happens. There are these special moments when the audience and the band connect as one. You can see the fans singing to the sky with tears dripping down their face. They’re filled with love for Ronnie and miss him so bad.

How did the idea for the Dio's Disciples come about?

Ronnie was family to us, and he was family to me. When a main family member passes away, the family members left behind often a couple of times throughout the year, try to keep the loved one's memory alive. Ronnie was family to the whole world, so there was a long mourning and grieving process. During that time, there were a lot of tributes to Ronnie, with a lot of bands coming out, doing stuff. Some of them had good hearts and good intentions. Others had no business to do it and were just taking advantage of it. At one point, we were talking about it, saying, “You know, we really should do something.” So Wendy, Simon Wright and I sat down and talked and said, “OK, it's time." We wanted to make sure it was done in the most respectful way; that's how it all started.

What do you think when people are not happy about these type of tributes?

I understand it, because Ronnie was so revered that there are going to be people who are apprehensive of what we’re doing. It's really not a for-profit thing. If people think it's a for-profit thing, I have no problem with them checking my bank account balance [laughs]. I mean, we're barely squeaking by over our expenses. It’s very expensive to do this kind of thing. There is money involved, but money is not the priority. The priority is to make sure Ronnie's memory is kept alive.

Even if we did nothing, he was so loved around the world that there are people who will always remember him, but if we just left alone and did nothing, these special moments with the band and the crowd would not have happened. So many people have come backstage to us and said, “That was the greatest experience ever,” and that's what we say about this. It’s not really a concert, it's an experience. Ronnie and his music were so loved that it became such a huge part of people's lives. The songs we’re playing have been a huge part of people's lives for decades. It really means something to them.

How does it feel to have written songs with Ronnie like “All The Fools Sailed Away" that are as iconic as ”Heaven and Hell" and “Gates of Babylon”?

First of all, thank you for that. It's a dream come true. When I was growing up, Ronnie was and still is my favorite singer. I had a pretty rough childhood and was in and out of hospitals from beatings and stuff like that and left home and lived in a car out on the streets. Then the next thing I know, I'm headlining Madison Square Garden with my favorite singer, doing music we wrote together.

I was a fan first and foremost, so just being in his band was a big deal. There were times when we’d be writing songs in his house and he would sing something that would remind me of Rainbow or Sabbath, and I was like, “Wow” [laughs]. After 20 years, I would still be sitting there thinking, “Man, I'm writing with Ronnie James Dio” [laughs].

What's the most important you learned from Ronnie?

There are so many, but a lot of it is first the music has to feel good. The groove has to be great because a lot of guitar players write for the riff first. The way he wrote songs was special too, because he really toiled. The law of hit songwriting is melody first, lyrics second. A lot of people don't do that, a lot of singers sit around with their notebooks filled with lyrics and they try to cram their lyrics into a song. So the two have already been sitting around collecting dust and they try to call it an original song. That's not the way you do it. You’ve got to start from scratch.

He would really toil because it's hard to tell a story and hit people in the heart with the limited amount of syllables you have in a song. It’s not an easy task, but I watched him do that and I learned from him. There is going to be some original material coming out, and I have a song about Ronnie's passing and how the band feels and how the fans might feel, and it's coming out really good. When Wendy heard it, she said, “Ronnie would be really proud of you."

When you guys were on tour back in the Dream Evil days, did Ronnie talk a lot about Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Elf?

He had a lot of interesting stories, and he had such a great sense of humor. It was interesting because when we became friends, I’d go over to his house and it would just be me and him sitting around watching old Rainbow videos, talking, hanging out all night. It was great.

Ronnie’s Elf records and his doo-wop music from the '50s are criminally underrated. What do you think of that music? Was he proud of that stuff or had he moved on mentally?

I totally agree that stuff is great. He was definitely very proud of it all. I don't think a lot of people know this, but the first Rainbow record was Elf minus the guitar player. Elf was opening up for Deep Purple at the time, and Roger Glover was the one who heard them and produced one of the records that got them a record deal and got them on the Deep Purple tour. Then when Ritchie was being disenchanted with Purple, he kept hearing Ronnie's voice night after night. I can't blame him. He was probably saying, “I’m stealing this guy … and his band." He had good taste getting them.

Have you ever met Ritchie Blackmore?

I met him a couple of times when Giuffria toured with Deep Purple. On the very last night, I ended up in his private dressing room and we talked quite a bit. He was a really nice guy. I think a lot of it was that he knew the only reason I played guitar was because of him. I told him what a huge fan I was and meant every word of it. I think he's used to people using him and say, “Oh, I'm a big fan," but I meant it. I think he understood that and that meant something to him I think. He was really cool.

Dave Reffett is a Berklee College of Music graduate and has worked with some of the best players in rock and metal. He is an instructor at (and the head of) the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal department at The Real School of Music in the metro Boston area. He also is a master clinician and a highly-in-demand private guitar teacher. He teaches lessons in person and worldwide via Skype. As an artist and performer, he is working on some soon-to-be revealed high-profile projects with A-list players in rock and metal. In 2009, he formed the musical project Shredding The Envelope and released the critically acclaimed album The Call Of The Flames. Dave also is an official artist endorsee for companies like Seymour Duncan, Gibson, Eminence and Esoterik Guitars, which in 2011 released a Dave Reffett signature model guitar, the DR-1. Dave has worked in the past at Sanctuary Records and Virgin Records, where he promoting acts like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Korn and Meat Loaf.

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