Pop ’N Hiss: Dio’s Holy Diver

Divine Metal
Pop ’N Hiss: Dio’s Holy Diver
Vivian Campbell onstage in 1984 with a Charvel given to him by Grover Jackson; built for Twisted Sister’s Eddie Ojeda, Campbell covered its pink-and-black finish in gaffer tape.

Vocalist Ronnie James Dio was on a roll as he formed the band that would record his 1983 album Holy Diver. Coming off a successful run in Rainbow and an early-’80s stint in Black Sabbath, he enlisted two former bandmates – bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice – and together, they began a search for a guitarist who could bring the heavy-metal flash.

While the three were hanging together in London, Bain recommended Vivian Campbell, a kid playing in a Belfast band called Sweet Savage. Dio called the 19-year-old, inviting him to audition.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” Campbell recalled. “I had met Jimmy, but didn’t really know him. He was in a band called Wild Horses with Brian Robertson (of Thin Lizzy). They’d played in Ireland a month or two before, and Sweet Savage opened for them. They tracked me down, miraculously enough because my father was the only Vivian Campbell in the phone book! It was 2 o’clock in the morning when they called and woke him up. He then woke me up and said, ‘There’s a drunken Scotsman on the phone for you.’ That was Jimmy!

“Jimmy told me, ‘I’m in a hotel room with Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice, looking for a guitar player. Can you be in London tomorrow night?’ I didn’t have the money, but my father bought a plane ticket. If not for that it wouldn’t have happened.

“I put fresh strings on my guitar and played all day before I went to the airport. At the time, that’s all I did anyway – 24/7, I was dedicated to playing guitar. That was my obsession. I flew over with my ’77 Les Paul Deluxe, rented a Marshall JCM 800, we got in a room at a John Henry’s rehearsal facility and started playing.”

Sparks flew immediately as they ran through material, including songs for the new album.

“There was intense chemistry, from the very first moment,” Campbell said. “We jammed ‘Holy Diver’ a lot! When it came time to playing the solo, it was loosely over what became the final version on the record. I was just jamming away, and Ronnie was in the corner of the room, rolling a joint, and he kept gesturing to us, ‘Keep playing! Keep playing!’ (laughs) It seemed like an eternity. Like every young guitar player, I started off with my fast and furious licks, trying to cram in as many notes as possible until I’d exhausted the toolbox and had to revert to playing more with feel, more basic rock-and-roll kind of stuff. As a guitar player, you’re thinking it’s all about technique… until you realize it’s more about feel.”

The band rehearsed and recorded at the famed Sound City, in Los Angeles. They were so tight the album was mostly recorded live.

“We’d go for a good take – guitar, bass, and drums. I’d go in and do another rhythm guitar track on top of it. Then we’d move on to the next song,” Campbell said. “It was definitely old-school, the way we cut it.”

Vivian Campbell: PG Brunelli.

The Les Paul was the only electric he played on the album – though there were some pickup swaps.

“I was experimenting like crazy,” said Campbell. “I went through several pickup changes, but mostly kept a DiMarzio X2N in the bridge. I also put on a Bigsby vibrato that wasn’t a Bigsby – it was some kind of flush-mounted trem that clipped in where the bridge goes. On a couple of solos – the end of ‘Gypsy’ in particular – you hear it. I had it on for a couple of weeks, but threw it away because the guitar would never stay in tune.

“I ran through a Marshall JCM 800 and a Boss overdrive pedal. That was it.”

The title track and “Rainbow in the Dark” became rock radio and MTV favorites while the album eventually sold two million copies in the U.S. A four-CD super deluxe edition was recently released (see review in this month’s “Hit List”). The acoustic heard on the intro to “Don’t Talk to Strangers” was a 12-string that belonged to Dio, as Campbell didn’t own an acoustic at the time.

Campbell was aboard for Dio’s next two albums, The Last in Line and Sacred Heart. He maintains he was then fired because he persistently raised business issues; Dio and his then-wife/manager, Wendy, claimed Campbell quit. For years, Campbell distanced himself from the albums and downplayed his own work. Eventually, though, he reassessed and re-embraced the music. After Dio’s death, he, Bain, Appice, and vocalist Andrew Freeman formed Last in Line, which toured and released new music in testament to the legacy of the original Dio band. Former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan joined after Bain’s death. Their third album is set for release in 2023.

“There are several factors to it. The passage of time changes your perspective on everything. Ronnie’s passing was one thing. What set me on the wrong path was how I was fired from the band. The way that went down left a very, very bad taste in my mouth,” said Campbell.

“As a guitarist, at the time I never appreciated what it was I did. I never thought it was any good. I couldn’t understand what Ronnie heard in me as a guitar player. There were so many other guitarists in L.A. who were miles better than me from a technical point of view. When I started doing the Last in Line project, I had to go back and learn my own guitar solos. It was during that process – after years playing with Whitesnake, Riverdogs, Shadow King, and decades with Def Leppard – that made me realize, ‘Oh! That’s quite interesting what I did when I was 20, 21 years old.’ That made me look at it differently. I started to have an appreciation for my playing at the time and for the music we created.”

Dio died of stomach cancer in 2010, at age 67.

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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