An Interview with Rowan Robertson of Dio

Rowan Robertson’s ascent to Metal immortality began at the ripe age of seventeen while reading zines of the day such as Kerrang, and Metal Hammer. In doing so, Robertson discovered that iconic Metal singer, Ronnie James Dio, was in the process of retooling his band, Dio, and was in need of a guitarist.

It didn’t take Robertson long to record a few rough demos of his own, over some classic Dio tracks, and send them off to Dio’s UK record label in London. Initially, Robertson was rejected by Dio’s record company, but in a twist of fate, Wendy Dio got a hold of the recordings and reached out to Robertson herself, and before he knew it, Robertson was off to LA to audition for Dio’s soon to be retooled band.

From there, it was a whirlwind for Robertson, and by the time he was eighteen, he was a full-fledged member of Dio, forming a new-look outfit with drummer Simon Wright, bassist Teddy Cook, and keyboardist Jens Johansson.

Dio’s new band hit the road in support of Yngwie Malmsteen, touring in support of 1990s Lock Up The Wolves, an album that would go on to be seen as one of Dio’s finest outings. Eventually, Ronnie James Dio rejoined Black Sabbath, cutting short what has retrospectively amounted to one of the most versatile, and talented incarnations of Dio.

Still, Rowan Robertson’s influence was felt throughout Dio’s music as he moved forward. His signature riffing, soloing, and songwriting structure would go on to shape the shift in Dio’s sound as he moved into the 90s, even though Robertson was no longer a member of the band.

In this interview, Rowan and I catch up on what he’s been up to since his days in Dio while looking back at his long, and varied career in music. If you would like to learn more about Rowan Robertson, you can head to his Facebook page, and dig in. Enjoy this interview with Rowan. Cheers.

Andrew:
Rowan, thank you for taking the time. As a young musician, what were some of your early leanings which influenced you to pick up the guitar?

Rowan:
The reason I picked up the guitar was that my Aunty or cousin had left a guitar at our house; I started strumming the open strings one morning and I was hooked. At that age, there were a couple of family friends that played Folk guitar and my dad knew a couple of chords. My first guitar hero was Hendrix; seeing him play Johnny B Goode on TV was the reason I wanted to move on to electric guitar.

Andrew:
You broke onto the scene at the age of seventeen with Ronnie James Dio. I believe it came down to yourself and Tommy Bolan. Take me through how you first came into contact with Ronnie, and ultimately, got the gig. 

Rowan:
I heard Dio was looking for a new guitarist from the magazines; that’s how we got info back then! Kerrang, Metal Hammer, and the like. I recorded a tape on my four-track with Last In Line on channel one, and me soloing over it on channel two. Then, a bit of shredding after, and sent it to the fan club in Los Angeles, after first trying to send it to the record company in London, who returned it saying they weren’t interested. Wendy Dio eventually called me and invited me over to LA to audition for the band. I was only seventeen, and it was my first time in America. They auditioned me twice, and at the first one, Ronnie told me, “I really want this to work.” I looked over and saw Jimmy Bain grinning while we were playing, so I knew I was doing something right.

Andrew:
Yourself, Teddy Cook, and Simon Wright broke into Dio’s band as a new look and much younger group than Dio’s long-time previous cohorts. If you can, paint a picture of what it was like coming in and starting anew with Dio around that time. What was it like securing such a high-profile gig at such a young age?

Rowan:
Lock Up The Wolves was nearly completely written with the lineup of Jimmy [Bain], Vinny [Appice], and Claude [Schnell], but for some reason unknown to me, Ronnie decided to change it up, and Vinny then left just before we went into the studio.  For me, getting a high-profile gig like that at that age was a dream come true, and I felt I’d achieved everything I could want for right then and there. I felt fortunate that Ronnie had chosen me because I was just a kid, and don’t see how I could have gotten into any other situation like that, especially being from a village in England, and not in a major city as a part of a Rock scene. When Simon, Jens [Johansson], and Teddy were in we had an amazingly fun time; I’ve got great memories of partying and getting up to mischief with them, especially Jens, anyone in the business who knows him knows he’s completely bonkers in a good way, and a very good and fun person. I have really great memories of that recording and tour.

Andrew:
Ultimately, Lock Up The Wolves was your only recording with Dio, as he soon broke up this incarnation of the band to return to Black Sabbath. At the time, how disappointed were you that Dio had come to an end? There are archived recordings of what was to be the next Dio record had he not rejoined Sabbath, right? Will we ever hear those recordings?

Rowan:
When Ronnie put Dio on ice to go back to Sabbath, I was a bit shocked, but at the same time, I had a yearning to do my own band which, with Wendy Dio’s help, I was able to do with Oni Logan; we had a group capped Violets Demise. We made a great album, but unfortunately, it was shelved like so many bands’ albums were mainly due to the shift in the music business at that time. There were no songs recorded for another Dio album. Ronnie had me come to his house, and we batted around two or three riffs, and that was it. That tape has long since been lost sadly.

Andrew:
Looking back, what are your thoughts on your era/time with Dio? How do you feel you stacked up with the “classic” 80s version of the band? How do you feel your era pushed Dio’s sound forward?

Rowan:
I feel that my era/time with Dio has actually aged quite well. I went through many years of thinking it was really lacking but it’s a good record! I don’t think it’s as great as Holy Diver or Last In Line, as those records, for one reason, were made with Ronnie forming his own band right out of those Sabbath records, and it was a golden era. Also, the players and chemistry were outstanding of course. I do like Lock Up The Wolves though. Aspects of my performance could have been better, but I did the best I could given my understanding of music at that time, and my natural style. I’ve heard people saying that it signaled Dio’s change of sound that he had later on, but I think that he was looking to change before I was a part of it, and the sound of Rock overall was talking on elements of things like Thrash Metal, and shred guitar at that time, so it was a coincidence that I was with him at that moment.

Andrew:
Where there ever talk about you rejoining Dio once his time in Sabbath came to end once again?

Rowan:
No. Though at one time, I went down to rehearse with him with me on bass, and Tracy G on guitar. That didn’t work out.

Andrew:
After your time with Dio, you began a project with Lynch Mob’s Oni Logan, which remained shelved for many years before its release in 2002. Take me through the formation of that project, and ultimately, why it remained shelved for so long.

Rowan:
The Violets Demise band and album with Oni Logan started in ’91 after the Dio tour. Wendy Dio put us together, and we wrote a number of ideas, and songs before we hit our sound, and stride with a song called “Beggars Day.” The band lineup was Scot Coogan on drums and Spencer Campbell on bass with the two of us. It took us a long time to write that record, as we eventually recorded it with Dave Jerden in 1993. It has never had a proper release; the copies out there are something Oni did. I went into the studio with Scot a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic, we recorded drums for a re-recording of the record because we never managed to get rights from Atlantic to release the original version properly. We’re all on board to get that project done, so hopefully, we can pull it together before we’re all too old! It’s a very interesting record and a unique bunch of songs. It’s very Zeppeliney but it’s also its own thing.

Andrew:
Another interesting twist in your journey was a short-lived project called Happy Birthday, which supported a tour with Jimmy Chamberlin in 2005. Dig into how you met Jimmy, and subsequently, ended up touring with him for a short time.

Rowan:
I came into some stick for the Happy Birthday band name, we all make mistakes, and it was a silly name. I voted against it, but the drummer was very bossy about keeping it. I’m quite proud of the music though! Some creative stuff. The drummer, Charlie Paxson, knew Jimmy Chamberlain, and that’s why we got to support them on a short tour.

Andrew:
I wanted to touch on is Southern Cross, which featured yourself, Geof Nicolls, and Niles Patrik Johanson. My understanding is that the band focused on the lesser-known Sabbath/Dio material that no one seemed to be playing. Dig into the project a bit more.

Rowan:
The Southern Cross was a Dio tribute. My friend Henrik Kaupang in Norway put it together and asked me to be a part of it. Henrik has a great band called HEX AD, which some of the readers might like to check out. It was a privilege for me to play with Geoff Nicholls; he was a very nice guy and a killer player. There were Sabbath die-hards that would come to the gigs just to see him!

Andrew;
Before Ronnie James Dio ultimately passed away, there were rumors you were set to rejoin the band. Is there any truth to that? Rumors aside, what are your lasting thoughts on Ronnie, and his impact on Metal music on the whole?

Rowan:
There’s no truth about me rejoining Dio before Ronnie’s passing though we were on very good terms, and always were, so you never know what the future could have held. I’d have loved to play for him again. I’m so proud that I’m a part of the Dio musical family. He left us with his musical style and a whole chunk of what is now called Hard Rock and Metal music. He was one of the heavyweights of Rock and Metal.

Andrew:
What’s next on your docket, Rowan?

Rowan:
I’ve got some great things cooking with albums, and tours soon to come. Watch this space and thank you, Andrew!

Interested in learning more about the work of Rowan Robertson and Dio? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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