Zakk Wylde says that he had “no problems” with the recent “Dio Returns” tour, which featured a hologram of legendary metal singer Ronnie James Dio performing alongside a living backing group consisting, in large part, of Ronnie‘s onetime DIO bandmates.
The Dio hologram was created by a company called Eyellusion and made its debut at the Wacken Open Air festival in August 2016 in front of more than 75,000 fans.
The Dio hologram production used audio of Ronnie‘s live performances from throughout his career, with the DIO band playing live, consisting of Craig Goldy on guitar, Simon Wright on drums and Scott Warren on keyboards, along with Bjorn Englen on bass. Also appearing with them were ex-JUDAS PRIEST singer Tim “Ripper” Owens and LYNCH MOB frontman Oni Logan.
In an interview with the “TODDCast Podcast”, Wylde stated about “Dio Returns” (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “I think it’s great. All it’s doing is keeping our favorite artists’ memories alive — whether it’s seeing cover bands or anything like that. And put it this way: if you go and see it and we all have a great time, all you’re doing is celebrating Ronnie‘s greateness and how awesome he was. I don’t see any problems with it. It’s entertainment. If you go see it, and if you love Ronnie James Dio, and we all do, you have a great time. It’s no different than when I see any of my friends that play in cover bands. I’ve got my buddies that play in ZOSO and everything like that — they’re an amazing [LED] ZEPPELIN cover band, and every time we go see ’em, we have a great time. It’s just awesome. I think it’s just a celebration of your favorite bands and your favorite artists. So I think it’s awesome. I have no problems with it at all.”
This past September, Ronnie James Dio‘s former wife and longtime manager Wendy Dio said that she decided to pull the plug on the hologram of the legendary metal singer because she “wanted to see real Ronnie.” Speaking about how her reaction to the hologram evolved over the years, she said: “When I first saw it, I cried. Then I got used to it because it wasn’t Ronnie. And then we took it out [on tour]. The first [version] was not that good. The second one was a lot better. But I decided that I don’t wanna do it anymore; I decided I want real Ronnie. So we’re working on a stage with the DIO band, which will be going out in March [of 2022]. Instead of having a hologram, it will have film of Ronnie with the live band playing and with special effects and everything else. So that’s what we’re working on. We’re working on it with Paul Dexter [who was Ronnie‘s lighting designer and stage designer for years] and a bunch of other people. And also the Eyellusion people, who did do the hologram, are doing a bunch of special effects for us with it.”
Wendy continued: “I never say never [about bringing back the hologram], but technology gets different every day, every day, every day. And I just decided that I wanted to see real Ronnie. … QUEEN does [something similar, using footage of Freddie Mercury]. Ours will be a little bit different to that because we have all these great effects, 3D effects. It’s almost like going into — what’s that ride at Disneyland, when you go through, and it’s like a 3D effect? That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Two former DIO guitarists have publicly expressed their doubts about the Ronnie James Dio hologram. In December 2019, Tracy “G” Grijalva, who played for DIO from 1993 through 1999, said that the hologram “looks creepy” and resembles “a puppet.” Nine months earlier, Doug Aldrich, who was in DIO between 2002 and 2006, told XS Rock that “Ronnie would probably not” like the hologram. “He would probably be, like, ‘This is not what I signed up for.’ A hologram? It’s not really what he would want to be. I’m just guessing, you know, that it’s something that Wendy thought about and she decided that Ronnie would be fine with it. But I knew Ronnie well enough to know that he was very particular and he would prefer for them to let him just die and be in peace.”
After the “Dio Returns” tour’s initial seven-date run was completed in December 2017, Ronnie‘s hologram underwent some changes before the launch of the 2019 leg of the trek, which took place in May and June of that year.
The “Dio Returns” 17-song set consisted of seven tunes sung by the Dio hologram — the rest featured Owens and Logan separately or together — and encompassed material from Dio‘s lengthy career, including his earlier days in RAINBOW and BLACK SABBATH.
A few years ago, Wendy told Patch.com that critics of the Dio hologram were “entitled to their opinion. I just ask that people come and see the show first before criticizing,” she said. “We got a lot of flak in the beginning but I think more and more people are getting used to it. It’s for the fans. It’s for the fans who would love to see Ronnie back up on the stage and the ones that never got a chance to see him. I think Ronnie would approve. If anybody saw the ‘Sacred Heart’ tour in 1986 we tried to make a hologram then. We had Ronnie in a crystal ball hanging from the stage talking through it. Also he was an innovator in music, so why not be an innovator in technology.”
Last year, TESTAMENT guitarist Alex Skolnick, who toured with Ronnie on two separate occasions a decade and a half apart — in 1992 when Dio fronted BLACK SABBATH and again in 2008 when Ronnie was the singer of SABBATH offshoot band HEAVEN & HELL — offered his opinion on the Dio hologram on Twitter, writing: “I don’t believe in those hologram shows. It would be one thing if the artist was still alive, chose not to tour for whatever reason, gave his or her approval & maybe even had a hand in the process. But Dio had no say.” Skolnick also added a thumbs-down emoji as a way of voicing his disapproval.
DISTURBED frontman David Draiman said in a 2016 interview that he had mixed feelings about concerts featuring the Dio hologram. He said about the prospect of seeing a holographic version of Ronnie: “It makes me sad. I’m always happy to hear any music from anybody that’s left us, that we’ve lost. But I don’t know… The hologram thing, to me, it almost isn’t letting the dead be dead.” He added, “It just seems weird… Is there a difference between a hologram and a guy dressing up like Ronnie James and doing it?”