Ex-DIO Keyboardist On Playing With CAMPBELL, APPICE And BAIN Again: ‘We Recaptured The Vibe’

Former DIO and current DEF LEPPARD guitarist Vivian Campbell revealed late last month that he is planning to join forces with three other original DIO members to play “some gigs” that will see the musicians performing material from the early DIO records that Campbell appeared on. Campbell, Vinny Appice (drums), Jimmy Bain (bass) and Claude Schnell (keyboards) will be accompanied by singer Andrew Freeman, who has previously fronted HURRICANE and LYNCH MOB.

In a May 14 interview with Jason Saulnier of the MusicLegends.ca web site (hear audio below), Schnell explained how the reunion of the former DIO bandmates came about. “We got together for a coincidental play a few weeks ago,” he said. “And what was initially supposed to be just kind of a fun hang to see what would come of it. I mean, it had been — amazingly — 26 years since we had all been in the same room together, since Viv‘s exit post the ‘Sacred Heart’ album. So we got together just to have a play for fun, and it turned out to be more than just fun. It was a a lot of fun, and as chance would have it, it actually sounded quite good. I think we were all a little bit surprised at not only by how good it sounded, but more importantly, how good it felt, and how authentic it felt, and how familiar everything seemed; it was kind of like walking through some kind of a time portal. I mean, basically, we recaptured — I think — the vibe that we had all those years ago, and it just seemed like an obvious next step to maybe proceed with this a little bit further.”

On what it felt like to playing with his former DIO bandmates again:

Schnell: “For the most part, we had all been in touch over the years anyway. I speak with Vinny very, very often — probably on a weekly basis, I would say. And Viv and I kind of keep in touch. We have some mutual friends. We share an auto mechanic, for one thing. So we kind of keep tabs on each other and keep in touch in that regard. But Jimmy, actually, I don’t think anybody had heard from in a long time. And it was actually a chance encounter with Viv at this past NAMM [convention] in January [in Anaheim, California], when I had approached him to perhaps get together with me to work on some stuff that I had been trying to pursue that the subject of maybe getting together for a play with the old guys kind of came up. I know Viv had done an impromptu play with, I think it was STEEL PANTHER at the House Of Blues, if I’m not mistaken. And he was energized from that performance to the point of saying, ‘Yeah, we should get together with Jimmy and Vinny.’ So Viv got everybody’s e-mails and got everybody in touch with each other, and we got together, and again, it felt like old times. [We gave each other] a couple of bro hugs, and within an instant we were off and playing. And also, Andrew, the singer with whom we did that initial rehearsal, is somebody that Vinny had played with when he was playing with George Lynch in LYNCH MOB. And I had briefly done some work with Andrew on some of my projects. So they were very familiar faces, and it felt very organic and very natural.”

On the new band’s tentative plan to play some shows under the name LAST IN LINE:

Schnell: “[To call the band LAST IN LINE is] the plan at the moment; that seems to be the consensus, and from the e-mails that I have received and from the various commentaries that I have seen through the social sites and online, it’s been getting a very good response, so I think that’s probably gonna be the name that will survive. And also, it’s kind of a subtle nod to how, in his last efforts, when Ronnie did the [BLACK] SABBATH reunion of sorts, even though they couldn’t call it SABBATH, they chose to use the name of the first album on which Ronnie played with SABBATH. Similarly, the first DIO album on which we all played together — myself included — was ‘The Last In Line’. And I think LAST IN LINE works better as a band name than HOLY DIVER does anyway, so…”

On the first LAST IN LINE rehearsal:

Schnell: “I think ‘Holy Diver’ was the first [song] that we played. And interestingly, too, because the song starts with just the instruments alone, I think all of us had kind of a memory anticipation of the next thing we were gonna hear being Ronnie‘s voice. Because other than the obvious and notable absence of Ronnie‘s voice, it sounded exactly like it sounded back in the day. It was very, I guess, duplicitious. On the one hand, it felt great to be playing this music again and to have the authenticity and the strength and the power and all of the things that go with playing with such notable material, but the absence of Ronnie being no longer with us to sing it became painfully obvious as we progressed through the session. Not to take anything away from Andrew‘s performance — he did an outstanding job, and if he didn’t, I don’t believe that he’d be the one that we’d be pursuing the project with. But he did a very, very good job. His online comments about ‘preparing to be the world’s most hated singer notwithstanding,’ I think he’s going to do a very credible and very impressive job of covering this material.”

“Sadly, none of us really remembered all the songs all the way through exactly the same way, but it didn’t really matter. As a testament, I think, to Ronnie‘s work ethic, having played together for so long and having had so much repetition back when we did play together, it didn’t matter, and I think the momentum and inertia of how strong the music is just carried us through and we basically got through it all. Probably the largest component of that is the military Swiss clock that Vinny and Jimmy provide when they play together. I mean, I don’t think there’s a better rhythm section in rock out there.”

On LAST IN LINE‘s setlist:

Schnell: “Well, it’s largely gonna be material from the first three albums — ‘Holy Diver’, ‘The Last In Line’ and ‘Sacred Heart’ — the albums on which Viv played. I don’t think we’re gonna be doing any material from the albums on which Craig [Goldy, Vivian‘s replacement in DIO] played and the later incarnations of the band. But, fortunately, there is no shortage of material and hits on those first few records, so you can count on ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ and ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Rock And Roll Children’, and so forth and so on. The list goes on and on, on and on.”

On LAST IN LINE‘s touring plans:

Schnell: “We’ve been putting out some feelers and getting some kind of feedback about… Actually, [there is] a very strong international interest in seeing this back on the road. Again, this is all kind of very ironic and surprising, because quite honestly, initially, the only interest in doing this is a bunch of friends getting together to have a play and socialize a little bit and kind of catch up. But, like I said, it just seemed so organic once we started playing that the notion of doing it more than once seemed inevitable. And, of course, with that being considered, then it was an obvious conclusion that, ‘Well, let’s see if anybody would be interested in hearing this.’ Needless to say, the ears that were listening within the rehearsal hall were on fire. There was an awful lot of, ‘Hey, that sounds like that band from way back when.'”

On Vivian‘s involvement with LAST IN LINE:

Schnell: “I’m not terribly familiar with what Viv‘s following has been post-DIO. I mean, I know everything that he’s done, but it seems to me that he is largely defined by what he did on those first few albums, and I’m here to tell that, believe me, every bit of fire he had back in the day is still well in place and is just chomping at the bit, waiting to break out.”

Campbell and Ronnie James Dio worked together on the first three DIO albums 1983’s “Holy Diver”, 1984’s “The Last in Line” and 1985’s “Sacred Heart” — before Irishman Campbell left to join WHITESNAKE in 1987. Their subsequent relationship was strained, to say the least.

In a June 2011 interview with Share My Guitar, Vivian was asked about his “falling out” with Ronnie and how Dio‘s passing affected him. “It’s not so much that we had a falling out. Ronnie and I never really had much in common other than the music,” he said. “There was a real age difference between us. When I joined DIO, I had just turned twenty. Ronnie was a lot older. I’m sure it was just as uncomfortable for him as it was for me. We had this very awkward kind of relationship where we found it very hard to communicate with each other. It was like being in a band with your stepdad. It was really weird. Then Ronnie fired me. A lot of people think I left DIO and I turned my back on him. That’s absolutely not the case. I got fired half way through the ‘Sacred Heart’ tour. I never wanted to leave the band.”

When asked why he got fired, Vivian said, “When we first got together, Ronnie promised us that by the third album there would be an equitable split for the band. Everyone would be an equal guy in terms of merchandise and record sales. We got none of that. Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice and myself were all salaried players. We earned less than our road crew. I just felt it was wrong. Ronnie, and particularly his wife Wendy, made this promise to all of us back then. So we started doing the third album, and I was probably the most vocal. ‘Hey Ronnie, we talked about this back then and you promised us this.’ Ronnie kept saying, ‘We’ll talk about it when the record is over.’ Then the record was over and I brought it back up again and he said, ‘We’ll talk about it when we’re on the road.’ It just kept getting put off. Then we had a break in the tour and I went back to Ireland to visit my parents. I got this FedEx [package] asking me to sign this contract. They were going to pay me an extra two hundred bucks a week, and that failure to return it signed by such and such a date would be constituted as me leaving the band. So I’m on the phone trying to get Ronnie, and, of course, Ronnie won’t pick up the phone. The next thing I know, the band is doing the U.K. part of the tour with Craig Goldy and I’m fired.

“I’m very proud of those records. The songs that I wrote with Ronnie and the records we made really stand up. It’s bittersweet for me because I never got paid for them, nor did Vinny or Jimmy. . . We got no royalties on the records. We got none of the receipts from the tour. We were salaried guys getting paid less than the lighting designer, getting paid less than the sound guy, getting paid less than the professionals on the crew. To put a dollar figure on it, in 1984 I earned sixty-something thousand dollars, and Ronnie earned eleven million. It’s a little bit of a financial discrepancy, considering that the band also wrote the music. Jimmy Bain and I wrote a lot of those songs with him. To not get paid at all and then to be fired…”

He continued, “I don’t like talking about the details of it in that way. I thoroughly enjoyed playing in that band. I never wanted to leave. I got fired. As a result, it did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, so I hadn’t spoke to Ronnie since then. Frankly, when he died it was two weeks after my mother died, so I was kind of a little bit numb to the whole thing. People were calling me saying, ‘What do you think about Ronnie dying?’ I didn’t feel anything about Ronnie dying. I hadn’t talked to him in over twenty-five years and my mother had just passed. Saying that I left the band and turned by back on DIO is absolutely not true. I was 100% fired.”

In interview conducted a short time before he died, Ronnie stated about Vivian‘s tenure with DIO, “In my opinion, Vivian no longer had the commitment to the band he had in the early days. He was — and remains — an excellent guitarist. I never lost sight of how good he was as a musician, but as a person… Well, he was no longer on the same page as the rest of us. That annoyed me hugely. When you’ve got four people really stretching and straining to do their very best, and one person who’s clearly holding back, it makes for an unhappy camp. A lot of negative things have been said since by both Vivian and me… Now, I regret some of those things. I’m sure he does, too.”

Speaking to U.K.’s Metal Hammer for the magazine’s May 2012 issue which features a six-page spotlight on DIO, Bain said about Campbell‘s exit from the group, “Viv did nothing that warranted his removal from the band in what is still considered to be a cowardly way. For me, firing Viv was the biggest mistake of Ronnie‘s career. The problem could’ve easily been resolved if there had a been a will to do so from Ronnie and Wendy [Dio, the band’s manager and Ronnie‘s wife].”

Vinny also regretted Vivian‘s departure although he was a little more diplomatic in his comments on the situation.

Viv wasn’t happy with the business part of the band, and musically wanted to pursue something else,” Vinny said. “If he had been happy with the business end of it, he probably would’ve stayed and made a few more records with us. We had a successful, great band with Viv, and it was unfortunate to change ingredients.”

Bain also felt that DIO was in decline by the time the band released “Sacred Heart”.

DIO should have gotten better with each album, but what happened was the opposite,” Jimmy told Metal Hammer. “The production was watered down with all the keyboards, [and] the songs were not as good because it became harder to satisfy Ronnie‘s need to complicate arrangement and structure.”

In a May 2011 interview with Brazil’s Roadie Crew magazine, Wendy Dio stated about the controversy surrounding Ronnie‘s relationship with Campbell (in a 2003 interview Vivian called Ronnie “an awful businessman and, way more importantly, one of the vilest people in the industry.”), “[Vivian] always said that he hated all the albums that he played on with Ronnie, and that was very hurtful to Ronnie. Very hurtful. Would you like someone who said something like that about your albums? He said a lot of things in the press that I don’t wanna get into, because it really wasn’t Ronnie‘s feud at all. Ronnie didn’t fire him. I fired [Vivian]. He wanted as much money as Ronnie wanted. He thought he was as important as Ronnie was, and that was just wrong. But I don’t wanna get into that. It’s water under the bridge. It doesn’t matter.”

In March 2011, it was announced that the surviving members of the final lineup of DIO would embark on a project with former JUDAS PRIEST frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens under the name DIO DISCIPLES.

During an April 2011 appearance on the “All Hail Hair” show on Fightin’ Words Radio, Vinny Appice was asked what he thought of DIO DISCIPLES going out on the road and paying tribute to Ronnie James Dio. “I think it’s disgusting,” he said. “I mean, why are they even doing it? Plus, [Ronnie has] not even been passed away for a year. And, you know… It’s kind of… I don’t know. It’s kind of weird, man. It’s weird.”

Claude Schnell interview:



Original DIO lineup performing live in 1984: