Bassist and producer Jeff Pilson is best known for playing with DOKKEN and FOREIGNER, but he also toured with DIO in the 1990s and performed on three of the group's albums — "Strange Highways" (1993), "Angry Machines" (1996) and the group's tenth and final studio release, "Master Of The Moon" (2004).
During a recent interview with Dave Lawrence of Hawaii Public Radio, Pilson was asked to recount how he first met Ronnie James Dio, as well as to share any cool stories about the legendary heavy metal singer. He responded (hear audio below): "I first met Ronnie, I believe it was 1982. I was in a band that came down to L.A. — I was living in San Francisco at the time, but I was in a band that came down to L.A. to play. And we were playing a gig with the band ROUGH CUTT that Ronnie's wife, Wendy, was managing, and Ronnie had been helping them out, producing them, I think, and whatnot. Anyway, so Ronnie came to the gig that night, and I certainly knew who he was, but I'd never met him. But I got to meet him, and he turned out to be just this wonderful, sweet, great guy, and I just had a wonderful first impression. Little did I realize that only about a year and some [months] later, I would be doing shows with DOKKEN [and] we would be opening for DIO.
"The DIO band and the DOKKEN band got to be very, very, very close, and that was a friendship that started in 1983 that probably, in a roundabout way, ended up with me being in [the DIO] band in 1993.
"[Ronnie] was just great," Jeff continued. "He was just such a wonderful person. The voice — that goes without saying; everybody he was a great singer. But he was a great musician, great band leader — just a great energy. He was a great person.
"I think the story that comes to mind is just how great he was with fans. I've never seen an artist anywhere close to approaching the level with fans that Ronnie was. Every night we would play, he would sit out there in front of the bus — and I'm talking in Buffalo, New York when it's degrees below zero — he would stand out there until everybody had an autograph, and he would not rush people. We would be there till one and two in the morning sometimes, and he signed everything from everybody. He knew the fans. He'd see somebody and say, 'Wait a minute. Your dad was sick. How's he doing?' And the person would look at him, like, 'Holy shit! You remember that?' [Laughs] But it was just amazing. He was incredible. And it was from the heart — he really, truly loved his fans and appreciated them. And even his lyrical message was always that, 'Don't be the small guy. Be the bigger person. Claim what is yours. Don't let anybody tell you that you aren't entitled to whatever you feel you're entitled to.' It was just a great message. And he was just such a great person and great musician. And I'm so glad his legacy will always live on because of that music."
In recent years, Pilson produced the first two albums by LAST IN LINE, the group formed in 2012 by former members of the original DIO band — Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and guitarist Vivian Campbell.
Pilson and the rest of FOREIGNER are next scheduled to perform at the Frontyard Festival at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Florida on March 23 and March 24. The new purpose-built, live entertainment event is designed to re-engage artists and guests in a safe, socially distanced setting.