Simon Wright has defended DIO DISCIPLES' decision to go on the road with a hologram of Ronnie James Dio, saying that the tour will be a chance for fans to celebrate the legendary heavy metal vocalist's life.
Dio died in 2010 at the age of 67 from stomach cancer. His 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 Returns: The World Tour" production uses audio of Ronnie's live performances from throughout his career, with the DIO DISCIPLES band playing live, consisting of Craig Goldy on guitar, Wright on drums and Scott Warren on keyboards, along with Bjorn Englen on bass. Also appearing with them are singers Tim "Ripper" Owens (JUDAS PRIEST, ICED EARTH) and LYNCH MOB's Oni Logan.
Based on video footage of the first leg of the 2017 tour, Dio fans had mixed reactions to the apparition of their favorite singer, with some loving it and others thinking the performance didn't live up to the real thing or that it was just plain creepy.
After the tour's initial seven-date run was completed in December 2017, Ronnie's hologram underwent some changes before the launch of the next leg of the "Dio Returns" world tour, scheduled for May 31 at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers, Florida.
In a brand new interview with Billboard, Wright stressed that no one is "trying to resurrect the dead here. It's just basically a screen with an image on it. It's not voodoo." He said of fans who feel weird about the hologram concept: "All I can say is, just come and have a look. If you like it, you like it. And if you don't, you don't. There's a lot of work gone into this, and it's done with respect and love and care. A lot of people never got the chance to meet Ronnie or see him play live, and this is a good way to see him. It's not him live obviously, but it's a good show, and it's all about Ronnie."
The 17-song set consists of seven tunes sung by the Dio hologram — the rest feature Owens and Logan separately or together — and encompasses material from Dio's lengthy career, including his earlier days in RAINBOW and BLACK SABBATH.
Wright told Billboard that he found it difficult at first to perform to a click track (a metronomic series of pulses musicians listen to to keep strict time) for all of the songs involving the hologram, and stay locked in so the vocals continuously match the live music.
"I've gotten used to the click," he said. "Obviously, with Pro Tools, I've used it [in the studio], but it's just a whole different thing live because you're sweating a lot more and you're putting your all into it. The headphones start filling up with sweat. You go through a few sets of headphones."
Wright's latest comments echo those made by Ronnie James Dio's widow and manager (and a member of the Eyellusion team), Wendy Dio, who said that the people that criticize the hologram should at least see it in person before voicing their disapproval. "Don't criticize it if you haven't seen it," she told "Whiplash", the KLOS radio show hosted by Full Metal Jackie. "It's done with love. The band love doing it. And we just wanna keep Ronnie's memory and his music alive."
Owens previously addressed the "cash-grab" accusations leveled at the "Dio Returns" organizers and musicians, saying that the hologram has yet to turn a profit.
"People complain to me: 'The hologram, somebody is making money from it.' No, Wendy Dio is paying a gazillion dollars to try to get it to work," he said. "And second, people just went and watched dead musicians being played by somebody else in a movie. Or they go to a wax museum and they go, 'This is all right.' Well, who the hell is making money from that? C'mon, people.
"But I get people not digging it — I get it," he continued. "But I think the main thing is I just wanna celebrate it and do it."