Interview: Lars Ulrich on Metallica's "Ronnie Rising Medley" Off the Ronnie James Dio Tribute Album, This is Your Life
Earlier today, Metallica premiered their contribution to the forthcoming Ronnie James Dio tribute album This is Your Life. Titled “Ronnie Rising Medley," the track features the Rainbow songs "A Light in the Black," "Tarot Woman," "Stargazer," and "Kill the King"--you can stream it right here. A few weeks ago, our writer Dan Epstein talked to Metallica's Lars Ulrich about Dio and the medley for the current issue of Revolver, but due to space constraints, we could only print a small portion of the interview. Here's our complete chat with the drummer.
REVOLVER Why do a medley of Rainbow songs?
LARS ULRICH Obviously, there’s a wealth of material to choose from in terms of Ronnie’s stuff with Rainbow, Sabbath, why not throw Elf in there, solo projects, and Heaven & Hell. You gotta start somewhere. I guess we probably come from that schooling more so than anything. The stuff that’s kind of based in the British hard-edged blues stuff like Deep Purple is probably the stuff that’s closest to our lineage and what’s in our DNA. So nothing against the fantastic Sabbath stuff and the fantastic solo stuff, but the stuff closest to Metallica’s DNA is definitely those early Rainbow records. So obviously you want to play stuff you can lose yourself in and you want to play stuff you feel you can do justice to. That’s the stuff that ultimately that we would feel the most and would be able to have it sound organic and pure rather than forced. Obviously, we could probably play any of it, but it’s a matter of what we would be able to give the most justice to and feel it was an organic pure extension of what we are and what we do.
It does sound like kids being amped to play songs by their teenage heroes.
I think that. Our track is actually two years old. This project has been in the making for quite some time. We did our version of those tracks about two years ago, I believe, in January of 2012. We did it back to back with this track “When a Blind Man Cries,” this Deep Purple track that ended up on a Machine Head tribute album. Doing that stuff back to back, and listen, I’ve never made any secrets of obviously my Deep Purple connections and my love and affection for Ritchie Blackmore and how much of a part of who I am that that music has sort of shaped me. Rainbow, with Dio, was probably the closest I ever was to Dio in terms of hanging out at the Plaza Hotel in Copenhagen in 1976, 1977 when Rainbow was touring Rainbow Rising. So that was the stuff that shaped me. So playing that, it’s a bunch of 14-year-old kids. Ritchie Blackmore has had a tremendous impact on Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield. I think it’s stuff that comes very natural to us and so when we started playing these songs and working our way through early Rainbow stuff, and at the same time, we’re doing that Deep purple stuff, it was--what do you say? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? So when it came time to pick the musical era of Ronnie’s that felt closest to us, it definitely at that moment in time was early Rainbow.
So would that be fair to say that is when you first came in contact with Dio?
Well, I saw Dio open for Deep Purple in 1975 in Copenhagen. Elf were opening. That was unbeknownst to me at that time. They had already cut the first Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow solo record, which they cut, I believe, in January or February of that year. Then they went out on the last Deep Purple tour in, I believe, March and April of '75 and they played in Copenhagen. So I was there and I saw Deep Purple open for Elf so that was my first occurrence with Ronnie Dio. They were fantastic at that time, but I didn’t know that basically Rainbow’s first lineup was really Elf with Ritchie Blackmore replacing a guitar player. They cut Rainbow Rising and brought in Cozy Powell, Jimmy Bane, and Tony Carey. They played a lot in Denmark in '76—'77. They actually played in Denmark in 1977 with AC/DC opening. So Rainbow was constant and I think Ritchie Blackmore loved coming to Scandinavia. So I saw Rainbow with Dio at least two or three times in '76/'77.
I imagined you have crossed paths with Dio a lot. What are some of your fondest memories?
Well, he was always incredibly kind. Anybody who you talk to about Ronnie will always tell you that he’s incredibly kind, selfless, very patient, and a great listener. I first met Ronnie outside of the Plaza Hotel like I’ve said and I believe it was in ’77. He took the time to sign autographs, chat with me, and make me feel like I was the most important person in the world for five minutes. It was really cool. Over the years, as I met him and our paths crossed a lot with Heaven & Hell. We did a bunch of shows where they supported us or were special guests. We had great times. I went and saw Heaven & Hell at the L.A. Forum at one point and went backstage and paid our respects. He was always so incredibly courteous and friendly. I walked into the dressing room and was instantly handed a big glass of red wine and he made you feel at home. It’s always a little intimidating when you get escorted into your hero’s dressing room, like, six minutes after the show [laughs]--like, shouldn’t you towel off of take a shower? There has got to be something more interesting to do than talk to my ass five minutes after you get offstage. So it was a little intimidating but he made me feel very at ease and welcome. He was such a gentle spirit and just so effortless and it never felt weird or forced or contrived. He was always very genuine. I met him in London a couple times and Wendy was always great. It was always very cool without feeling forced. I have nothing but fond and positive memories.
So there was no way for a tribute album without you guys being on this?
No. I know I’ve overused the sentence and I’ve said it to Revolver before and I apologize, but file us under Metallica, no brainer, of course. If you’re going to put a record together, not only would we want to be on it, we would fight to be on it. So of course, duh. [Laughs]