Posted on by Oran

Mr.Big / Racer X shredder, Paul Gilbert took some time out of his day to chat to Overdrive about ‘The Dio Album’ [released today, April 7th], giving some background on the overall concept, the challenge of translating the late great Ronnie James Dio in his own way, and the forthcoming Mr. Big farewell tour….

Photo – Sam Gehrke

Sitting in his home studio in Portland, Oregon, Paul Gilbert is in high spirits as he talks about his latest project, ‘The Dio Album’ – a assortment of songs spanning the career of the legend that is, Ronnie James Dio.

From the outset, it’s obvious that this was a labour of love for the Mr. Big guitarist, who explained the process behind the album, his choice of songs, and the chances of continuing a series of albums dedicated to some of his favourite vocalists.

Featuring a total of ten tracks, ‘The Dio Album‘ captures the true essence of Ronnie, but through the magic of Gilbert’s virtuoso guitar performances, making this a truly unique translation of Dio’s legendary career as a solo artist, as well as his tenure in Rainbow, and Black Sabbath.


OD – Did you run into any issues over licensing for any of the music, seeing as there are tracks from Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and of course, DIO?

PAUL – My manager knows more about that than I do, but he keeps telling me to be careful about video. Seeing as this was just audio, then all I had to do was pay the writer, and I’ve no problem with that. It actually made the whole process very smooth.

OD – You had described the process of working on this album as “dissecting Ronnie’s vocal melodies” in order for you to create the guitar melody. This seems like it was a very unconventional way of playing as you are essentially creating these very famous vocal melodies on the guitar and sticking to the structure. Did you find the process strange at first, or was it easy to adapt?

PAUL – I wanted to learn something. You’ve gotta remember, I’ve been listening to these songs since I was a kid [Laughing], so they were in my head already, and that gave me the option to play them by memory and feel.

I actually did that for the demo versions that I sent to Bill [Ray, Drums] for reference, and those versions turned out pretty good. I really wanted to get something out of this, and push myself as much as I could. I approached this project like it was the worlds best guitar lesson, and Ronnie James Dio was my guitar teacher. I knew I was gonna learn more if I just listened to what he was doing, put it under the microscope, and pay attention to detail, and the results are very different to what I initially expected.

Ronnie James Dio

It was a very slow process, but I loved every second of it and I feel that I really took something away from that experience.

I’ve learned so many melodies from so many singers over the years, but there is just something so very special about Ronnie. There is kind of an unspoken language amongst singers, and that is something that I discovered while doing this project. Even though there are so many wonderful, and unique vocalist in Rock history, there are certain similarities that I began to discover. For example, the vocal melody for ‘Stand Up and Shout‘ is almost the same exact melody as ‘Last Train to Clarksville‘ by The Monkees.

After I finished the album, I went on YouTube, and found the isolated vocals for ‘Stand Up and Shout‘, and found the backing track from ‘Last Train to Clarksville‘, and I lined them up on ProTools and they are perfect! [Laughing]

OD – With such an incredible legacy, how did you settle on the songs that you choose for the album? That must have been a really difficult process.

PAUL – There are two things that make it easier, and the first is, Ronnie’s voice is just so incredible. When I play his notes on guitar, I’ve solved that issue. I could never hit those notes if I was singing them myself. The second one, is that Ronnie is so melodic, and that makes it really exciting. Imagine if the vocal lines gravitated all around one particular set of notes. That would sound so boring on the guitar. Thankfully, Ronnie had a really colourful pallet when it came to his choice of melodies.

The challenge was really about translating the pronunciation of the words, and with a little bit of magic with a pinched harmonic here and there, it really helped with imitating the vowels and expression that he [Ronnie] used when singing.

Photo – Sam Gehrke


OD – Looking back on your musical journey, how much of an influence did bands like Sabbath, Rainbow and DIO have on your style of playing and songwriting?

PAUL – I played all of those songs when I was a teenager in many, many bands. I still have the tapes in my closet [Laughing] of us playing ‘Heaven and Hell‘, ‘Children of the Sea‘, and in fact, we used to open with ‘Kill The King‘, and that was out best song.

When DIO finally came out a little later, I was about 16 years old, but we used to rip those songs live. It was, and still is incredible stuff.

OD – You had mentioned that there may be a ‘DIO Volume 2‘ album. Does that look like it’s gonna happen?

PAUL – I would certainly enjoy it as I really enjoyed making this one. I would be longer songs for sure, like ‘Stargazer‘ or ‘Sign of the Southern Cross‘. As much as I love Ronnie, there are also many other singers that I love, for example, I’d love to do a Van Halen album of all the Dave Lee Roth era. That would be a lot of fun.

Mr. Big

PAUL – I like the idea of honing all of our energy together, and pouring it into this tour. I’m really excited about doing the whole ‘Lean Into It‘ LP [1991], which is something that is gonna be so much fun. We’ve done the hits from it during our shows, but never the whole album, so I’m looking forward to that.

One of my favourite things about Mr. Big was the vocal harmonies. When we put the band together, we looked at it like: “Okay, Billy and I will do the two handed thing together, Eric will handle the vocals, so that’s taken care of”, but as we continued playing together, we sort of figured out what we could do, then we realised that we all could sing, and especially on the ‘Lean into It‘ album, that’s when we just dived right in with the vocal harmonies, and I love that album for that reason.

OD – Looking at the Mr. Big dates, it sates that it’s ’23 into ’24, so would it be correct to assume that it’s currently open-ended, and that more dates could potentially be added?

PAUL – The plan is that in the Summer we do Japan and Asia, and then in 2024 we just try to hit as many other places that we can.

OD – Having such a great career, when you look back is there any particular era that stands out as the best for you?

PAUL – Well, I’ll have to say the early years. I mean back when nobody knows who you are. That point where there is some interest in the band and that feeling that there are people out there that actually like our music! I remember being about 19 years old, this was back in the Racer X days, and I wan’t an expert on anything about the business side of music.

Racer X

I had no knowledge about how the whole machine works. Back then, the dream was to make a record. I mean, a real, hold in your hands’ album. So, when we finally go to do that, we thought we had made it big time and we went to this little club in L.A. called ‘The Waters Club‘, and the idea was to walk in there and get booked straight away, because we had a record out.

We talked to the club owner and said: ‘Here’s our album, how about giving us a headline slot on Saturday nights?“, and he said: “So, you got an album. Have you every played live? How will I know anyone will come and see you?” He basically didn’t care about the album, and he then asked us for $300 and a bunch of tickets that we had to sell, (which we just about did), and before you know it, here we are selling out the Troubadour in the span of a few months. That is the best memory I have. That feeling of validation was incredible. We were making money, our rent was paid, people were coming to see us night after night, and we were living the dream. What a great time to be alive.

OD – Speaking of Racer X, is there any possibility of anything happening with the rest of the guys?

PAUL – This past year, I did a bunch of solos for Jeff Martin [Racer X/Badlands] solo album, and he had Harry Gschoesser [original Racer X drummer] play on he album also. Unfortunately, Juan [Alderete, bassist] was in a really bad motorcycle accident a few years ago and, although he’s recovered well, he’s not in a position to play. But to answer your question, Jeff, Harry, and I is a pretty close gathering to the original line up, and I had a blast doing the solos on Jeff’s album. I can’t wait for that to come out. [At the time of this interview, there is no set release date]

OD – Would you ever consider putting out a book about your life

PAUL – I feel like I’m still in the middle of it [Laughing]. I’ve had a couple of offers from writers but to be honest, I still feel that I’m in living my life, and my story is not over. Also, I feel that these books that come out are filled with drama, in order to make it interesting. The idea of putting out drama is not really something that I’m not keen on. I feel that stuff is private.

OD – Finally, if you could pick one track from your DIO album, what would it be?

PAUL – Well, I’d have to say, ‘Kill The King‘ as it was just such a great experience to record. I have a lot of history with that track, and to be able to get it on this album is a great feeling. It kind of feels full circle in a way.

Oran O’Beirne 2023