Interview with Paul Gilbert

On 7th April 2023, Paul Gilbert released an album celebrating one of heavy metal’s greatest icons when he   put out The Dio Album via Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group. To get a taster, check out Gilbert’s mesmeric take on “Holy Diver” here.

You can pre-order the album here: 

Paul Gilbert
Photo: Sam Gehrke

It was pure chance that led Paul Gilbert to recording the music heard on latest release The Dio Album. The American guitar virtuoso, best known for his masterful fretwork in chart-topping hard rockers Mr. Big and high-octane trailblazers Racer X – as well as numerous solo records – was in his car when he saw something that made his heart start beating faster in a moment of unexpected, unadulterated joy. This was not a high value item of interest or even particularly rare, simply a baseball cap with the word ‘Dio’ emblazoned across the front. Sometimes, even for the biggest of guitar legends, it’s the little things that hit us in the most profound ways.

On his drive home, a plan was being formulated. Why not capture all of that raw energy and excitement on an album devoted to Ronnie James Dio’s most celebrated tracks – spanning across his career from Rainbow to Black Sabbath and the singer’s own solo endeavours? Gilbert is no stranger to instrumental music, but an entire album dedicated to replicating well established and world-famous vocal melodies on his trusty six-string genuinely felt like new territory. This was already shaping up to be a challenge that he would truly relish.

It would be fair to say human voices don’t come much more magical than Ronnie James Dio’s. He was a man who brought a sense of classical finesse to loud and heavy music, ultimately laying down the blueprint for generations and generations of rock singers to come. Taking on the daunting challenge of mimicking those distinguished vocal lines down to a tee – each legendary performance decorated with its own idiosyncrasies and nuances – actually involved unlearning some of the technical precision that turned Gilbert into a household name for guitar players in the first place.

The Dio Album consists of 10 standout and career-defining tracks, from “Neon Knights” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” to “Holy Diver” and “Man On The Silver Mountain”. As well as analysing Ronnie James Dio’s electrifying vocal melodies, Paul also enjoyed paying tribute to three incredibly talented guitar legends – Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Ritchie Blackmore of Rainbow and Vivian Campbell from the Dio band, who has been a member of British stadium rockers Def Leppard since 1992.

“Playing all these metal riffs like “Stand Up And Shout”, “Neon Knights” and “Kill The King” gave me serious chills,” grins Paul. “The guitar parts of Ritchie, Tony and Vivian brought no small number of goosebumps.” “These amazing riffs are the steel girders of the songs, upon which everything else rests,” smiles Paul. “It had been a while since I’d been this deep into metal rhythm guitar playing, and it felt like I was digging up gold nuggets of fire with a magic platinum shovel. All while wearing a star-covered wizard hat! The guitar solos in these songs came screaming from distant mountaintops. Ritchie, Tony, and Vivian set the standard breathtakingly high.”

Engineered by Zach Bloomstein with Paul handling all of the instrumentation, save for Bill Ray’s inspired drum work, The Dio Album is undoubtedly the most sonically accurate tribute to the songs that made Ronnie James Dio a bona fide rock and roll legend. In order to truly hone in on the late singer’s essence, Paul Gilbert dissected many of the melodies line by line, throwing every inch of himself into the music. It was the only way to capture every ounce of the energy and emotion.

“Just like he sang: ‘The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams… it’s Heaven and Hell!’ Thank you, Ronnie, and long live rock and roll.”

I recently had the chance to catch up with Paul to discuss the album’s release.

Antihero Magazine: What was your own personal introduction to Dios music? Did you see the band live, Rainbow/Sabbath or him solo with Dio band? Introduced to his music by a friend?

PAUL GILBERT: I heard “Neon Knights” on the radio when it came out, and I thought it was awesome! I bought the “Heaven and Hell” album soon after that. I was surprised that it was Black Sabbath, as I was used to hearing Ozzy as their singer. But Ronnie was so good, that I didn’t mind the change. I started playing those songs in my teenage cover band. And that soon expanded with songs from Rainbow, and later on, with Dio songs when Ronnie went solo.

Antihero Magazine: Was the track selection difficult, such a great and extensive catalogue of music to choose from…were there any tracks that you tried and didn’t work?


PAUL GILBERT: There are certainly other songs that I love and would be happy to have on the record. But there is only so much room. I decided to skip the songs with longer instrumental breaks. For example, “Stargazer,” “Light in the Black,” and “Gates of Babylon” are all songs that I love, but there are long guitar and keyboard solos in those. I wanted to focus on Ronnie’s vocals, so I chose songs like, “Man On the Silver Mountain” which has a shorter guitar solo, and more vocals.

Antihero Magazine: Was this solely just an album release or do you actually have any plans to tour the release? If so, would you choose to play the songs as per the album without vocals?

PAUL GILBERT: I’ve got a Mr. Big tour coming up in the summer, so I’m putting my solo tour plans on hold for the moment. When I do get back to touring on my own, I’d love to perform music from “The Dio Album.” I would definitely keep it instrumental. I can’t sing that high!

Antihero Magazine: I see that recently Mr Big has announced a farewell tour-will this include Uk dates? Many bands of a certain vintage have similarly stopped touring but still release albums. So, is it totally an end to Mr Big in terms of new music etc… if so, it seems a pity as Defying Gravity was such a strong release.

PAUL GILBERT: We shall see. We shall see. And thank you for the compliment on “Defying Gravity.”

Antihero Magazine: What gives you more pleasure working on a Paul Gilbert solo album where you can have full creative and artistic freedom but carries more pressure because it bears your name or a Mr Big album where it has to be a democracy …  Does both have its own merits and difficulties?

PAUL GILBERT: For recording, I tend to prefer doing something different than I did the last time. If I record an album with a lot of overdubs, then the next one is nice to do live-in-the-studio. If I do a solo album, then it’s nice to do the next one with a band. As with dinner, one night, a curry. The next night, Italian. the next night, Chinese. It’s nice to mix it up.

Antihero Magazine: Are there any personal and career goals as yet unfulfilled for Paul Gilbert? 

PAUL GILBERT: I’m still not a Beatle. So that’s a little disappointing, as that’s what I was hoping for when I was a kid. But overall, I’m happy with how it feels and sounds when I play the guitar. It’s very rewarding to be so deep into the instrument where many things come naturally without having to rehearse too much. But not everything comes naturally. That’s why I wanted to do “The Dio Album.” I’m a couple notches better at playing melodies now!

Antihero Magazine: When you have time off do you go out and watch concerts yourself?Any particular new artists that you have recently discovered? Do you have an eclectic musical taste?

PAUL GILBERT: I saw a lot of concerts when I was a kid, and I got so much inspiration from seeing Van Halen, Ozzy with Randy Rhoads, Pat Travers, Rush, Cheap Trick, UFO, Gary Moore, Robin Trower, and many others. These days, I don’t see so many shows. My ears are a bit worn out, so I’m careful with being on the loud side of the P.A. system. When I’m driving, I usually listen to TNT. I love the “Intuition” album. When I’m doing some artwork (drawing or designing), I listen to King’s X. If I’m in the mood for something new, I usually go back and try to find an album from the 60s or 70s that I haven’t heard before. Right now, I’m listening to the first album from “Loggins and Messina.” I know their hits, but I never heard the deep album cuts. The 70s production style just makes me feel like everything is alright.

Antihero Magazine: Thank you for chatting to me.

You can listen to The Dio album here.


Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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