Simon Wright started out playing in his native England in New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like A II Z and Tytan before finally getting his big break taking over the legendary drum throne of AC/DC in 1983 and stayed there through the rest of the 1980s before leaving to join Dio in 1990 for the LOCK UP THE WOLVES album. He’s currently still hitting as hard as ever and still playing Ronnie’s music along with longtime Dio stalwarts Rudy Sarzo and Craig Goldy in the powerhouse Dio offshoot simply called Dio’s Disciples. We had the pleasure of catching up with Simon while he had a moment to fill us in and the band was planning its upcoming run of tour dates. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: What are you up to currently Simon? Are Dio Disciples still out?
Simon Wright : Yes, we are still concentrating on Dio Disciples and just organising dates for 2012.
LRI: How did it feel the very first time you stepped onstage without Ronnie and how do you explain the band to people who are critical of you guys for carrying on?
SW: The first Dio Disciples show was Moscow, Russia, June 8th 2011. We rehearsed for about a week before we left and it was weird at times,we tried to keep working/playing and stay productive to take our minds off the fact that Ronnie wasn’t there, but there were moments when I thought “I wish I wasn’t doing this, ya know, we should be rehearsing for a new Dio tour”. The show in Moscow went well, it was hard to concentrate at times ,especially playing “Catch the Rainbow”, many,many in the front row were crying. That’s a heavy thing and it was very emotional for everyone,but you have to keep going for Ronnie and the fans. That is what Dio Disciples is all about, we want to keep Ronnie’s songs alive for the fans, I was in his band for 14 years, I was around Ronnie during the horrible chemo when he got sick and I’ll be damned if I’m just gonna walk away and not keep his name and his music alive for him and the fans. Call me crazy, but there you have it.
LRI: You had previously worked with Tim “Ripper” Owens on his solo album. What was that like and did that experience have anything to do with him getting the nod for Dio Disciples?
SW: I really enjoyed recording Tim’s solo album. I got to play a little differently, much more double bass drum stuff, more thrashy, it was cool. Tim is a very down to earth guy,he had some big shoes to fill in Priest but he’s still just a regular guy. Ronnie and Tim were friends and Wendy is his manager, so he’s like family to us. It seemed natural for us to ask him to sing in Dio Disciples. He will be the first to say there is and always will be only one Ronnie James Dio, he has total respect for Ronnie and his songs. I think he does a great job under difficult circumstances, as do we all.
LRI: For those who haven’t had the pleasure of checking out a gig yet….what different eras of Ronnie do you celebrate and how much fun are the guys having now that you’ve had some time to acclimate?
SW: We play songs from Rainbow, Dio, Sabbath, we play the classic songs of course. “Heaven and Hell” , “Rainbow in the Dark” , “Man on the Silver Mountain” ,etc, but there are SO, SO many songs from Ronnie’s catalog that are so amazing. So it ends up that we have to play those songs but also try and throw in a couple that haven’t been played in years or never played live before at all,we get requests from fans. We may try some Elf and Heaven and Hell songs at some point as well.
LRI: We talked to Rudy a few months back who indicated that the fans were incredibly important to Dio while he was in the original band. Does that carry on? Are you able to get out there and meet people and take photos and stuff?
SW: That is correct, Rudy is spot on in that Ronnie loved his fans. He would sign, do photos, interviews, the fans were the most important thing, ALWAYS. After shows we do the same .We get to meet great people who share their stories about Ronnie and we sign everything they want signed,chat,hangout. Dio fans Rock!!.
LRI: Rudy and Craig are monster players as is the entire band. Is it unthinkable that such a great group of creative players might sit down and create some new tunes in addition to the obvious classics?
SW: Well we may at some point in the future,but for now we are concentrating on the touring side of things.
LRI: You had the pleasure of not only playing live with Ronnie but also making a series of albums in the studio with him. How much different were the two worlds when you were working with such a master?
SW: It was an honour for me to be in BOTH situations, he was a musical genius in the studio and live. Ronnie would develop his songs even after they were recorded, he would craft them for the live shows, add parts or change intros or endings, sometimes half an hour before a show which was sometimes scary stuff (laughs). It was great to be honest, you had to be on your toes, he had amazing ideas as far as live arrangements.
LRI: You had some experience in dealing with difficult positions when you assumed the drum throne for Phil Rudd. We recently talked to Mark Evans who indicated he thinks you are a fantastic drummer who was put in a tough spot. Which was harder, that first period stepping in for Phil in AC/DC or the first gig the Disciples?
SW: Mark said that? Very nice of him…. he’s a great bass player and a cool guy. I guess he’s right too, it was a tough spot to be in, filling in for Phil Rudd. Phil was a BIG part of the AC/DC sound and was there from the start, but he left and they needed to carry on. As for myself, it was a gigantic leap from obscurity for me and it was difficult in the fact that I was young and inexperienced. I just tried to do the best job I could do and play the songs the way they were meant to be played. Dio Disciples has been MUCH tougher, it’s a lot more of an emotional thing, a lot more personal for me and probably similar to what the AC/DC guys dealt with during the BACK IN BLACK era. It must have been tremendously difficult for Angus, Mal ,Phil and Cliff when Bon passed away. It’s hard anytime you deal with a situation like that but you just have to carry on.
LRI: When you joined AC/DC they were set on making the FLY ON THE WALL album with the brothers once again producing themselves. At the time It didn’t do as well as some had hoped in terms of sales or whatnot but like all things AC/DC it is now considered a CLASSIC. Looking back what are your personal feelings on both the sessions and the tour that followed?
SW: The sessions seemed to go well, most of the shows on the tour were sold out which is always nice. Fly on the Wall was a little different from the previous albums really, it’s difficult to keep up that kind of momentum they had rolling. When you have been so successful with albums like BACK IN BLACK and FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK, eventually somethings got to give I think in terms of mass chart success. Having said that, I really like it and I thought Mal and Angus captured the band very live and raw. They truly did a great job on the production and a hell of a lot of people tell me it’s their favorite album which is cool.
LRI: The guys rebounded in a BIG way with WHO MADE WHO. At the time, a band being solely involved in a movie soundtrack was kind of a novel idea and now of course it’s done all the time. The guys came up with some really good new material. Was that an exciting time for the organization?
SW: Well yeah, WHO MADE WHO turned out to be a very good thing for the band. Everyone seemed to be up for it as well, you know? We ended up recording at Compass Point in the Bahamas, nothing wrong with that right (laughs). It went very well, but I’m not so sure about that movie though (Maximum Overdrive), that was kind of strange (laughs).
LRI: You were a part of the band during the BLOW UP MY VIDEO era which was the bands biggest success in years! What was it like working with George Young as a producer and recording in France?
SW: Working with George and his production partner Harry Vanda was great, they were with us during the WHO MADE WHO sessions as well, those two brought in a real work ethic which I enjoyed. I loved their production of course on the very early AC/DC albums, so getting to work with them was very cool for me personally. I think they did a great job and again, that tour was a smash.
LRI: We’re always looking to get to the root of misconceptions and there have been a few regarding your exit from AC/DC and them hiring Chris Slade. To be clear…You left the AC/DC guys, you weren’t sacked as some believe or have written. Was it just a matter of wanting to work with Ronnie or was it sort of a more personal reason?
SW: Well yes John, there has been a bit of a grey area over the years about what happened. I DID leave and I really WAS looking for something else and luckily enough Ronnie James Dio needed a drummer so I went for it. AC/DC is like a gang, which is something I think Mark Evans mentions often in his book. They really were a gang and it’s hard to leave such a tight-knit gang, I felt I was letting them down but they could also see I had become complacent about things. I knew they had no time for that and rightly so. I had enjoyed Ronnies music for years and to get to work with him was amazing. During our first Dio rehearsals I got a call from AC/DC management saying my services were no longer needed. Lots of musicians in bands these days seem to do side projects and it’s ok but AC/DC are not that type of band so I fully expected that call. Ronnie had nothing to do with my leaving, except for the fact I loved his songs. AC/DC are great people and a brilliant Rock n Roll band and I can’t thank them enough for taking me on the ride of a lifetime, but like all rides, eventually they end. I went my way and they carried on. I have nothing but respect for them, no hard feelings and I hope the feeling is mutual.
LRI: Last question…..Aside from all of this you still found time to get involved with the RHINOBUCKET guys. How was that and is that something you’ll be involved with as time permits?
SW: Rhinobucket have a new drummer these days, I have been SO busy concentrating on Dio Disciples. They are a great band though and now and again we do shows if they need a drummer and my schedule permits. I’m actually doing a one-off show in Bulgaria this year with them but their official new drummer is Dave Ducey, just to be clear (laughs). I love working with them, we’re good friends and they have some great songs, so by all means go check them out!
Link to our DIO DISCIPLES interview with RUDY SARZO: http://www.legendaryrockinterviews.com/2011/10/05/legendary-rock-interview-with-rudy-sarzo-dio-disciples-animetal-ex-ozzy-quiet-riot-and-whitesnake/
ALSO check out our interviews with AC/DC’ bassist Mark Evans: http://www.legendaryrockinterviews.com/2011/11/29/legendary-rock-interview-with-acdc-bassist-mark-evans/