Nobody has thrown the horns more unabashedly and consistently in his career than Dio, metal's biggest voice in its smallest (5-foot-3) body. And now the truth can be told: The horns did not spring forth from the fiery pits of hell or a dark dragon's cave. They came from Dio's Italian grandmother.
"She used to flash that sign all the time. It was protection against the 'evil eye' as well as a way to give it," Dio says. "It was natural for me to do, and it's become a symbol of the bond between me and the audience. But I didn't invent it. Some caveman probably laid it on his buddy, Og!"
Dio also knows the power of the sign in concert. "Sometimes I tease the audience with it, but then when I do it, the place goes nuts," he laughs. "It's like 'Yes! The horns! That's what we came for!' And here I thought it was the music . . ."
For fans of Ronnie James Dio throughout his three-decades-plus career -- first with the boogie-rock band Elf, to his high-profile frontman duties for Rainbow and Black Sabbath, to fronting the current band that bears his name -- it is the music as much as the man.
Today, the New Yorker (born Ronald Padavona -- who, depending on the source, is either 54 or 61 years old) is on the crest of a new wave. He's still out there shooting the horns, slaying dragons, and wailing about heaven and hell with a voice and look mostly unravaged by time.
"Every time I go onstage, I know that half the audience came to see me, and they've dragged the other half along. I don't want to make the first half liars," he sums up. "I don't want to disappoint."