Anyone fortunate enough to cut their teeth on MTV’s 'Headbanger’s Ball” would chortle at the image of Ronnie James Dio as anything besides the receding hair line rock God-head that he was in the video for 'Holy Diver;, the band’s most recognizable hit. There was an air of desperation inherent in RJD, his tattered, street urchin attire and the earnest way in which he bellowed and writhed, and threw out the metal horns he made a universal symbol. It was pure theater.

Unbeknownst to most of those denim-clad acolytes of the RJD-as-metal-pioneer idea is his early involvement in Elf (aka, The Electric Elves) a boogie-woogie rock band that earns the label “hard rock” only in the most peripheral sense. As I sat down to listen to 'Carolina County Ball' for the first time in a few decades, I’m brought to the mindset of Grandpa summer bands like Canned Heat, Savoy Brown and the southern neck bone spitting aesthetic of Molly Hatchet. This is pure roadhouse music that came along at a time when most believed rock was for cutting a rug to.

The later album in this pair of re-issues, 'Trying to Burn the Sun', the band's last before breaking up tends a little more toward proto hard rock. In between kick out rhythms there are more churning riffs, certainly more than the sway hipped 'Carolina County Ball' was. There is a strong sentiment amongst critics that 'Burn the Sun' is really the dawn of Ritchie Blackmore’s underrated band, Rainbow. What is most curious here is the sequencing, producers sending the two best songs (maybe in the whole band catalogue) 'Wonderworld' and 'Streetwalker' to the end of the track list, essentially burying the most accomplished songs and memorable melodies toward the end. The time capsule aspect of these albums is a point to relish though; however dated too, there is a timeless element here. It seems highly unlikely to me that anyone ever charts a hard stomping blues rock song like 'Black Swampy Water' ever again.

Unfortunately, this two album slate of re-releases omits Elf’s eponymous debut, best known to record store divers for its hideously authentic cover; it is, after all, on Elf where the band really shows off the root of their bayou sound. What then becomes missing in this re-examination of Elf is the downturn of the boogie, the ebb in honky tonk sounds which led to the gradual blacking out of the blues in favoor of heavier riffs.

Rock history is full of delightfully blind turns. Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio kick out a few jams after their chance Sunset Strip meeting. And out of that impromptu session, they wrote the hit song 'Children of the Sea' and everything else is history. Dio goes on to take over Black Sabbath from Ozzy and then fronts his own band, achieves that screaming, underfed banshee look and boogie rock, for the most part, is relegated to the $2 bin at the end of the record store aisle. The moral of the story though, is that Elf is not a band to ignore. In these two critical records, hard rock makes a necessary pivot.











Related Links:

http://www.ronniejamesdio.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronnie_James_Dio


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