July 2004: The covers of DIO
By Per-Helge Berg

Marc Sasso, who made the cover art for DIO's last album, "KIlling the Dragon", will also be making the cover of the new album, "Master of the moon". He will then be the second artist who has made two covers, the first being Wil Rees.

When I was working with the feature article "The covers of Dio", Marc Sasso revealed that he was working with the new album cover, but asked us not to go public with it yet.

Today, it's official from several sources, so we can now tell you what he said in the interview with dionorway.org three weeks ago:

-Coincidentally I am hard at work on the new Dio cover - Master of the Moon - right this moment. I spoke to Ronnie the other day and we are going to come up with something very cool for this one as well, but I need to spend time working on it right now, Marc Sasso told us.

As he says in the article (which you can read in or DIO-Specials section, if you are registered), he tried to get Dio to use "Murray" again while working with "Killing the Dragon", but got the thumbs down.

Marc says the following to Maximum Metal about the new cover: -I can't think of a better way to spend my Independence Day then painting new cover art for one of the greatest American heavy metal singers in history — Ronnie James Dio! The artwork is everything you've come to love within the DIO universe — a bad-ass creature in a magical environment, with a twist.

Ronnie's vocals and music have been a huge part of my life and he is one of the coolest, most down to earth people I've ever met. I am thankful that I have been given the opportunity to create his cover art for a second time. Long live the Man on the Silver Mountain!

DIO has released nine studio albums so far, his 10th coming this autumn. On the cover of his albums he has been faithful to the genre most of his lyrics has dealt with, fantasy. In this article I’m going through the different graphic artists he has used to make his covers, and talks to some of them.

Randy Berrett
The cover of the first DIO-release, the classic “Holy Diver” in 1983, features the famous “Murrallsee” or “Murray” overlooking a priest in chains fighting for his life in a stormy sea.

The cover was made by Randy Berrett, an artist who had made the fantasy genre as his speciality. Before and after the release of the album, Berrett had made some covers for fantasy books, as “The Bards Tale” which also was released as a PC-game.

I haven’t been able to get in contact with Berrett, but he has since 1983 continued his career from making book covers to teaching at the Academy of Art university in San Fransisco, and the latter years he has started to work in the movies. He was used as an scetch artist in both “Toy Story II” and “Monsters Inc.”, and is one of four art directors credited in “Finding Nemo”.

Barry Jackson
Barry Jackson did the excellent cover for DIOs second album, “Last in Line”, again featuring “Murray” on the front cover. In the 80’s he worked with making record albums and movie posters, and then he went into movies.

-Prior to "Last in Line" I had done an album for Neil Young called "Trans." After "Last in Line" I went on to do numerous album covers, the best known were "Afterburner" and "Recycler" for ZZ Top, Barry Jackson tells dionorway.org.

-I did the art for Ronnie James Dio back in 1984. The piece was done entirely in acrylic paint. I spoke to Ronnie on the phone before beginning the piece. As I recall he wanted an endless line of people marching off towards a creature he referred to as "Murray." I did the line of people like it was the end of the world, the lady with the shopping cart was my idea. He then sent me reference on what "Murray" looked like and I dropped the image in, Jackson explains.

In the 90’s he turned into movies and animation production. His screen credits as a visual development artist include films such as, "The Prince of Egypt," "The Nightmare before Christmas," "Titan AE," and Ron Howard's "The Grinch." He was also one of several production designers on the Dreamworks production, "Shrek."

Barry Jackson also production designed the as yet unreleased, "Hopper," and was the conceptual designer of the Paramount feature film, "Cool World."
In 2002 he production designed the all digital animated short film, "Los Gringos," which was critically reviewed and praised in Entertainment Weekly. He also designed the opening title sequence for Joe Dante's film, "The Haunted Lighthouse," which is a featured attraction at Sea World.

Last year he also co-directed/production designed the pre development of "Mighty Mouse", a Nickelodeon feature film. Currently he is director of animatics at Electronic Arts and is writing on a childrens book, " Danny Diamondback and the Hoppin' Jalapenos”.

Robert Florczak
DIOs third album, “Sacred Heart”, was released in 1985. The artist who made the front cover was Robert Florczak. –It was a long time ago but I seem to recall that Dio and Warners were fairly sure about the direction for the cover. I know they specifically wanted a crystal ball with a dragon in it held by the hands of a creature. The sky and marbled border were my ideas, but Ronnie supplied me with the latin he wanted me to include in the border. Ronnie stopped by my studio several times during the work to check on progress and suggest any changes along the way, Florczak tells dionorway.org.

Florczak remembers Ronnie James Dio as a nice guy: – He was recovering from recent hernia surgery but was delightful, delivering a limousine to bring me to his office one day, where I met his wife. I remember we shared a love for the Beatles and as far as I know, the band, as well as Dio himself were happy with my painting.

Ronnie James Dio actually did buy the original painting, which was done with oil on paper.
I had the privilege to see it hanging in his office, Florczak (pictured to the right) tells us in an e-mail-interview.
Before that project, I had done much illustration for the entertainment industry, and for the last dozen years have exclusively illustrated picture books. I am now embarking on a change of direction and have begun producing fine art paintings for limited edition reproductions, beginning with a long term deal with the Japanese, he explains.

That the magic of Ronnie James Dio wears well after all these years, is the following story a true example of.
–My wife and I and two young children were in the midst of a 2,500 mile driving tour of the British Isles when, late one night we pulled into a lovely hotel in England's Lake District. Having no reservations (we were generally stopping at bed and breakfasts along the way), the young, 20-something, hotel clerk reported that there were, unfortunately, no rooms available. He was kind enough to telephone around the area for me in search of an available hotel room.

As he was doing this he struck up a conversation with me, noticing my American accent, and asked where I was from. When I answered Los Angeles, his eyes glowed as he related that he looked very much forward to visiting the States someday and especially L.A. In fact, he added, "You may not be familiar with this guy, but when I do visit L.A. my goal is locate my idol Ronnie James Dio and meet him".

I told him that, coincidentally, I was the artist who did the Sacred Heart cover and he was amazed. At that moment he called another young employee-fan over to meet me and then, to my pleasant surprise, said, "Wait a minute, I see that we have an available room here for your family, after all!". With that we were shown to one of the lovelier accommodations we had on the entire trip. One never knows how ones work can have an impact so far afield and so many years after, Florczak writes in an email to dionorway.org.

Steve Huston
So, back to the covers again! Steve Huston designed the “Dream Evil” cover. He worked as an illustrator in Los Angeles for about eight years from 1981 til 1989, and can tell this about how the cover was made:

-I can't tell you much: I did it for the record company. It was the art director's idea and as I remember Mr. Dio's wife had the approval. She was quite happy with it, but to be honest I was not. It was not one of my better efforts I'm sorry to say, an honest Huston tells dionorway.org.

Editor's note: I don’t think it’s THAT bad, mr. Huston!

Anyway, what about “Murray” in the window?
-As to "Murray" I don't remember that at all and since I was not a fan of their music it had to be their idea to add it in, he says.
Steve Huston is now recognised as a fine artist, showing his art in galleries in New York and Los Angeles ( eegallery.com and sullivangoss.com respectively).

Wil Rees
Wil Rees is the only artist so far which have been used twice by Ronnie James Dio. Rees made the cover for both “Lock up the wolves” and “Strange Highways”. Rees was also the man behind the cover of the Dio-reunion with Black Sabbath, “Dehumanizer”.

Tapio from dio.net can tell this about Wil:
Ronnie was very pleased with Wil Rees' artwork and he recommended using Wil Rees for the Dehumanizer sleeve.

I once talked with Ronnie about Wil Rees on Strange Highways tour (11 years ago, so my memories are not necessarily very exact)..
If my memory serves me correctly, Ronnie told me that Wil Rees sent him some of his works in the late 1980s and offered his services in case Ronnie would ever need an album cover..

Ronnie liked his work and asked if he could paint LUTW sleeve. Wil Rees was apparently very young then - I think Ronnie mentioned that he was 17 when he painted LUTW, just like Rowan Robertson when he joined the band. To my understanding both LUTW and Dehumanizer were oil-on-canvas type of things, but Strange Highways was partly also done with a computer.
, Tapio writes in an email to dionorway.org.

I haven’t been able to get in touch with Rees myself about the cover art he made for DIO, but I have found out that he, like Randy Berrett and Barry Jackson, have been involved in movies the latter years. He has worked as a designer and illustrator in movies like Mortal Kombat, Batman & Robin, Armageddon, Soldier, Spiderman and Daredevil, to name a few.’
As many of the other artists Dio has used, Rees has also designed a lot of book covers in his career.


Marc Sasso
Marc Sasso did the cover design of “Killing the Dragon”. Sasso has also made cover art for bands like Cage, Morbid Angel, Rob Rock and Cryonic Temple. He is a big fan of metal, and lists Black Sabbath and Rainbow as two of his all time favourites.

In an interview with Maximum Metal, he states that he likes the Sabbath-albums with DIO best:
–I reach for Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules more often. Dio's voice and lyrics on those two albums just spin my head like a top, Sasso says.
In the same interview he also explains how he got the DIO-job, and how he reacted:

–I was introduced to the then VP of Spitfire Records, Dennis Clapp, through a mutual friend. He took a look at my art and recommended me to Ronnie and Wendy Dio who in turn hired me to create the cover of Killing The Dragon. Being a sick Dio fan I almost shit when Dennis called me and told me Ronnie would be phoning me at 3pm on Monday to talk about the cover. I spoke to him for 1 hour and 9 mins and I don't care what Vivian Campbell says about him, everytime I talked to Ronnie - he was awesome!

As his two favorite vocalists Sasso chooses Rob Halford and, of course (!), DIO:

- Halford and Dio are tied for my top spots. Totally different singers but each one is amazing in their own right. To Dio's credit, I've seen him live, maybe 14-15 times and he has never sounded bad. Not even a little off. He was put on earth for one reason - to sing.

As an well known artist, Marc Sasso doesn’t only do album covers. He has illustrated a lot of graphic novel covers of comic characters and designed covers for various Playstation games and for other game companies.

You can read the whole interview from Maximum Metal here!

Editors note: Personally, I wouldn’t mind a return of Murray, especially since DIO on the last album, and also on the new one, as far as I have understood, has turned into a musical direction which is close to his orginal style, but, as Sasso tells dionorway.org exlusively, that wish may be a long shot:

-I tried to convince Ronnie to bring back Murray on Killing the Dragon but he wasn't interested. I don't know what the future of Murray is but I would love to see him come back as well, Sasso tells us.

Murray or not, I’m waiting impatiently for “Master of the moon”!
Huge thanks to those artists in this article who took the time to answer my emails, it is greatly appreciated! One thing which is, not surprising really, but interesting after getting all these emails, is what everyone is saying about Ronnie. Not that we don’t know he is a good guy, but it’s clearly evident that all these graphic artists like him too, and the way he treated them!

Please check the websites to those of them who has one, a lot of good and beautiful art to watch there, and possibilities to buy also!