Ronnie James Dio’s former wife and manager Wendy Dio recently discussed the devil horns he did onstage in Black Sabbath in a Rolling Live Studios interview.
“A lot of people claim that it was theirs, and it’s okay. It wasn’t Ronnie’s. It’s an old Italian sign called malocchio [the evil eye], to ward off evil. His grandma, when he was about five, used to walk down to town to give his granpa lunch at the steel mill, and he’d see his grandma [doing] the sign — it was, like, warding off evil — and he didn’t think about it; it was just part of his heritage. And then when he joined Sabbath, of course, Ozzy [Osbourne] was doing the peace sign. And he didn’t wanna do that. And then one day he just did it, and it just took off. And it was just something that Ronnie became popular for.”
Geezer Butler claimed Dio took the devil horns from him, “I’ve been doing that sign since — I’ve got pictures of me doing it since 1971. And I always used to do it in the breakdown in the song ‘Black Sabbath’ — just before it goes into the fast part at the end, I’d do that sign to the audience. And on the first couple of ‘Heaven And Hell’ tour shows, Ronnie was saying, ‘When I’m going on stage, everybody is doing the peace sign to me, and that’s an Ozzy thing. I feel like I should be doing something back to them.’ He says, ‘What’s that sign that you do in ‘Black Sabbath’?’ And I showed him the devil horns sign. And he started doing it from there and made it famous.”
Butler added about the horns, “I didn’t really think much of it. As I say, I’ve got pictures of me doing it in 1971. And it was just an alternative to Ozzy’s peace signs, I was doing it. And if you look at the ‘Yellow Submarine’ album cover, John Lennon’s cartoon character is doing it, in 1966 or whatever it was. So it’s an old sign. I was just doing it ’cause [English occultist] Aleister Crowley used to do it.”
“There’s a lot of things that he nicked off me that he claimed that he was the originator,” Butler said. “But he made it famous, so I didn’t care. The [Dio] album title ‘Sacred Heart’; that’s where I used to go to school. And he called one of his songs ‘One Foot In The Grave’. I jokingly said, ‘We should call the album ‘One Foot In The Grave’.’ And then when he left [Sabbath], he called one of his songs that. He was very naughty about things like that. And when I did an autograph, I’d write ‘Magic’. So Ronnie started writing ‘Magic’ as well. In fact, he called his [Dio] album ‘Magica’. He was very naughty about things like that.”