So here’s how it went down.
Jimmy and I were hanging out, listening to WKIC ‘Kick’ FM when Mike DeCell announced the thirteenth caller would get four tickets to The Souls of Styxx concert being held that weekend at Foxboro Stadium.
Jimmy was like, “Whatev.”
I said, “Someone’s gotta win.”
“My dad says ‘you can’t win if you don’t play.’”
So we both flipped our phones open and dialed. Jimmy was stoked as his call was answered; he tucked his stringy blonde hair behind his ears, and listened. His face went slack and he flipped his phone shut.
“Number ten. Told ya.”
Then my call was answered. An overly-positive voice said, “Congratulations. You’re caller number thirteen!” I nodded to Jimmy, all excited. Then a real person came on the line.
Mike DeCell asked, “Who am I talking to?”
“Todd. Todd Butler.” I heard my name echo-repeated on the radio and it sounded strange.
“Well Todd, Todd Butler, turn down your radio because that echo is annoying.”
Manic-eyed Jimmy did it for me.
“We’ve got four tickets for you to see The Souls of Styxx this weekend. How does that sound?”
“What’s your number one station for kick ass rock?”
“Kick FM, man.”
“Stay on the line so we can get your information, and thanks for listening to Kick FM.”
“Cool, thanks man.”
We had to give Jimmy’s older brother two tickets to drive us there, which was okay because his girl was, like, queen of the wood.
The stage was in the end zone and our seats were third row, center. Except for the poorly disguised goalpost, you’d never know we were on a football field. The murmur of that many people talking shit about how cool the night was turning out got so loud I couldn’t hear Jimmy saying how cool the night was.
Suddenly, the lights went out and we heard a single bass drum shock wave that shattered my eardrums. Another shock wave and my ears felt ready to bleed. They came quicker, and a guitar chord was stretched out, held forever, and then released. The audience reached a frantic volume when it realized The Souls of Styxx were opening with Zombie Legion.
The lights went super-nova and I could feel a sweat immediately begin on my forehead. Nick Santoronio was wearing black and white striped bike shorts and nothing else. His arms were a blur; an amphetamine fueled rock and roll metronome. Todd Dekker and “Schwing” McNeil had the necks of their guitars pointing at each other as if they’re machine guns while firing a salvo of digitized madness at the crowd.
In all that excitement, Nick and I made eye contact for a half a second and I looked to Jimmy to see if he saw it too. He’s yelling like everyone else and I couldn’t hear him.
From the obscurity behind the stage, Ronnie Jackman ran up in spandex-like jeans, Doc Martens, and a white tuxedo jacket with tails and deep purple piping. He came to a skidding halt belting out the lyrics. Ron’s eyes were outlined in black eyeliner and bulging in their sockets, neck tendons stretched nearly to their snapping point. Spittle flew with every unintelligible word, and he held the microphone to his face as though it was attacking him.
Jimmy and I knew all the words to every song The Souls of Styxx ever made and we sang along to Legion, thrusting fists in the air like Hitler youth.
Done with the lyrics, Ronnie dropped the microphone and ran back to the drum set. He spun in time to the guitar licks put out by Schwing and ran to the front of the stage, swan-diving out into the frenzied masses. He body surfed past us, a gazillion hands looking like a reverse centipede.
He was returned to the stage as a limp ragdoll.
Stage-hands came to his aide, dragging him off while Nick Santoronio improvised a solo performance and the two axe men follow the stage hands off. The crowd stayed in for the ride, but Jimmy and I exchanged knowing glances. As Souls aficionados, we knew the rumors about Ron’s growing love of speedballing and worried.
Todd Dekker and Schwing came out moments later and each of them squatted to talk to Nick as he settled into a soothing rhythm.
They stood and Nick launched a fusillade of sound.
The crowd roared.
He dropped back into that soothing rhythm and pointed one of his drumsticks toward Jimmy and I.
We looked at each other in confirmation and smile. Todd came out to the edge of the stage, grabbed one of the security guys by the shoulder to get his attention. Soon we’re ushered backstage and we met Todd Dekker and Schwing. It was surreal.
Schwing said, “Nick tells me you guys know the words.”
“Lets hear it then.” He pushed a button on a CD player and Hell’s Rollercoaster started playing.
Jimmy and I began head-bobbing on cue and karaoke our way through the lyrics.
When Schwing hit the stop button, I was the only one singing. So I stopped.
Jimmy, Todd, and Schwing were staring at me. It was uncomfortable.
I asked, “Something wrong?”
Jimmy said, “That was good.”
They ushered in a make-up artist, gave me purple hair extensions and a white tuxedo jacket with purple piping.
That was over ten years ago. The rest, as they say, is history. We’ve done eight CDs and eight world tours, and we’ve played on every continent including the recording of Cold as Hell on Antarctica.
Nobody noticed it was the ten year anniversary of Ron’s death when we showed up again at Foxboro Stadium. Call it serendipity. Halfway through the show we do Zombie Legion and Ron shows up out of nowhere. I could actually hear him singing with me. The crowd went beserk. They thought we planned it.
I smiled at Ronnie and just played along. It was the best gig I ever had.
I dedicated this one to Ronnie James Dio who died Sunday. He was a great vocalist for several bands including Black Sabbath. I had no idea when I posted this on Friday he would push off to the great unknown this weekend. Rest in Peace, Ronnie. Heaven’s got one kickin’ band.