This is ostensibly a post about one of the coolest and most bizarre commercials ever to hit the airwaves, a commercial that seemingly featured the late Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio selling bouillion cubes... But first, a digression...
These past few weeks have seen two anniversaries that every rock fan with s sense of humour should recognise. The first is the tenth anniversary of the passing of Lou Reed a few weeks ago. As sad as that anniversary was, it was also a time to remember Reed's very last post to social media, a meme of Twilight Sparkle from My Little Ponies on the cover of his famously unlistenable art-rock opus Metal Machine Music.
The guy who entered public life with a song about horse biwed out with a pony.
That brings us to the twentieth anniversary of the UK bouillon cube commercial featuring a ridiculously convincing Ronnie James Dio impersonator. On November 22, 2003, during the Rugby World Cup final, viewers in the UK would've heard an eerily accurate facsimile of the Black Sabbath frontman singing about shepherd's pie.
The Ronnie James Dio impersonator commercial was genius
Or rather, "SHEPHERD'S P-I-EEEE!"
The lyrics are pure metal...
"SHERHERD'S PI-EEE!..., Gonna bake you in hell tonight! / Gas mark IV, not Fahrenheit / For shepherd's pie will go down a treat / Give me a portion of your mash and meat."
The impersonator was actually Bernie Shaw of the band Uriah Heep, and the band is a Rainbow tribute act. But together the illusion created is Ronnie James Dio.
Dio did specify that it wasn't him because there is no indication it wasn't. While this does sound legally dicey for the dehydrated broth slingers, but luckily Dio held no beef. He thought it was a laugh, saying "...I don’t mind. It sounds like a good way to take it down a peg or two. It’s great; it kills me."
This was a happier outcome than some of the other times that companies have hired rock star impersonators.
In the 80s, a Tom Waits impersonator was hired for a Doritos commercial. The radio spot was a parody of Waits' song "Step Right Up" from 1976's Small Change. Tom Waits sued and eventually won 2.6 million dollars. Evidence entered in the case showed that the advertising agency's producer even told the impersonator to back off, and tone down their imitation, for fear of legal repercussions. But the Dorito's people found the toned-down version "ineffective," and went with the full Tom Waits experience.
Waits vs. Frito-Lay was interestingly the first court case to cite Midler v. Ford Motor Co. a court case in which Bette Midler sued Ford for impersonating her voice in a commercial. The bouillon cube people were playing a dangerous game of litigious celebrity Russian Roulette. Dio, with his irreverent and easy-going attitude, was the empty chamber they needed.