Vintage videos, old promo shots & an onstage lesson from Dio settle Devil’s Horns orgins debate once and for all.
After learning of the “disgusting” recent attempt by Gene Simmons to trademark the famous “Devil’s Horns” salute that is synonymous with heavy metal music, I decided to do a little research to prove who really should be credited for inspiring millions of metalheads for over 30 years to raise their horns in celebration of all that rocks.
Sure, despite the metal hand sign being used nowadays to salute everything from a great set, to hyping soda in a lame Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, most of us metal loyalists already assumed that Ronnie James Dio started the trend. After all, Dio once revealed in an interview that his Sicilian grandmother often used the sign as a decidedly dramatic way to ward off evil.
Personally, I remember first using the raised Devil’s Horns salute sometime around 1987 at a show on Dio’s Sacred Heart Tour at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Upstate New York. During the show, Dio saluted us and we sent the respect right back at him, with 16,000 metalheads joined in unison by the same symbolic gesture.
Despite Simmons’ reach to claim ownership of the hand sign, he admits in his memoir, KISS and Makeup, that he lifted his famous Demon salute from Spider-Man.
Even ex-President George Bush knows how to properly sport the Horns sign, which he was often photographed doing in the Nineties and later.
However, he usually only did it at University of Texas at Austin football games to show his support for the Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns’ gesture is identical to Dio’s Devil’s Horns salute. However, the Longhorns hand sign has been a ubiquitous site at UT games since 1950. Nevertheless, those photos of Bush looking like he’d gone full-on metal confused some folks who believed fake news stories.
Adding to the mystique of the iconic Devil’s Horns history, the Prince of Fk’n Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, has helped to make the hand sign even more famous on a global scale courtesy of near-constant touring since the mid-Seventies, both as the original frontman for Black Sabbath and as a solo superstar who helped to define what heavy metal really is.
However, after careful review of a couple of the metal master’s live videos spanning multiple decades, it is clear that Ozzy never really uses the Devil’s Horns salute. Like ever. It is his fans that often use the gesture as a sign of gratitude, and many of those fans mistakenly believe that Osbourne is also the mastermind behind the gesture.
After reviewing Ozzy’s concerts, it’s clear that it is his fans, not him, that often use the gesture as a sign of gratitude.
Also, Ozzy’s fans’ heavy metal salute wouldn’t surface until the mid- to late-Eighties, after Dio already made the Devil’s Horns hand gesture synonymous with heavy metal music.
In fact, while Dio was seen displaying the gesture in countless publicity photos throughout three decades of metal, Ozzy seemed to have been using every gesture except the Devil’s Horns salute.
By the time the global Metal Era was in full-swing around 1988, the Devil’s Horns had spread like sin in a whorehouse and the salute soon became ubiquitous at virtually every show, from pop-metal monsters like Bon Jovi to aural assaults by thrash metal gods like Megadeth.
When it comes to pinpointing exactly when the Horns first surfaced, you only have to check out some of the most popular live videos from late-Seventies and Eighties-era rock and metal concerts.
Black Sabbath’s badass 1970 concert video of the British metal legends tearing through classics like “Paranoid” is awe inspiring. However, his royal Ozzness does not flash the Devil’s Horns once, nor does the audience. The metalheads were enthralled, of course, but at the time the highest form of respect was still fist-pumping and head-banging.
In another Black Sabbath concert clip, this one from 1980, when Dio had already replaced Ozzy, you can clearly see many audience members using the Devil’s Horns gesture while mimicking Dio’s salutation from the stage.
During the set, while performing the classic “Heaven and Hell,” Dio improvised what can only be considered a lesson in Hornsology 101. The iconic metal frontman flashes his audience a two-fisted Devil’s Horns salute while lecturing his legion of Sabbath fans on exactly what the gesture entails.
“It means, long live rock ‘n’ roll!” Dio proclaims from center stage, looking like a medieval king knighting his soldiers.
Throughout the concert, both Dio and his disciples use the Horns countless times.
Five years later, while touring in support of his 1985 album Sacred Heart, Ronnie James Dio expectedly tossed the Horns endlessly throughout his two-hour showcase of hits. And again, his audience flashed the same salute.
‘It means, long live rock ‘n’ roll!’ Dio proclaims, looking like a medieval king knighting his soldiers.
By the time Dio’s classic concert video for 1985’s “Hungry for Heaven” hit MTV and Headbangers Ball, the band’s frontman had already made the Devil’s Horns a staple of his live shows. In the live clip, he again features the now-famous Horns countless times.
The Devil’s Horns, however, still remained exclusive to Dio’s fans and live shows. The Horns trend did not ignite and become a common sight at virtually every rock and metal concert going forward until a few years and a couple more Dio tours later.
During the Eighties Metal Era, Bon Jovi also showcased the power of its live performances, such as in the New Jersey band’s iconic 1986 music video for “You Give Love a Bad Name.” When the cameras cut away from Jon Bon Jovi and his famous fringed jacket to show the audience pumping their fists in approval, the Devil’s Horns are nowhere to be seen.
A few years later, in Ozzy Osbourne’s 1989 live clip of the rocker performing “Suicide Solution,” there are some intermittent flashes of the Horns coming from the crowd, but not even a hint of a Horn from Ozzy.
Tellingly, a concert video from the same year, also featuring Osbourne performing “Suicide Solution,” shows a noticeable increase in the number of Devil’s Horns on display in the audience despite no visible or aural prodding from the singer.
The difference between Osbourne’s two 1989 shows is that the gig that witnessed a more visible presence of Horns was at the all-star Moscow Music and Peace Festival that showcased a packed roster of metal bands, including the Scorpions, Motley Crue and Skidrow. Therefore, the increase in the presence of Horns likely derived from a mix of metal fans who had been using the gesture even before headliner Ozzy took the stage later in the festival.
In his 2010 memoir, I Am Ozzy, the rock superstar speaks highly of Dio, and not in the book nor publicly has Ozzy attempted to lay claim to the iconic Devil’s Horns. Ronnie James Dio, however, has for decades humbly mentioned his fascination with the Old World Sicilian hand sign.
So, even if Simmons hadn’t already reneged on his attempt to trademark the Devil’s Horn, it’s apparent that the only one deserving of the credit for igniting one of the coolest global trends in history is probably flashing the Devil’s Horns right now from, ironicaly, Heaven.
However, the late, great Ronnie James Dio should not be held responsible for just how out-of-control popular the metal salute has become.