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A lot of rock musicians use a hand sign to symbolize the concept of "rock on" typically during a performance. The hand symbol is shown below.

enter image description here

Where did this hand symbol come from and who created it?

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    Dom, I think Johnny's answer is right, but maybe you are expecting more details, or something else?
    – Bebs
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 11:36
  • george clinton used it regularly back when he first started as well as his LSD use around 1967 . Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 23:07
  • That's called a devil's horn. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 10:43

4 Answers 4

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It was started by Ronnie James Dio. It originates from an old Italian symbol called a Malocchio, or "Evil Eye". It's all explained pretty well here.

R.J. Dio – "I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that. That's like saying I invented the wheel, I'm sure someone did that at some other point. I think you'd have to say that I made it fashionable. I used it so much and all the time and it had become my trademark until the Britney Spears audience decided to do it as well. So it kind of lost its meaning with that. But it was.... I was in Sabbath at the time. It was a symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It's NOT the devil's sign like we're here with the devil. It's an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the "Malocchio". It's to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it. It's just a symbol but it had magical incantations and attitudes to it and I felt it worked very well with Sabbath. So I became very noted for it and then everybody else started to pick up on it and away it went. But I would never say I take credit for being the first to do it. I say because I did it so much that it became the symbol of rock and roll of some kind."

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  • To expand on this, I posted an answer with a story that popped up last year among metal fans here
    – Amarth
    Commented Mar 22 at 20:24
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Its earliest use can be seen in India, as a gesture very commonly used by Gautama Buddha as Karana Mudra which is synonymous with expulsion of demons and removal of obstacles like sickness or negative thoughts.

The same usage can be seen in Italy and Mediterranean culture as well where, when confronted with unfortunate events, or simply when these events are mentioned, the sign of the horns may be given to ward off bad luck. It is also used traditionally to counter or ward off the "evil eye" (malocchio). With fingers down, it is a common apotropaic gesture, by which people seek protection in unlucky situations (It is a more Mediterranean equivalent of knocking on wood). Thus, for example, the President of the Italian Republic, Giovanni Leone, shocked the country when, while in Naples during an outbreak of cholera, he shook the hands of patients with one hand while with the other behind his back he made the corna. This act was well documented by the journalists and photographers who were right behind him, a fact that had escaped President Leone's mind in that moment. In Italy, one can also "touch iron" (tocca ferro) or touch one's nose. Males in Italy and some other countries may grab their testicles when confronted by bad luck; however, this is considered more vulgar.

In Peru one says contra (against). In the Dominican Republic the expression is zafa, said against curses known as fukú. All of these gestures are meant to conjure supernatural protection.

The 1969 back album cover for Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls on Mercury Records by Chicago-based psychedelic-occult rock band Coven, led by singer Jinx Dawson, pictured Coven band members giving the "sign of the horns" correctly and included a Black Mass poster showing members at a ritual making the sign. Starting in early 1968, Coven concerts always began and ended with Jinx giving the sign on stage.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_of_the_horns

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    Coven, featuring Oz Osborne (not to be confused with Ozzy Osbourne) on Bass, led off their debut album with a song called Black Sabbath. The Malocchio was popularized by Dio after he joined Black Sabbath. Now, seriously, how freaky is that?!? You can't make that stuff up. :o) Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 17:09
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First devil horns: Carlo Savina - Liolà 1964 enter image description here

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    first in a film poster maybe - see answer above from @JohnnyBones above, for reasons why no-one can really claim to be "the first"
    – Angst
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 19:17
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    @Angst - Correct. Pat Dobson's answer is correct too, about the band Coven (of which I own their first 2 albums). However, it's undeniable that Dio made it "The symbol of Rock", which is why I think he's the originator in terms of making it popular. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 14:42
  • This is a EP cover. Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 20:36
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The sign originates from folk lore (not necessarily just Italian), but that Ronnie James Dio was the one who made it popular and brought it to the metal genre.


To expand on the top-voted answer by @Johnny Bones - there is no doubt that Ronnie James Dio is the one who popularized the "devil horns" gesture in the heavy metal genre specifically, from where it might have spread to rock in general.

However, in a fairly recent interview last year in "The Rock Experience with Mike Brunn", Dio's old friend and band mate from Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell, Terence "Geezer" Butler, suddenly in the middle of the interview/out of the blue claimed that Dio got the idea from him.

The previous/original/current Black Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has a stage gimmick of doing the peace/"V" signs on stage and Dio was looking looking for something similar of his own, since he didn't want to copy Ozzy's thing. From the interview with Geezer Butler:

"That was my thing. From 1968 onwards, I was doing the devil horns. And when Ronnie joined the band, on our very first live gig, everybody was doing the Ozzy peace signs to him, and Ronnie just didn't know how to respond."
"And he saw me doing the devil-horn thing in the song 'Black Sabbath'. And a couple of nights later, he says, 'I can't do Ozzy's V-sign thing. Do you mind if I borrow what you're doing, the devil-horn thing?' I said, 'Yeah, go for it.' So he did it in every song and made it his. He made it popular."

This caused a bit of ruckus among metal fans last year. Apart from Geezer being a very credible source (who himself didn't think it was such a big deal, apparently), he was later able to produce a photo of himself doing the devil horns somewhere in the early 1970s here (I can't seem to link the picture). The picture seems authentic and the story seems trustworthy.

However, Geezer also also says in the same interview that he did not come up with it himself - that the sign originated way back in folk lore, just like Dio claimed he had gotten it from his Italian grandmother (which doesn't seem all too trustworthy). And that musicians and others have been doing it for as long as anyone can remember. Geezer himself makes an example of the cartoon John Lennon doing the "devil horns" on the record cover of Yellow Submarine from 1968:

enter image description here

(Image source: wikipedia)

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