Black Sabbath: It Was Like Four Friends Together Exploring The World

artist: black sabbath date: 05/28/2010 category: interviews
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Black Sabbath: It Was Like Four Friends Together Exploring The World
Forty years ago, Black Sabbath returned to the studio just six months after their self-titled album had been released. They had been touring in support of the first album and now had to go back into the studio to record their followup. What emerged from those sessions was Paranoid, an album that contained everything from the ultimate riffage of "Iron Man" to the psychedelic jazz of "Planet Caravan." Many people consider this the touchstone of all things metal. To commemorate the album's release, Eagle Rock Entertainment is putting out Black Sabbath: Classic Albums Paranoid, a DVD highlighting the recording of this classic record. All four Sabbath members are involved as is engineer Tom Allom and a handful of journalists. In order to talk about the DVD, I received an advance copy and slipped it into my Blu-ray player (they only had Blu-ray copies available). I watched the various interviews with Geezer, Ozzy, Tony, and Bill and was struck speechless when I saw myself talking about the album. I had been interviewed sometime ago about a Paranoid project but I never put two and two together. In beginning my conversation with Geezer, I mentioned that I was in the new documentary and he chuckled mightily. But our dialog was not all lighthearted. I had obviously heard about Ronnie Dio's terrible fight with cancer but had no idea how bad he was. Geezer mentioned he had just seen Ronnie and was really shaken by the singer's frail appearance. Two days after this interview, Ronnie James Dio passed away. Here is what Geezer had to say about his Heaven & Hell singer: UG: How is Ronnie doing? Geezer Butler: Ahh, not well. I saw him last week and it shocked me a bit. You had to cancel the Heaven & Hell tour? Yeah. When Ronnie gets better, would there be another Heaven & Hell record? I'd love to do it but he's not gonna get better. I think he's hangin' in there, you know. Have you given any thought about what you might do? Uh, not at the moment, no. I mean I'll obviously think about but I have absolutely no idea. I'd love to do something with Tony still but it wouldn't be appropriate to do anything now. All I can think of is Ronnie at the moment. That's all we're all thinkin' of. ________________________________________________________________________ What does it feel like hearing Iron Man as the main theme song of the Iron Man movies? Are you blown away when you hear the music all these years later in a modern film? It's one of the first songs that we wrote and one of the most successful ones way back in 1970 or whatever it was. And it is very strange to hear it. We were influenced by the comic and now the comic's influenced by us. I mean it's really strange that after all, Iron Man was always one of my favorite comic books when I was a kid and now it's sort of turned around. To see our music sort of promoting that film. It's great. Is it difficult to grasp that it's been 40 years since Iron Man and the Paranoid album first came out? The past 40 years, it's just flown by.

"So everything that we did was for the first time and we were all experiencin' it together."

Do you miss those days? Is there a feeling you had back then making music with Sabbath that maybe doesn't exist anymore? Well because we were barely out of our teens and the whole world was all a new experience for us. So everything that we did was for the first time and we were all experiencin' it together. It really was magical because you're learning with every new day; it brings a new experience. And when you've sort of you know been there/done that kind of thing, you never sort of get that same feeling ever again. Has there been any downside to this legacy? Have you ever felt like you had to outrun your past because of the immense success you had all those years ago? Oh, no, not for me anyway! I always feel incredibly lucky that we had it anyway. Umm, back in those days bands tended to fade out after two or three years or a couple of albums. I mean the Beatles had even broken up by that time [1970]. So you didn't really see any long term [possibilities]. You just did it, it was something to do, for two or three years until you got a proper job. You never think it's gonna last this long. So it's all a bonus whatever comes after. After you made Paranoid and it became so successful did you have a feeling that maybe there was a future playing bass in a band? I never thought about it. It's just like take one day at a time. We were just in it for the fun more than anything. It was just like four friends together exploring the world and doin' what you love doin'. By the time you recorded Paranoid, did you better understand who the four of you were as a band? You'd done the first album and had that experience so was making this second record a bit easier? Not really cause it was all done so quickly. We started the first album and the second album, Paranoid, was almost all written in one go. Because we were on the road all the time so we'd just literally write and stuff at gigs and I think half the Paranoid album was written when we'd written the first album. So we didn't really have time to think back then. It was just like, We gotta write this, gotta write that. As long as the four of us enjoyed what song we came up with, we'd just go in and record it. Was there any sort of pre-production or anything like that? Back in those days there was no cassette recorders or anything to record your ideas on. So you just had to keep it all in your head and sort of work on it at gigs. I mean we did the first two albums and written them in the space of probably nine months. Though Paranoid was recorded incredibly quickly, were you trying to stretch yourself as a bass player? Did you think about your sound at all? You talk about being influenced by Jack Bruce and Paul McCartney so was there any attempt to put a bit more into your playing? Oh, obviously you try and get the best sound as you can and I always liked a distorted sound and something that filled out the lack of a rhythm guitar. Because we didn't have a rhythm guitarist or no keyboards or anything so you needed a nice big fat sound with a lot of aggression in it. And basically it was like quite crap amps that I was using; I think that helped my sound [chuckles] in a funny sort of way. I think I was using guitar amps at first. Laneys? Yeah, and it was given it that distorted big sound. Which is what Jack Bruce was doing by running through Marshalls. That's right. Yeah, yeah. You talk about developing a sound within an instrumental trio. Did you learn how to fill out the sound more as a bass player? Yeah, I think all of us were growing as a band. Cause for the first, say, 12 months we just played 12-bar blues and some soul stuff. And so it was like very basic at first; the first stuff that we were doing. I didn't have a clue how to be a regular bass kind of player. Sort of Beatles style bass playing, I didn't have a clue how to do that. So we all just developed as a band as we went along; we all learnt from each other. In 1970 when Paranoid came out, Zeppelin had released Led Zeppelin III and Purple put out In Rock. Live at Leeds was out and as you mentioned, the Beatles put out their last album, Let It Be. Did you listen to these other bands to see what they were doing? Were you interested in hearing what your sort of contemporaries were doing musically? Oh, absolutely! The first Zeppelin album, we loved that album. That was probably the one album that the four of us absolutely loved. I mean Ozzy was always a Beatles fan. Tony wasn't a big Beatles fan; he was more into the Shadows and guitar-based bands and jazz kind of guitar. Bill was into big band stuff: Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and that kind of stuff. And the one thing that we all came together on was first of all the blues and the typical Robert Johnson and Cream and Hendrix and John Mayall. And the one band that we went, Wow, this is incredible was Led Zeppelin. Weren't Robert Plant and John Bonham from the Birmingham area where you and the other Sabbath guys grew up? We grew up with Robert Plant; we knew Planty well from Birmingham. And we were really interested to see what he was doing cause we'd met up with him in Birmingham when Jimmy Page had asked him to join what was then the New Yardbirds. And he said, I don't know whether to go for it or not. And we went, What have you got to lose? We always thought, I wonder what Planty's doing? And then when that album came out, we all rushed out and bought it and that just blew us away. So you heard the first Zeppelin record before you did Paranoid? Yeah, before Paranoid, yeah. I think that album came out in early '69 if I'm not mistaken. That's right; of course it did. When you heard it did you think, Oh, my god, how are we going to match that? Oh, no, we didn't even put ourselves in the same class. I mean they were like ultra-accomplished musicians and well-respected within the musical community. And we were just an up-and-comin' band. We didn't even think there would be a millionth of their success. It was just weird with Bonham and Planty and we saw, Well, they're from Birmingham [and] maybe we've got a chance of getting a record deal or whatever. You were the main lyricist in Sabbath. As you were writing, did you try and think about what types of words and phrases would seem natural when Ozzy sang them? Did you try and craft the lyrics around Ozzy's delivery and his particular way of singing? It was trial and error. I wrote the lyrics that I wanted to write and then I'd give them to Ozzy. He'd sing them to his melody and if a certain word didn't fit, I'd rewrite it or he'd rewrite it. But usually because I dealt in syllables, I'd fit each word that I wrote [to] match his syllables. So usually it was matched. The melodies came from Ozzy? I mean, did you ever have a different melody for Iron Man, for instance, than the one Ozzy had? No; that was all down to Ozzy. If we look at some of the songs from Paranoid, Planet Caravan certainly stands out as an odd one. That has a psychedelic texture to it reminiscent of some of the San Francisco bands of that time like Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Were you aware of those American west coast bands? Of course. My favorite band after the Beatles was the Mothers of Invention. I loved Frank Zappa; I always used to listen to all their stuff because they were just like nothin' else. It was completely off the wall and I loved that; I loved his lyrics and everythin'. They were just so outrageous for the time. And so we listened to a lot of stuff on the west coast: Moby Grape; It's a Beautiful Day; the Flock; and Buffalo Springfield. Robert Plant was a big fan of a lot of those bands and you can hear that creeping into Zeppelin's music from time to time. Yeah, there were certain clubs where we were growin' up where Plant and we used to go to and they'd play all that west coast stuff and all those new bands. And of course Jethro Tull were going around at the time; we were fans of them. You bring up all these extraordinary bands from the 60s and the 70s and they were all so unique. No two of those bands sounded remotely alike. Was there some sort of rich tapestry of music that was different back then? It's probably different today because it's so commercialized now. I mean back then record companies were lookin' for something fresh and new and different whereas now everybody wants the same kind of thing. If rap is popular then everybody wants a rap band whereas back then each record label wanted its own sort of sound. And that's what was so great about it. The more original you were, the more likely you were to get a record company interested in ya.

"We started the first album and the second album, Paranoid, was almost all written in one go."

Do you think if there was a new band called Black Sabbath and they had record an album titled Paranoid that they could get a record deal? We could probably get one on a small label [laughs]. Hand of Doom is your song about addiction. Were there drugs or alcohol involved in the making of Paranoid? Was that part of the process? Umm, we were always usually stoned. We all loved our hash. Smoking hash seems to slow everything down. How did Sabbath manage to keep rhythms uptempo? When we were in the clubs in Germany and Switzerland and stuff and we had to do our eight-hour spots everyday, we used to get stoned then. That's where most of the songs came from because we used to jam for an hour at a time because we had to fill in eight one-hour spots. And we only had about probably 40 minutes worth of music so we had to make that last for eight hours. So everything was jammed and the way to get through those days was to just get stoned out of our brains. But umm, when we were doin' serious tours, we'd occasionally do a bit of cocaine if we were tired or something but we'd never go onstage drunk or stoned. You just couldn't really function. War Pigs has been talked about a lot but what was interesting is how you used the word masses to end the first two lines. The lyric was: Generals gathered at their masses/Just like witches at black masses. Was that intentional or accidental? I know it's wrong poetically to use the same word but it was the same word but two different meanings. And I couldn't think of anything else [laughs]. We didn't have rhymin' dictionaries back then. War Pigs actually started out as Walpurgis? Yeah, it was Walpurgis at first; that's why it was comparin' war to a witches Sabbath conjurin' up satan. And that's what the whole thing was about: the general gatherin' together to conjure up satan; satan being war. The record company wouldn't let us call it that so we changed it to War Pigs. In an interview I did with Tony Iommi, he described Ozzy as an Interpreter; he breathes in the music and spits it out. How would you characterize what Ozzy brought to Sabbath? Was he more an interpreter than an actual writer? It's hard to say; I don't know what the difference would be. There was no one like Ozzy that could take those riffs and do what he did with em. There's just no other singer could have done that at the time. We all worked so well together. We were all as important as each other to bring out that sound. So there really was that sort of fifth element that emerged when the four of you got together to make music. It's like a probably a lot of bassists would probably try if you'd been brought up on Beatles stuff or Kinks stuff or Hendrix stuff or whatever you'd probably play around the riffs rather than play the riff. And same with Ozzy: if he couldn't sing around the riff, he'd sing with the riff; he'd sing the same thing. So whatever worked. He was a master of interpreting Tony's riffs. Yeah, definitely. Working with Ozzy must have been the antithesis of working with Ronnie James Dio in the Heaven & Hell band. Conceivably could Sabbath have recorded any of the Heaven & Hell songs? Yeah, because we started off a few songs on Heaven & Hell [that] were the last Sabbath with Ozzy stuff. Children of the Sea started off as the original band song. Ozzy wasn't interested in singing on it. Were Ozzy and Ronnie at different points of the spectrum in terms of their vocal and musical approaches? Yeah, he [Ronnie] was a lot more seriously musically. Because he can play guitar and he can play bass, he understood what went around it and he could work things out. He'd go away and work things out around the riff on his guitar or whatever. Whereas with Ozzy, whatever er we do at that particular time that's where it's always gonna be. Whereas with Ronnie, he'd come up with somethin' and if he wasn't satisfied he'd go away and keep changin' it and keep changin' it until he was satisfied with it. Would there ever be another Sabbath record? Original Sabbath? Yeah. I doubt it very much but one never knows. I mean we're all getting a bit too old now anyway so Too old? [laughs] Yeah! Oh, c'mon, you're playing better than you ever played. Yeah, but when the original Sabbath get together, it takes about ten years to come up with an album! I'll be dead halfway through it. In a different world, could you have seen yourself playing in a band like Jethro Tull or Traffic? If you had never met up with Ozzy, Tony, and Bill would you have been happy in a group that wasn't Black Sabbath? Yeah, in the band that me and Ozzy were in, we used to do a lot of Traffic stuff and a lot of soul stuff; Sam and Dave and that kind stuff. Was that Rare Breed? Yeah. And you were actually covering Traffic songs? Oh, yeah, we used to do Hole in the Sky and Dear Mr. Fantasy and all that stuff. So Traffic were way ahead of Sabbath in terms of recording and making a name for themselves. Yeah; I was still in school when I heard about them because a friend of mine used to live next door to Stevie Winwood. And, um, he'd [Winwood] just got expelled from school and he was only 14 at the time. I think I was about 13 or 12 or somethin'. And this guy was saying, You've got to see this guy. He's got long hair and he wears boots and stuff like this. And he's just been thrown out of school. And I was dying to hear it and then the next thing there's a big thing in the local paper about him. Spencer Davis Group and it was fantastic.

"You never think it's gonna last this long. So it's all a bonus whatever comes after."

You were playing rhythm guitar in the Rare Breed? Yeah; yeah. Were you a good guitar player? Not really; no. I was alright rhythm-wise; I couldn't play lead or anythin'. You switched to bass when you joined Sabbath? Yeah; when we first got together it was a six-part band with a saxophonist, rhythm player, and the four of us. And no bass player. So I volunteered to switch to bass which is what I wanted to do anyway after I'd seen Jack Bruce. He totally influenced me on wanting to take up the bass. Jack was really the guy? Oh, yeah. Absolutely. His vocals and everything? His bass playing; it just used to mesmerize me. Did you ever meet Jack? No, I never wanted to cause he's like my ultimate hero. And every hero that I've ever met has been a letdown [big laugh]. What about somebody like John Paul Jones? Yeah, I liked him but he wasn't an influence. John Entwistle? Oh, yeah. I mean I loved the Who as well. Probably one of my favorite bands after the Beatles. What are your plans now? Umm, go on holiday. Watch the Cup final and then go back to England and watch the World Cup. The Paranoid DVD comes out late in June and commemorates the 40th anniversary of the album's release. When you look back, do you ever think, Oh, I wish I could have changed that or That could have been better? Or does it seem perfect to you? Oh, no, no, you can drive yourself nuts doing that. Once it's done, that's it; I never go back to it. Was Paranoid your favorite Sabbath record? Umm, I enjoyed them all up to Sabotage onwards. I didn't like Sabotage; I didn't like Never Say Die but Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was probably my favorite doing the album. But lookin' back, yeah, Paranoid's probably the best musically. That's so great. I really appreciate this. OK, great. Thank you so much for the call, Geezer. You take care of yourself. OK. You too, Steven. Thanks, Geezer. OK, take care. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2010
More black sabbath interviews:
+ Tony Iommi: I'd Like To Remember 'Black Sabbath' As A Groundbreaking Album Hit The Lights 02/13/2010
+ Rock Chronicles. 1980s: Tony Iommi Rock Chronicles 03/08/2008
+ Geezer Butler: Bringing The Dio Era Back Interviews 07/25/2007
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