Geezer Butler: Bringing The Dio Era Back

artist: Black Sabbath date: 07/25/2007 category: interviews
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Geezer Butler: Bringing The Dio Era Back
Black Sabbath are the undisputed kings of heavy metal who single-handedly defined a riff fired genre and created a sound that has rabidly influenced generations. Little wonder that they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by a suitably humbled Metallica in 2006. But after Ozzy Osbourne left the band in 1979 it seemed that was the end. That was until Ronnie James Dio, the leather lunged singer from Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow stepped up to the plate. The magic was immediate and the first fruits of the union was 1980's classic album, Heaven and Hell. The recording gave Sabbath - Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums) - a whole new lease on life after several years of decline and provided them with their best showing on the charts in both the UK and US in many years. The mighty Sabbath - remade and re-modelled - were reborn with more volume, drama and mystique than ever before. Sadly, during the tour that followed drummer, Bill Ward, road weary and in poor health, left the band. His replacement was Vinny Appice, brother of Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Beck, Bogert and Appice fame. Empowered by the success of Heaven and Hell, the Mob Rules album followed in 1981 the band's first with Appice and second with Dio. But by the release of 1983's Live Evil album which was recorded at concerts on the Mob Rules tour in Seattle, San Antonio and Dallas, Dio and Appice had left the band. It would be a decade before they again regrouped with Iommi and Butler for 1992's under-rated Dehumanizer album. Fast forward to October 2005. Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio met up and threw around some ideas. Knowing that great chemistry - or in Sabbath's case, great alchemy - was a timeless commodity, it was decided to record some new material for a proposed compilation album titled Black Sabbath - The Dio Years which was released recently. The three new songs - 'The Devil Cried', 'Shadow of The Wind' and 'Ear in The Wall' - proved without question that this particular line-up of the Sabbath dragon still had plenty of fire. It was decided to take the next step and reform the band for a world tour. But rather than use the hallowed Sabbath moniker it was decided to underscore the Dio led era of the band and regroup under the banner of Heaven And Hell. Initially, the line-up was to include original drummer, Bill Ward but when he made the decision not to take part, Vinnie Appice was the go to guy. Now in what will be the metal tour of year by the metal band of all time, Heaven and Hell - Black Sabbath - The Dio Years (Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice) are headed for Australia for the first time in 27 years. In this exclusive interview Joe Matera caught up with long time Black Sabbath/Heaven And Hell bass player Geezer Butler to talk about the upcoming Australian tour, the band's legacy and the evolution of his sound. Ultimate-Guitar: Last time you were in Australia was 27 years ago with Black Sabbath and on that tour you ended up injuring your hand resulting in the remaining Australian dates being cancelled? Yeah it's been a very long. We did Japan and Australia on that tour when I was in Japan I got really pissed one night and beat the TV up and broke my finger. But when I went to the hospital the doctor there didn't think it was a broken finger so just bandaged it and let me go. But by the time I got to Australia it was absolutely killing me. And I was still playing with it yet not knowing that it was broken. So I ended up going to a hospital in Australia and got it looked at properly and this time the doctor found that it was broken in six places! And if he had not fixed it for me properly, I may have not ever played again. So we only ended up performing just two shows on the tour and cancelled the remaining dates. The earlier Australian tour in 1978 was when the band was at the height of their now documented drug addictions, what do you remember from that tour? Quite a lot of things happened on that tour. And there was this one time when we went to this really posh restaurant in Sydney and we all ended up in a massive big food fight. And the waiters were like passing us all these cakes under the tables so we could blast each other with cake and everything! What about when it came to groupies? Oh yeah, we used to them do them by the ton back then! Obviously the coke came in handy to keep you going all nite. (laughs) That's right as there was no Viagra back then. (laughs) So what can Australian fans expect this time around with Heaven and Hell? I say a bloody good show! We're doing all the stuff from the Dio eraHeaven and Hell, Mob Rules and Dehumanizer and one and two new songs that we did on the best of album. It's going to be a great show. You filmed one of the shows on the current tour for an upcoming CD/DVD? Yeah, we recorded the Radio City Music Hall show we did in New York back in April. It is due for release next month [August]
"The band was on the verge of breaking-up."
During the 1980 tour behind the Heaven And Hell album, Bill Ward exited Black Sabbath and Vinny Appice came onboard. Did you have change the way you approached your bass playing with Vinny after having played with Bill? No because Vinnie was a big fan of the band and loved Bill's playing. Bill was one of his favourite drummers and so he knew all his parts and my bass parts and he adjusted accordingly to everybody in the band. He was brilliant. He came in and totally filled in Bill's shoes. Before the recording sessions for Heaven And Hell you had left the band so Craig Gruber played bass on some of the demos for the album. You returned a short time later, so did you end up utilizing any of his Gruber's ideas from those demos when it came for you to come up with your bass parts? No as I didn't want to hear what he had done. When I came back as I didn't want to do any of the stuff that he had done so I didn't listen to what he had done until the album was finished. Ronnie seemed to have come in at a pivotal time in the band's career? Yeah the band was on the verge of breaking-up. Once Ozzy had gone off to start a solo career, the band was either going to be destroyed in the process or needing a drastic change to happen. So we decided to give Ronnie a go to see if we could make it work for the both of us. And when he came in, it was such a shock to hear somebody with so much enthusiasm. And somebody that could bring songs to some of the music that we had already written. Songs that Ozzy wouldn't sing on. But Ronnie came in and completely changed our attitudes so it was great and it was a breath of fresh air. With Ronnie coming in and contributing to the song writing process, it must have freed you up to concentrate more on your bass playing? Absolutely because I was sick and tired of like coming up with lyrics and I was also running out of things to write about. Ozzy was so out of it at the time and I had spent weeks doing all these lyrics and yet he wouldn't even read them. So I was so pissed off, that I stopped writing lyrics and wanted to concentrate on bass playing which is why I am a bass player in the first place. When Ronnie came in and with him being a lyricist also, he came with a total different attitude so it totally freed me up to concentrate on the music side of it. How did the song writing process for the three new tracks on The Dio Years compilation compare to the band's early days? Well those three new songs were written by Tony and Ronnie. I wasn't even involved at the time because this whole thing basically came about so fast. This time last year we weren't even thinking of doing this Heaven And Hell thing. Initially the record company approached us about putting out a Black Sabbath compilation album and asked us if we had any unreleased material which of course we haven't. And then Tony and Ronnie got together and wrote three new songs, told me about it and sent me the new songs and asked me if I wanted anything changed and whether I liked them or not. And they sounded great! So I went over to London and laid down the bass. Later Vinny came over and put the drums on and then we suddenly got all these offers to do a tour. And originally it was going to be just a six week tour and now it has turned out to be a whole year. What was the musical catalyst that led you to the bass? My main influence is Jack Bruce. I used to never entertain the thought of bass playing because at the time I was playing rhythm guitar. I was about 13 and used to play a lot of Beatles stuff as I used to love John Lennon so I wanted to be a rhythm guitarist. But towards the end of the Sixties rhythm players were sort of being old fashioned. With players like Cream, Hendrix and John Mayall and The Yardbirds coming onto the scene there wasn't much of a call for rhythm guitarists anymore. It was then when I went to see a Cream concert and saw Jack Bruce. He completely blew my mind and revolutionized bass playing for me as I didn't realise you could do those things on the bass. So after I had seen what was possible that you could do with the bass, I switched from rhythm guitar to bass. Your bass playing sound has evolved over the years along side your choice in bass guitars? Yeah I started out on a Fender Precision as I loved the sound of that bass and then afterwards I got another Fender Precision which was the bass guitar I used on Paranoid and Master of Reality. Then, when we were on a Canadian tour that bass ended up being smashed up by someone in customs. We had just flown to Canada and when the equipment came through, my guitar was completely wrecked. And as it was a Sunday, there were no guitar shops open. The promoter had to call a friend of his to open up this little music shop. I went there and they had this Dan Armstrong plexiglass bass and it was the only thing that was any good in the shop. So I bought that and I liked it and so I used that for a few years. Then a guy a named John Birch who made Tony's guitars too made me about five or six custom basses including an eight-string bass. And I used those including Jaydee basses and an occasional Rickenbacker until we were did the Heaven And Hell album where I switched to B. C. Rich basses. Then after that, I used a Vigier and now am playing Lakland basses.
"It would really be nice to get together one last time and do a complete world tour."
How many basses do you take out on the road with you now? I take about six of them with me. What about amps? Live I have two Ampeg SVT-810s, four custom 4x12 cabinets and two custom 2x15s that are powered by 4 Ampeg SVT-2PRO heads. How do you feel about the enormous influence Black Sabbath has had on other metal bands? It is fantastic especially when other musicians and bands I like, bands like Slipknot and Metallica come and say how much they love the stuff we have done. It's an honour especially for us because we were slagged to death when we first started by all the critics in England who said we didn't have any chance whatsoever. Then in 1980 when Ronnie came into the band everybody said we were doomed yet we proved everybody wrong. So it's great for us when all these bands and people cite us as their influence. What do you think is the secret to your longevity in this tough business considering like you just said, you've had critics against you and a musical climate that is ever changing? It's because we've been doing what we love for so long and we haven't been trendy, we haven't sold out like we haven't become a disco band or something overnight. We just do what we love and just keep it real. That way, people will always know what they're going to get from us. I hear you're not particularly fond of the '80s metal period especially the hair metal bands from that decade? Yes, I hate it. There were all these bands then like Poison and Cinderella and whatever else they're called, they're all wearing makeup and lipstick and have great big hair, and they're all really pop bands. Just because they had long hair and leather jackets, they call themselves heavy metal? And you know, I'd rather be listening to the Backstreet Boys any time than any of those bands! The number 7 seems to be a dominate force in your life. For example, you were the 7th son, born on the 7th month and various other co-incidences Yeah it is but it's not like I could have done anything about it (laughs) You have to blame my parents for that. A lot of strange things have happened to me like you say starting from when I was born and things happening in 7s. I suppose it is a co-incidence and something I kind of picked up on early in life. To be honest, I was dreading it a few weeks back when it was the 7th of July of 2007 because I thought I was going to drop dead or something. Finally will there be another Black Sabbath album with Ozzy? It is something that we've thought about and it might happen and it might not. But it would be nice if it did happen just one more time because that original band line-up really hasn't really toured practically anywhere outside of America since like the Seventies. When we got back together ten years ago we just basically played Ozzfest in America, that's all we've really done really. So it would really be nice to get together one last time and do a complete world tour. 2007 Joe Matera
Black Sabbath - Heaven & Hell: The Dio Years Australian Tour Dates 2007 With special guests Down 08/02 - Perth Challenge Stadium 08/05 - Adelaide Thebarton Theatre 08/07 - Wollongong Win Entertainment Centre 08/08 - Newcastle Entertainment Centre 08/10 - Melbourne Rod Laver Arena 08/11 - Sydney Entertainment Centre 08/14 - Brisbane Entertainment Centre
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