Rock chronicles: Rock Chronicles. 1980s: Tony Iommi

By this time, Sabbath - as everyone knew them - had long since ended. Here, the guitarist puts it all in focus.

Rock chronicles: Rock Chronicles. 1980s: Tony Iommi
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When: 1982 Where: West Hollywood, California (probably held at Le Parc Hotel) What: I had known Tony since 1974 and we had a really close and pretty profound relationship. I had written a big pretty piece for Guitar Player Magazine some years earlier and I know that story always meant a lot to him. So, I think he always went out of his way to find time for me when he was in town. And when we did get together, I don't think he held anything back; I really believe he was pretty upfront and honest. You can read that honesty in this interview. Sabbath was going through big changes and Tony wanted to talk about it. 1982 was an important year for Black Sabbath. Ozzy Osbourne had been out of the picture for several years now and replacement Ronnie Dio was coming to the end of his tether. The band was heavily into drugs, bassist Geezer Butler had departed and then returned, and now the group was forced to find yet another singer. Tony Iommi looked back on all of these changes during this conversation, talking honestly and openly about who Black Sabbath was and how they had come to do the things they had done. At the very end of this exchange he touches on the subject of Ian Gillan, the former Deep Purple singer who would become the band's new frontman. Really, by this time, Sabbath, as everyone knew them - a heavy metal band fronted by a madman named Ozzy Osbourne - had long since ended. Here, the guitarist puts it all in focus. Black Sabbath actually started out as a jazz band? Yeah, jazz solos and jazzy blues. We were doing a lot of 12-bar blues/jazz. I used to have everybody play in a jazz style. It was a thing that we really enjoyed at that time, doing jazz. It was good because it gave me a lot of practice on playing faster runs jazz-style. And you know, it's helped a lot really. Did those jazz chops come in handy when you played with Jethro Tull for a short period? The music Ian Anderson was writing seems like it may have incorporated more of a jazzy feel than what Sabbath was doing. Well, they up and asked me if I was interested in joining and I said, 'Yeah.' It sounded alright. We were doing blues and jazzy sorts of things. They were listening to all these guitar players about 400 guitar players or something. I was only with them for a while; we rehearsed and got everything ready for this show, the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. It just wasn't right so I left. At first I thought it was great, the band was really good. But I didn't want to go for a leader in the band which was Ian Anderson. I didn't really agree with that. I left and Mick Abrahams joined. Had you already damaged your fingers when you were in Tull? Yeah, it was years ago. I did welding, electric welding. I did it one day when I had to work on this press, cut the metal and shape the metal before I welded it. Somebody else used to do it but I had to do it this day because he didn't come into work. I set it up but it was a faulty switch or something and I just pulled them (fingertips) off. It just gripped them and it pulled the others off. So, it presented a problem with my playing. It was really strange because I was due to finish this job on that day. I was going to tour with this professional band and go to Germany to work for four or five months. When this happened, I sort of thought, 'Well, that's it, I can't play with the band now because I've done that.' I was really hurt. I was inspired again by some guy who had brought me a record of Django Reinhardt who only had two fingers. And I thought, 'Christ, how can that guy play like that with two fingers?' And it really helped me because I used to listen to this guy and I used to think, 'Well, if he could do it with just two fingers, shoot, I could do it.' I had to start all over again. I have to wear things now to play (these custom plastic fingertip ends similar to thimbles) because it would just slice through me, you know, it's so tender there, the nerve endings. It's helped me in a way because I use my little finger a lot. You've long been considered the architect of a certain kind of sound and feel - heavy metal guitar. Did you have in your mind a conscious idea to create a specific tone, something that sounded sinister or dark? As I mentioned, when we first started, we used to play jazz and blues and we were just sort of like pushed into this. It's just something that came out that was totally different at that time. We found that we were writing all these sort of doomy songs and the words were really meaningful. We've never been able to explain it. We just got in and rehearsed and we came up with something that happened to be 'Black Sabbath.' It's really been a mystical thing. Without Black Sabbath today, I don't think music would be the same. I think that's what Black Sabbath was all about, we presented some sort of music that wasn't around. I don't think you have your Soundgardens and Metallicas and various other bands out there. I think of us as being innovators. I couldn't understand how different it was and we didn't understand much about it except we liked it. It was an exciting time. Birmingham, England, the city where Sabbath was from, was really a thriving musical town back then. Yeah, there was a lot of bands. You've got the Moody Blues, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, ELO, and the Move.
"That's what Black Sabbath was all about, we presented some sort of music that wasn't around."
Were you actually friends with these other bands? Would you meet and talk about the newest guitar lick you'd just come up with? Actually the scene wasn't quite like that then. But I mean, yes, I've got lots of friends from then. (Jeff) Beck is still one of my best friends. I still see him. We go out to eat a lot; we're the best of friends. I still see Planty (Robert Plant) every now and again and when I do see him, we chat. Bonham was one of my friends as well. We spoke about playing and doing stuff together, doing side projects and things. Do you remember the first time you saw Jimmy Page play? It was probably in the Yardbirds, I think. I didn't know that much of him and then I saw Bonham in town one day, going to the city. Bonham and Planty together and they said, 'Oh, we formed this new band' and I said, 'Alright.' And they said, 'Led Zeppelin and we got Jimmy Page' and I was like, 'Alright, great.' They said they were going to be touring and all sorts of things. Next thing you know, they're way up there. And now talk about the first time you met Ozzy. It was in school 'cause he was in the same school as me. It was at Birchfield Road School which is in Birmingham. Ozzy was in there, a couple years younger than me, well, a year younger than me. He was in a different class and we didn't much get on at school. I was probably a bit of a bully somewhat. Bill Ward and myself were looking for a singer and an advert in a shop said, 'Ozzy Zig requires gig.' I knew an Ozzy so we went around to see him and he opened the door and it was Ozzy. And I insisted, 'Bill, forget it.' I as in a band with Bill called The Rest and then there was a band called Mythology. And then a few days later, Ozzy and Geezer came to my house looking for a drummer and I said, 'Well, I have Bill Ward.' And we got together just doing old 12-bar stuff and Geezer never played bass before, he was a guitar player. He didn't even have a bass, he was playing on this Telecaster. And then he borrowed a bass off a friend with three strings on it. And then he went off and swapped his guitar for a bass and then we went off from there. When does the name Polka Tulk arrive in this chronology? Polka Tulk was the first name our management at the time came up with and then we changed to Earth. Then we found out there's another band called Earth and they were a pop band. We got mis-booked for them when somebody booked them. We turned up to play and were like little scruffy things and these guys were there with these bowties. And the guys says, 'Oh, I like your new single' and I went 'Oh, great' because we hadn't got a single at that time! To keep a long story short, we played and died a death. They hated us. After that we started writing our own stuff and it was after I came back from Jethro Tull as a matter of fact. Tull taught me a lot that you've got to work for it and rehearse. I was sort of put in the spot as leader and I got the band work because of me. What I learned from Ian was the attitude, getting it done, being there on time. They even used one of my riffs in Nothing Is Easy. When did you actually start writing music that would later be recognized as Sabbath music? The first thing was 'Wicked World' and it's funny, it just sort of came. I never sort of sat down and worked it out or anything. You get into rehearsal and they (other bandmembers) looked at me to come up with something. Was Ozzy a part of that creative musical process? No, Ozzy never wrote any music. He couldn't. 'Who Are You' (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath) was the only one I think Ozzy done. He came up with the melodies. And the lyrics? No. He done some lyrics but Geezer did most of the lyrics. Ozzy just did the melodies, yeah. Can you describe your experience with the first album? We made that record in two days and it seemed like a long time. We played live and Ozzy was singing at the same time on some of them (live tracks). We just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never even had a second run on most of the stuff 'cause they said, 'That's it, that'll do, that's fine, next song.' I'll never forget when we come to do 'Warning,' 'cause it's a long song, I did that guitar solo stuff in that. And we thought we were going to have to redo this. And I said, 'Well, I don't like what I played, any chance of doing it again?' And they said, 'Well, okay, we'll try it again, one more go of it. If you don't get it this time, we'll have to use that (first) one.' After you recorded the Black Sabbath album, did you find there were more gigs being offered and more money? We couldn't work in England so our main gigs were in Europe. We played the Star Club in Hamburg and we broke The Beatles record.
"Ozzy never wrote any music. He couldn't. 'Who Are You' was the only one I think Ozzy done."
Was the band involved in drugs and drinking at this time or did that come a bit later? It was around. When we started touring, we tried acid. Uppers and downers and all sorts of things; Quaaludes. And then it got to the stage where you come up with ideas and forgot them because you were just so out of it. But the band was fine. I think Ozzy was always a little bit worried (while on tour) because he'd go onstage and he didn't know what to do, what to say. I'd be getting on him, 'Say something; organize a raffle or whatever.' Jumping ahead a bit, what was it like by the time you recorded the Master of Reality record? We took a little longer on that; we had a few problems. We started shifting studios; we had about two or three different studios in London. And Bill had a particular problem with 'Lord Of This World' and we went to Olympic Studios. We came here to Los Angeles for the Volume IV album and it worked really well. We had everything: wine, women, drugs, everything. We were living in Bel Air (very expensive and elite part of Los Angeles), which was pretty good. All this happened more or less straight after the first album. The band was playing a lot of the world and everybody knew Black Sabbath by the time Paranoid came out. Our first thing to do when we had money was to buy houses and start getting other things. Nothing seemed to mean anything anymore 'cause you could get it so easy. I think that started settling in after the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. We came over to Los Angeles to do Sabbath Bloody Sabbath after the Volume IV album which we really enjoyed. But it wasn't working the same, the ideas weren't coming. Everybody was sort of sitting there waiting for me to come up with something. And if I didn't come up with anything, then nobody would do anything. We ended up going back to England and it was like I was to blame, I think, because I couldn't come up with anything. So we took a break and decided to go into a hired castle in Wales, an old castle. We rehearsed in the dungeons there and it was really creepy but it had some atmosphere and it sort of conjured up something. Stuff started coming out again and I think one of the first songs that came out was 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.' And they did have a ghost; Ozzy and myself saw something one day. We saw this guy coming down the steps, dressed in black, and he just went into this door and I said, 'Who's that?' And what about the albums that followed: Sabotage and We Sold Our Souls For Rock and Roll? We went back to England for Sabotage; we went into Morgan Studios. The reason it was called Sabotage was because we had so many problems on that album. We were breaking up with our management and we were getting sued by this person and that person. But everybody put their part in. While we were working something out musically, Ozzy couldn't do anything so he would just to out and play pinball. And then we went to Criteria in Florida for the next album. It was great fun. And then for Never Say Die that was when the problems started setting in deeply. Ozzy left the band, he wanted to leave. We brought in Dave Walker who was with Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac. We brought him in and he sang and then Ozzy wanted to come back. It was very difficult for me. Right after you did Never Say Die was when you went on the tour where Van Halen opened for Black Sabbath? Yes. They were relatively new then; it was their first world tour. They came with us for eight months and I thought they were very good, excellent. He's a great player. After that tour, we came here to L.A. and stayed for eleven months. We had a house again in Bel Air and we all decided to live together and do another album which just didn't happen. It was a time when we were going through a lot of drugs and nothing was happening. Ozzy couldn't seem to think of any ideas at the time and we were presenting some ideas to him but he just sort of came in and he got really frustrated.
"Ozzy's present wife had suggested Dio as a matter of fact."
Let's bring to a close this conversation with what finally happened with the band at this time? The record company was pushing us for tracks and they were asking to hear some tracks. We had come to a decision of either we're going to just break up or Bill and Geezer said to me that if we don't do something, they're going to leave anyway. We came to the decision to talk to Ozzy and give him an ultimatum: If you don't do something, we'll bring in another vocalist. And that's what we did. We brought in (Ronnie) Dio and had a go with him. And it was funny, Ozzy's present wife had suggested Dio as a matter of fact. At that time, I think Ozzy had come to an end; I think he just sort of had to sort himself out a bit. We were all doing a lot of drugs, a lot of coke, a lot of everything, and I think Ozzy was getting drunk so much at that time. Then when we brought Dio in, he came in with a different attitude and started singing to some of the riffs we'd got and we thought, 'Oh, great, these riffs are alive.' We wrote Heaven and Hell and it worked out really well. We went to Miami and wrote some new songs; I think we wrote 'To Die Young' there. And we went into Criteria and recorded it. Geezer had some problems, nobody really knew this, and Geezer left for a while (before this) because he had personal problems. Geezer came back and played on it. They (Ozzy and Ronnie) were totally different. Ozzy was a good showman, still is. We knew Ozzy and accepted him for what he was and he knew us and accepted us. When Dio came in, it was a lot more of a different attitude; it was more professional because he came in with a different voice and he came with a different musical approach. He would sing sort of across the riff whereas Ozzy would probably follow the riff particularly in (a song like) 'Iron Man.' After that, we toured and toured. It was a challenge again; we had to prove ourselves (because) we were going out with a new singer. Then we did Mob Rules but not before Bill Ward left because he had problems with Ronnie. And we brought in Vinnie Appice. And then things started deteriorating with Ronnie because he probably wanted more say in things. And then Geezer would get upset about him. Then we did the live album, Live Evil. And that's when it all fell apart. Ronnie wanted to do more of his own thing and then that lineup was finished. Then we got Ian Gillan but that's another story. 2008 Steven Rosen

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    Shread_6009
    this interview isn't really from 82 is it? the soundgarden part gives it away. try 1992
    armstrong26491
    Shazazmic wrote: He's probably changed over the years. But if you ask a fellow guitarist what it's like to be on stage performing for loads of people and they basically tell you to go **** off, you might get the impression that the person you asked is an *****. (my dad and Iommi)
    Ah well, I understand why your dad doesn't like him then. I don't necessarily think it gives everyone else here the right to personally dislike him though.
    recliner33
    BassMetal wrote: The dates not wrong... you guys are misreading him... he's not saying Soundgarden and Metallica were around at that time period... he's saying they wouldn't be the same if Sabbath wasn't around to inspire heavier music.
    So you are basically saying that Iommi can predict the future. I think you don't understand.
    MAKETHEMSUFFER!
    BassMetal wrote: The dates not wrong... you guys are misreading him... he's not saying Soundgarden and Metallica were around at that time period... he's saying they wouldn't be the same if Sabbath wasn't around to inspire heavier music.
    umm...the date is wrong. how would he mention soundgarden if they weren't even around in 82? metallica was still only playing small clubs back in 82 also so i doubt iommi would have even heard of them. anyway iommi is one of the greatest, most influential guitarists of all time, end of story.
    Brigand
    axelaxe wrote: Brigand wrote: You can say whatever you want about Ozzy.. But after Black Sabbath, he found Randy Rhoads, started writting his own lyrics, No he did not - Bob Daisly wrote all lyrics on Ozzys first solo albums. Lets face it - Ozzy is a great showman but totally lacks any musical creativity.
    Including Diary?
    DiaryOfAMadman
    Lol, I met him at one of the H&H shows in 2007. We were talking to him about his guitars and he said that he used to own a small company and that's where he got that guitar. Then we said, "What did you call that guitar?" He goes, "It didn't have a name. The Guitar." Lol so his guitar's name is The Guitar.
    LALO 415
    whoa if you scroll fast enough on iommis second picture it looks like he is like growling
    Shazazmic
    armstrong26491 wrote: Why does everyone hate Iommi? Apart from Shazazmic's dad who else here has actually met Iommi and knows him well enough to dislike him? Not very many people.
    He's probably changed over the years. But if you ask a fellow guitarist what it's like to be on stage performing for loads of people and they basically tell you to go **** off, you might get the impression that the person you asked is an *****. (my dad and Iommi)
    -heartbreaker-
    He's so open about his past. In interviews with Jimmy Page, he never talks about all the drugs and shit, but Tony's all "yeah, we were all on coke and drunk and we had lots of women, and we tried everything, quaaludes, EVERYTHING MAN!"
    butcherer
    scottishmob wrote: recliner33 wrote: When: 1982 I dont think you have your Soundgardens and Metallicas and various other bands out there. This is a great interview but I'm pretty sure he has the year this interview took place wrong. None the less it was a good job. Tony Iommi is the best riff maker of all time, no question about it. Yeah, thats what I thought too. Soundgarden didn't even start until 1983 and only started gaining any recognition around 1987. Metallica too, Kill 'em All was released in '83... Dates wrong but oh well. Sweet interview.
    Of course, Kill 'em All was not Metallica's first release.
    Brigand
    You can say whatever you want about Ozzy.. But after Black Sabbath, he found Randy Rhoads, started writting his own lyrics, and his career shot up higher than it ever was with Sabbath. Bottom line; Great Interview, Iommi is a great guitarist, and one of the reasons I started playing guitar. Ozzy has been fortunate enough to work with some amazing musicians. That, and his unique style of singing, is why he is one of the Heavy Metal Icons of today. R.I.P Rhoads
    El Maurizio
    Iommi is awesome I didn't know he was inspired by Django Reinhardt, didn't know black sabbath started out as a jazzband either
    armstrong26491
    Why does everyone hate Iommi? Apart from Shazazmic's dad who else here has actually met Iommi and knows him well enough to dislike him? Not very many people.
    axelaxe
    Brigand wrote: You can say whatever you want about Ozzy.. But after Black Sabbath, he found Randy Rhoads, started writting his own lyrics,
    No he did not - Bob Daisly wrote all lyrics on Ozzys first solo albums. Lets face it - Ozzy is a great showman but totally lacks any musical creativity.
    CustomCustom
    Sabbath Greatest Hits was the first cassette tape I bought for myself in the 7th grade around 1980 and it was all over after that lol... thanks Tony
    BassMetal
    The dates not wrong... you guys are misreading him... he's not saying Soundgarden and Metallica were around at that time period... he's saying they wouldn't be the same if Sabbath wasn't around to inspire heavier music.
    axelaxe
    [ Including Diary?
    "Bob Daisley": I wrote all the lyrics on Blizzard Of Oz, Diary Of A Madman, Bark At The Moon, The Ultimate Sin and No Rest For The Wicked. I didnt write any lyrics for No More Tears, I just played on that one.
    -[NiL]-
    I like Iommi, but this interview kind of bored me. Speaking of Sabotage, the photo on the main page looks like he should have been in the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" video.
    dinosaur sr
    Mr.Punker wrote: I think that black sabbath dosn't mean anything without Ozzy's voice.They are all great artists.
    for reals 70s black sabbath is amazing after ozzy left theyre nothing
    joshjebl
    James Dio was pretty good too. i like Ozzy as well but i think all of us trying to compare him to Ozzy might have had something to do with him quiting. But it was for the best for both Ozzy and Dio in the end anyways. Black Sabath didn't do shit after James left. And anyone who tries to make there former lead singer look like a hack in an interview where he cant defend himself is a dick i dont care thats bull shit i'm sure ozzy would have something to say about the pin ball comment. without Ozzy Blacksab would still be a jazz band
    Mr.Punker
    I think that black sabbath dosn't mean anything without Ozzy's voice.They are all great artists.
    tmpc45
    Ok Metallica formed in 1981, Soundgarden formed in 1984. So this tells me Steven Rosen is a hack. maybe even plagiarism. Hell you take the time to write this or should i say piece it together and your getting paid for it. Half your paycheck should go back. If you want to read about Black Sabbath pick up DOOM LET LOSE ! by far the best book on the Sabs.
    recliner33
    joshjebl wrote: James Dio was pretty good too. i like Ozzy as well but i think all of us trying to compare him to Ozzy might have had something to do with him quiting. But it was for the best for both Ozzy and Dio in the end anyways. Black Sabath didn't do shit after James left. And anyone who tries to make there former lead singer look like a hack in an interview where he cant defend himself is a dick i dont care thats bull shit i'm sure ozzy would have something to say about the pin ball comment. without Ozzy Blacksab would still be a jazz band
    That's not true Iommi is the reason they are no longer a jazz/blues band. After Iommi lost his fingertips he had to tune his guitar way down so the strings wouldn't hurt his fingers as much. And that is how they got their sound, it was by accident.
    seven09
    ioomi is great.. even though he lost his finger tips, he still manage to do those rifts... no wonder, he is the best..
    swave75
    Ozzy wrote the music for "Who are You"? That's one of my favorite Sabbath songs. Never knew that.
    tom1thomas1
    scottishmob wrote: Remsen wrote: i always new ozzy didnt do shit in that band it was all Iommi. Don't forget Geezer! All the lyrics, you know!
    Geezer is very good bassist, Ward is one of my favourite drummers, Iommi wrote all the riffs, really Ozzy did the least work, but he is a good singer and he's good on stage. It's sort of like pop music, gets all the recognition even though there are more skilled people there.
    axelaxe
    conman5895 wrote: Netherian wrote: great interview, iommi sounds like a nice guy iommi is the best riff maker ever!!!! i would say he's 1 of the best along with angus young and eddie van halen
    I don't think Eddie Van Halen qualifies as a riff maker. The only great song by Van Halen that is riff based is the Kink's cover You really got me. Van Halen is not a riff band.
    conman5895
    Netherian wrote: great interview, iommi sounds like a nice guy iommi is the best riff maker ever!!!!
    i would say he's 1 of the best along with angus young and eddie van halen
    TheSilverBeatle
    Whats with Iommi always knocking Ozzy...he's not too bad in this one but I've read a few quotes from him knocking Oz.
    Metal_deth_90
    That was a great interview.....i remember reading some of this stuff in diffrent places...its so good that its in one place now.....i'm going to read it again...then again..then again after that.....
    dirkdigler
    this interview was awesome... and by the way, the metalica/soundgarden part was not iommi speaking, it was a reference to modern day by the author.
    SL!!!
    butcherer wrote: Heaven and Hell is as good an album as any Sabbath record, no matter what the line-up.
    Probably because Iommi wrote everything. Haha. Man, just look at that mustache.
    recliner33
    dirkdigler wrote: this interview was awesome... and by the way, the metalica/soundgarden part was not iommi speaking, it was a reference to modern day by the author.
    So you are saying that the Author was in Black Sabbath? Read that paragraph again as it says "we presented some sort of music that wasn't around". The author didn't play in Sabbath, it was Tony that said this, not the author lol.
    Without Black Sabbath today, I dont think music would be the same. I think thats what Black Sabbath was all about, we presented some sort of music that wasnt around. I dont think you have your Soundgardens and Metallicas and various other bands out there. I think of us as being innovators. I couldnt understand how different it was and we didnt understand much about it except we liked it. It was an exciting time.
    SL!!!
    recliner33 wrote: BassMetal wrote: The dates not wrong... you guys are misreading him... he's not saying Soundgarden and Metallica were around at that time period... he's saying they wouldn't be the same if Sabbath wasn't around to inspire heavier music. So you are basically saying that Iommi can predict the future. I think you don't understand.
    Lol. Yeah, pretty sure they meant 92
    Metallica6144
    shantanupatni is a dick. ozzy is one of the greatest frontmen out there. and I agree that Iommi is an *****, but a great guitar player. I saw them at ozzfest in '05, even though Iron Maiden blew them away, they still kicked ass!
    recliner33
    warlockking wrote: Dio deffinetly has a better range than ozzy, but i think ozzy sounds better, at least to me. so what if he never wrote lyrics, i doubt Geezer could sing the lyrics he wrote as well as ozzy and make it sound as awesome as ozzy did. Personally I like Ozzy better. Tony rules too. he is the Riff Master.
    I agree with you totally. Sure Dio is technically a better singer then Ozzy, but I enjoy listening to Ozzy more. The same goes to listening to Paul Dianno over Bruce Dickenson in Iron Maiden. Dianno doesn't have the range like Dickenson, but I like his voice 100 times more.
    Chikao42
    Monkey Biscuits wrote: good interview. are they not makin another album with dio and appice? that'd be sweet
    They are some time this year, under the name Heaven and Hell. They did a comeback tour in 2007.
    recliner33
    When: 1982
    I dont think you have your Soundgardens and Metallicas and various other bands out there.
    This is a great interview but I'm pretty sure he has the year this interview took place wrong. None the less it was a good job. Tony Iommi is the best riff maker of all time, no question about it.
    armstrong26491
    "While we were working something out musically, Ozzy couldnt do anything so he would just to out and play pinball." :haha:haha BTW, I think the date of the article must be wrong, because Iommi mentions Soundgarden and Metallica, but they weren't around in 1982 (AFAIK)