Tony Iommi and Eddie Van Halen Discuss Their Careers, Friendship and the Past Three Decades of Our Favorite Instrument
IOMMI That’s how we came up with “War Pigs.” We just jammed and made stuff up. But it was good learning ground. You played a lot because you had to. And you had to learn how to make your own sound. You couldn’t just buy a box or pedal that does it, like kids can do today.
VAN HALEN It’s funny but no matter how hard I tried to sound like the records—and I really tried—I always ended up sounding like me. We used to play “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers, but everyone thought it was a Black Sabbath song because I was playing it through a Marshall. It was Black Sabbath funk! We would play “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band—all that stuff. The stuff that was closest to my heart was Black Sabbath. But it was a blessing. If you play and play and play, after a while you discover the essence of yourself.
You both started out as aspiring drummers.
VAN HALEN [to Iommi] You did too?
IOMMI That’s what I wanted to become originally. My parents wouldn’t let me get a set of drums because they were too loud.
VAN HALEN And then you got an electric guitar and became even louder.
You both have really well-developed rhythm styles. Do you think your interest in drums had anything to do with that?
VAN HALEN I think it’s just inherently built in. When I was growing up and listening to bands like the Dave Clark Five, the groove was what initially got me going. I really like that funky, heavy groove. Obviously you have to have rhythm. If you have rhythm, then you can play anything you need. If you have rhythm and you love music, then play and play and play until you get to where you want to get. If you can pay the rent, great. If you can’t, then you’d better be having fun. Playing guitar is the only thing I ever knew how to do.
IOMMI I first played accordion. That was my first actual instrument. My father played accordion, and so did many of my relatives. Nobody played guitar back then. People in my family either played drums or accordion, and I went from accordion to guitar.
VAN HALEN I had to learn to play piano because that was the respectable instrument to play.
You both have mentioned Clapton as an early influence.
IOMMI Probably because of the whole blues thing. I really liked his playing with John Mayall, which influenced a lot of players back then.
VAN HALEN With me it was all about the live Cream stuff. I don’t mean to downplay anything Clapton did, but for me it was also about Cream’s rhythm section. Listen to “I’m So Glad” on Goodbye and adjust the balance to the right—Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were playing jazz through Marshalls. To me that is where Clapton’s style came from. Clapton was the only guy doing that kind of extended soloing back then.
IOMMI That’s right. Later on it was Hendrix and everybody else, but Clapton in those days appealed to a lot of people from his work with John Mayall through Cream.