Tony Iommi and James Hetfield Discuss Life in Black Sabbath and Metallica in 1992 Guitar World Interview
Here's an interview with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and James Hetfield of Metallica from the August 1992 issue of Guitar World. To see the complete Iommi/Hetfield cover, and all the GW covers from 1992, click here.
Tony Iommi and James Hetfield arrive for the Great Encounter decked out in black. No one seems particularly surprised by their matching color scheme. In fact, it would be cause for concern if they didn't look like twin executioners. Black, after all, is the official color of heavy metal royalty -- and these are the kings of kings.
Despite their similar attire, Iommi and Hetfield' s demeanors provide sharp studies in contrast. Iommi, with his dark eyes, meticulously groomed moustache and soft English accent, has the dignified bearing of a British noble man. The blond, gravel-voiced, sharp-tongued Hetfield, on the other hand, has the guarded, hulking aspect of an urban street-fighting man.
James's gruff exterior, however, disintegrates in a puff of worshipful smoke as soon as he greets Black Sabbath's legendary guitarist, who had arrived just moments earlier. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, man," Hetfield says with genuine enthusiasm.
Iommi is quick to respond with a volley of compliments. "My son bought me your last album, and it's one of first recordings I've received in a long time that I can praise without reservation. I listen to it in my car all the time."
Hetfield beams at these unqualified words of approval from hard rock's original god of thunder.
As the leader of Black Sabbath, Iommi pioneered an entire school of dense, ominous, highly amplified music, which eventually became known as heavy metal. Though many guitarists explored power chords and distorted guitars in the psychedelic Sixties, Iommi was the first guitarist to make these musical elements a personal obsession.
The original Sabbath lineup -- Iommi, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward -- first coalesced in 1968 as Earth, playing pop and blues. The following year the group discovered volume, overdrive and paranoia, and celebrated their find by adopting the sinister Sabbath moniker. Shortly thereafter, the band released Black Sabbath, the first of its series of hell-raising masterpieces on Warner Brothers.
Paranoid (1970), Master Of Reality (1971), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1975) and Heaven And Hell (1980), with replacement vocalist Ronnie James Dio, followed in fiendish succession.
Although their music was despised by critics and ignored by radio programmers, the band's special brand of doom and gloom sold millions of records. Iommi's radically detuned Gibson SG and his inventive soloing became the major source of inspiration for such guitarists as Edward Van Halen, Kim Thayil and, of course, the young James Hetfield, who went on to cofound the modern-day rock juggernaut, Metallica.
"I discovered Black Sabbath by digging through my older brother's record collection," recalls Hetfield. "Their album covers really drew me in. I immediately thought, 'I gotta put this on.' And when I did, I couldn't believe it. It was like, 'Whoa! Heavy as shit.' Sabbath was everything that the Sixties weren't. Their music was so cool because it was completely anti-hippie. I hated the Beatles, Jethro Tull, Love and all that other happy shit."
Though Black Sabbath has through the years had its ups and downs and endured numerous traumatic personnel changes, Iommi and company are back, stronger than ever, with Dehumanizer. The album features a fresh lineup that includes Dio, Butler and veteran drummer Vinny Appice.
"If you like songs like 'War Pigs,' then you'll like this one," says Iommi. "There are a lot of heavy riffs, and it's real raunchy."
The invocation of the very appropriate terms "real" and "raunchy" is a good place to tum to our historic interview with guitar sorcerer Tony Iommi and his 'Second-generation apprentice, James Hetfield. We convened in the booth of a seedy Manhattan bar, where the jaded clientele remained oblivious to the presence, in a secluded rear booth, of two of rock and roll's greatest heavyweights.
GUITAR WORLD: Tony, what were your earliest influences?
TONY IOMMI: In the beginning I was primarily influenced by old blues records. Since liner notes on most blues 78's were either sketchy or non-existent, I never knew who half of the musicians were. I still don't.
What was your first band like?
IOMMI: There were six of us: the four original members of Black Sabbath plus a sax player and a slide guitar player.
JAMES HETFIELD: Was that Earth?
IOMMl: That was before Earth. I think we called ourselves the Pop Top Blues Band, or something equally stupid. We eventually broke up so we could get rid of the sax and slide player. The four of us wanted to move away from the blues thing.
But how did you make the jump from playing traditional blues to composing the heavy, riff-oriented music that characterized Sabbath?
IOMMI: Well, to be honest, we just became so fed up with people talking while we were playing that we said, "Screw it, let's tum it up, so they won't be able to chatter." [laughs] The band just kept getting louder and louder.
Did your new sound provoke an immediate reaction from the audience?
IOMMI: Yeah. After we wrote "Wicked World" and "Black Sabbath," we thought, "Well, we're going to have to try them out." Everybody in the club just froze! We had all these blues people saying, "What's that?" The reactions were very strong, both pro and con. But I think most people enjoyed what we were doing, because they never heard anything like it.
HETFIELD: Didn't you guys play "Blue Suede Shoes" for a while?
IOMMI: Oh, you know that? We were getting ready to perform on a British television show, and played "Blue Suede Shoes" during sound check. Ozzy didn't even know the words. He was just goofing around while they worked on the camera angles and whatnot. So they said, "Play something," and we just played that. Somehow it got bootlegged. I'm afraid our version is obscenely bad -- no one should be subjected to it. [laughs]
James, how did Metallica come to pioneer thrash metal?
HETFIELD: Like Tony, we also played cover tunes when we first started. We were really influenced by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, which included bands like Venom and Diamond Head -- underground stuff. We learned a bunch of their songs from a batch of obscure singles that Lars had collected. Most people thought we were performing originals, because they had never heard any of the shit before -- which was good for us! We took all the credit. You know: "Hey, you guys write good songs," "Yeah, I know." [laughs] We certainly weren't going to tell them the truth.
Eventually we started playing everything faster, because, just like with Sabbath, the crowd wasn't paying any attention to us and that pissed us off. In L.A., people were just there to drink and see who's there and shit. We decided to try to wake everybody up by playing faster and louder than anybody else.
Nervousness also contributed to our sound. Lars was always nervous on stage, so he 'd play faster and faster. That was a huge challenge for us, but nobody wanted to wimp out and tell him that he was playing too fast. We just figured, "Hell, we'll just play fast too." So it became part of a game.