Tony Iommi: The Eternal Idol
GW With Earth you were playing blues-based rock. What led to that seismic shift that transformed Earth into Black Sabbath and the unique new sound you created?
IOMMI The song “Black Sabbath” came first. We were in our rehearsal room one day and I came up with this riff. We all went, “Bloody hell. That’s really different. That’s great.” The sound just came about. We weren’t working on it or trying to come up with something different. That riff pointed us in a direction of where we thought we should be going. We wanted to do our own stuff, and this was a direction that no one had tried before.
GW Several songs that Earth recorded—“The Rebel,” “Song for Jim” and “When I Came Down”—have surfaced over the years in snippets, but none of the full songs are readily available. What is the story behind those songs?
IOMMI We didn’t write those songs. They were written by a chap named Norman Haines. At the time we were managed by Jim Simpson, who was a local Birmingham guy. He insisted that we record these songs that his friend Norman had written. We just wanted to play so we recorded them. We wanted to write our own songs and make our own record, but this was just an initial effort. We had never been in a recording studio in our lives before that. It was a very basic studio. Even back then we never really wanted those recordings to see the light of day. Those songs sound nothing remotely like Black Sabbath.
GW You used Laney amps during the band’s early days. What influenced your decision to use their amps?
IOMMI Laney started up as a company about the same time that we did as a band. They’re a Birmingham company, so we approached them to see what kind of deal we could get. Since we were from Birmingham as well we thought it would be nice to use something that was from our own hometown. Lyndon Laney, who owns the company, was very open to the idea, so he gave us some amps. Back then the amps were really basic, and they used to blow up. Then they tried to make a 200-watt model, and that blew up, too. There were growing pains, just like you have with everything. In some ways we were testing things for Laney, but I really liked the sounds that I got from his amps. I had a couple of Marshalls before that, but we wanted to have a lot of equipment, and to be blunt about it, we couldn’t afford to buy any. Lyndon gave us a lot of stuff, and we were really pleased with that. We used it, liked it and got it for nothing, so it was great for us. We worked with him over the years. For a while I moved on to something else, but I came back to Laney. Of course, now Laney makes my own signature model amp [the GH100TI].
GW When you were making the first album, you started recording with your Stratocaster but then you switched to your Gibson SG. What made you decide to stick with the SG from then on?
IOMMI The SG was the only other guitar I had at the time. I initially had this right-handed SG, and I used to restring it and turn it upside down so I could play it left-handed. I heard about someone who had a left-handed guitar, and he played it upside down. I decided to contact this guy, and we swapped guitars. I got the SG just so I’d have a spare guitar, because I loved the Strat. We went into the studio to record the first album, and just after we finished “Wicked World” something went wrong. No sound was coming from it. In those days you couldn’t go to the store and buy a new pickup. We had only finished the one track, and all of a sudden the guitar was gone. We only had so much time in the studio to make the record, so I switched to the SG. Because I recorded everything on the SG, that became my sound, and I stuck with it.
GW What was your setup in the studio then?
IOMMI It was just the SG into a [Dallas-Arbiter] Rangemaster Treble Booster into the Laney amp. I plugged into the bass [input] on the amp back then. It was a hell of a racket but it was a good sound. I used to pick up every possible [electronic] interference with the Rangemaster. It was great until we started playing places like the bloody Philadelphia Spectrum, where they had all of these machines to make ice for the hockey rink. You wouldn’t believe the racket that those things can make!
GW Black Sabbath continued in a rather consistent direction for the first six albums, but Technical Ecstasy was a rather significant shift. What happened there?
IOMMI Basically, I took on the creation of that album by myself. I was just left to it. We had a number of different people playing on it, for a start, like Gerald Woodruffe on keyboards. It became very experimental for us. I was in the studio for endless hours by myself, farting about and trying something else. I was even using Vox AC30 amps.
GW On Never Say Die! your guitar playing stretched out quite a bit from what you had done on previous Black Sabbath albums.
IOMMI We did go out on a limb with that album because it was a weird time for us. Ozzy had left the band, and I had already booked a studio in Toronto, of all places. A couple of days before we left for Toronto, Ozzy decided to come back to the band. When we got to Toronto, we sat around trying to write the album. We rented a cinema in which to write songs during the morning and afternoon, and we’d go in the studio to record at night. It was the middle of winter, and the cinema was bloody freezing cold because they didn’t turn on the heat during the day. It was a bit hard, so that’s probably why the tracks are different from a lot of the other things we’d done. There were a couple of jazzy songs, and Bill sang “Swinging the Chain” because Ozzy refused to sing it. It was a very difficult time. I suppose we got a bit lost, but I like a few of the songs that we did for it.
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