Tony Iommi: The Eternal Idol
GW What finally led to Ozzy’s departure from Black Sabbath?
IOMMI After we recorded Never Say Die! and did a tour with Van Halen, we ended up in Los Angeles and tried to make another album. It really went to bits then. That’s when the drugs were at their full force, and it just wasn’t happening. We couldn’t get Ozzy to do anything. The rest of us weren’t exactly angels, but we could still function. We knew we had to do something, so we decided to get another singer. It was either that or break up the band, which nobody wanted to do. It’s like a factory: if somebody leaves you don’t close it down. It was sad to see it happen, but it was the only thing that we could do.
GW The Heaven and Hell album was a bold reawakening for Black Sabbath. Your guitar playing, in particular, seemed to be more technical and inspired than it had been in a while.
IOMMI I was so inspired by working with Ronnie [James Dio]. Working with Ozzy for all of those years, I knew roughly what he was going to do or what he was going to sing. Ronnie was completely different. He would sing across riffs and chords, and it opened up a lot more possibilities for what I could play. We were at such a low point when Ozzy left the band, but when Ronnie came along it was great to really be working again and doing something. It gave us a purpose, and a challenge as well. With Ronnie we didn’t know what was going to happen next, and we knew that we really had to work to make it happen.
GW You only made two studio albums before Ronnie left. What happened?
IOMMI When we recorded the live album [Live Evil] everything went pear shaped [British for “horribly wrong”]. A lot of rumors were being passed around, and we listened to them. People were telling us that Ronnie was coming into the studio after we’d left and changing everything. It was all rubbish, really, but it came to a head, and we started arguing about it. We finally decided that was it, and we started looking for another singer.
GW After Ronnie was gone, Ian Gillan joined Black Sabbath to record Born Again. For that tour, the band made some Stonehenge props that I understand became the inspiration for the Stonehenge sequence in This Is Spinal Tap.
IOMMI Our story is almost exactly the same, except our Stonehenge props were too big. Geezer came up with the idea, and we thought it sounded pretty good, so we wrote the idea down on a piece of paper. They spent months making the Stonehenge stage set, and we didn’t see anything until it was done. They delivered it to us in Birmingham where we were rehearsing, and we couldn’t believe the size of it. It was so big! We didn’t know how we were going to fit in anywhere we were supposed to play. We were only able to use the full set at two outdoor shows we did—the Reading Festival and some festival in Ireland. We carted the whole bloody thing all over America, and we were able to use only half of the set at most. It was too tall.
GW Was the next Black Sabbath album, Seventh Star, supposed to be a solo album?
IOMMI I had gone off on my own and was working on a solo album, but it ended up being a bloody Black Sabbath album. I wasn’t in control of things then. The label said that I owed them a Black Sabbath album. Originally I wanted to use different singers on different songs, which is what I did when I finally released my first true solo album in 2000 [Iommi]. But it was so difficult in those days to get labels to allow their artists to guest on other people’s albums. When Glenn Hughes came along, I decided just to do everything with him. If I used different singers it would have taken forever to make that album.
We did some shows afterward that were horrendous, because Glenn was in a bad state. He just didn’t have the confidence, and it was difficult anyway because the album was called “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi.” It forced us to do shows as Black Sabbath, which meant that we had to play songs like “War Pigs” and “Iron Man,” but with Glenn singing them. He did a great job, but he didn’t last that long. We had to bring Ian Gillan back to finish the tour. That was a tough period for us.
GW What led to the Black Sabbath reunion with Ozzy in the late Nineties?
IOMMI We had gotten together for Ozzy’s “final” show and played two or three songs with him in 1992. In 1997, we got a call from Sharon [Osbourne], and she asked if we’d be interested in doing some shows with Ozzy. It was a low-pressure situation—nothing more than playing a few shows and no big agreements. I thought that sounded pretty good. I asked if they had asked anyone else yet, and they said that they wanted to ask me first.
Then they asked Geezer, but they didn’t ask Bill. At the time Bill was going through a lot of problems, and they probably thought it would make things too complicated.
We did the shows, and they went well, but I knew that we had to get Bill back in it. We got him back, and off we went. It was lovely to play the songs as the band had done them. The audience reaction was just great. We all had buried the hatchet, and we were a band again.
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