Tony Iommi Holiday Issue Cover Story Preview!
GW How old were you when you started playing?
IOMMI I was probably about 12. I played accordion before that. Everyone else in my family played accordion, so I got one as well. In those days you used to just sit in your room and you didn’t know what to do, so I learned to play accordion. From there I moved on to different instruments, and I eventually discovered the guitar.
GW Was it a challenge to find a decent left-handed guitar?
IOMMI It was a big challenge trying to find any decent guitar, let alone a left-handed one. In England, the only ones you could find then were very cheap. If you wanted a left-handed guitar, you had to order one from a catalog and then wait three months for it to show up. A few years after I started playing, I was lucky enough to come across a left-handed Fender Stratocaster that somebody who worked in a shop had tucked away and told me about.
GW It’s fascinating how the factory accident led to you tuning down your guitar to make it more comfortable to play, but at the same time it also made what you played on the guitar sound heavier.
IOMMI Everything I did was to make it more comfortable for me, first and foremost. It used to hurt a lot to play because my fingertips were very sensitive. If my plastic fingertips ever came off, which did happen one time, my fingers would be sliced right open by the strings and there would be blood everywhere. I really had to work with my guitar setup so I could be able to play. There were some limitations, but I had to try to get over it. That’s how I came up with all of these other things, such as a 24-fret neck and lighter strings, so I could do more. But it really helped us get the sound we were looking for.
GW I would imagine that tuning down also made it easier for Ozzy to sing.
IOMMI Whenever we tuned down, he would just end up singing even higher, so I’m not sure it helped at all! All of a sudden he could reach the higher notes.
GW How did you briefly become a member of Jethro Tull?
IOMMI I was in a band with Ozzy, Geezer and Bill before we called ourselves Black Sabbath, and we were playing a show supporting Jethro Tull. That was the same night that [Tull guitarist] Mick Abrahams handed in his notice. After the show they asked me if I’d be interested in joining them. It was a bit of a shock. I felt really bad leaving the other guys in the band, so I asked them how they felt about it, and they said that I should join Jethro Tull. I called Jethro Tull back the next day, and they told me that I’d have to come down for an audition. I went, “Ah, fuck.” I’d never auditioned for anything in my life, and I hated being around crowds of people. But I did go to London, and there were dozens of guitar players there, including Martin Barre [who eventually became Jethro Tull’s guitarist]. I was just going to walk out of there, but one of the guys came running out and asked me to just give it a chance. I told him that I wasn’t going to wait around there with everybody; it just wasn’t my thing. He told me to go sit in the café across the road and have a cup of coffee and that they’d come get me when everybody was gone. That’s what they did. The came and fetched me, I played, and they said that I had the job.
Read the complete interview with Tony Iommi in the Holiday 2008 issue of Guitar World, on sale October 14!
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