Black Sabbath

Ozzy Osbourne – circa 1970

“Satan’s coming ‘round the bend / People running ‘cause they’re scared” – [the song titled] ’Black Sabbath’ (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward)

It is known as ‘the devil’s interval’.  In music theory, it is an augmented 4th or flatted 5th.  It is a sound that makes listeners uncomfortable.  The makers of scary movies have made use of it many times to produce a sinister atmosphere in a scene.  The same sound is also present in classical music compositions such as Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ and Wagner’s ‘Gotterdammerung’.  Perhaps most significantly, ‘the devil’s interval’ is ‘used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath.’  It is this creeping unease that is the defining characteristic of Black Sabbath’s sound.  Other heavy metal acts may have equalled them in volume or aggression, but Black Sabbath compositions are noted for the sheer dread they evoke.  Just as ‘the devil’s interval’ is familiar from scary movies, this British heavy metal band takes their name from a scary movie: ‘Black Sabbath’ (1963), directed by Mario Bava, a collection of three spooky stories, one of which stars Boris Karloff.

Probably the best known member of the band Black Sabbath is their long-time vocalist Ozzy Osbourne.  Let’s begin their story with him…

John Michael Osbourne is born 3 December 1948 in Aston, Birmingham, England.  He is the son of John (Jack) Osbourne and his wife, Lillian.  Jack Osbourne is a toolmaker at the General Electric Company.  Lillian Osbourne works in a factory.  “My mother was an amateur singer, my father was an amateur drunk,” recalls Ozzy.  “She was a Catholic, my mum, but she wasn’t religious.”  John (Ozzy) is the fourth of six children in the Osbourne family.  His siblings are Jean, Iris, Gillian, Paul and Tony.  The family lives at 14 Lodge Road, Aston and is so poor that there is no running water in the house.

John Osbourne is given the nickname ‘Ozzy’ at primary school; it’s a tag obviously derived from his surname, Osbourne.  Ozzy has a hard time at school.  His reading is poor and he is written off as ‘dumb’.  It is only later, after he grows up, that Ozzy learns he is dyslexic, has attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities.  Despondent, Ozzy attempts suicide several times while he is a teenager.  The troubled youth leaves school when he is 15 and drifts through a series of jobs: construction site labourer, trainee plumber, apprentice toolmaker, car factory horn tuner and slaughterhouse worker.  In the late 1960s, Ozzy Osbourne serves a six week prison term in Winson Green Prison for attempted burglary.  During his brief incarceration, the youth tattoos the letters ‘O-Z-Z-Y’ across his left knuckles and happy faces on his knees.

The thing that seems to relieve Ozzy Osbourne’s teens from total darkness is music.  At school, he appears on stage in plays and musicals.  Towards the end of his school years, Ozzy hears British band The Beatles for the first time.  “As soon as I heard [The Beatles’ 1963 single] ‘She Loves You’ on the radio, I knew I wanted to be a rock star for the rest of my life,” he testifies.  “The biggest thing in my life were The Beatles.”  Although in most accounts Ozzy repeats the importance of The Beatles, on at least one occasion, he points to a different inspiration: “’You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks…[when I heard that] I knew what I wanted.”  This 1964 single by another British band is seen by some as the forerunner of heavy metal and so may seem a more likely inspiration for the future vocalist of Black Sabbath than The Beatles’ more pop-oriented sound.  The mid-1960s rock scene in Britain is quite vibrant and the public is hungry for more.  Jack Osbourne notes his son’s interest.  He is also aware of the lad’s ‘failures at school’ and his ‘menial jobs’.  Jack Osbourne buys his son a microphone and amplifier so Ozzy can pursue his goal of singing rock music.  In 1967 Ozzy Osbourne forms his own band, a group called Rare Breed.  One of the other members of the band is Geezer Butler.

Terence Michael Joseph Butler is born 17 July 1949 in Aston, Birmingham, England.  He receives the nickname ‘Geezer’ when he is 8 years old.  “It was just a [British] slang term for a man…[like] ‘guy’ [or] ‘bloke’,” Butler explains.  “I used to call everybody geezer…and then eventually everybody started calling me Geezer.”  As a teenager, Geezer Butler is fascinated by Aleister Crowley, probably Britain’s most notorious occultist.  Although Butler will become known as the bassist for Black Sabbath, in Rare Breed he plays rhythm guitar instead.  Of the band’s vocalist, Geezer observes, “Ozzy is the craziest person I’ve ever met”…though perhaps that perception is based more on later experience than early impressions.

Rare Breed breaks up in August 1968.  Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler go on to form a new band.  Two of those who join this new outfit are Tony Iommi and Bill Ward.

Anthony Frank Iommi is born 19 February 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.  The surname is pronounced like the three words ‘eye-oh-me’ run together.  Tony Iommi is the only child of Anthony Iommi and his wife, Sylvia Iommi (nee Valenti), a pair of Italian immigrants.  Tony Iommi, Sr. is a carpenter and Sylvia Iommi is a shopkeeper.  The family home is in the Park Lane area of Aston, Birmingham.  Young Tony Iommi attends Birchfield Road School, the same school as Ozzy Osbourne.  Ozzy is almost a year younger than Tony and is in a lower grade so, although the two meet in their school days, they are not friends at the time.  Tony Iommi has a nasty fall when he is 8 or 9 years old that leaves him with a prominent scar on his lip.  Other children tease him and call him ‘Scarface’.  The trademark moustache Tony Iommi sports through his adult life is used to cover this scar.  “I hated school,” Tony recalls.  “I did what everybody did – get a job.”  Tony Iommi works briefly as a plumber, spends time in a factory that makes rings, and also is employed in a music store.

Like Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi makes it through his difficult early years by taking an interest in music.  He learns to play guitar.  “I went to one guitar lesson and that was it.  I couldn’t stand any more.  I felt I was playing better than what they were showing me at the time,” says Iommi.  “I felt better in learning myself.”  He recalls, “My early influences were The Shadows, who were an English instrumental band…I liked [guitarist Eric] Clapton when he was with [bluesman] John Mayall [April 1965 – July 1966].  I really liked that period.”  Tony Iommi’s first band is The Rockin’ Chevrolets (1964-1965).  From there he moves on to The Rest (1966-1967), where he first works with Bill Ward.

William Thomas Ward is born 5 May 1948 in Aston, Birmingham, England.  Bill Ward learns to play drums as a child.  When he works with Tony Iommi in The Rest, Ward both sings and plays drums.

At the time when The Rest start playing gigs, Tony Iommi is employed in a sheet metal factory.  In 1966, when he is 17 years old, Tony Iommi suffers a major setback.  “I used to do sheet metal work,” he states.  “The day I was leaving…from the job to turn professional [as a musician]…I was pressing this piece of metal that they used to have to weld afterwards and the press just came down on me and pulled the ends of the [middle and ring] fingers off [the right hand].”  At the time, it looks like the end of Tony Iommi’s career.  As a guitarist he was always left-handed, so his right hand is used to fret the notes on the guitar neck.  Hospitals at first claim prosthetic fingertips are impossible.  Iommi crafts his own prosthetics from plastic with leather on them to help grip the strings.  After six to seven months, he starts playing guitar again.  “You get used to it,” Iommi shrugs.

The Rest folds in 1967.  In January 1968 Tony Iommi forms a new band, Mythology.  In February 1968, Bill Ward – his former colleague from The Rest – joins the group.  Mythology soldiers on until July 1968 when they disband.

In 1968 Tony Iommi marries Susan Snowden.

Rare Breed (the group with Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler) breaks up in August 1968.  With Mythology (the group with Tony Iommi and Bill Ward) having split in July 1968, the four musicians come together in a new outfit.  Actually, at first there are six members.  Also present is Jimmy Phillips (slide guitar) and Alan ‘Aker’ Clarke (saxophone).  The six-piece band is named The Polka Tulk Blues Band.  After just two gigs, Phillips and Clarke exit and the band name is shortened to Polka Tulk.  In December 1968 the band name is changed to Earth.  In the same month, Tony Iommi is briefly lured over to ‘prog rockers’ Jethro Tull – for just one gig.  He swiftly re-joins Earth.  After a while, it comes to the attention of the quartet that there is a small-time English band called Earth so Ozzy and his mates in August 1969 rechristen themselves Black Sabbath, a name inspired by a 1963 horror movie.  The founding – and definitive – line-up is: Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums).

“I never picked up a bass before Sabbath started,” says Geezer Butler.  He was rhythm guitarist in Rare Breed but moves to bass because Tony Iommi doesn’t want another guitarist in the band.  For his new instrument, Butler claims his inspiration is, “Jack Bruce.  As soon as I saw him it changed me.  I didn’t even know what bass players did until I saw Cream.”  [Cream {July 1966-November 1968) is a British trio that includes not only Jack Bruce (bass) but Eric Clapton (guitar), whose earlier work Tony Iommi cited as an influence.]

Black Sabbath – along with Deep Purple (formed March 1968) and Led Zeppelin (formed August 1968) – is one of the bands that basically creates the music known as heavy metal.  The five main characteristics of heavy metal are: extreme volume, the supernatural, a sexist attitude, lengthy instrumental solos, and long hair.

Tony Iommi says, “We became so fed up with people talking while we were playing that we said, ‘Screw it, let’s turn it up, so they won’t be able to chatter.’  The band just kept getting louder and louder.”  Geezer Butler offers this view: “To me, Sabbath was always just a really heavy blues band…We just wanted to be heavier than everybody else.”

The songwriting in Black Sabbath is officially credited to the foursome of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward.  “Most of the composing was done by Geezer and myself,” claims Tony Iommi.  “Geezer wrote all the lyrics – or at least ninety per cent of them – and I had done the music.  Ozzy would come up with more the vocal melody…We’d jam about with a riff…Ozzy would sing a melody to it…and Geezer would come up with the words.”  Iommi says of the band’s music, “I do vibrato on chords…which makes it more full…I just wanted to make it as heavy as a I can…Geezer and Bill were quite unique in what they’re playin’…That whole style made Black Sabbath.”  Geezer Butler says of his bass playing, “I want it really distorted.”  The end result is what Ozzy Osbourne describes as, “This heavy doom sound.”

Ozzy Osbourne points out that, “Tony [Iommi] was the one who said, ‘Why don’t we start writing scary music?’  And I was like, [amiably], ‘Yeah, whatever,’ y’know?”  However, since it is Geezer Butler who pens the bulk of the lyrics [at least, according to Tony Iommi’s claim], it makes sense that the themes are drawn from his interests in Aleister Crowley and the occult, horror movies and science-fiction.  This is where the supernatural element comes into Black Sabbath, particularly in repeated references to the devil, Satan, Lucifer, etc.  “I’m not a Satanist.  I don’t worship the devil,” insists Ozzy – and the same would be true of Geezer.  It is imagery, not a literal invocation to the Prince of Darkness.  Sabbath has ‘lyrics expressing mental anguish and macabre fantasies,’ but this is born as much from Ozzy’s tormented teens (poverty, attempted suicide) and ‘the devil’ can be seen as merely symbolic of the world’s ills.

Black Sabbath is less inclined to sexist attitudes or lengthy solo in their work than some other heavy metal acts.  Those things may crop up, but not as defining features.  They certainly sport the long hair common to heavy metal bands but, as Ozzy Osbourne puts it, “Sabbath were a hippie band.  We were into peace.”  As one of heavy metal’s founding acts, they are old enough to share some ground with the hippies in terms of fashion sense and social goals…but Black Sabbath are darker, the heralds of the less idealistic 1970s.

The first single by Black Sabbath is ‘Evil Woman’.  This piece of sturdy riff-mongering with a rubbery bass is a cover version of a song by the U.S. band Crow from that group’s album ‘Crow Music’ (1969).  Black Sabbath’s take on ‘Evil Woman’ is released in January 1970 on the Fontana label, a subsidiary of Phillips Records.  After this, the band relocates to Vertigo (another Phillips subsidiary), which releases almost all their catalogue to come.  In the United States, Warner Brothers is Black Sabbath’s record label.

The debut album, ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970) (UK no. 8, US no. 23), is released on the spooky date of Friday the 13th of February.  The band’s first three albums are all produced by Roger Bain.  “We recorded our first album in twelve hours on the way to the ferry to go and do a residency at The Star Club in Hamburg [in Germany],” recalls Ozzy Osbourne.  As well as ‘Evil Woman’, the disc includes Black Sabbath’s second single, ‘The Wizard’.  This crushing track features a huffing harmonica played by Osbourne.  The lyrics sketch out a fantasy scenario: “Without warning / A wizard walks by / Casting his shadow / Weaving his spell / Flowing clothes / Tinkling bell.”  A more ominous brand of fantasy is draped across the title track, ‘Black Sabbath’.  Opening to tolling bells and the sound of rain, the doom-laden lyrics ask, “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black which points at me.”  By ‘slowing the tempo [and] accentuating the bass,’ the band makes this genuinely disturbing.  Late in the song, the pace picks up as the narrator seems to be losing his mind, pursued by some satanic being.  The track ‘N.I.B.’ boasts a wonderfully chewy riff but the title is a puzzle.  Commonly it is thought to stand for ‘Nativity In Black’ or ‘Name In Blood’.  Chief lyricist Geezer Butler explains its true origins: “Originally it was ‘Nib’, which was [a name derived from the shape of drummer] Bill [Ward’s] beard [which was reminiscent of the nib of a fountain pen].  When I wrote ‘N.I.B.’ I couldn’t think of a name for the song, so I just called it ‘Nib’ after Bill’s beard.  To make it more intriguing, I put punctuation marks in there to make it ‘N.I.B.’  By the time it got to America, they translated it into ‘Nativity In Black’.”  With lyrics like, “My name is Lucifer / Please take my hand,” it’s not hard to see why such an interpretation becomes popular.  Including tracks like ‘Wicked World’, ‘this lumbering debut [album] conjures up a new, sludgy sound; the birth pains of heavy metal.’

Black Sabbath’s second album, ‘Paranoid’ (1970) (UK no. 1, US no. 12), follows in September – a mere seven months after their first album.  This is Black Sabbath’s best album.  Although the group are not really oriented towards hit singles, it is also home to their best single: The album’s title track, ‘Paranoid’ (UK no. 4, US no. 61).  Recorded quickly at the end of the album’s recording session, ‘Paranoid’ has a driving riff and a dynamic arrangement.  There is no supernatural imagery in this song, just mental suffering embodied in ‘Ozzy Osbourne’s agonised bray’: “Can you help me / Occupy my brain…I tell you to enjoy life / I wish I could but it’s too late.”  Heavy metal’s main audience has always been teens and, though this churning rocker may refer to mental illness, it just as successfully embodies the high drama of teenage angst.  This makes it a heavy metal anthem and Black Sabbath’s finest moment.  Tony Iommi says of the song ‘Paranoid’, “It wasn’t intended as a single.  It was just another one for the album.”  Ozzy Osbourne exults, “We didn’t expect [the song] to be as popular as it did.  We came to America and we were instantly a success.  It was like one incredible adventure.”  Although the album is also titled ‘Paranoid’, that was not its original title.  The disc was going to be called ‘War Pigs’ – hence the cover image of a man with a sword and shield – but the record company disallowed the name.  Big and sprawling, introduced with air raid sirens, the song ‘War Pigs’ exerts a downward pull: “Generals gathered in their masses / Just like witches at black masses / Evil minds that plot destruction / Sorcerer of death’s construction.”  Later in the song, a familiar diabolic entity enters the tale: “On their knees the war pigs crawling / Begging mercies for their sins / Satan laughing spreads his wings.”  In an interview, Ozzy Osbourne states, “I’ve never seen any intelligent military person, nor have I seen any sense in the stupid b****y wars!”  In 1970 (when the album is released), the death toll in the Vietnam War is frightening.  Sadly, ‘War Pigs’ remains relevant.  ‘Iron Man’ (US no. 52) is a more science-fiction oriented work.  The lyrics that emerge from its morass of ponderous sound seem to paint a portrait of a robot out for revenge: “Now the time is here / For iron man to spread fear / Vengeance from the grave / Kills the people he once saved.”  Bassist Geezer Butler notes that vocalist Ozzy Osbourne “came up with the line ‘Iron Man’, so I wrote the lyrics around that subject.”  ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ has an ambitious arrangement and Ozzy’s narrator plays witness to supernatural events.  Although there is little to separate the quality of ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Paranoid’, the latter has the edge because the band’s talents are more fully formed.  It also represents a commercial peak.

“You enjoy those first few years because you never recapture them again,” says Ozzy Osbourne.  Tony Iommi opines, “The first two Sabbath albums were great fun because it was all new.  And we had such a laugh, man.”  “At the beginning, we all had a purpose,” Osbourne observes, “but as it went along that inevitable thing stepped in called ‘ego’.”

In 1971 Ozzy Osbourne marries a school teacher named Thelma Riley.  (Note: Some accounts give Thelma’s surname as Mayfair, but it is evidently the same woman.)  Ozzy adopts Thelma’s son from a previous relationship, Elliot Kingsley (born 1966).  Ozzy and Thelma go on to have two children, Jessica (born 22 November 1972) and Louis (born 1975).

Geezer Butler and Bill Ward generally keep their personal lives out of public knowledge.  These are the known facts: Geezer marries a woman named Gloria.  Their son, Terence ‘Biff’ Butler, goes on to have his own heavy metal group, Apartment 26 (1999-2004).  Bill Ward has two sons, Nigel and Aaron, but his spouse is unrevealed.

Black Sabbath’s third album, ‘Master Of Reality’ (1971) (UK no. 5, US no. 8), is released in July.  ‘After Forever’ is released as a single, but doesn’t chart.  Perhaps better known is ‘Sweet Leaf’, ‘a droning love song to marijuana.’  ‘Children Of The Grave’ welds a galloping riff to a percussive undertow.  Like ‘War Pigs’, it is an anti-war song, specifically warning of “atomic fear.”  This is juxtaposed with Sabbath’s horror movie imagery: “You must be brave / Or you children of today are / Children of the grave, yeah.”  The album closes with the apt ‘Into The Void’.  Remarking on Black Sabbath’s growing technical ambitions, Tony Iommi compares the time taken to record each album: “’Black Sabbath’ was two days.  ‘Paranoid’ was five days to a week.  ‘Master’…was weeks!”

‘Volume 4’ (1972) (UK no. 8, US no. 13) represents another stage in Black Sabbath’s development.  “it was the first time we recorded in America,” says guitarist Tony Iommi.  He adds, “We went over to L.A. [Los Angeles, California].”  It is also the first time Black Sabbath is credited as record producers – in this instance, co-producers with Patrick Meehan.  Once again, the nominal single, ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, goes by without troubling the charts.  The most significant track may be ‘Snowblind’.  Over a slow and trudging riff, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne intones, “Lying snowblind in the sun / Will my ice age ever come.”  It could be about cold weather or it may be an ‘overt drug reference’ to the snow-like white powder of cocaine.  The album was to be titled ‘Snowblind’, but as with ‘Paranoid’, the record company baulked at the projected title.  “I got the rep for being stoned and drunk all the time.  I wasn’t the only one, man,” protests Ozzy Osbourne – though he admits, “I didn’t give a s***.  I was full of cocaine and all the rest of the crap I used to do.”  ‘Changes’ is an interesting change of pace since it is a fragile ballad with delicate strings overlaid.  The careful piano work on ‘Changes’ is provided by Tony Iommi.  Other notable tracks on ‘Volume 4’ include ‘St Vitus’ Dance’ and ‘the blitzkrieg riffage’ of ‘Supernaut’.

‘Sabbath B****y Sabbath’ (1973) (UK no. 4, US no. 11) [the second word is spelled out in full in the original] is the next album by Black Sabbath.  Self-produced by the band, the recording sessions begin in Los Angeles but, according to Tony Iommi, “It didn’t work…We couldn’t write.”  As Ozzy Osbourne puts it, “We just got stoned all the time.”  Iommi continues, “So we end up coming back to England and wrote ‘SBS’ there…I thought that was our best album to date…a bit more musical.”  Evidence of this musicality includes an appearance by Rick Wakeman, a famed 1970s keyboard player known both for his solo work and his earlier contribution to British band Yes.  Although best known for his work with synthesisers, Wakeman plays boogie woogie piano on ‘Sabbra Cadabra’.  More representative is the grinding, pulsing title track, ‘Sabbath B****y Sabbath’: “Nothing more to do / Living just for dying / Dying just for you.”

‘Sabotage’ (1975) (UK no. 7, US no. 28), released in July, is co-produced by Black Sabbath and Mike Butcher.  It is home to the single ‘Am I Going Insane’.  Also present is ‘Symptom Of The Universe’, a track described as ‘one of the band’s most majestic pieces of music.’

December’s ‘We Sold Our Soul For Rock ‘N’ Roll’ (1975) (UK no. 35, US no. 48) is a compilation of some of Black Sabbath’s earlier hits and well known songs – but the title is a nice tie-in to their sinister image.

In 1976 Tony Iommi’s marriage to his first wife, Susan Snowden, comes to an end.

‘Technical Ecstasy’ (1976) (UK no. 13, US no. 51) is released in September.  This disc is produced by Black Sabbath.  As the album’s title implies, Black Sabbath’s pursuit of a more accomplished musical style reaches some kind of height here.  Guitarist Tony Iommi concedes it is “a bit too self-indulgent…a bit too over the top.”  As Geezer Butler describes it, “Instead of going in and knocking out what songs we did in rehearsal, we would polish them to death.”  The album includes such tracks as ‘Dirty Women’, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Back Street Kids’.

As the most instinctive and elemental member of Black Sabbath, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has a particularly difficult time adapting to the more musically ambitious work.  Compounding his woes, Ozzy’s father dies in 1977 and this leads to the singer having ‘several hospitalisations due to depression.’  Osbourne actually leaves Black Sabbath in November 1977.  Dave Walker, from British blues/hard rock band Savoy Brown, fills in as lead vocalist for Black Sabbath in 1977-1978.  Walker doesn’t appear on any Black Sabbath recordings.  In January 1978, Ozzy Osbourne is back on board.

‘Never Say Die’ (1978) (UK no. 12, US no. 69) is released in September.  Again self-produced by the group, this set mixes in a more rough-hewn sound with the still present musically aspirational efforts.  The title track, ‘Never Say Die’ (UK no. 21), is a clattering propulsive boogie over which Ozzy Osbourne wails, “Don’t they ever have to worry? / Don’t you ever wonder why? / It’s a part of me that tells you / Oh, don’t you ever say die.”  ‘A Hard Road’ (UK no. 33) also hails from this album.

Conflict between Ozzy Osbourne and the rest of Black Sabbath continues.  Coupled with ‘the decline of his relationship with [guitarist] Tony Iommi’, this leads in 1979 to Osbourne ‘leaving/being fired.’  “What happened was I was getting musically frustrated…[so] I said to the band one day, ‘I want to do a solo album.’  Tony said, ‘Well, we’re a band.’”  Ozzy tries to pitch his ideas to the group but, “They didn’t like anything and so I left.  I thought, ‘This is crap!’, y’know?”  Tony Iommi suggests, “I think at that time he was going through a lot of problems himself.”  Ozzy later jokes, “I’m not in the band anymore because of musical differences.  They were musical.  I was different.”

As a solo act, Ozzy Osbourne releases the following albums: ‘Blizzard Of Oz’ (1980) (UK no. 7, US no. 21); ‘Diary Of A Madman’ (1981) (UK no. 14, US no. 16); the live album ‘Speak Of The Devil’ (1982) (UK no. 21, US no. 14); ‘Bark At The Moon’ (1983) (UK no. 24, US no. 19, AUS no. 94); ‘The Ultimate Sin’ (1986) (UK no. 8, US no. 6, AUS no. 36); ‘Tribute’ (1987) (UK no. 13, UK no. 6, AUS no. 46) – which is another live album and a salute to his late guitarist Randy Rhoads who died in a plane crash on 19 March 1982; ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ (1988) (UK no. 23, US no. 13, AUS no. 40); ‘No More Tears’ (1991) (UK no. 17, US no. 7, AUS no. 49); ‘Live & Loud’ (1993) (US no. 22, AUS no. 45) – another concert souvenir; and ‘Ozzmosis’ (1995) (UK no. 22, US no. 4, AUS no. 50).

Ozzy Osbourne’s behaviour continues to be colourful.  At a meeting with executives of the CBS record company in Los Angeles in 1981, the singer leaves his more sedate companions aghast when he bites the head off a dove.  Ozzy sinks his teeth into more flying critters when he bites the head off a bat on stage at a concert in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.A. on 20 January 1982.  In this instance, Ozzy claims he thought the furry mammal was a rubber toy.  He has to take a week of rabies shots after the incident.  Apparently remorseful, Osbourne donates twenty-five thousand dollars to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  The publicity and legend that grows from Ozzy’s conduct leads him to later mutter, “Sometimes I think my whole career and life has only been about a b****y bat!”

In July 1981 Ozzy Osbourne begins dating Sharon Arden, the daughter of U.K. music entrepreneur Don Arden.  Naturally, this presages the end of Osbourne’s marriage to Thelma Riley (or Thelma Mayfair).  The marriage ends in 1982.  Ozzy marries Sharon Arden on 4 July 1982.  The singer’s new wife also becomes something like his manager.  “She’s the love of my life, and she’s also, like, the controller,” Ozzy reports.  Ozzy and Sharon have three children, two girls and a boy: Aimee (born 2 September 1983), Kelly (born 27 October 1984) and Jack (born 8 November 1985).

During the 1980s, Ozzy Osbourne is ‘treated several times for alcoholism.’  He is arrested in September 1989 after attempting to strangle his wife Sharon while he is drunk.  After a round of drug rehabilitation, Ozzy reconciles with Sharon in October 1990.

After Ozzy Osbourne leaves Black Sabbath in 1979, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward continue on with a new vocalist.  His name is Ronnie James Dio (10 July 1942 – 16 May 2010).  He was born Ronald James Dadovna, but began using the surname ‘Dio’ in 1960.  He sang for a band called Elf from mid-1970 to April 1975.  Ritchie Blackmore, formerly the guitarist in Black Sabbath’s heavy metal peers Deep Purple, transformed Elf into his new band, Rainbow.  Dio worked with Blackmore and Rainbow from May 1975 to November 1978.  His next stop is Black Sabbath.  “All the Ozzy lovers when I joined that band became Dio-haters,” he remarks.  In purely technical terms, Dio may actually be a more accomplished singer than Osbourne.  He has his moments in terms of image too.  For example, it is Ronnie James Dio who is most associated with a hand gesture that heavy metal fans call ‘the sign of the horns’ (index finger and pinkie extended, middle finger and ring finger folded down).  Dio claims it came from his Italian grandmother and was used ‘to ward off the evil eye.’  Dio begins using it in 1979 – though Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler may have done it as far back as 1971.  “I doubt very much if I would be the first who ever did that,” Dio acknowledges.  “I think you’d have to say that I made it fashionable.”

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980) (UK no. 9, US no. 28) is the first Black Sabbath album to feature vocals by Ronnie James Dio.  Released in April, this disc is produced by Martin Birch.  “It was really exciting,” says Tony Iommi of working with the band’s new vocalist.  ‘Heaven And Hell’ also profits from changing times.  Although heavy metal never really goes away, the initial early push from bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath was fading by the mid-1970s.  Punk rock and new wave stole some of the spotlight for hard and loud rock in the late 1970s.  As the 1980s dawn, the music press heralds ‘the new wave of British heavy metal’ as exemplified by such acts as Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Saxon.  The revitalised Black Sabbath perhaps gains some momentum from this change in atmosphere.  ‘Neon Knights’ (UK no. 22) and ‘Die Young’ (UK no. 41) both make the British singles charts and come from the album ‘Heaven And Hell’.  Geoff Nicholls (keyboards) begins working with Black Sabbath at this time.  He plays on ‘Heaven And Hell’, but is otherwise only an auxiliary touring member of the act.

In 1980 Tony Iommi marries U.S. model Melinda Diaz.  They have a daughter, Toni-Marie (born 1983), before divorcing in 1985.

In August 1980 Black Sabbath’s drummer, Bill Ward, leaves the group.  In his typically understated way, Ward phones vocalist Ronnie James Dio and says, “I’m off then, Ron.”  It is claimed that Bill Ward leaves due to ‘ill health.’

‘Mob Rules’ (1981) (UK no. 12, US no. 29) is recorded with new drummer Vinny Appice – whose elder brother, Carmine Appice, is an even better known drummer.  The title track, ‘Mob Rules’ (UK no. 46), and ‘Turn Up The Night’ (UK no.37) both attract some attention.  Black Sabbath follows this set with a concert recording, ‘Live Evil’ (1982) (UK no. 13, US no. 37).  Ronnie James Dio leaves Black Sabbath in 1982.  His replacement is former Deep Purple lead vocalist Ian Gillan (born 19 August 1945).  Vinny Appice departs in 1982 and former drummer Bill Ward returns to the fold.  With Gillan and Ward aboard, Black Sabbath justifiably title their next disc ‘Born Again’ (1983) (UK no. 4, US no. 39).  However, it is the only album by Black Sabbath to which Gillan lends his talents.  David Donato fills in as vocalist (1984-1985), but doesn’t record with the group.  Bill Ward exits again in 1983 and is replaced by Bev Bevan (born 25 November 1944), a drummer better known for working with more pop-oriented acts like The Move and The Electric Light Orchestra – though he does come from Black Sabbath’s native Birmingham.

In 1985 the four original members of Black Sabbath – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward – reunite for the all-star charity concert Live Aid.  They quickly part again.

Bassist Geezer Butler leaves Black Sabbath in 1985.  This leaves guitarist Tony Iommi as the only person to appear on every Black Sabbath album.

From 1985 to 1987 Tony Iommi is in a relationship with Lita Ford.  A U.S. hard rocker, Ford was previously a member of all girl group The Runaways.  Iommi and Ford get engaged, but Ford breaks off their engagement.

The next Black Sabbath album, ‘Seventh Star’ (1986) (UK no. 27, US no. 78), begins life as a Tony Iommi solo album.  There is some substance to the notion that the group is now ‘Iommi and his employees.’  The other members of Black Sabbath for this album are: Glenn Hughes (vocals, born 21 August 1952, formerly played with Deep Purple), Dave Spitz (bass) and Eric Singer (drums).  Hughes and Spitz both leave later in 1986.  Ray Gillen (no relation to Ian Gillan) provides lead vocals in 1986-1987, but does not appear on any Sabbath albums.

In 1986-1987 Tony Iommi meets an English woman named Valery.  They marry six years later.  Valery has a son, Jay, from an earlier relationship.  Tony and Valery eventually divorce in the late 1990s.

The Black Sabbath line-up for ‘The Eternal Idol’ (1987) (UK no. 66, US no. 168) is Tony Martin (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Bob Daisley (bass) and Eric Singer (drums), with Bev Bevan returning to contribute drums also.  Singer, Daisley and Bevan exit after this disc.  Jo Burt (who is male) plays bass with Sabbath for a while in 1987, but departs without recording with the group.  Similarly, former drummer for punk rock act The Clash, Terry Chimes (born 5 July 1956), plays with Sabbath in 1987, but is gone before the recording sessions for the next album.  Black Sabbath moves on to the I.R.S. record label for their next album, ‘Headless Cross’ (1989) (UK no. 31, US no. 115).  The latest incarnation of the group is: Tony Martin (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Neil Murray (bass) and Cozy Powell (drums).  The most famous of Iommi’s companions here is Cozy Powell (29 December 1947 – 5 April 1998), who may be best remembered for his work with notable U.K. guitarist Jeff Beck circa 1971-1972.  This album spawns the singles ‘Headless Cross’ (UK no. 62) and ‘Devil And Daughter’ (UK no. 81).  The same four musicians also record ‘Tyr’ (1990) (UK no. 24), from which comes ‘Feels Good To Me’ (UK no. 79).  [Note: Tyr is the name of the Viking god of war.]  Tony Iommi assembles a new line-up…that is actually made up of previous Sabbath members, each returning for another shot.  ‘Dehumanizer’ (1992) (UK no. 28, US no. 44) is released in June and is home to the single ‘TV Crimes’ (UK no. 33).  The version of Black Sabbath that records ‘Dehumanizer’ is: Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Vinny Appice (drums).  However, this grouping proves ephemeral.  (Ronnie James Dio dies in 2010 from stomach cancer.)

In November 1992 Ozzy Osbourne undertakes what is supposedly his final tour (it’s not).  The original Black Sabbath quartet reunites on stage on the last night of the tour.  The foursome plan to continue to work together…but this is put off for some time.

‘Cross Purposes’ (1994) (UK no. 41, US no. 122) is the next Black Sabbath album.  The musicians on this disc blend some old members with a familiar member and a new member: Tony Martin (vocals) is back, original members Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) are present, and rounding out the group is newcomer Bobby Rondinelli (drums).  This set is followed by ‘Forbidden’ (1995) (UK no. 71), for which Butler and Rondinelli are replaced by, respectively, Neil Murray and Cozy Powell, two more Black Sabbath alumni.  Vince Bordin (drums) works with Black Sabbath for a while in 1997.

The four original members of Black Sabbath – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward – finally reconvene in 1997 and record the live album ‘Reunion’ (1998) (UK no. 41, US no. 11).

In 1998 Tony Iommi meets Maria Sjoholm, a member of a Swedish heavy metal band called Drain STH.  They become a couple and eventually marry on 19 August 2005.  Iommi describes his fourth marriage as the “best thing I ever did.”

Ozzy Osbourne releases another solo album, ‘Down To Earth’ (2001) (UK no. 19, US no. 4, AUS no. 46).  His next move is the reality television program ‘The Osbournes’ (5 March 2002 – 21 March 2005).  The show features Ozzy, his wife Sharon and their children Kelly and Jack (older sister Aimee declined to be involved).  Ozzy is portrayed as somewhat comical and befuddled after his long years of hard living: “A life of booze, drugs and unprotected sex is only going to f*** you up!  I mean, look at me!”  Ozzy explains this way why ‘The Osbournes’ TV show ends: “I knew it was time to get off reality TV when someone asked me if I sang as well as acted.”  In May 2005 Ozzy Osbourne is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  He takes daily medication to combat involuntary shudders.

Ozzy Osbourne as a solo act issues the Japanese concert recording ‘Live At Budokan’ (2002) (UK no. 115, US no. 70) in April.  This is followed by the solo studio albums ‘Under Cover’ (2005) (UK no. 67, US no. 134) [a disc consisting purely of cover versions of other artists’ songs] and ‘Black Rain’ (2007) (UK no. 10, US no. 3, AUS no. 37).  The autobiography ‘I Am Ozzy’ (written with Chris Ayres) is released in February 2010.  Another solo album, ‘Scream’ (2010) (UK no. 12, US no. 4, AUS no. 11), follows in June.

Black Sabbath content themselves with ‘Past Lives’ (2002) (US no. 114) in August, another live album.  Black Sabbath does not exist at all in the period 2006 to 2012.  Only a concert recording from days gone by, ‘Live At The Hammersmith Odeon’ (2007), is issued during this time – and it does not chart.

The four original members reunite for ‘13’ (2013) (UK no. 1, US no. 1) in June.  Produced by Rick Rubin, this set features the single ‘God Is Dead?’ (UK no. 145)  Although drummer Bill Ward is purported to be involved in the band reunion, it is actually Brad Wilk who plays drums on ‘13’.  Ward absents himself ‘due to disputes over the recording contract’ with Vertigo/Universal.  A live album follows in November, ‘Live…Gathered In Their Masses’ (2013) – another non-charter.  Subsequently, Bill Ward is no longer considered to be an active member of Black Sabbath.  The other three founders continue without an official replacement on drums.

Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon separate in May 2016.  However by July 2016, they appear to be reconciled.

“Sabbath, in my opinion, from 1968 until after I left, through the two Dio albums [‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980) and ‘Mob Rules’ (1981)], was one of the greatest bands I ever worked with,” said Ozzy Osbourne.  That’s a charitable assessment.  With no disrespect intended, Black Sabbath’s best days were over after ‘Never Say Die’ (1978) and Osbourne’s departure.  There is even a case for viewing Black Sabbath’s apex to be simply the group’s first two albums in 1970.  “The songs are sort of classics in their own right.  Everybody knows them,” said Geezer Butler, referring to – presumably – the band’s catalogue in general rather than any specific period.  A big part of what made those songs ‘classics’ was ‘the devil’s interval’, that deeply unsettling musical motif.  Other shock rockers played dress up with supernatural or occult trappings, but for Black Sabbath the ‘devil’ seemed a part of human nature, a facet of modern existential angst – as well as a malefic entity.  It is this humanising of evil that gives Black Sabbath such power in their finest moments.  ‘Black Sabbath can certainly lay claim to [having been] among [the] originators of heavy metal music..’  They ‘arrived on [the] national U.K. rock scene on a wave of mystical beliefs and associations with [the] occult, backed-up by a huge barrage of sound.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 9 March 2015
  2. ‘Black Sabbath – Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Jerry Ewing (Universal Music, 2009) p. 5, 7, 9, 10
  3. ‘The Devil’s Interval’ by Jimmy Veith (27 July 2011) – patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2011/07/the-devils-interval
  4. ‘Up Close and Personal – Black Sabbath documentary’ (2007) – Interviews by Steven Rosen
  5. Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 8 March 2015
  6. wikipedia.org as at 4 March 2015
  7. ‘I Am Ozzy’ (2010) by Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres – via (6) above
  8. ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’ (2011) documentary – via (6) above
  9. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 66
  10. brainyquote.com as at 9 March 2015
  11. yahoo.answers as at 8 March 2015
  12. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 58, 59, 141
  13. famousfix.com as at 6 March 2015
  14. allmusic.com, ‘Black Sabbath’ by William Ruhlmann as at 8 March 2015
  15. songfacts.com as at 9 March 2015
  16. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 51, 60, 63
  17. blacksabbath.com as at 18 March 2015
  18. allmusic.com, ‘Sabbath B****y Sabbath’ review by Eduardo Rivadavia as at 8 March 2015
  19. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 315, 338
  20. metalrules.com, 2001 interview with Ronnie James Dio, via (6) above
  21. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 28, 32
  22. allmusic.com, ‘13’ review by Fred Thomas as at 8 March 2015
  23. whosdatedwho.com as at 9 January 2017
  24. huffingtonpost.com.au – ‘Ozzy Osbourne says Separation from Sharon was just “a Bump in the Road”’ – by Julia Brucculieri (26 July 2016)

Song lyrics copyright Westminster Music Ltd with the exceptions of ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘The Wizard’, ‘Children Of The Grave’ and ‘Snowblind’ (all Onward Music Ltd.)

Last revised 11 January 2017

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