BLACK SABBATH’S TONY IOMMI ON BILL WARD: “[HE] PULLED THE PLUG BECAUSE HE DIDN’T LIKE THINGS THE WAY IT WAS”
Glenn BurnSilver of the Phoenix New Times spoke with Black Sabbath and Heaven And Hell guitarist Tony Iommi about Sabbath’s classic sludgy sound, their new album, the future of the band and Bill Ward. Portions of the interview appear below.
PNT: I have to wonder about that development of that original sound. A few early songs have a bluesy and progressive sound–but how did the heavy, sludgy sound materialize? Did you stumble on it by accident?
Iommi: The sound I was after in the first place was to have something powerful. Something to create some tension. We used to work on trying to get the sound as big as we could. I think because of my accident it made me play a different way anyway. I had to work on playing chords a different way and playing as big as I could. That’s really what it was, working on enhancing the sound. And when we all played together, the way Geezer would bend his notes the same as I do, and it makes the sound fuller.
PNT: That made it darker, heavier?
Iommi: I wanted it to be that way. When we first started, we were playing jazzy blues stuff. Once we started getting down to really writing our own stuff, that’s when the sound came about really. I wanted to create the same vibe as a horror film. It’s got tension and these evilly things going on. I wanted to do that with music and I came up with these notes that were evil [laughs].
PNT:Why do you think people took to it? Did it make their hair stand up on their arms, or maybe give them that evil thrill? Or was it just so different?
Iommi: It was unlike anything else around at that time. It was just different and people latched on to it. That’s what we wanted. Not all people–some people hated it–but it was a matter of building up the people who liked it and making more of them. There were a lot of people when we first came out who really did slag us and hated what we did.
PNT: OK, back to the future. How is playing together–recording together–after so many years of tension and not being in the studio? The last album with the original lineup was in 1978… Ozzy was booted out in 1979…
Iommi: Tensions? The tensions over the years have mainly been about business. It’s not been personal at all. We always got on well on a personal level. It’s been going really good.
It’s just a different attitude now. When we got back together to record this album everybody had a different attitude toward what we were doing this time. We wanted to make an album together. We all really appreciated each other and respected each other. That’s really the only way to go into it–a full band commitment–and everybody was ready to put everything into it.
We did try back 12 years ago, and nobody could settle on it then. It wasn’t the right time, there were to many things going on. Ozzy was doing MTV, so it just didn’t work then. We weren’t going to do it until everybody was fully committed, and that was this time. Rubin was interested in doing the album [in 2001]. We played him some tracks but that’s as far as we got with it. We pulled the plug on it. We never got into the studio. We’d just played him some tracks.
PNT: Any of these songs on 13 holdovers from the 2001 sessions?
Iommi: We totally just abandoned those. It was not a good memory, so we just scrapped them.
PNT: Where’s [drummer] Bill [Ward}? I know all of you have worked together on and off since that 1997 reunion, but is Bill even able to perform right now?
Of course–we were hoping Bill was going to do it. When we first got together, Bill was involved.
Iommi: It was Bill who pulled the plug, it wasn’t us. Bill decided on his own he didn’t want to do this, because he didn’t like things the way it was. But we still don’t know exactly what that was, because Bill won’t exactly talk to us about it. He got his lawyers to talk with our lawyers, and it went that way instead of talking to the band personally.
It got to be a silly situation. It would have been nice to have had Bill on the album, but it was getting too complicated. It had been after a year of this stuff, and we just had to get on with it.
PNT: Given how well this is going, and the success of the record, will we see more of this Black Sabbath in the future?
Ioomi: We’re not looking at like that. We’re looking at in the moment. Unfortunately, we have to work around my treatments. I’m still having treatments for the cancer. I have to go back to England every seven or eight weeks, and I have to come off the road while my system adjusts. Then we go back on the road.
It’s all been very new to me. I didn’t know how it was going to work. I haven’t done a tour since I was ill. Maybe a couple of shows, but I haven’t done a day on, day off, day on, day off tour. I have to treat my life quite differently than I did five years ago. So we don’t plan things too far down the road since I don’t know how I’m going to be after this tour.
Read more at the Phoenix New Times.