Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
In 2005, Black Sabbath was finally inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. They had been overlooked seven times, prompting Ozzy to ask that the band be taken off the list, feeling it was a sham because fans don’t vote for the inductees. The band’s friend and neighbor, Brian May, inducted them. In 2006, the band was also inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tony Iommi was almost unable to take his award home with him because airport security told him that the large sculpture could be used as a weapon.
The band used to rehearse across from a movie theater. They got the idea to make scary music after seeing how much people enjoyed horror movies.
There is a 1964 Boris Karloff movie called Black Sabbath, but according to Tony Iommi, none of the band had seen the movie at the time.
Iommi joined Jethro Tull for two weeks in 1968. He appeared with Tull on The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus special, miming “A Song for Jeffrey.” Iommi didn’t like Jethro Tull’s organization, in which he was treated more like an employee than a bandmate. However, he did learn by observing Tull’s disciplined rehearsal routines, and brought that professional work ethic back to the band with Ozzy, Geezer, and Bill. Shortly after becoming more structured, the band started writing the songs that would later be recorded for Black Sabbath.
After working with Jethro Tull, Iommi bought a flute and occasionally played it live. For the most part, it didn’t work out.
According to music historian William Ruhlmann, they originally called their jazz-blues band Polka Tulk, later renaming themselves Earth, and they played extensively in Europe. In early 1969, they decided to change their name again when they found that they were being mistaken for another group called Earth. Butler had written a song called “Black Sabbath” that took its title from a novel by occult writer Dennis Wheatley called The Devil Rides Out, in which a Satanic ritual called a Black Sabbath is described. The group adopted it as their new name and often played up the demonic angle, even though it was mostly an act. Ozzy once said: “The only black magic Sabbath ever got into was a box of chocolates.”
Butler wrote most of the song lyrics by borrowing phrases from Ozzy’s stream-of-consciousness vocal melodies and fleshing them out. Ozzy did very little writing until he left the band.
One of the candidates to replace Ozzy when he left in 1978 was Michael Bolotin, who would later change his name to Michael Bolton and sing soft rock. They went with Dio instead.
They were one of the first bands to be considered “Heavy Metal.” The phrase was introduced by the 1968 Steppenwolf song “Born To Be Wild.”
Osbourne’s solo work did much better than the Black Sabbath material after he left.
Iommi used to date Lita Ford. Ozzy did a duet with her in 1989 – “Close My Eyes Forever.”
Osbourne and Dio hated each other. One of Ozzy’s tours featured a dwarf who Ozzy would call “Ronnie,” referring to the vertically challenged Ronnie James Dio. Dio in turn refused to appear at any date in which Black Sabbath was slated to open for Ozzy’s act, calling Ozzy a clown.
Their music is rather aggressive, but their worldview is not. Ozzy explained: “Sabbath were a hippie band. We were into peace.”
Prior to the group truly coming together, Iommi worked in an industrial factory. He eventually decided to quit and become a full-time working guitarist. During the last few hours of his last day on the job, his hand became caught in a piece of equipment, severing the tips of his fingers on his right (fretting) hand.
Losing the tips of the fingers on your hand is a debilitating accident for a guitarist, but Iommi found a unique way to soldier on. After battling depression over the accident for quite some time, he was visited by his supervisor from the factory, who brought along some Django Reinhardt records. Reinhardt was a jazz guitarist from the mid-20th century who had a disability – several of his fingers had been fused together in a fire. When Iommi heard Reinhardt play (and after receiving a pep talk from his supervisor) he decided that he could overcome his misfortune. He tried various ways to cover and/or extend his fingertips, to dull the pain he now had when trying to play and to make the tips themselves move more easily over the strings. What he finally came up with was taking a plastic detergent bottle, melting it, shaping it into thimble-like prosthetics, sanding them down, and covering them with leather from several jackets until he found one with the right feel. After taking care to form the new tips to snugly fit his fingers, and experimenting with various bonding agents to secure them, Iommi found that he could play again with minimal pain.
All original members were from Aston, which is a suburb of Birmingham. They all lived in a one-mile radius from each other.
Dio helped popularize the “Rock Hand Symbol” of the two middle fingers and thumb in to the palm of the hand and the pinky and index finger out as a symbol to “Rock On.” He got it from his grandmother because she used it towards what she believed to be evil people.
In their early embryonic days as the Polka Tulk Blues Band, the group also featured a slide guitarist and saxophone player. The rest of the band eventually reformed stealthily without them.
Despite going to the same (violent) school in Birmingham, Ozzy and Iommi never spoke to each other much until several years afterward, when they connected through an ad Ozzy had circulated about needing a band.
Early rejected band names included: “Fred Carno’s Army” (suggested by manager Jim Simpson) and “Jimmy Underpass and the Six-Way Combo” (Ozzy’s suggestion).
Upon writing their first original songs, the band immediately knew they had something good. It was dark and menacing and made extensive use of the tritone, a musical interval of notes that sound particularly tense, almost evil. The band soon grew tired of playing cover tunes, especially because their original material didn’t mesh well with the blues that they’d been playing up until that point.
At one point Tony Iommi played an upside down Gibson SG. Someone saw him doing it and said “I have a [right-handed] friend who plays a left-handed one upside down”! That guy and Tony swapped guitars, and both were happy.
In April 1989, while the band was touring in support of Headless Cross, a gig in Mexico was shut down and crew members were arrested on arrival. The Catholic Church in Mexico had protested the Sabbath show, and the mayor banned the event last-minute.
Vocalist Ronnie James Dio died of metastasized stomach cancer in 2010.
On 11-11-11 the band’s original lineup announced that they were reuniting for a new album and tour in 2012, having already written several new songs. The album, titled 13, emerged in 2013.
Black Sabbath’s debut album in 1970 began with the sound effects of a church bell and thunder. Forty-three years later, in 2013, their final album ended with the same sound of a church bell and thunder.
Geezer Butler got arrested in 2015 for punching a Nazi in a bar. He hit the Nazi in the face after he spewed some antisemitic remarks to Butler.