Thirty years ago today—on January 19, 1984—Black Sabbath was scheduled to play the Pacific Coliseum. The British metal legends were touring behind their new album Born Again, their first and last one to feature Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan. Also in the lineup—though not on the album—was former Electric Light Orchestra drummer Bev Bevan.
The show was cancelled when bassist Geezer Butler came down with bronchitis, but not before I interviewed guitarist Tony Iommi and we put them on the cover.
Well, we were just looking for a vocalist. A lot of people contacted us.
Were you a fan of his former band, Deep Purple?
Always liked it, yeah, always liked it.
I understand you do one of his old songs, “Smoke On the Water”, in concert now. Why that song?
Well it’s really one of Ian’s better known ones, and he wrote the song anyway.
I was wondering why you didn’t choose “Highway Star” or “Strange Kind of Woman”.
Well we could have done, but I think “Smoke on the Water” is a better known song than those.
Why did your previous singer, Ronnie James Dio, leave the band?
It was just a bit of a conflict, really. He was doing his solo album while we were doing the live album, and we weren’t too happy about that situation.
The other new addition to Black Sabbath is Bev Bevan, an original member of E.L.O. Was that much of a transition for him—going from sort of a pop-rock band to a full blown heavy metal one?
It was really, but before E.L.O. Bev used to play drums with the Move, and they used to play quite heavy stuff. In fact he was known as “The Birmingham Basher” in them days.
He’s quite a pounder. I knew he could play pretty hefty stuff, but I was actually surprised at the way he’s improving as we do the shows.
Is he a permanent member of the band?
He is now, yeah.
So Bill Ward won’t be coming back.
No. It’s unfortunate, but he did have a problem with alcohol. And I wouldn’t like to see Bill have to go through coming on the road again.
What’s the story behind the song “Disturbing the Priest” on Born Again?
Well we recorded it at Manor House, and right behind the Manor House was a church and a cemetary—it was virtually outside the door. And we used to record sometimes at four and five in the morning, so we thought “Disturbing the Priest”. We did have a few comments from around the village, actually—I think we disturbed the village more than just the priest. And we were letting bombs off and stuff like that.
I understand you played a few explosive tricks on Ian.
Oh yeah [chuckles]. We did a few. Actually they’re quite dangerous, really. We blew a couple of things up, including his boat.
Yeah, he brought his boat with him. And that went up [laughs].
Your bassist Geezer Butler says that Born Again has much the same feel as your very first album.
Well it did to us, because the feeling of the band was like it was the first album—the vibes were great, you know. We were excited about doing it. And we did it quick in comparison to the last few albums we’ve done, which have taken a while.
The next album will probably sound better because we will have been with Ian and worked with him a bit—and with Bev. But at that time we just met Ian and then rehearsed, wrote the stuff, and went and recorded it.
Which is your personal favourite song on the new album?
I like “Disturbing the Priest”. And “Zero the Hero”. “Trashed”.
What do you think of the music Ozzy Osbourne‘s made since leaving Sabbath?
I think he’s done some good stuff. I really do.
Did you enjoy the late Randy Rhoads‘ guitar playing with Ozzy?
Yeah, he was a good player. I hadn’t actually heard him in person, but just from what was on the radio. He was very good for a young kid as well.
Were you surprised that Ozzy used all old Sabbath songs for his live double album, Speak Of the Devil?
Yeah, because there was no need to really do that—he’d established himself in his own right, really.
Did you collect any royalties for having cowritten the songs on that album?
So you weren’t complaining about that.
No. I mean, it’s not the money so much. We do this because we like it as well. But I don’t think Ozzy needed to do that when his own songs stood up on their own.
How do you feel—after 15 years and 13 Sabbath albums—when you see a young band like Def Leppard strike it rich after just a few years on the hard rock trail?
Oh, it’s good luck to them really. I mean obviously there’s got to be new people coming out all the time. But I don’t know a lot of their stuff. I haven’t sat down and listened to it.
I would say so, yeah. I mean without sounding big-headed, or whatever you want to call it, I think we must have had some influence on a lot of the people of today—along with Zeppelin and Purple.
What kind of music do you like to listen to when you’re not playing with Sabbath?
Oh, I like a lot of different sorts of stuff. I don’t listen to new wave stuff—I don’t really like that. I listen to a variety of classical and jazz. I like modern jazz.
And I like some of the heavy metal bands around now. But I don’t listen to a lot of heavy stuff because we’re doing that sort of thing. I listen to stuff like Flashdance. I think Irene Cara is fabulous.
How do you feel when people say that you play too loud?
Well, I don’t think much about that because if the kids like it, they’ll like it loud. I mean, we’ve played loud since the beginning.
Do you ever worry about your hearing?
Pardon? [laughs]. I don’t really worry about it. If I go deaf I go deaf.
When did you start playing guitar?
Well when I was a kid I wanted to play drums. And then when I got a guitar I became very interested in it.
But I did have this accident. I took the ends off my two middle fingers. I was told by all the surgeons that I’d never be able to play again. But I couldn’t accept that; I just went out and had a go. I mean I can’t feel the strings with my two middle fingers—I have to wear a cap, like a thimble, over them. But I just got used to it over the years.
Who were your main influences on guitar when you started out?
A group here called the Shadows, I used to like. And Django Reinhardt’s playing. I particularly related to him because he did the same thing—he only had two fingers. And that’s really what got me cracking on pushing myself to play.