Black Sabbath: An Oral History

Black Sabbath: An Oral History

by Dave Marsh, Mike Stark

On February 13, 1970,
Black Sabbath released its first album and changed the face of music forever.

The band seemed to come out of nowhere, with a dark, otherworldly sound dominated by the soul-piercing wail of twenty-two-year-old John "Ozzy" Osbourne. Once its brooding, overpowering music was out, millions of listeners couldn't get enough, an record and in


On February 13, 1970,
Black Sabbath released its first album and changed the face of music forever.

The band seemed to come out of nowhere, with a dark, otherworldly sound dominated by the soul-piercing wail of twenty-two-year-old John "Ozzy" Osbourne. Once its brooding, overpowering music was out, millions of listeners couldn't get enough, an record and in concert. It was the birth of heavy metal.

In Black Sabbath: An Oral History, Mike Stark leads you into the studio and on tour with the quintessential British metal band, a primary influence right up to the present day on hundreds of rock groups, from Metallica to Spinal Tap. Here are firsthand accounts from Black Sabbath's four founding members — Bill Ward, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne — and from other members through the years, including Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Eric Singer, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, and Neil Murray. In their own words, they tell you what it's like to turn up the amps, hit the stage, and power-chord an audience into submission — and create a brand — new kind of rock in the process.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
For the Record Ser.
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.28(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Rob Halford

I think that my real love of the band comes from those very early albums with the original lineup, because when you're a new, young, fresh band, you work with a very pure spirit. You've got very little influence coming in to you; the way you think and the way you create. And it's only when you get success and you start to mingle and go out into the world that other things start -- you know -- chipping in at the background, and you think differently and you act differently. So the early work with Sabbath, I think, was extraordinary, because it had its roots in the development that was coming from America, which was progressive rock and blues and some jazz. Some of that early Sabbath work is extraordinary to listen to because it has all of those elements, but it's all wrapped up in this new sound, this new way to write music. So the early-work for me was particularly inspiring, and out of that it led a whole new force, a whole new musical generation. I think people were just as excited when they heard Tony and Sabbath play as they were when they heard Hendrix play or Jimmy Page or whoever, you know. That extraordinary thing that was never considered or thought of did happen and it led to this new way, this new style, that even today has a tremendous place in people's minds.

Ronnie James Dio

Let's face it. That was the first heavy metal band, as far as I'm concerned, anyway, and the heaviest band that I ever heard. It's great to have been part of something that's an influence to other people, and not just that portion of it, because Ozzy's portion was like huge. That was what really started itall.

Tony Iommi

When I was at school, until I got into music, I thought I was going to end up doing karate, the contact sports; I thought that was what my career was going to be. I started playing an accordion, because my father, all my family relations, all played accordions. I wanted to play drums originally. I was about twelve, thirteen, or fourteen.

Bill Ward

I was fifteen years old. I was in a band called the Rest -- it was a school band. We had formed the band at school in Birmingham and we were looking for a lead guitar player. Everybody put up their advertisements in the music shops, in the record shops. So I believe that's how it happened. We found out about Tony and started playing together.

Three years later Tony was the first one to move up to Carlisle in Cumberland and I think we were about eighteen years old and he called me a few weeks later and said, "Look, come on up, play drums, we got a nice thing going on up here." So we had an apartment, which was great, and we had gigs as a band called Mythology. Mythology had built up a big following, first of all, in Northern England and in Scotland as a blues band, and Tony and I were having a real great time at that point. But that band fell apart, so we came home.

I know that I started meeting Geez at a place where he was playing with a band called the Rare Breed. We were playing all-nighters then till eight o'clock in the morning and there's about ten bands on -- real shitty clubs, you know, but just great. So I first met Geezer backstage. We were taking a break and, you know, doing some things back there. Geezer was trying to climb up a wall. He couldn't understand why he couldn't climb up the wall. And he kept falling down. Very much chemically induced. And I was kind of like laid back on the couch just watching this guy, who I had never met before, try and climb up a wall. And I just hooked into him. I couldn't help it, you know. He was incredibly dynamic onstage. He was really, like, way before his time.

Geezer was the guy that used to wear these unbelievably weird clothes. I never saw anybody else wearing clothes like this. Green clothes. He would wear green bell-bottoms and it was all weird. I don't think the Beatles were even doing it. He was just like an oddball. Geezer got a lot of flack for looking the way he did, for being the way that he was, because the town, basically, thought he was a nutcase, which he actually turned out to be.

We started to form a band called Earth, but what we had to do first was ... Geezer, I think knew Ozzy. I had not met Ozzy. Tony had been to school with Ozzy. So after Mythology, we got me and Tony, just kind of, hanging out, whatever. I'm seeing Geezer. I'm like wondering, you know it's like, this is a real interesting guy, plays rhythm guitar, didn't play bass, and it eventually came down to, "Well, we need a singer." We saw an advertisement, "Ozzy Zig." I mean it was a real nutcase ad. I mean it was just stupid -- we saw this stupid ad. And I can always remember Tony saying, "I really hope it's not the Ozzy that I think it is."

So the first time I met Osbourne, he was a skinhead. The four of us were hanging out together. We were spending time together as a band called Polka Tulk. So the addition was, we brought in a sax player. And the other addition was somebody that Oz knew, and that was Jimmy Phillips. And Jim played blues, slide guitar. Now that meant that we didn't have a bass player. So Geezer changed to bass. Never played a bass in his life. Then we started to go and tour, where Tony and I had been making some creativity. We went back up to Carlisle ...

Black Sabbath. Copyright © by Dave Marsh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Dave Marsh was a founding editor of Creem and an editor at Rolling Stone, where he created The Rolling Stone Record Guide. He is a music critic at Playboy, publisher of Rock & Rap Confidential, and a prolific author of books about music and pop culture. His Before I Get Old is the definitive biography of The Who, and Glory Days and Born to Run, both about Bruce Springsteen, were bestsellers. He lives in New York and Connecticut.

Mike Stark is the former host of "Pure Rock Talkback" on the groundbreaking metal station KNAC-FM, Long Beach, California. Stark has produced numerous radio programs and co-produced "Rock & Rap Confidential Report," based on the newsletter Rock & Rap Confidential. As an independent radio journalist, Stark has interviewed hundreds of artists from all forms of music, including George Clinton, Pat Boone, Roger Daltry, Les Paul, John Lee Hooker, Slash, and Clint Black.

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