Read an Excerpt
Ozzy Knows Best
The Ozzman Cometh
It's never been easy to be Ozzy.
There have been the good timesplenty of themand the bad timesplenty of those, too. Court cases and times in rehab have formed many of the lows, along with occasional swells of bad publicity. But they're all in the past, and the voice of heavy metal has come out the other side.
Right from the beginning it was rough. In the years after World War II, England was a bleak, austere place. Even though they'd won the war, food rationing was still in effect, and everything else seemed in short supply, too. Where German bombs had fallen, there were still often craters and rubble.
That was the world John Michael Osbourne was born into on December 3, 1948. Around him was Aston, part of the industrial city of Birmingham in the English Midlands. It wasn't pretty. A working-class area, it was made up of row houses whose bricks had been blackened over the years by pollution. Fourteen Lodge Road was no different from any of the other houses around it. That waswhere John Thomas Osbourne and his wife Lillian lived, and young John, the Ozzy to be, grew up with his five brothers and sistersPaul, Tony, Jean, Iris, and Gillian.
John Sr. was a machinist. He had steady, skilled work on the night shift, but the money wasn't that good. Lillian, too, worked a full-time day shift for Lucas, who made car parts and accessories. With six kids to feed, it seemed there was never enough of anything to go around, be it food, clothes, or any kind of luxury. It made for a lot of tension.
"You hear your mother crying because she has no dough to feed you," Ozzy would remember, years later. "Or my father and her always fighting over something. And I used to sit on the front steps all the time and think, 'One of these days I'm going to buy a Rolls Royce and drive them out of this s***hole'. And I did it."
But while all the kids shared one bed in the tiny two-up, two-down house, which had a toilet outside in the tiny, concrete backyard, there was one escapetelevision. Somehow the Osbournes had scraped together enough to afford one of the sets, and young John was able to vanish into American programs like I Love Lucy, Lassie, and Roy Rogers, along with homegrown fare, such as Robin Hood.
At school, John quickly picked up a couple of nicknames, both from his surname. For a while it was "Oz-brain," which soon became just Ozzya name so familiar now that if someone calls him John, he doesn't even respond.
As students go, Ozzy wasn't the best. About the only thing he did love was music, at least after heand the rest of Englanddiscoveredthe Beatles. That changed his life. Before that, he said, his ambition was "to become a plumber. When I heard the Beatles I wanted to become a Beatle."
He and millions of other boys wanted exactly the same thingthe fame and the fortune. Some, like his classmate, Tony Iommi, learned to play guitar. Ozzy just sang. Back then, though, no one was listening, not even Iommi, who used to make fun of Ozzy's voice, calling it high and girly. Which perhaps it was, in the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas Ozzy was a part of at school, taking roles in The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Mikado. It was a long way from "Paranoid," but at least he was up on a stage. And he was making people happy, which he'd always tried to do as a boy.
"When I was a child at school, if people were miserable around me, I'd do some crazy things like jump through f***ing doorways, anything to make them amusedhang myself, anything, because I hate to see sad faces."
Maybe Ozzy could have stayed in school. But he didn't want to. The constant arguments about money at home made him believe that if he brought home a wage, things might be better between his parents. So when he was fifteen, the lowest legal age to leave school, he quit, and began to try and fulfill his first ambition.
You start a career at the bottom, and Ozzyas everyone called him nowwas no exception. To learn the trade of a plumber, you started in the lowly job of plumber's matehanding over tools, making tea, and hopefully being shown how to do things. The pay was bad, and the work was worse.
After a few months he'd had enough. Anything was better thanthis. At least, Ozzy thought so. And by the 1960s, with England starting to swing, and the economy booming, there were plenty of jobs, even for a kid with absolutely no qualifications. So Ozzy found employment in a slaughterhouse, where he found himself killing cattle and cutting out sheep guts.
It was a long way removed from glamour and the fashionable King's Road in London. And it wasn't going to make him rich. It wasn't even going to make him comfortable.
So he moved on again, joining his mother at the Lucas plant, where his job was tuning car horns. It had its appeal for a short while, but it would never be his favorite musical job. As he said later, "I liked heavy metal better because it was louder." He worked, he remembered, in "a soundproof booth. These f***ing car horns are coming down a conveyor belt, and you're in this f***ing chambera box, like something out of f***ing Flash Gordon. You take a car horn, put it in this clamp, and you tune this f***ing thing in to the dial."
From there it was on to a series of other jobs, including a short stint at a crematoriumpossibly the ideal training ground for a heavy metal icon who's long been associated (quite wrongly) with the Dark Side.
But wherever he went, the money was terrible and the prospects seemed nonexistent. And the chances of him suddenly becoming a Beatle were slim. If he was going to get ahead fast, there seemed to be only one answera life of crime.
The way to do it, he thought, was burglarysome sneaky breaking and entering when no one was home. He'd seen enough television to know that if you wore gloves, you didn't leave fingerprints. However,that only worked if the gloves you wore had fingers. Ozzy put on a pair of fingerless gloves for his first bite out of a life of crime.
Unsurprisingly, with clues left all over the place, Ozzy was nabbed by the long arm of the law, and made his first court appearance. He got off lightly, having been given a fine. But without ajob, he had no money to pay it, and ended up in jail for three months.
It should have been the short, sharp shock to send him scurrying back to the straight and narrow. Instead it became the scene of Ozzy's first artwork, with himself as the canvas. Using a sewing needle and powdered graphitea method he definitely wouldn't recommend these dayshe made his first tattoos. On the knuckles of one hand he inscribed OZZY. The palm of the other hand had the word THANKS. And on each knee he etched a smiley face; he did those, he claimed, so he'd see something happy when he woke up each morning.
Released, but now with a prison record, he decided he'd learned from his mistake. Next time he'd be more careful. And he was, getting away with a television set. But in those days TVs were bulky, heavy items, awkward to handle alone, something Ozzy quickly discovered.
Poised on top of a wall, trying to balance himself and the set, he fell. So did the TVright on top of him. Which was the way the police discovered Ozzy a little while later. That landed him in Birmingham's Winson Green prison for two months. And it wasn't the last time young Ozzy would end up behind bars. No sooner had he gotten out than he was back inside for punching a police officer in the face.
HOW TO BE AN OZZY PARENT:
Tell your kids not to do the crime if they can't do the time. They have to learn to be responsible for their own actions.
It was 1967, and flower power was in the air. The Beatles were the biggest group in the world. Pop stars were being treated like royalty, all over the papers with money to burn. Out of jail again, an eighteen-year-old Ozzy knew two thingshe didn't want to see the inside of a cell again, and he wanted to break into music.
But with no job and no contacts, it didn't look as though success was going to be tapping him on the shoulder anytime soon. But just like becoming a plumber, rock'n'roll required an apprenticeship.
The first stage happened when Ozzy, still jobless, was walking around the Birmingham streets. He ran into a friend he'd known at school, who announced he'd started a band called Approach. All they lacked was a singer.
And that was easily remedied.
Ozzy could sing. And he wanted in.
There was only one problem. He didn't have an amplifier or a microphone for his voice, which he needed to be heard above the electric guitars and drums. Nor did he have any money to buy one.
But his father did.
It was probably a surprise to Ozzy when his father agreed tospend $50hard-earned money in those daysto buy his son the equipment he needed for his new career. But he happily accepted the gift. Oz was set and ready to become a star.
At least until he began playing with the band. Approach, as he quickly discovered, was a soul band. But even then Ozzy Osbourne wasn't a soul singer, by any stretch of the imagination. So they quickly parted ways. Then there was a short stint in a band called Music Machine, who rapidly went nowhere.
Frustrated, yet still determined to make his mark in music, Ozzywho was now calling himself Ozzy Zigdecided to follow the time-honored route for finding other musicians to play with, by placing an ad in a music shop.
OZZY ZIGVOCALISTREQUIRES BANDOWNS OWN P.A.
With a microphone and amp, he was maybe stretching the truth a little on the P.A. system, but it was still more than most amateur singers had. The ad did bring results, though. Ozzy was contacted by another guy his age, Terrence Butler, known to everyone as Geezer. He'd been playing guitar for six months, and he was eager to start a band.
So that was what he and Ozzy did, starting their own band and naming it Rare Breed.
Like so many groups, Rare Breed died quickly, after just two shows. But Ozzy and Geezer had become friends. They knew they had something, even if they didn't know what it was.
Meanwhile, Tony Iommi, who just a few years before had mocked Ozzy's voice, was also trying to make his living from music. So far he'd done better than Ozzy. He'd teamed up with drummer William WardBill to his matesa lorry driver's assistant, andtogether they'd formed a group called the Rest, along with a singer named Chris Smith. A blues band, they'd moved north to Carlislenear the Scottish borderand established themselves on the local circuit after changing their name to the more ambiguous Mythology.
All good things come to an end, and Mythology ground to a halt. When it was over, Tony and Bill made their way back to the familiar ground of Birmingham, where Iommi spotted Ozzy's notice in the music store, and just hoped it wasn't the same kid he'd known at school, who sang like a girl.
Of course it was.
And to make matters worse, Ozzy had short hair, which wasn't good for a band's image at the time.
He wasn't cool.
Needless to say, their meeting didn't go well.
Still, that didn't stop Ozzy and Geezer from turning up at Tony's house a few days later. They needed a drummer, and hoped Tony might know of one. As it turned out, Bill was there, and he agreed to join their group. There was one conditionTony had to be a part of it, too.
So it was Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill.
And, it turned out, there was a slide guitar player and a saxophonist, too, not exactly a lineup of metal legend. But that wasn't the intention when they came together. Instead, they headed back to Carlisle, where Mythology had been big, and tried to pick up where the earlier band had left off, a piece of some local fame, along with some money.
It didn't work. They disbanded, which turned out to be a rusesimply to get rid of the slide player and saxist. Then they reformed, calling themselves the Polka Tulk Blues Band (according to legend, the name came from a tin of talcum powder Ozzy found in a dustbin), that quickly changed to Earth, and Butler moved to bass. Since he couldn't actually afford a real bass guitar, he took off the top two strings of his six-string, and retuned it.
"The stuff we had when we first started was all twelve-bar blues," recalled Geezer Butler. "We used to do a lot of Willie Dixon songs, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Muddy Waters. We learned them from listening to the records. They were easy to play. When we first came together we formed in one day and had a gig a week later. We never had played together so we learned eighteen twelve-bar blues numbers in a week." But with just three chords and a lot of repetition, that wasn't difficult.
Although Ozzy was the front man, he didn't always have a lot to do. In the style of the day, Earth jammed a lot onstage. As Tony Iommi said, "it was mainly instrumental. We'd do a bit of vocals and then ten minutes of instrumental. It was good for us to do that."
They'd started. But it was still a hard row to hoe. What they needed next was somewhere to play, and that proved to be a Birmingham venue called Henry's Blues House, located in the center of town. It was owned by Jim Simpson, a jazz musician, and the band not only approached him for a gig at the club, but also to manage them. He gave them a big break, a slot opening for Ten Years After, then one of the big underground blues-rock bands.
"Ten Years After was one of our heroes," Iommi recalled. "Alvin Lee was billed as 'the fastest guitar in Britain.' One of our bigbreaks was when we did a gig with him. We supported Ten Years After and they really liked what we were doing. Alvin Lee got us a gig at the Marquee in London. That sort of started the ball rolling for us."
Simpson began managing them, but it couldn't be said that he was a major fan.
"Ozzy had no technical qualifications really," he said. "At least Tony or Geezer could play their scales or a B flat chord. Ozzy wouldn't know what a chord was if it fell out of the sky and hit him on the head. He knew nothing about music whatsoever. All he had was feel. But he had far more going for him than the rest of the band. The band, in my opinion, was purely Ozzy."
For a couple of weeks, however, the band almost wasn't anything, as Tony Iommi was recruited by another young band, Jethro Tull, to fill the guitar slot left open by the departure of Mick Abrahams. He even made one appearance with them, on the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus, although it took around three decades for it to appear.
But he returned quickly, and the band continued playing Henry's Blues Housesupposedly recording a jazzy demo for their manager called "Song for Jim," their first time in a studio. At least that was what they thought until some fans turned up and said they liked their new single. That came as a surprise, since as far as the band knew, they didn't have a single.
Another band called Earth did, however, and that meant a name change was in order. They'd seen a poster for a Boris Karloff movie called Black Sabbath, and decided to use that (Geezer's interestin the occult through the black magic novels of Dennis Wheatley was reportedly also a factor). And so the band metalheads idolize, even today, was finally born.
They were still playing blues material, churning out songs based around three chords. But they were also beginning to experiment and move outside of the box a little, "because it was so simple," Geezer explained. "Then you get bored of that so you go on to some other bits and you can feel yourself progressing all the time. Eventually you've got the background to go and write your own songs. We were up against bands that were just starting, like Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, and Zeppelin. We knew we had to be as good as them to make a go of it. We knew we had to practice every day and rehearse every day to get as good as them, or to be good at all!"
The new material wasn't getting them attention, though. So it was time to try other tactics to make an impact. At one show Ozzy painted his entire body purple, hoping it would shock the audience into listening. It didn'tand it took him weeks to get all the paint off. So instead of subtlety, the band decided to hammer the crowd into submission. They kept increasing the volume levels until people simply couldn't hear themselves talk, and were forced to listen to the music. So people listenedbut the band was still broke.
"We were starving, literally starving," Ozzy said. "If it hadn't been for Tony's mum, I don't think we would have survived at all. She used to make up all the sandwiches and give us cigs."
Ozzy's musical inspiration had been the Beatles, and he got thechance to literally follow in their footsteps in 1969 as Black Sabbath was given the opportunity to play the Star Club in Hamburg, the exact place the Fab Four had spent months honing their music at the beginning of the sixties, before they went on to change the world.
It was grueling, with them playing seven forty-five-minute shows a night. But it helped them in a way no amount of gigs in Britain could have. It made them tighter as a unit and bonded them as peoplefour foreigners in Germany, where they didn't speak a word of the language. And they were successful there in a way they'd never imagined, breaking the crowd record for the club that had been set by ... the Beatles.
Could that have been an omen? They all hoped so.
With a name like Black Sabbath, it was perhaps inevitable that they'd find themselves associated with black magic. However, they hadn't expected to be asked by a group of Satanists to play a gigand at the ancient symbolic site of Stonehenge.
More than a little nervous, they refused, only to be told that a curse had been placed on them. The band's reaction was simpleOzzy got his machinist father to make some aluminum crosses, which they began wearing constantly for protection.
Aside from that scare, things finally began to move ahead for them after their time in Germany. They went down to Regent Sound studio in London and cut some more demo tracks, including "Evil Woman" and "The Rebel." That, in its turn, led to their first proper album, recorded and mixed in two days. It was just their live set, reproduced in the studio, and, according to Geezer, "the only difference with us is Tony did an eighteen-minute guitarsolo on 'The Warning' and that was cut down by the producer for the album Black Sabbath. We didn't have any control whatsoever over that. We weren't allowed in on the mix."
But even though they'd been captured on tape, that didn't automatically mean an album would appear. Jim Simpson was turned down by fourteen record companies before he could find one that would take a chance on the band. Finally, on February 13, 1970, Vertigo Records released Black Sabbath.
"Musically, they are completely uncompromising, and would rather starve than sell out to more commercial forms of music," read the label's press release. But underneath, they were all hoping it would sell in huge quantities.
For Ozzy, it was a major moment in his life. He had a piece of vinyl he could take home and play for his parents. He'd made something of himself in rock'n'roll.
"I didn't even think about making a record when we made the first album," he recalled. "I was just pleased to be able to say: 'Look Mum, look what I've mademy voice on a piece of plastic forever.'"
But it was hardly the singalong radio music John and Lillian Osbourne preferred. When the needle clicked off after the record ended, there was a moment of unsure silence before John turned to his son and asked, "Are you sure you're only smoking cigarettes?"
HOW TO BE AN OZZY PARENT:
Show how happy you are when your kids achieve their goals.
The album climbed to number eight on the U.K. album charts and later that year reached number twenty-three in the U.S., where it was helped by a tour that began with dates in New York, working across the country to California.
By then, however, Sabbath had seen their popularity soar in England, playing dates around the country (and breaking the house record at Simpson's club) to ever-increasing crowds.
They were popular, and in the early seventies that meant one thingit was time to go back into the studio. These days bands might take two or more years between albums. Back then they were expected to crank out two albums a year.
So in September they returned to the studio, to enjoy the extreme luxury of having four whole days to make their record. It was originally scheduled to be called War Pigs, after some of the tales about Vietnam they'd heard from American airmen stationed in England, but the record company wasn't too pleased by that idea. Instead, the album took its title from a track recorded right at the end of the session. Intended as nothing more than filler, "Paranoid" was knocked off hurriedly. Little did any of them imagine they'd just created heavy metal's first classic anthem.
Once out of the studio, they actually had more important things on their mindsmore touring, and then they were going to America for the first time, to tour colleges. Now this was success, the way they envisioned it. Travel, luxury, see other continents. It was the big time.
It started out with a U.K. tour to mark the October 1970 release of Paranoid, an album which put them on top, quite literally, going all the way to number one, while the title track single managednumber twelve. But with the big time and fame came complications they hadn't expected. At the Newcastle show, for example, a rowdy, drunken crowd, attracted by the band's chart success, invaded the stage during the first number and stayed there for the entire seventy minutes of the band's set. By the time it was all over, the P.A. had been destroyed, drum microphones had been stolen, and Sabbath was beginning to realize that this fame lark might not be all it was cracked up to be.
"If it means us having to give up putting out singles then we will," a stunned Ozzy said. "We want people to listen to us, not try to touch us. I was really terrified, shocked out of my mind."
But when an audience simply wanted to sit stonily and listen, they weren't happy, either. Playing in New York, the audience in the club just didn't want to know, and wouldn't get involved beyond sitting and paying attentionnot until Bill Ward became frustrated and threw his drum kit at them. After that things livened up a bit, and they ended up playing seven encores.
There was no doubt they loved the freedom of America, especially the nubile groupies who were all over them. And the musicians, all young and single, didn't put up much resistance.
"When you're a kid ... and you come from Aston to the States and you see all these f***ing c**ts wanting to be f***ed, you go like a bull at the gate."
Ozzy was single, but he did have a girlfriend at home, by the name of Thelma Mayfair, and when he returned from the States, at the beginning of 1971, they were married. She already had a five-year-old son, Elliot, from her previous marriage, and Ozzy adopted him. They'd go on to have two children of their own, JessicaStarshine ("I wanted to call my daughter Burt Reynolds, but my wife wouldn't have it,") and Louis, affectionately nicknamed Bombins.
OZZY LOVES TATTOOS.
Ozzy might have complained when daughter Kelly got a tattoo, but she's really only following his examplehe's a veritable walking gallery with seventeen of them ...
1. A flaming dragon head on his right chest
2. A Japanese fish head on his right middle arm
3. A heart and dagger on the lower inside left arm
4. Unidentified design, lower left arm
5. Dagger with OZZY, lower left arm
6. Full sleeve design, right arm
7. Stylized female vampire head and bat, upper left arm
8. Heart, upper left arm
9. Rose and SHARON, upper right arm
10. Unidentified letter, lower right arm
11. Shamanic figure, left thumb
12. MUM AND POP, lower right arm
13. Dagger, upper left leg
14. Cloaked death head, left chest
15. Smiley faces, both knees*
16. OZZY, knuckes of left hand*
17. THANKS, left palm*
*Done in jail by Ozzy himself.
In the early 1980s, Ozzy would introduce his Elliot to marijuana.
"I said to him, 'Son, I'd prefer you to smoke this than tobacco.' He says, 'Why, Daddy?'
"I says, 'Because you can't physically smoke as many cigarettes of marijuana as you can of tobacco, because tobacco is the subtle drug of all. Because you don't realize. It's such a f***ing. You smoke a big fat joint and you're deadyou're crashed."
The marriage wasn't too successful. But it would have been hard to hold any relationship together. When Ozzy wasn't in the studio, he was on the road, all too often in another country.
HOW TO BE AN OZZY PARENT:
Try and spend as much time with your kids as possible, if you want to be close to them.
Black Sabbath had become huge, especially in the U.S., where "Paranoid" remained in the charts for an unbelievable sixty-five weeks. They were the exact opposite of the hippie peace-and-love idea that had been in fashion since 1967, and which had never really appealed to earthier middle America anyway. What they wanted was what Sabbath was offeringworking-class music with plenty of underlying aggression. By virtue of its chart success, it was pop music, but it was also doing something different and new, findingplaces in people that most bands weren't even trying to reach. Only Led Zeppelin (two of whose members, Robert Plant and John Bonham, also came from Birmingham) were hitting a similar crowd.
"We've obviously got what the people want," Ozzy said at the time. "It's aggressive music and I think America likes aggression."
So when they were touring the U.S.which they seemed to be doing constantly during 1971 and 1972the crowds were responding. Whatever Sabbath wanted, Sabbath gotand they were eager to lap it all up: the free drink, the drugs, and the girls.
"When I first came to the States, I f***ed everything in sight," Ozzy recalled a few years later. "I've had the clap more times than f***ing God. I remember one occasion, we did Virginia Beach. The door knocks. I've just spoken to my wife ... put the phone down and the door knocks. This beautiful chick comes in, and 'F***, I'm happening tonight!' I get her on the bed and I f*** the ass off her. She goes. Knock-knock-knock on the door. I think she's forgotten something ... it's a different chick at the door. Beautiful as f***ing God! I swear she looked like an angel. And I f*** the ass off this one. She goes. Knock-knock-knock, and I'm thinking, 'I can't believe this.' Threefive chicks come in, and I f***ed five differentwhere are these chicks coming from? Where are these chicks coming from?"
HOW TO BE AN OZZY PARENT:
Tell your kids to use a condom if they have sex.
BANDS HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY BLACK SABBATH
2. Marilyn Manson
4. Iron Maiden
6. White Zombie
9. Widespread Panic
10. Faith No More
11. Henry Rollins
DID YOU KNOW THAT ...
Ozzy can play the harmonica? He's featured on the instrument on "The Wizard" from Black Sabbath.
Ozzy featured his son Louis on the cover of his album Diary of a Madman?
On their first U.S. tour, Sabbath performed at the Whiskey in L.A. wearing white ties, top hats, and tails, and carrying canes?
Ozzy won a Grammy? It was Best Metal Performance for "I Don't Want to Change the World" from the album Live and Loud in 1994.
Ozzy once sang with Miss Piggy? Their duet, of the Steppenwolf classic, "Born To Be Wild," appeared in 1994 on Kermit Unplugged.
Ozzy collects Victorian art?
Ozzy. and Sharon also own a farm in England, a hundred-acre retreat in Buckinghamshire?
One of Ozzy's former homes in L.A. was once owned by actor Don Johnson and his wife, Melanie Griffith?
Ozzy once shaved his head in the early eighties? It was because of problems caused by hair products.
They were stars, and they were getting the royal treatment. Everywhere they went in America, all doors were open to them, and they were happy to walk through. Very quickly they developed a reputation for wild living on the road, which suited them just fine.
But for all the albums they'd sold, and the chart success of "Paranoid," there was very little money flowing into their bank accounts. Throughout the 1960s, bands had gone through management problemsthat was hardly anything new. Now Sabbath was going to begin to understand all the horror stories they'd heard in the past. And this was real-life horror, not black magic. It was businessthe nightmare of every musicianand it was just beginning.
OZZY KNOWS BEST. Copyright © 2002 by Chris Nickson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.