Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi Looks Back, Ponders Future
Black Sabbath is rightly regarded today as a pioneering pillar of heavy metal. People sometimes forget, however, that in the band’s early years many critics were less than enthusiastic about the group’s music. In a wide-ranging interview with Metal Hammer, presented by TeamRock, guitarist Tony Iommi recalls how Sabbath was misunderstood by the press and even by many fans.
“We had a hard time with everything,” he recalls. “A lot of people didn’t give the chance to listen to what the songs were about. For many years, people tried to put us down. The press just didn’t understand it.”
Iommi says the band’s subject matter–which touched on themes such as war and the tyranny of technology, and made occasional reference to the occult—sometimes led to strange encounters. The group responded by using humor to deflect the attention that sometimes came from dark forces.
“We had witches, occultists and god-knows-what-else approaching us,” he says. “It got a bit worrying at first, especially in America, because they were quite heavy on that sort of stuff.”
He continues: “I remember three witches came to the show and saw that we had three crosses the right way up and they left,” he recalls. “We had another lot that came to our hotel. After we played this show and went back to the hotel, all these people were sitting outside the doors of our rooms, chanting with candles. We thought ‘What the hell’s going here?’ so we climbed over them and went into our rooms, with these people still outside. We thought ‘What are we going to do about this?’ … We decided to go out there in precisely a minute, open the door, blow the candles out and sing happy birthday to them! Which we did, and they promptly left.”
A hefty chunk of material from Black Sabbath’s early days is featured in The End of the End, a forthcoming concert film that documents the group’s last-ever show. Staged earlier this year in the band’s hometown of Birmingham, in the U.K., the show’s set list includes such metal standards as “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” and “War Pigs,” alongside other Sabbath classics. As Iommi explains, the group considered adding some “deep cuts” from their early catalog, but in the end opted to stick with material more familiar to fans.
“When we first put the list together, even before this last tour, we tried doing some more songs we hadn’t done for a long time,” he says. “We got them musically, but it was a struggle for Ozzy because when he did those songs it was 40-odd years ago, and you can’t expect him to still sing that high.”
He continues: “[Ozzy} always wants to reproduce it like it was. He won’t duck and dive in the song like a lot of people do, so he was blowing his voice out by trying to do it. We had to come up with a set that we knew he was going to be comfortable with, so we end up doing the classic songs.”
With a near half-century of Black Sabbath now in the rearview mirror, the obvious question for Iommi becomes, “Where do you go from here?” Joking that he will now be “partying every night,” the legendary guitarist says lots of options are spread out before him, but for the time being his mind is still wrapped around his old band.
“There’s a lot of things on offer at the moment,” he reveals. “I’m almost bombarded with things, but I’ve got to see where I’m at and what I want to do. I’d like to get a bit of time to start writing again, not for any particular thing, but just to start writing and putting some ideas down. That’s probably what I’ll do.”
He continues: “I’ve been offered TV stuff and offers to play with other bands at big occasions, but I can’t decide on anything yet. I’ve not been able to get my head into a different space yet. I’m still in the Sabbath mode and the more you talk about it the more you’re in that mode.”
Black Sabbath: The End of the End will be aired in select theaters worldwide on September 28, for one night only. To read Iommi’s interview in full, click here.