THE RETURN OF… Black Sabbath

The godfathers of heavy metal announce
their reunion, and Blurt is there. Pictured above: Bill Ward, Tony Iommi, Ozzy
Osbourne and Geezer Butler.

 

BY MARCUS BLAKE

 

The date:
November 11, 2011 – 11/11/11, an ominous date indeed.  The American television channel, VH1 Classic,
deemed it, “Heavy Metal Day”.  On social
media sites, they dubbed it, “Nigel Tufnel Day” (named after the Spinal Tap’s
guitar player’s quote, “This one goes to 11.”). 
Perhaps the best and most high profile music event to happen on
11/11/11, however, was the reunion of the original Black Sabbath.

 

About a week
before the event, word was all over the internet that all four original members
of Black Sabbath were to hold a press conference at the famous Los Angeles landmark, The Whisky A Go-Go, to
make an unspecified announcement.  My old
band mate and pal, Henry Rollins was to act as host for the occasion.

 

Sabbath’s last tour with Ozzy was in 2005 and the original lineup last appeared together when
they were inducted into the Rock And
Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006. They attempted to cut a new album with Rick Rubin in 1999, but the sessions
fell apart and Osbourne turned
his attention to his solo career. The second incarnation of the band featuring Ronnie James Dio reunited under the
moniker Heaven & Hell in
2006 but split four years later, after Dio
passed away.

 

So, after much
speculation, all four original members of Black Sabbath – vocalist, Ozzy
Osbourne; guitarist, Tony Iommi; bassist, Geezer Butler and drummer, Bill Ward -convened
at the press conference to announce that they have reunited to record their
first new album of original material in 33 years with Grammy Award winner Rick
Rubin to produce.  The band also
indicated that they will embark on a major would tour in 2012.

 

(I have to admit
that it was pretty damn exciting to be standing 10 feet away from the band
making these announcements on the same stage where they performed exactly 41
years ago, on Nov. 11, 1970.)

 

At exactly 11:11
am, the festivities got underway with a short film showing rare clips of the
band.   Rollins then took the stage and
began to talk about the band, their accomplishments and what Sabbath means to
not only him but to millions of fans.  Stating
the group’s records have sold in excess of 70 million records worldwide,
Rollins proclaimed that they were essentially a blues band that took the blues
into what is now known as heavy metal. 
Rollins:  “When I heard the song,
‘Iron Man’, a song about a guy who gets so mad at everyone he wanted to be
friends with that he goes out and he basically levels them, high school became
powerless over me after that.”  He went
on to talk about the rhythm section, Geezer Butler on bass and Bill Ward on
drums and their jazz instinct and blues confidence.  Let us not forget one of the major things
that this band can do that so many other bands (metal and otherwise) can’t do:
it can swing.  Although the critics generally did not like them
at the time, the audiences always did.

 

Rollins then
brought the facts up into the present. 
As mentioned earlier, he pointed out that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
inductees have reunited to work on their first album of all new material since
1978’s Never Say Die!, to be released
in the fall of 2012.  Sabbath has signed
a new record deal worldwide with Vertigo, the band’s original label, and will
release the upcoming album on that label.

 

Next summer,
Black Sabbath with headline the enormous, multi-day UK
music festival, the Download Festival on June 10th and will headline
their own tour to support the new album in the autumn of 2012.

 

The band then
came out to rapturous applause, followed shortly by legendary producer, Rick
Rubin.

 

Before Henry
Rollins started to ask the Sabs questions, drummer Bill Ward took the mic and
acknowledged that this was the same day as Remembrance Day/Armistice Day/
Veteran’s Day and, on behalf of the band, thanked and honored all of those who
served in the service.

 

***

 

Henry Rollins: 
So, gentlemen, we have assembled here, maybe only one of the super
groups left in the world where the members are all still standing.  You’re going to be making an album and get
back together for a lot of shows next year. 
Why do you feel the need to get back together and make more music?

 

Ozzy Osbourne: 
Well, it was time and the time was right, you know?  For a long time, people were asking to do a
reunion and we’ve got to do an album and it was just time. 

 

Tony Iommi:  I
think it’s now or never for us.  We’re
getting on good.  Everything’s really
good and we’ve got some great music to play.

 

Rollins: 
Was it any one of you who spearheaded the idea of getting back together?
Did anyone of you have the idea of contacting the others?

 

Ozzy:  It just kind of
happened.  Since our split way back when
(people kept asking), “Are you gonna do it? 
Are you gonna do an album?”  As
time goes by, it gets harder and harder. 
If you don’t do an album when you’ve got to do it, you miss that kind of
thing, you know?  (Mumbles) You miss the
boat as they say. It was just time.  We
couldn’t have the reunion any time before but this time, for some magical
reason, we’ve written about 7 or 8 songs so far and they’re really good.  I’m not just saying it.  I’m like, “Whoa!  You know?”

 

Tony:  We’ve always been in
contact anyway so, it’s not like we haven’t spoke for all of these years.  It’s been a constant thing.  So, it’s great that we can all actually be in
a room and start playing together again.

 

Rollins: 
In 1997, when you all reformed and you went out and you did a lot of
shows for a few years but no album came out of it.  I think for a lot of people that was the
great hope that not only would there be this tour but there would be new Black
Sabbath music.  There were two new songs
released but not the full album.  Whose
idea was it to bring in producer Rick Rubin? 
As I said before, there’s no one better for you guys than Rick.

 

Tony:  It was Rick.  He kept phoning us up every five
minutes!  (laughs)

 

Ozzy:  It was the obvious
choice.  I’ve known Rick for many years
and he’d be playing Black Sabbath and The Beatles or whatever and he would say,
“Do you think you’ll ever get back together?” 
He wanted to do it a long time ago…mumble mumble…

 

Rollins: 
Geezer, I’m going to make you speak if it’s the last thing I do.  Are you looking forward to getting into this
endeavor with the other three?

 

Geezer:  Yeah, I’m looking
forward to getting out of bed!  This
time, we’ve come up with absolutely incredible music.  It’s just great to be part of that.  It really is back to the old Sabbath
style.  We tried to do that before and it
just didn’t work.  It was not up to our
standards.  This time, the stuff that
Tony’s been playing, is absolutely brilliant. 
It’s great to be part of it. 
We’re all excited again and we know this time, it’s gonna happen. 

 

Rollins: 
Rick, a question for you.  In
preparation to bring the band in with these songs, do you have any environment
set up for them?  Do you have any
strategy you’re going to employ?  Do you
have any thoughts that you can tell us about what you’re going to be doing with
these guys?

 

Rick Rubin: 
Yeah, it’s just creating an environment where they’re comfortable and it
feels natural and easy… a no pressure situation.  I’ve stood in the room with them when they
played and it sounds remarkably like Black Sabbath and if it sounds like that,
then, we’re on the right track.

 

Rollins:  Do
you have any specific date on when you want to bring the band in (to the
studio)?  Has work begun?

 

Rick:  We’ve been working
on developing the material and we’re probably half way into the writing process
so, hopefully, early next year, we’ll record.

 

Rollins: 
How involved have you been in the writing process?  Are you going to rehearsals with them?  Are you working with them?

 

Rick:  I come to some
rehearsals.  They play me songs.  Then, I tell them what I think… the normal
process.  It’s inspiring hearing what’s
coming out.

 

Rollins: 
Are you gentlemen looking going out into the world next year and into
2013 with, potentially new music and a brand new tour and the four of you
together?  You’ve been touring without
each other for a while but now, back together. 
What do you think about that? 
Excitement? 

 

Geezer:  It’s something to
look forward to.

 

Tony:  You know, when we
all play together, it’s a real magical thing. 
Nobody plays like this band.  When
we all do our individual stuff, it’s never Black Sabbath.

 

Rollins: 
There’s one thing about Black Sabbath that should not be understated: if
Black Sabbath is missing one of their members, it’s no longer Black
Sabbath.  It’s one of those wonderful
bands where it really is a combination of the parts.   It’s not the Ozzy Osbourne show.  It’s not just some big riff.  It really is four component parts.  That’s one of the great things about the
band.  When you see it live, you walk
away thinking, “That’s a damn band playing where the four are making a sound unimpeachably
brilliant.”  I’m so glad that thousands,
or the better part of a million people, will be able to see that. 

 

***

 

At that point
the questions are turned over to the journalists/radio personalities in the
room. 

 

Answering what
his hopes were for the reunion, Tony responded, “It’s just great to be back
together and be able to play and write some great music and be with the guys
I’ve known all me life.  It’s a real
special thing.  We’ve known each other so
long.  It’s like a family.  It’s great to actually work together and be
in a room… it’s great fun and we’re really enjoying it.”

 

Responding to
the question if they had any specific memories of the night when they opened
for Alice Cooper at the Whisky years ago, Iommi stated, “Yeah, we didn’t open
for Alice Cooper!”  Bill Ward chimed it
with, “I think (the press was wrong). We don’t remember Alice Cooper.  It was a great time, we played The Forum for
about 48,000 (people) before that so, for us, it was a continuation of the
party.  So, we showed up (at the Whisky)
in top hat and tails and were all extremely silly but we rocked the place.  It was great, we played a lot of small
theaters and clubs during our first apprenticeship so, coming back to a club, especially
after doing The Forum and some of the other gigs we played in Europe, was a
nice touch.  It was really good and
everybody was just happy to be going.”

 

Tony:  We rented these
white suits.  These top hats and tails
and when we took them back, they wouldn’t have Bill’s back! 

 

Bill: Yes, they were absolutely filthy!  It was so hot in the place and I play pretty
hard and I sweated profusely. I was down to my underpants…

 

Tony: Which is not a nice sight in my opinion!

 

Bill: Yeah, ask him, he’ll tell you.  Yeah, they wouldn’t take my suit back.  As a matter of fact, I’ve got it now.  I’m thinking of giving it to the Hall Of…
something. 

 

Tony: Hall of excrement!

 

Rollins: 
How long have you guys known each other?

 

Ozzy:  I’ve known Tony for
fifty years. 

 

Tony:  We went to school
together. 

 

Rollins: 
What year would that be? 
1840?  (laughs)

 

Tony:  A long time ago.

 

Bill:  And then Tony and I
played in a band.  We were 15, 16 at the
time. 

 

Tony: 16, 17… 

 

Bill:  Yeah, that’s when we
started playing together.  Then we met
and started with Terry and then started with Oz.

 

Rollins: 
It’s a pretty unique relationship the four of you have over so many
decades. What’s it like when you’re in the same room and you see these faces that
you’ve seen, maybe, almost as long as you’ve seen the faces of your parents?

 

Tony:  We have a good
laugh, a good time.  We’re all relaxed
with each other.  We’ve known each other
so long.  It’s like putting on an old
glove, it’s fantastic. 

 

Responding to a
question about the set list and if the band would play any deeper cuts, Tony
came back with, “We haven’t actually got that far yet but I’m sure we’ll be
playing some newer and some different stuff, if that’s an answer.  If you are expecting us to play the same set
as last time, we won’t be.”

 

Answering if
they have any preference in playing indoor or outdoor arenas, Geezer said, “It’s
not really different once you get up on stage apart from when you’re outdoor,
it blows your hair up everywhere and it shows all of your bald spots!” Bill
Ward added, “I think if the band shows up and the audience is there, I don’t
think it makes that much difference from a personal point of view.  Sometimes, when we’re outdoors and it’s a
windy night, the sound actually shifts across the stage.  That can be a little worrisome
sometimes.  But other than that, you just
show up and you play.  We always play 120%.”

 

Responding to
the question of he will sing on the upcoming album, Bill Ward said, “I wouldn’t
think so.  I want to focus with my drums.
That’s my number one priority.  It’s
always a learning process.  I just want
to focus on being the best drummer I can be right now.

 

When answering a
question about if the current, gloomy state of world affairs now inspires the
new music they are making, Geezer said, “We’ve always written what goes on in
the world and our personal lives so, it’s bound to come out somewhere down the
line.”

 

As far as if
they thought about what kind of bands they want to support them on tour, Ozzy
exclaimed, “Not Alice Cooper, that’s for sure!”

 

The final
question asked was when can Australians expect the band Down Under.  Bill Ward replied, “It would be nice to put
that on the schedule.  It’s been a long
time since the original band was in Australia. 
I think it’s a must.  One of our
favorite things to do is to drive cars into the ocean!  I don’t know if we’ll do that next year but
Ozzy and I always used to have a good fight in the waterfall at Kings’ Cross.”
Tony added, “Nobody would take us out to dinner, that’s for sure.” Which
prompted Bill to note, “Yeah, we had a strawberry fight and that killed it but
we’d probably have a good time and we want to rock ‘n’ roll and play some good
music for the Australian fans down there.”

 

Rollins wrapped
things up by saying, “Thank you for getting back together.  Thank you for getting back together with
Rick.  Ladies and gentlemen, Black
Sabbath!”

 

As I walked out
of the Whisky A Go-Go, I looked up in the sky. 
The clouds started to gather and it looked like it was going to
rain.  I could hear the opening notes of
the title track from the band’s first album, Black Sabbath, playing in my
head. 

 

Ozzy was right:
it was the right time…

 

 

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