Interview by DJ Johnson
There are, in the who's who of rock and roll, several guitarists known for writing
unforgettable riffs. But what Ronnie Montrose, Rick Derringer, Joe Walsh and the
others don't have is an entire musical genre that owes them everything. There's really
only one man who holds such a distinction, and that man is Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi.
Without the blueprint he laid down with "Iron Man,"
"Paranoid," "Wicked World,"
"Killing Yourself To Live" and
any number of classic Sabbath tunes, and without his continued guidance over the last
three decades, modern heavy metal might all still sound like loud blues.
The origins of heavy metal are said to lie in the gritty electric guitar tones of Muddy Waters,
and we'll make no attempt to argue that. It is safe to say, however, that today's brand of
powerful, dark, earthshaking metal was born with that first clap of thunder that ushered in
track one of 1969's Black Sabbath. Iommi (guitar), Ozzie Osbourne (vocals), Geezer Butler
(bass) and Bill Ward (drums) constantly shaped and updated the genre for the next decade, and
when Osbourne left for a stellar career as a solo artist, the band continued to set the pace
with a variety of vocalists up front. Through it all, two things have remained constant:
the critics detest them and the fans worship the ground they walk on.
Thirty-one years down the road there really isn't much left for the blue-faced critics to
say. Nobody's listening anyway. The voices that count are the hundreds upon hundreds of
successful metal musicians who, during the obligatory "influences" segment of their
interviews, wax poetic about the power of Sabbath and what it meant to them. There are
scads of Black Sabbath tribute albums with performances of classic Sabbath tunes by bands
from all sub genres of metal, and the sheer number of these discs is the biggest tribute
The past few years have seen the original Sabbath lineup in the concert halls once again,
the well-publicized differences between Iommi and Osbourne finally resolved. The fans
ate it up, of course, and even the music industry, once apparently unaware of the band's
existence, has honored the quartet with a Grammy. Now the dust has settled, the band is
off the road with no definite plans for the future, and Tony Iommi finally had time to
do something he'd been wanting to do for ages: record a solo album. The term "solo album"
doesn't entirely apply, though, since every track has a guest artist, from Billy Idol to
Henry Rollins to Iommi's old pal Ozzie. The album, simply titled Iommi, hits the bins
on October 17th, and with riffs this hot, those bins better be fireproof.
Cosmik: The album is almost out. October 17th. It's hot, the riffs are great, the songs
are strong... How do you feel about the finished product?
Iommi: I'm very happy with it. It's been a long time coming, so I can't wait to get it out
Cosmik: The name of the album is simply Iommi. I understand there was a "Name The Album"
contest on the iommi.com website. What happened there?
Iommi: There was, and a lot of people did come up with the idea of just calling it "Iommi."
I think it's better than "Satan In The Sky," or whatever it might be. People can see who it
is right away.
Cosmik: There may be people thinking "oh, Santana's collaboration album did so well, now
Iommi's doing it," but this isn't something you just came up with recently, is it?
Iommi: No, I started this three and a half years ago. When I first started putting stuff
together, I wrote about fifteen or twenty songs trying to find a direction where I was
going with it, because I wrote a lot of different sort of stuff. Then, of course, I
went back to the riff again. Then I started putting some stuff down, but then, of course,
the [Black Sabbath] reunion tour came up, and so I had to shelve what I was doing. There
wasn't time to work on it because we were working a lot with the reunion around the world.
So I could only work on this project in between and/or after we'd finished the tour.
Cosmik: What was the experience like, doing this album with these people? All of them are
people you've influenced heavily.
Iommi: Oh, it was really good. When you take a project on, obviously you wonder "oh, God,
what's it going to be like working with these people," you know, which could be anybody.
You could know them for as long as you like, but until you actually work with them, you
never know. But they were absolutely great. I really, thoroughly enjoyed it. They
were really nice people, real gentlemen, real polite. We had a great time and real fun
making it, and I think that comes over in it. We were all pretty excited about working
with each other.
Cosmik: Were you kind of surprised by the outcome of some of the collaborations?
Iommi: Yes, because both of us would push each other a bit to really try different things.
Cosmik: The one that completely surprised me was the Billy Idol track. I just never would
have thought of pairing you up, but boy, that track [Into The Night] just kicks.
Iommi: Yeah, well again I wanted to do something not everybody expected. I think when I
first mentioned something about doing a solo album, everybody thought "well, it's going
to be Rob Halford, Bruce Dickenson..." I think they felt like it was all going to be people
who were a bit older, but I wanted to have a variety of people. And of course with Billy
Idol, that was something you'd never have thought of, that it'd be us together. And a lot
of people have been really surprised by it and said they like it. It was great working with
Billy. Billy's a really nice guy. We actually wrote a couple of tracks with Billy, and
we wrote three with Phil Anselmo [Pantera], and two tracks with Billy Corgon [Smashing
Pumpkins], but you know, we could only use one of each.
Cosmik: I was surprised to see Henry Rollins on the album, too.
[Pictured: Henry Rollins]
Iommi: Henry's a big fan, and he has been for a long time. He would come down to the
rehearsals when we were doing the Sabbath reunion tours, and he came over to England and
stayed with us for three weeks. He'd come to rehearsals every day, you know, because he
really liked to just sit and watch. So he's a huge fan. I got to know him pretty well,
and I told him about the project and he said "oh, well I'd like to sing a song." I played
him some of the stuff and he'd say "oh!! I wanna sing that song!!"
So when we got back to LA, we went into the studio and we recorded it. [Laughing Man
(In The Devil Mask)]
Cosmik: I'm curious about the fact that Ozzy is on this album. Here's a bunch of people
who were so heavily influenced by Sabbath, and then here's Ozzy. Was that symbollic of
[Pictured: Ozzy Osbourne]
Iommi: Actually, I didn't ask Ozzy to sing on the album, purely because he has a lot of
things going at the moment; he's got his own album and he's really very busy. I really
thought he wouldn't have the time to do it anyway, and I didn't want to put him under
more pressure, so I never asked him. So he asked me. He said "why haven't you asked ME
to sing on the album?!" I said "you've got so much going on I didn't think you'd want to,"
and he said "of COURSE I want to do one!" So that's what happened. Bill [Sabbath drummer
Ward] also said "of course I do!" So that was it. I got them both on.
Cosmik: I haven't got the liner notes yet. Is Bill on the same track as Ozzy sings on?
Who's Fooling Who?
Iommi: Yep, Bill's playing drums on that. I've got a lot of different people on this.
John Tempest is playing drums on the Skin track, Dave Grohl's playing drums on his track,
and I've got Brian May playing guitar harmonies on the Dave Grohl track
[Goodbye Lament] and the Ian Astbury track
Cosmik: I know there was a lot of bad blood between you and Ozzy for years there. Has
that all been patched?
Iommi: Oh yeah, God, as soon as we got together for the reunion dates, we just talked
quite a lot about it and sorted it all out.
Cosmik: I'm not sure of the status... Is there still going to be a Black Sabbath?
Iommi: I'm not sure what the status is, either. (Laughs) I don't know. At the moment,
it's on ice, so we don't what we're going to do as yet. There's no plans. We didn't
want to be under that pressure, you know, to say "oh yeah, we're going to tour again."
We wanted just to leave it for now. We've done what we said we were going to do, and if
anything happens, it will. If it doesn't, then we've done what we wanted to do.
Cosmik: To illustrate that what you've already done is huge, there are so many Sabbath Tribute
CDs out there. I've seen at least six. What are some of your favorite tracks on those tributes?
Iommi: Oh, I couldn't say!
Cosmik: Not gonna pin you down, huh? (Laughs)
Iommi: Nooooo, no, no, no. One that surprised me, quite honestly, out of all the people
that have covered our songs, was the Swedish Band, Cardigans. They recorded "Sabbath
Bloody Sabbath." I heard it on a radio station in Sweden. The deejay played it for me.
I couldn't believe it. I thought "what's this?" I thought it was a joke at first. I
was amazed at the treatment they'd done to it. It's really good and different. Sang
sweet and nice.
Cosmik: Well, can I pin you down to pick your favorite track off your album?
Iommi: On my album? You could NEVER pin me down on that one. (Laughs) I wouldn't do
that. There are so many different people on it that I really respect that I wound up
loving every individual track. If it had been an album with one singer, then I could
have done it, but every track has something in it for me.
Cosmik: This is our Halloween issue, so I have to ask you what Halloween is about for you.
Is it an anticipated day back in England, or no big deal?
Iommi: It is, but it's not like it would be here. It's not as big as it is here. But
quite honestly, most Halloweens I've been over here. (Laughs) I always seem to be here
on Halloween, for some reason. I haven't seen much of what's going on in England for
Cosmik: If you'll pardon a cliche question, there's one that needs to be asked for all
the guitarists out there who might have the wrong idea. Could you please define "heavy"
for them? Or is it hard to define?
Iommi: It's like the term "heavy metal": I never called our music heavy metal. It was
always "heavy rock" or just "heavy." It's just pure power, really. My term, "heavy,"
comes more when I'm on stage. It's hard to come across on record with a real power,
you know? Not so much these days, but it was years ago, it was hard to get that power
out. Sabbath were always a very live band.
Cosmik: I think it always came across on record, too. And obviously I'm not the only one.
I think it's interesting that in pop music, people were influenced by The Beatles, or
they hated them and loved The Who, or The Kinks... different camps. But in heavy metal,
and all its sub-genres, it seems like EVERYBODY was influenced by Black Sabbath, and your
guitar sound in particular. I know this sounds like a strange question, but I really wonder:
what is it like to know you've done this amazing thing in your life that has created a vocation
for so many others?
Iommi: It's absolutely fantastic, and it's made my purpose being here worthwile. You
couldn't wish for a better honor. I'm so pleased with it. It's fantastic.
Cosmik: And you can't miss that it's true. Again, look at how many Sabbath tribute albums
Iommi: It's great. I meet people all the time that say it, and I love to hear that.
Cosmik: Did you ever imagine this when you started out?
Iommi: No, I didn't, because you don't expect things like that. I just wanted to get out
and play, like all the others did. I wanted to get out, have an album, and just really
enjoy what I did, writing the stuff I believed in. And that's what I did.
© 2000 - DJ Johnson