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 of all.

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 now.

Cosmik: The name of the album is simply Iommi. I understand there was a "Name The Album" contest on the 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 anything?

[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 [Flame On].

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 Halloween.

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 there are.

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