music / Hall Of Fame

411 Music Hall Of Fame Class Of 2008: Black Sabbath

February 6, 2008 | Posted by Dan Haggerty


• Won the 1999 Grammy for Best Metal Performance.
• Have sold over 24 million albums in the US and UK.
• Inventors of heavy metal.

The 70’s began as the cultural revolution of the 60’s was ending. The Summer of Love was over, and a jaded youth saw past the simple slogans of peace and love for the reality of modern life. War and death was paraded on TV in world events like Vietnam, and the empty promises of politicians did little to resolve the growing tension. Society did have popular statesman that the youth looked to, but the deaths of three of the most popular political icons (John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and activist Martin Luther King) drove the hidden feeling of uneasiness wider. The poets who stood in the face of such events also departed as the music heroes of that generation succumbed to drugs – Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison. As if to nail the coffin shut, the musical symbol of the revolution, The Beatles, broke up in April of 1970. Into the fatigued mentality of pop culture burnout, came four friends from Birmingham, England. The Summer of Love was over, and it was their mission to be the autumn that would embrace the feared winter darkness of modern life. But their story begins two years previous…

The year was 1968 and four local friends from the blue collar town of Birmingham, England formed a blues rock band called the Polka Tulk Blues Company, soon renamed Polka Tulk after only two gigs. Not exactly the kind of name you would associate with the creators of heavy metal, but at this point the band played the kind of music that inspired them to become musicians: The blues, jazz, and rock. The band would eventually adopt the name Earth, as it was a better fit for the bands sound and covers of Hendrix, Blue Cheer, and Cream.

Step one in the evolution of the four from Birmingham came from bassist Geezer Butler, who dabbled with mysticism and the occult. Geezer had received an occult book written in Latin, and thereafter one evening while in bed had a vision of a black hooded figure standing at its foot. After talking to lead singer Ozzy Osbourne about the strange vision, they wrote the lyrics to what would become “Black Sabbath”. The sound was named after the Boris Karloff film of the same name, while lead guitarist Tony Iommi added the now famous darkened riffs that would define the band, and eventually an entire genre of music.

The three notes the band built that initial riff around were considered taboo for being historically the three notes of the devil, a medieval superstition carried into modern times, and the tone fit where the band was going with their sound and musical. The band saw a need for a new lyrical and musical direction in the music scene, something that would represent a more honest look at society. They chaffed at the hippy movement and the Summer of Love attitude, with its messages of love and peace. Not that those were bad, and each needed to be said, but there was the real world with Vietnam raging at the time and the cold war in full force. There was fear, war, and death that people faced every day, combined with social upheaval, hatred, and even the realities of drug abuse and dementia. There was the real world and no one was talking about it. So they asked a simple question: If people would pay to see a horror film, why wouldn’t they pay to hear about the horrors of the real world? Basically, they saw society’s dark underside and wanted to represent it in their music, and show exactly why we needed love and peace.

The song struck a cord at Earth’s live performances, with crowds having a love it or hate it opinion on the dark muse; undeterred the band worked on more material and finding their audience. The name Earth was soon dropped however, after a show where the promoter had mistaken them for another band called Earth. Or as Iommi said regarding the miss-booked show and the crowd’s horror to the unexpected songs being played that evening: “We died out there.” The easy solution for a new band name was to adopt the title of their flagship song – “Black Sabbath”.

While controversial, the band eventually found a label to record them. On February 13, 1970 (Friday the 13th no less) the band’s self-titled debut was released. Critically panned, the band still managed to find an audience for its new sound of heavy riffs infused with blues, jazz, and rock. And despite the critics, the band followed up the same year with Paranoid. Carried by the more focused sound, heavier riffs, and tight performance the band’s album and title track would be a smash hit and reach #1 in the U.K. Other songs would also become Sabbath staples, as they also looked hard at society in classics like “Iron Man” and the seminal war protest song “Warpigs”.

Much to the horror of critics, driven by the focused music and open lyrics the bands popularity continued to grow. Further troubling for the status quo, new bands started to emerge that adopted this fledgling style of music as the heavier sound found a wider audience. And this was only the beginning, as that style was about to evolve again. Tony Iommi had lost the tips on two of his fingers (index and ring finger) several years earlier due to a freak accident at a sheet metal company he worked at. Despite forging thimble like prosthetic tips to protect his fingers while working the fret board of his guitar, they were still sore from the riff work. This led him to reduce the tension on the strings by down tuning the guitar from the standard ‘E’ to the lower ‘C#’. Geezer Butler in turn lowered his bass to match Iommi’s guitar, and the resulting heavier and darker tone became the bands signature style.

This new style of guitar playing was launched with their third album, 1971s Master of Reality. They also stuck to their infusion of blues and jazz influences, and added acoustic work. Further, their follow up in 1972 with Vol. 4 added the ballad “Changes” to their growing palette of sounds. The band was dark and heavier than ever, but the experience continued to broaden under many sounds to match the lyrical content, and Black Sabbath evolved into a complex group of divergent sounds.

Despite high levels of popularity and higher levels of drug abuse, the band continued to grow and with the release their fifth album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath the band moved into albums that were focused points of the metal sound they invented. This was sharpened further with their sixth and last album of their classic period – Sabotage. But musical evolution came at the price of label changes, manager problems (and ensuing lawsuits), and the band burning out. This later was both due to drugs and internal issues. Ozzy even departed briefly, which caused drummer Bill Ward to step in and help with vocal duties on Technical Ecstasy, an album that also featured experiments within the changing musical environment at large – Symphony orchestrations and synthesizers. The album did poorly, matching the internal state of the band. The issues with Osbourne’s drug and personal problems continued and after the 1977 tour he stopped showing up at rehearsals; the band eventual hired on new singer Dave Walker to record music for their next album.

Walker presence was brief, and after contributing to the material for the next album and a few live performances, Osbourne returned. Walker was out, but Ozzy refused to work with material his replacement had collaborated on. Despite having to record the album the next day, the band spent that entire evening re-writing the entire album. This resulted in the experimental Never Say Die, which was also am enigma for fans with its more pronounced influences of jazz, blues, and to the dismay of traditional fans pop and disco. The album did poorly, the band continued to have personal issues and drug problems, heightened by Osbournes drug and personal problems causing a real lack of commitment to touring, and the band official fired Ozzy in 1979.

Fortunately, former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio had just quit that band, and Iommi found a good music and writing match in Dio. Invigorated by the fresh start and new input, a revitalized Black Sabbath released Heaven and Hell in 1980. Of historical note, during the successful tour Dio popularized the metal hand gesture of the raised horns. The band found critical and popular success, and Black Sabbath Mk II was back on top. Unfortunately, drummer Bill Ward’s own alcohol problems, combined with family issues resulted in him quitting the band during the tour. Drummer Vinny Appice joined to complete the tour, and then stayed on to record the next album Mob Rules. This was also successful and resulted in another world tour, after which Sabbath released their first live album Live Evil. Band tensions that grew during the Mob Rules Tour became a real division during the mixing of Live Evil, with Iommi and Butler accusing Dio of actual sneaking into the studio at night to adjust his vocal track. Dio in part leveled the same claim at the duo. This led to Dio’s termination from the band, with Appice taking Dio’s side and following him.

Bill Ward returned to the drums and the band hired on former Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillian as new singer. Gillian was off schedule with his solo work and agreed to do one album with a tour (worked out reportedly after an evening of heavy drinking no less). Despite Ward departing again and a botched mastering of the album, Born Again was released to critical upheaval but positive fan reaction. Despite its uniqueness in the Sabbath catalog, the one-off has since gone on to become the dark horse of the bands catalog and a cult favorite amongst fans. After a partial tour, Gillian did indeed depart afterwards for the much hyped reformation for Deep Purple.

With continuing instability from line-up changes, Geezer departed to form his own band, leaving Iommi sole original member. This resulted in several years of changing lineups and albums of mixed reaction. Iommi had intended for this to be a solo period, being the sole survivor of Sabbath, but the label he was contracted to wanted the Sabbath name to boost sales, and they got it with 1984’s release of Seventh Star as released by “Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi”. Eventually, singer Tony Martin was brought in to become the bands permanent vocalist. Despite continued issues with band members, Iommi released The Eternal Idol, The Headless Cross, and Tyr with Martin, and with MTV video coverage, critical praise, decent sales, and world tours the band seemed to be back.

In 1990, after Dio had invited Geezer Butler to a Dio show as a special guest performer, the two buried their grievances over the Live Evil debacle. Iommi was sold on the idea, and eventually Vinny Appice was brought in for 92’s Dehumanizer. The resulting world tour was the largest the band had done in a decade, and talk was made of continuing the reunion. This coincided with Ozzy Osbourne announcing that he would be retiring and proposed that Sabbath open for his final shows. Dio refused, in part due to very critical remarks made previously by Ozzy regarding Dio and Sabbath, and in part to not wanting to reduce Sabbath to an opening act for Ozzy. When the others agreed despite his objections, he walked out. One positive event was Bill Ward returning for the last performance of Osbourne’s tour with Sabbath, and this put the seeds for a full reunion in the works.

But the reunion was dashed when Ozzy decided to not retire, the others departed, and Iommi brought back Tony Martin to continue Black Sabbath. This would lead to the albums Cross Purposes and Forbidden, both of which were released to moderate results and tours. After this, a compilation album was released to end Iommi’s contract with IRS and the band was disbanded.

Ozzy Osbourne launched his successful Ozzfest tour, and in 1997 both Butler and Iommi appeared with Ozzy for several Sabbath classics at the end of each show. Ward also returned, announcing that he would only play with the original line-up, and the band continued to perform as a part of Ozzfest. These shows would eventually be recorded and released on the double live album Reunion, which also featured two new tracks. The band started to collaborate on new material, and even brought in producer Rick Rubin to help get the project off the ground, but it was scuttled due to various disagreements on the strength of the material. A new Sabbath album was further delayed by Ozzy’s solo obligations for a new album and tour, and then shelved with The Osbournes TV show. Sabbath reunited for Ozzfest 2004, but otherwise gained no ground.

Problems continued as Ozzy’s ability to perform older Sabbath songs diminished, and the band eventually renewed ties with Dio in 2007 to record new material in support of a Dio era compilation album. While plans are left open to continue Sabbath with Osbourne, the news and hype surrounding the Dio reunion prompted a world tour. The group renamed themselves “Heaven and Hell” after the first album released by this incarnation of Sabbath, that way keeping Black Sabbath an Ozzy collaboration. The success of the tour has encouraged this Dio era version of Sabbath to return to the studio in 2008 to record a new album, which will be the first album by any version of Sabbath since 1995. As for Black Sabbath itself, there are still plans to pick up with Osbourne after Heaven and Hell finishes with this album and resulting tour.

Why Black Sabbath Was Selected:

Sometimes bands make history for what they accomplish musically. At times bands make history for arriving at the right place at the right time to recognize and take advantage of cultural events. A rare few make history by changing music or inspiring future generation to adopt their vision. Some even reach beyond their style of music to influence other artists. Black Sabbath accomplished all of these and more. A simple infusion of blues, jazz, and rock worked to embrace new technology, a reconstruction of what the guitar could do, and inspired dark undertones. All mighty accomplishments intersecting at a point in time to rip the face off the conscious of humanity and reveal the reality that popular sentiment refused to acknowledge. A musical legacy existing in vast gravity wells that forever bent future sound to be shaped by its heavy pull and honest vocabulary, influencing artists across time, space, and styles; an accomplishment further heightened by doing what few ever could do – Create a new genre of music to forever feed the engine of its own internal vision.

In the center of the maelstrom existed four men who forever changed Rock and Roll, and if any one of these accomplishments was enough to insure a place of historical significance in the tale of music history, the combined totality raises Black Sabbath to the ranks of the great ones and earns them the right to enter the Hall of Fame with this introductory class.


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Dan Haggerty
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