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An inside look at Black Sabbath by guitarist Tony Iommi.

Book Review: Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath by Tony Iommi

In much the same way as last year’s Ozzy Osbourne autobiography, Tony Iommi’s new Iron Man takes a personal look inside of the most unique bands of the past 40 years. Although Ozzy clearly relished his role of class clown over the years, and made many contributions to the music, Tony Iommi was always the soul of the band.

Nowhere is this shown more clearly than on the day Iommi had a work-related accident, which chopped off his two middle fingers. At this point, the group had formed under the name Earth, and featured Ozzy (vocals), Bill Ward (drums) and Geezer Butler (bass), besides Tony.

At first, Iommi was heartbroken. Then he decided to do something about it. He took a number of household products, such as small glass jars, thimbles, and the like, to try and use as extensions for his broken fingers. It took a while, but through trial and error, he did find a solution. This unforeseen development forced Iommi to play differently, and he had to get lighter strings to play with, and when he did, he would often press them extra hard, not feeling them.

Success came very quickly to the members of Black Sabbath, as did the notoriety of being a “Satanic” band. According to Tony Iommi (and Ozzy in his book), all of that was so much smoke, as a way for the band to get noticed in the first place. It certainly worked, as the group and individual members have all been forced to deal with lawsuits stemming from their “encouragement” of fans to commit suicide.

As it turned out, success would be the biggest roadblock to Sabbath’s continuance. Having cranked out eight albums between 1970 to 1978, they were burned out. Ozzy had gone AWOL, and the rest of the members seemed not far behind. But when they got together with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath soon discovered their second wind.

With Dio leading the way, Black Sabbath entered the ’80s with one of the strongest albums of the year in Heaven And Hell. The style was a little different from the classic Sabbath sound, but the fans ate it up. They followed up with The Mob Rules, and finally released the infamous live album that tore them apart. It seems that after having spent a full day on the concert’s mixes, Iommi and company would return the next day to find the vocals had been remixed to the fore. That was it for MK II of Sabbath.

Despite having gotten off to such a strong start, the eighties were not very kind to Black Sabbath. Later albums such as TYR and The Eternal Cross did little to spark the public’s imagination, and sold poorly.

After bumbling through the ’80s with mixed results (every album seemed to have a new singer), Ozzy returned in 1997 for the live Reunion album. As work next began progressing towards a studio recording, Ozzy became more and more distracted by his upcoming reality show, The Osbournes. Tony claims to have five unfinished tracks “in the can.” Their 1998 Reunion Tour did quite well, however.

In 2006, Warner Bros. Records contacted Tony about putting together a retrospective of material from the Dio years. This led to the group finally talking to each other again after so many years, and they even managed to record three new songs for the project. These became the basis for the final music Ronnie James Dio recorded, for the self-titled Heaven And Hell album.

Always the rock ‘n’ roll soldier, Ronnie plowed ahead, and toured the world with the guys, even though he was suffering horribly from stomach cancer. He passed on May 26, 2010.

As for the future of Black Sabbath, it seems that negotiations are again in order, and maybe we will see those four lads from Birmingham out storming the boards again. As for drummer Bill Ward, who apparently suffers the lion’s share of practical jokes on the road, although Tony Iommi promises to scale it back a bit, “I will never set fire to Bill Ward again.”

About Greg Barbrick

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