Yes, before Sharon, MTV and Ozzfest, John Michael ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne had a succession of jobs in the dark and depressing industrial English Midlands, including working at the Lucas car factory where the only music he made was tuning car horns. However, in late 1967, the 18-year old Osbourne formed, with guitarist Terry ‘Geezer’ Butler, his first band Rare Breed, who played two shows then promptly broke up. It wasn’t the best start to a musical career for the future ‘Godfather of Heavy Metal’.
In 1968, following the break-up of their previous band, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward set about to form a heavy blues rock band in Aston, Birmingham. Iommi, who had picked up the guitar as a teenager after being inspired by the likes of Hank Marvin and The Shadows, was forced to play guitar left-handed after an industrial accident at the age of 17. (On his last day of work in a sheet metal factory, he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand).
The two enlisted Geezer Butler (who switched to bass, having been playing rhythm guitar) and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, after Osbourne placed an advertisement in a local music shop: ‘Ozzy Zig Needs Gig – has own PA’.
The new group was initially named The Polka Tulk Blues Band, after a cheap brand of talcum powder Osbourne saw in his mother’s bathroom. They renamed themselves Earth, but after being booked in error instead of a small-time English circuit band with the same name, they decided to change their name again. They finally chose the name Black Sabbath in early 1969, based on a film directed by Mario Bava and starring Boris Karloff, best remembered for his roles in horror films and his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. The band had noticed how people enjoyed being frightened, and, inspired, Iommi and his partners decided to play a heavy blues style of music laced with gloomy sounds and lyrics. While recording their first album in a castle, Geezer Butler read an occult book and had a dream of a dark figure at the end of his bed. Butler told Osbourne about the dream and together they wrote the lyrics to Black Sabbath, one of their first songs in a darker vein.
In June 1970, Sabbath reunited with producer Rodger Bain at Regent Sound Studios and Island Studios, London to record sessions for their second album. As well as working with the band on their debut, Bain also produced Welsh trio Budgie’s first two albums, as well as Judas Priest’s debut disc.
The original title of the new Sabbath album’s opener War Pigs, was Walpurgis, according to drummer, Bill Ward, whose memory was of first working on the song at The Beat Club in Switzerland in 1968, backed up by Tony Iommi, who said that the song first originated as a jam session. The outro of War Pigs, whose title, lyrics, and theme were subsequently changed during the recording of Paranoid, has its own name, Luke’s Wall (named in homage to the band’s two-man road crew, Geoff ‘Luke’ Lucas and Spock Wall) and features a more melodic tone than the rest of the song. In addition, the last few seconds of the track feature the sound of the tape speeding up, changing tempo and pitch.
Following War Pigs is the mighty title track, still ranked as one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time, bringing Sabbath to the single charts, peaking at #4 in the UK, #1 in Germany and, despite very little airplay in the US, reaching #61 on the Billboard Chart. Rumour has it that, after recording his vocals for Paranoid, front man Ozzy Osbourne turned to his band mates in Black Sabbath and said: ‘What the fuck does ‘Paranoid’ mean?’ Still, Ozzy’s vocal track was the perfect counterpart to what has become one of heavy metal’s most identifiable riffs. In his book Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven And Hell With Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi confirmed the story, saying that he and Ozzy probably had no idea what the word ‘paranoid’ meant at that time: they left the lyrics to bassist Geezer Butler, considered the ‘intelligent one’ in the group.
For his part, Butler told Guitar World magazine in 2004, ‘A lot of the Paranoid album was written around the time of our first album, Black Sabbath. We recorded the whole thing in about 2 or 3 days, live in the studio. The song Paranoid was written as an afterthought; we basically needed a 3-minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.’
Guitarist Tony Iommi wrote the song during a lunch break at the recording studio, and the band put it on tape that very afternoon. ‘It was all pretty fast and furious,’ Iommi recalls of the recording. ‘I also remember that I had a shocker of a black eye at the time, having had a rather unpleasant altercation with some skinheads a few days before. We had a photo shoot scheduled for the day of the recording; no amount of cunning lighting or posing could cover it up.‘
The psychedelic Planet Caravan follows, on which Ozzy Osbourne used a Leslie speaker to achieve the vocal effects, the track later being covered by Pantera for their 1994 album Far Beyond Driven.
Iron Man, the second Sabbath single in the US, was originally entitled Iron Bloke. Upon hearing the main guitar riff for the first time, Osbourne remarked that it sounded ‘like a big iron bloke walking about’, possibly inspiring the lyrics, by Butler, who wrote the story of a man who time travels into the future, and sees the apocalypse. In the process of returning to the present, he is turned into steel by a magnetic field. He is rendered mute, unable verbally to warn people of his time of the impending destruction, his attempts to communicate ignored and mocked. This makes Iron Man angry enough to have his revenge on mankind, causing the destruction seen in his vision.
Iron Man’s lasting appeal is shown by the fact that, in 2000, almost 30 years after the original studio version was released, a live version of the song won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. In the film School Of Rock, the first riff that Jack Black teaches the guitarist in the band is from Iron Man – credit indeed.
Electric Funeral deals with nuclear war and its aftermath. The song lyrics describe a nightmarish post-apocalyptic wasteland of irradiated, sub-human mutants living in a miserable, synthetic garden in constant and utter terror of nuclear fallout; a fact complemented by an eerie main riff. Iommi stated, ‘When we recorded Electric Funeral… Bill would play it differently every bloody time. He didn’t know how many times to come in, and at certain parts he plays three instead of four. (In the studio) we kept the three, and to this day we still play it that way.’
When the Paranoid album was released, in September 1970, metal was still in its infancy. At less than three minutes long, the title track, with its dirge-like guitar and bad-acid-trip lyrics, was a revelation, Bill Ward’s punchy 4/4 drumming coupled with the prominent bass attack of Geezer Butler making Paranoid a real contrast to the lyrical doom, gloom and isolation so often vented by Ozzy.
Paranoid launched Sabbath into the chart, jump-starting hard rock. The album, often cited as the defining heavy metal release of the genre, hit #1 in the UK, and sold more than four million copies worldwide, largely via the charting of singles Iron Man and Paranoid in the USA, which both achieved success without benefit of much airplay. The album was originally titled War Pigs, but record company Vertigo / Phonogram changed it to Paranoid, thinking it would be easier to sell if it was named after the single, which had already had significant success by the time the album was released.
Over the years the song Paranoid has been covered by a host of bands including Big Country, Inspiral Carpets, Megadeth and Type-O Negative. Both the album and the track itself are testament to Sabbath’s timelessness and towering influence over generations of heavy metal bands ever since its release. Paranoid, with its loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on memorable heavy blues-rock riffs, is still one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal recordings of all time.
Important Dates In The Life Of Black Sabbath:
19 Sep 2020
Ozzy Osbourne’s former drummer, Lee Kerslake, died aged 73 from prostate cancer. He is best known for his performances on the Black Sabbath frontman’s critically-acclaimed debut album, Blizzard of Ozz, and was also the drummer in Uriah Heep appearing on their 1972 album Demons and Wizards and nine studio records, as well as a live album, with the band before departing in 1978.
6 Aug 2020
British music producer and sound engineer Martin Birch died age 71. He became renowned for engineering and producing albums recorded predominantly by British rock bands, including Deep Purple, Rainbow, Fleetwood Mac, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden.
4 Feb 2017
Black Sabbath the band credited with inventing heavy metal music, played their last concert. The two-hour gig at the NEC Arena in their home city of Birmingham saw the rock veterans play 15 songs ending with their first hit, 'Paranoid'. Ticker tape and balloons fell as singer Ozzy Osbourne, 68, thanked fans for nearly five decades of support. Sabbath's The End Tour began in the US in January last year and took in 81 dates across the world.
28 Jan 2017
British musician and keyboardist, and longtime member of the heavy metal band Black Sabbath, Geoff Nicholls died aged 68. Until his death, Nicholls played keyboards with former Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin, in his band Tony Martin's Headless Cross.
5 Jun 2016
The final day of the sold-out Rock am Ring music festival in Germany was cancelled after lightning hurt at least 80 fans. At least eight people were seriously injured by the lightning strike. Red Hot Chili Peppers were among several bands, including Black Sabbath, Foals, Deftones and We Are Scientists, who were part of the line-up at the festival.
21 May 2015
Black Sabbath received a lifetime achievement prize at the Ivor Novello songwriting awards. Guitarist Tony Iommi picked up the trophy, confirming the heavy metal band would embark on their "final tour" next year. Ed Sheeran was named songwriter of the year, and Annie Lennox was awarded the fellowship of the British Society of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (Basca) - the society's highest honour.
28 Jan 2015
Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler was arrested after officers were called to the Corkscrew Saloon on the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley National Park, California. The 65 year-old bassist was arrested for misdemeanour assault, public intoxication and vandalism after a fight broke out in the bar.
16 Jun 2013
Black Sabbath established a new UK chart record for the longest gap between No.1 albums when their new release, 13 debuted at the top of the charts, 42 years and 8 months after their second album Paranoid reached No.1.
1 Nov 2012
Metal Hammer magazine published a list of the "Top ten rock and heavy metal moustaches…Ever". The list which included moustaches worn by the likes of Frank Zappa, all the members of Black Sabbath, (except Ozzy Osbourne). James Hetfield, and Lemmy placed Freddie Mercury at the top of the list.
11 Nov 2011
In 2011, Black Sabbath fans rejoiced when all four original band members announced a reunion album and extensive world tour. The resulting LP, 13 was released in 2013.
19 Jul 2010
Ozzy Osbourne and his former Black Sabbath band mate Tony Iommi settled a long-running legal dispute over the use of the group's name. Ozzy had filed suit against the guitarist in May of last year, accusing Iommi of falsely proclaiming to be the sole owner of the Black Sabbath name by lodging an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office. The pair released a joint statement confirming they have settled the dispute "amicably".
16 May 2010
Ronnie James Dio, singer with Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own band Dio died after a six-month battle with stomach cancer. He was 67 years old. Dio’s career began in 1957 with The Vegas Kings, which later changed to Ronnie and the Rumblers, then Ronnie and the Redcaps, then in 1961, Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. In 1967, Dio and Prophets guitarist Nick Pantas formed the Electric Elves, which shortened its name to Elf. The band’s success eventually landed them an opening slot for Deep Purple which exposed Dio’s voice to Deep Purple’s guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, who later recruited Dio and other members of Elf for his new band Rainbow.
30 May 2009
Ozzy Osbourne was suing the band's guitarist Tony Iommi over royalty payments. The 60-year-old had accused Iommi of falsely claiming to have sole rights to the band's name which has cost him royalties from merchandise sales. Osbourne was seeking unspecified damages, lost profits and a declaration he is a half-owner of the trademark. Iommi claims Osbourne legally relinquished rights to the band's name in the 1980s. Osbourne said he believed all four original members of the band should share Black Sabbath's name equally.
8 Sep 2007
A commemorative plaque dedicated to Don Arden and the Small Faces was unveiled at 52–55 Carnaby Street, London, Arden's former offices. Arden achieved notoriety in Britain for his aggressive, sometimes illegal business tactics and looked after the career's of Small Faces, the Move, the Electric Light Orchestra and Black Sabbath. He was the father of Sharon Osbourne (and father-in-law of Ozzy Osbourne).
21 Jul 2007
English music manager, agent, and businessman Don Arden died in Los Angeles aged 81, (the father of Sharon Osbourne). He managed the careers of rock acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Small Faces, The Move, Black Sabbath, and Electric Light Orchestra. Arden gained a reputation in Britain for his aggressive, sometimes illegal business tactics, which led to his being called "Mr Big", the "English Godfather", and the "Al Capone of Pop". On 8 September 2007, a commemorative plaque dedicated to Arden and Small Faces was unveiled at 52–55 Carnaby Street, London, UK.
13 Mar 2006
The Sex Pistols refused to attend their own induction into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Blondie, Herb Alpert and Black Sabbath were all inducted but the Pistols posted a handwritten note on their website, calling the institution 'urine in wine', adding 'We're not your monkeys, we're not coming. You're not paying attention'.
23 Dec 2005
Geezer Butler, the bass player with Black Sabbath offered £5,000 for any information leading to the safe return of Toga, the three-month-old penguin that had been stolen from a zoo on the Isle of Wight a few days earlier.
14 Feb 2005
Kerrang! magazine announced the results of its readers’ poll for the best British rock albums ever. The Top 10 were: No.1, Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath, No.2, Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast. Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollock's, Here's The Sex Pistols; No. 4, Led Zeppelin IV; No.5, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid; No.6, Muse’s Absolution; No.7, The Clash's London Calling; No.8, Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack; No.9, Iron Maiden’s Iron Maiden and No.10, Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible.
16 Dec 2004
Gold and silver Black Sabbath discs were stolen from the Kent home of Ozzy Osbourne's former manager Patrick Meehan. Police recovered the discs a week later after they were offered for sale on the internet auction site eBay.
14 Dec 2003
Ozzy & Kelly Osbourne went to No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'Changes' a remake of a track first sung by Ozzy on the Black Sabbath album Volume IV in 1972. It was the first father and daughter chart topper since Frank & Nancy Sinatra in 1967.
25 Sep 2000
Ozzy Osbourne formally requested that Black Sabbath be removed from the nomination list for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Calling the inclusion "meaningless", Osbourne went on to say "Let's face it. Black Sabbath have never been media darlings. We're a people's band and that suits us just fine."
30 Oct 1998
All four original members of Black Sabbath reunited momentarily to play 'Paranoid' on US TV's David Letterman Show.
20 May 1998
Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward was taken to hospital in London after suffering a heart attack during a band rehearsal.
5 Apr 1998
British drummer Cozy Powell (Colin Flooks) was killed when his car smashed into crash barriers on the M4 motorway near Bristol, England. Powell had worked with the Jeff Beck Group, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Brian May, Peter Green and the ELP spin-off Emerson, Lake, and Powell. Powell, known as one of the most driving drummers in rock, had also had hits as a solo artist, including Dance WithThe Devil and The Man In Black, and had fronted his own band, Cozy Powell's Hammer.
9 Feb 1997
Scottish singer Brian Connolly with the Seventies Glam rock group Sweet died of kidney and liver failure aged 51. Connolly replaced Ian Gillan (later of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath ) in Wainwright's Gentlemen who became Sweetshop and then shortened to Sweet. The group scored 15 UK top 40 hits including the 1973 No.1 hit ‘Block Buster’.
1 Dec 1993
American rock singer-songwriter Ray Gillen died age 34 from an AIDS related disease in a New York Hospital. He was best known for his work with Badlands, in addition to his stint with Black Sabbath in the mid-1980s and recording most of the vocals on Phenomena's Dream Runner album.
18 Nov 1992
British group Black Sabbath were honoured with a star at the Rock Walk in Hollywood, California.
20 Apr 1992
'A Concert For Life' took place at Wembley Stadium as a tribute to Queen singer Freddie Mercury and for aids awareness. Acts appearing included; Elton John, Roger Daltrey, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), David Bowie, Mick Ronson, James Hetfield, George Michael, Seal, Paul Young, Annie Lennox, Lisa Stansfield, Robert Plant, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen, Axl Rose and Slash.
29 Apr 1980
Black Sabbath began their first tour with vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who had replaced Ozzy Osbourne.
24 Dec 1976
The Eagles sixth album, Hotel California spent the first of eight non-consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. The band's first LP with Joe Walsh and last with bassist Randy Meisner which has now sold over 34 million copies worldwide. Some of the album was recorded at Criteria Studios, Miami. While the band were recording Black Sabbath were recording Technical Ecstasy in an adjacent studio and The Eagles were forced to stop recording on numerous occasions because Black Sabbath were too loud and the sound was coming through the wall.
6 Apr 1974
The California Jam 1 festival took place in Ontario, California, featuring the Eagles, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Earth, Wind & Fire, ELP, Black Oak Arkansas and Seals & Croft. Over 200,000 fans attended.
25 Sep 1972
Black Sabbath released their fourth studio album, 'Black Sabbath Vol. 4'. The album which features a monochrome photograph of Ozzy Osbourne with hands raised, taken during a Black Sabbath concert was originally to be titled 'Snowblind', after one of several songs referring to the band's cocaine use.
21 Mar 1971
Led Zeppelin appeared at the Boat Club, Nottingham, England on their 'Back To The Clubs' tour. This was the first tour which saw Zeppelin performing 'Stairway To Heaven', 'Black Dog' and 'Going To California'. Zeppelin opened the set with 'Immigrant Song' and 'Heartbreaker'. This small club on the banks of the River Trent had also seen performances by Elton John, Black Sabbath, Sex Pistols and Rod Stewart.
5 Feb 1971
Black Sabbath started recording what would be their third album, 'Master Of Reality' at Island Studios in London, England. Released in July of this year, it is sometimes noted as the first stoner rock album. Guitarist Tony Iommi, decided to down tune his guitar down three semi-tones, Geezer Butler also down tuned his bass guitar to match Iommi. The result was a noticeably 'darker' sound that almost two decades later would prove hugely influential on at least three of the biggest grunge acts, namely Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, and Nirvana.
7 Jan 1971
Black Sabbath released 'Paranoid' their second studio album in the US. The album features the band's best-known signature songs, including the title track, 'Iron Man' and 'War Pigs'. The album was originally titled War Pigs, but allegedly the record company changed it to Paranoid, fearing backlash from supporters of the ongoing Vietnam War.
27 Nov 1970
Black Sabbath, Cactus and Steel Mill, (featuring Bruce Springsteen) all appeared at the Sunshine In, Asbury Park in New Jersey. All three acts played two shows, tickets cost $5.00.
10 Oct 1970
Black Sabbath were at No.1 on the UK chart with their second album 'Paranoid.' The album which contains some of the band's best-known signature songs, including the title track, 'Iron Man' and 'War Pigs' is now regarded as one of the classic Heavy Metal albums.
6 Aug 1970
The 10th National Jazz, Blues and Pop four day Festival was held at Plumpton Racecourse in Sussex, England. Featuring, Family, Groundhogs, Cat Stevens, Deep Purple, Fat Mattress, Yes, Caravan, The Strawbs, Black Sabbath, Wild Angles, Wishbone Ash and Daddy Longlegs.
23 May 1970
The Grateful Dead played their first gig outside the US at 'The Hollywood Rock Music Festival', in Newcastle under Lyme, Staffs, England. Also appearing at the festival was Free, Ginger Baker's Air Force, Colosseum, Family, Black Sabbath and Traffic.
9 Mar 1970
Having recently changed their name from Earth to Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward made their concert debut at The Roundhouse, London.
13 Feb 1970
On this day, Friday the 13th, Black Sabbath released their debut self-titled studio album on Vertigo records in the UK. Peaking at No.8 on the charts, the album has been recognised as the first main album to be credited with the development of the heavy metal genre.
29 Mar 1969
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Black Sabbath, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Curved Air, J.J. Jackson's Dilemma, Shy Limbs, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Sunflower Brass Band and Toe Fat all appeared at the London Free Easter Festival in Bethnal Green, London, England.
13 Jul 1968
Black Sabbath played their first gig at a small backstreet Blues club in Birmingham, England.
16 Jan 1957
The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool, England. It became the home of many Liverpool bands including The Beatles who appeared at the club 292 times. Over the years a wide variety of popular acts appeared at the club, including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, The Kinks, Elton John, Black Sabbath, Queen, The Who and John Lee Hooker.