Often imitated but never surpassed
Sabbath´s the first time around is impossible to quantify. What is certain is that their unrelenting assault od the senses signalised the death of any vestiges of ´60s flower power and the dawning of the free- for- all ´70s.The legacy of what they achieved with their first six albums is exemplified by ever band that has followed in their wake, from Ministry to Metallica, fro Nirvana to Marilyn Manson and beyond.
Sabbath´s apocalyptic view of the world is rooted in their working class origins. Growing up within a mile of each other is post-war Aston in streets that Tony describes as “hard, full of gangs, bombsites really”, the four members of Sabbath embarked on their musical careers in the early ´60s in a bid to avoiddead-jobs and spurred on by the success of another four working class heroes, The Beatles.
Despite having been to the same scool, Ozzy and Tony initialy shared a mutual dislike for each other.Geezer- at the time studyind to become an accountant against his will- has seen Tony knocking around the same neighbourhood and admits to thinking that his future partner in crime was “ really aggressive, a hard nut.” Ironically, Tony´s first impression of geezer was that he was “a complete nutter because he was tripping all the time.”ward concurs that Butler waas man who sported “clothes that didn´t fit on this planet” and recalls meeting Geezer backstage at a club “literally trying to climb the walls because he was so out of it.”
Cutting their teeth in several local bands( wich included Ward assuming vocal and drum duties with The rest, and Ozzy pedding Otis Reddig covers that sounded that “disco shit” in The Approach) the foursome ended up in two rival outfits. The Rare Breed (an experimental psycho combo that featured then guitarist Geezer and Ozzy) and the blues-based ( wich included Tony and Bill).Attemps at turning pro led to both bands falling apart, forcing the unlikely foursome into each others´arms.
In late ´67 they formed Polka Tulk with Ozzy´s mate Jimmy Philips on rhythm guitar and a sax player known simply as ´Acker´. For Geezer it meant the end of this guitar playing days , the man attempting to bang out bass riffs on the bottom four strings of his fender Telecaster at the band´s first rehearsal.
Their short- lived career as a six- piece was curtailed when Philips and ´Acker´ were deemed to be “ totally shit” according ot the rest of the band.
Changing their name to the Earth Blues Company and the simply to Earth, the fledging outfit found their career close to being curtailed whrn Tony was offered a gig with local prog- sters Jethro Tull in earlu ´69. Thakfully, his stint with Tull was short –lived, altought he lasted long enough to participate in the filming of the Rolling Stones ´Great Rock´n´Roll Circus´ movie.
Learning from his experience with Tull but feeling “ it wasn´t quite what I wanted to do, “ Tony returned to reform his old band. “Going with Tull got me the right oath, “ states Tony. “I looked at how they worked, how hard they rehearsed, and I knew that´s what we had to do.”
As the only one who could drive a van, Iommi locked the band into strenous rehearsals, picking up Ozzy, Geezer and Bill at 9:00 am sharp to a chorus of protests, and ferrying them to the youth club where they rehearsed. The first song they wrote together was a 15- minute heavy blues jam titled “Wicked World”. The second track they wrote was to give the band its name. “We rehearsed across the road from this movie theatre wich used to show horor films, “ explains Ozzy. “tony came in one day and said isn´t it weird that people pay money to see horror films and get scared?” Why don´t we make scary music?” based on the ´30s Boris Karlof film of the same name ´Black Sabbath´itself was a chillinf glice of melodrama that was to become the band´s calling card for the next three decades.
The writing of ´Black Sabbath´ also coincided with experiences Geezer Butler would rather forget.” I´d go into alternative spiritual stuff that was going on at the time, “he recalls. “ I´d been raised a Catholic so I totally believed in the Devil. There was a weekly magazine called ´Man, myth and magic ´ that I started reading which was all about Satan and stuff. That and books by Aleister Crowley and Denis Wheatley, especially ´The Devil rides out´which was meant to be a cautionary tale but which read like a handbook on hoe to be a Satanist.
“ I´d moved into this flat that I´d painted black with inverted crosses everywhere. Ozzy gave me this 16th Cenutry book about magic that he´d stolen from somewhere.I put it in the airing cupboard because I wasn´t sure about it. Later that night I woke up and saw this black shadow at the end of the bed. It was a horrible presence that hightened the life out of me! I ran to the airing cupboard to throw the book out, but the book had disappeared. After that I gave all that stuff. It scared me shitless. For Sabbath, it wasn´t the end of the bizarre supernatural events that increased then mystique.
In contrast to the mythology that was to continue to grow around the band, the reality was that the four teenagers from Aston were starving.Playing every two-bit gig they could, they quickly realised that ´Black Sabbath´was the number that solicited the most gonzoid response in what was an otherwise blues-based set.
Heading to Hamburg´s legendary Star club for a legendary residence ( during which they broke the attendance recored previously held bu The Beatles), and then to Zurich´s Herschen club, the band used ´Black Sabbath´ as a blueprint for the sound they´d started to develop. Playing seven three-quarter of an hour sets per night in Zurich, Sabbath´s jam-led sets spawned most of the tracks on the band´s debut album including N.I.B.( written about Ward´s pointed, nib-like beard, as opposed to anything darker suggested by interpreted titles such as ´Nativity in Black´), along with the likes of ´War pigs´(included on the band´s second album, ´Paranoid´).
None of Black Sabbath remember singing a recording deal. “maybe we did but that would have been over a pint…or in my case several pints, “ nods Bill.
Managed by local Birmingham svengali, Jim Simpson, they´d signed an agreement with a company named Tonu Hall enterprises( a type of A&R agency) that brokered the band a deal with the progressive label of the moment, Vertigo, in December of 69.
On their way to europe to play a set of shows in Denmark, they were informed that they had to stop off at London´s regent sound studios to spend two days recording their debut album with rookie in- house engineer Roger Bain.
“We were so excited, “ states Tony. “We couldn´t believe we had two ays to d oit. We basically played the songs through once, the way we did our live set.”
“It was so straight forward because we didn´t know you could do things like overdubs or anything like that.” adds Geezer. “Most of the tracks were done in one take. Than we got on the ferry to Europe.”
With an advance of L1000, the album cost L600 to record leaving each band member with the princely sum of L100. “That just about covered the debts we owned everyone, then we were skit again!”
Spookily released on 13 February 19970 to world-wide critical disdain.´Black Sabbath´featuredsuitably eerie artwork with cloaked woman standing in front of medieval building. The sleeve matched the doom- filled tunes and heavier-than-thou attitude it contained. To Geezer Butler´s dismay, the label had also decided to place an inverted cross on the inside sleeve. “After what I´d been through, I couldn´t believe it when I saw it, but it was too late to change it, “ he shrungs.
Bizarrely enough the album entered the UK charts at- you guesses it!- Number 13, peaking at 8 and remainging in the Top 75 for over five months.
“We didn´t expect anything like that. We wern´t hip and we couldn´t even get a gig in London, “ continues Geezre. “we were playing Carlisle, Scotland and Wales all the time.
We were driving up the motorway when we hear the chart position in the radio and we nearly crashed the van!”
Shortly after the release of their first album the band switched management from Jim Simpson to Patrick Meehan. It was a decision which band members regret to this day in the wake of the legal wrangles that followed years later.
Meehan, however, engaged US labels in a bidding war for the rights to the first Sabbath album, finally plumbing for Warner Bros, for a cool $750.00. Unbeknown to the band ĺack Sabbath ´was launched in the US with a party in San Francisco with the head of the Church of Satan, Antony Lavey,presiding over the proceedings. For Sabbath it almost scuppered their US touring plans, the launch coming in the wake of the murder of Sharon Tate by followers of Charles Manson. All of a sudden Sabbath were Satan´s right hand men. Their well- earnt reputation as beer drinkers and hellraisers didn´t help matters any. By the time they finally hit the US in late ´70, Sabbath had ahd time to record their second album, ´Paranoid´, again with Bain at the helm. According to Butler t was originally meant to be titled ´Walpurgis´( aka the witches sabbath) after a track on the album. In the wake of the controversy stirred up around the band, the track and album titles were revised to ´War pigs´, the song´s lyricsbeing changed during the recording process. A version of ´War pigs´with the original ´Walpurgis´lyrics can however be hard on ozzy´s “best of…set. ´The OZZman cometh´released last year, and taken from an original 1970 rehearsal tape.
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