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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Geezer Butler on the band that gave Black Sabbath a “kick up the ass”

Any metal band looking to make a name for themselves are bound to take a few cues from Black Sabbath. From the first time that Tony Iommi plugged his guitar into an amplifier, his demented riffs set the template for what the dark side of rock and roll was going to be, combined with Ozzy Osbourne’s menacing approach to vocals. Although the band may have been one of the most unique acts in England in the early 1970s, Geezer Butler thought another band was responsible for them turning professional.

Then again, Sabbath’s tone was never all that dark. When all of the distortion is taken off the guitars, most of the songs tend to sound like a darker version of a blues band, reminiscent of the kind of music that Cream was making just a few years before. According to Iommi, that blues-infused tonality wasn’t by accident, either.

When the band first started under the name Earth, they started to play different places that only catered to blues acts. While the band’s first song ‘Wicked World’ had a similar slant in its construction, it wasn’t until the song ‘Black Sabbath’ that they had something, with Iommi bending the dreaded tritone to suit his needs.

Although the band had been chugging away at the same clubs for months, Iommi almost wasn’t involved with Sabbath when Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull asked him to sit with them during The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. While Iommi played well and was even offered the gig to join the progressive rock band, he felt that his time was better served working alongside his bandmates, returning to Sabbath to write his demented riffs.

When talking about his decision to return to Sabbath, Iommi said that he often felt out of place in the world of prog rock, telling Louder Than Hell, “I felt really weird not being with the other guys. I missed them. I felt a bit out of place. I didn’t want to join a band that was already going well and just be the guitar player”.

Even though Jethro Tull would have even greater success with Martin Barre behind the fretboard, bassist Geezer Butler would later say that the band were responsible for teaching him how to rehearse properly. As opposed to the band mentality of rehearsing whenever inspiration struck them, the progressive rockers were regimented in their rehearsal time, often spending eight hours a day honing their craft until they felt it worked.

Butler recalled the band’s rigorous schedule in the old days, saying, “We saw the way Jethro Tull worked, and we couldn’t believe it. They used to go in at nine o’clock in the morning and work all day until five, like a regular nine-to-five job. And we realised that’s the way you gotta do it…That’s what gave us a kick up the ass that we needed”.

After drafting Osbourne behind the microphone and Bill Ward behind the drums, Sabbath finally had a sound that made sense. While their first offerings, like Paranoid, may have met a deaf ear with the critics at the time, the band were on the cusp of heavy metal history, taking hard rock to places it had never been before. A life of prog-rock grandeur may have been at Iommi’s feet, but by adopting the Tull work ethic, Sabbath drove a stake through the heart of the hippy era.

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