There is no denying the legendary status of Black Sabbath. They are all Rock & Roll superstars, defining Hard Rock and Metal, both as forms of music and lifestyles. Without Sabbath, we would not have seen the likes of the Metal acts of today, like Slipknot and Tool, or fellow legends like Motorhead and Megadeth, as well as much of Grunge (and all of Stoner Metal).
Frontman Ozzy Osbourne does not see Black Sabbath as a Metal band. At a pre-tour press conference Osbourne elaborated on this: “I’ve never really liked that—- using that word 'Heavy Metal' — because ’80s Metal was all Poison, Motley Crue, Ozzy and so on, and the ’70s was a different thing, you know? And it got different in the ’90s. I mean, it’s like it doesn’t have any musical connotations for me.”
The new Black Sabbath album, 13, is not a Metal album. It is more like their earliest work together, not the Paranoid or Masters of Reality years, but the time they were grinding it out as a heavy Blues band. This is, of course, not your typical Blues album, nor has Black Sabbath abandoned what made them the legends they have become.
What gave the band the inspiration to produce their first No. 1 album (yes, I repeat, first No. 1) was one simple concept, one simple word — freedom. Ozzy explains, “There’s a lot of free spirit, which is what (producer Rick Rubin) was looking for, I suppose. It must have been. We did very well, his idea of a Black Sabbath album.”
On Sunday night, Black Sabbath rolls into the Klipsch Music Center in Indianapolis. After nearly 45 years of Black Sabbath, a lot of lineup changes have been made. This is not a different lineup. This is the original crew (minus drummer Bill Ward).
This is Ozzy, clean, sober and still with that distinct sound that no one else in the business can touch. It is guitarist Tony Iommi, who beat cancer while the new album was being made, truly the “Ironman” of the band (as Osbourne refers to him). It is bassist and band lyricist Geezer Butler. Rumors are already flying that this may be their last tour together, so it will be a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
Here are a few more snippets from the pre-tour press conference to get you fired up. The humbleness and pride really shined through in all of Ozzy’s answers.
Q: Hey, I remember back when Sabbath originally got back together in the late 90s and you guys did a lot of touring then into the next decade. The band had tried back then for a time to get a new record together and then it didn’t materialize. Can you put your finger on what made things different this go around that did enable you to come up with some pretty raw material?
Ozzy Osbourne: You know what? I was doing this television thing with The Osbournes back then, and I had my own career, and I suppose it was a clash of egos and it just didn’t feel right. We tried to force an album. In fact we did — we recorded a demo with a bunch of stuff, which is nothing like the way we used to do. We were forcing it out of ourselves. Whereupon this album, the 13 album (that) just kind of came out, we just clicked. I mean, you know when you’re in a band and you go into something that is working. You know, we didn’t have to force it. It just came naturally.
Q: When did you realize that?
Ozzy: There’s no answer - there’s no formula. There’s no magic — it just happens or it doesn’t. I wasn’t really into it (during the earlier attempt). They weren’t really into it and you can’t force it. It either comes or it doesn’t and I said before in the press that the reunion album was going to have to be something special, the most important album of my career.
When it comes out naturally and you get that tickling feeling in your spine and you know you're on a sort of that spiritual thing you sort of — you know that everything’s working right, you’re not forcing it.
Q: 13 has already proved to be very successful for the band. It’s the band’s first No. 1 album in the U.S. How does this feel after 45 years?
Ozzy: You know what? You’re asking the wrong guy, because when it went to No. 1 in England, it just went No. 1 in England, America, Germany, New Zealand and I’m like, "What?" I mean, I’m still kind of pinching myself, like I’m going to wake up and it’s all been a dream, because had this happened in 1972 after Paranoid, I’d have gone, “Oh, yes, OK.” But now after 45 years up the road and we get our first No. 1, it’s kind of a hard thing to swallow, you know? You just kind of — it’s great. I’m not saying I don’t want it to be No. 1, but I just don’t understand why now, you know? I mean, we’ve been around for a long time, in one way or another.
Q: OK, so now you’ve got the album that you wanted. What’s the live show going to be like?
Ozzy: You know, all I can say is a month or so ago we were in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and it was astounding how the reception was. We’re going to do some old and we're going to do some new and it’s just kind of interesting to be able to do some new stuff because in the past I haven’t been able to do a lot of new stuff because of the fact that my range is too high and I couldn’t do onstage what I did in the studio.
But now on this, on 13, I sang it in a range that I could do most of them on stage so we did new things, “End of the Beginning”, “God is Dead?" and a couple of others, but we couldn’t do most of the cuts off the album, if you want to change them around and all. We’re not going to go and just do new stuff with very limited old stuff. We’re going to do “Paranoid,” “Black Sabbath,” a good mix of the old stuff as well as the new stuff.
Q: I wanted to see if you could talk about Tony Iommi, just how inspirational for you it was watching your friend battling cancer while making this album, and his courage.
Ozzy: You know, when he came down with cancer, it’s been the way of Sabbath. That is, we’d try to get something going again, and the last time, (original drummer) Bill Ward had a heart attack and we couldn’t do it then. The easiest part of getting back together with Black Sabbath and doing an album is just sitting down and just saying, “Yes, you know,” but then all kinds of crap gets flown in the works.
And Tony kept going. He said, “I’ve got this lump,” and I said, “You know what? If I were you, I’d go and get myself checked out, because you know in a way, it was what I said to Sharon — my wife Sharon went to get checked out early part of of 2000, and she found she had colon cancer, so she had to go and get it checked out.” So he came back and he said, they’ve found I’ve got lymphoma, and I go, 'This is unbelievable.' Every time we start to get going -—it’s like a curse, you know? And believe me, I know from firsthand with my wife that treatment for cancer is not like doing a line of coke and going to a disco. It knocks the crap out of you, you know? But fair play to Tony, it just came down to the studio.
The only thing we had to do was make it easier for him to get treatment. In other words, we started off at my studio in Calabasas, but we all moved to his studio in England, and we all stayed in a hotel for a while to accommodate him, and he would come down to the studio every day. I’d go, “Tony, you’re sure you’re okay to do this, man, are you ready?” And he goes, “No I'll do it," and he came down, he came up with the goods.
I thought my God, man, he is “Ironman.” You know, I mean, my hat goes off to him, because I mean, believe me, I don’t know if you have ever known anybody who had chemotherapy before, but that really knocks the life out of you, man.
Q: I’m just curious what the impetus was that — when you called Tony back in 2010 and said, you know, let’s get the band back together, I want to make another Sabbath album, what was going through your mind at that time?
Ozzy: I can’t really remember who called who. I think it originally was me and Tony doing an album and then we tried various bass lines and we tried the instruments out and we tried a whole bunch of people, and I don’t know who said, what’s Geezer up to and, you know, and it just kind of came together by accident and we all started to write stuff and it started to gel. Whereas we tried before and we all sat there and it just wouldn’t —- it … just wouldn’t work, you know.
But it came together very naturally and it wasn’t too long to where it was like, 'I like that, that’s pretty cool,' and so you can’t force anything, right? You can just, you can try and be Black Sabbath, but we all knew that we didn’t want to put an album out called Black Sabbath, just for the sake of us guys getting together and doing stuff together. At one point there was even talk like not calling it a Black Sabbath album, but eventually it rolled into itself.
Q: I wanted to ask about the lyrics on the album. Now I know Geezer has a big hand in that. How does the process work? Who create the lyrics?
Ozzy: Well, what happens is I get a melody, and I’ll just sing anything, and sometimes it can be like a beginning or a hook line or a couple of words that he gets inspiration from. He’s the main lyricist, although I wrote a couple of the sets of lyrics on the album, but Geezer gives Black Sabbath’s vocal message verbally. I mean, over the years, he’s given me some phenomenal lyrics, you know.
He’s just one of these guys that can do that. I get an idea like “God is Dead?” for instance. One day I was in the doctor’s office waiting room, and Time magazine was just sitting on the front with “God is Dead?” and I thought, 'Wow, that’s a good idea,' and I started singing that on the track, you know, the “God is Dead?” bit.
You know, I thought, 'They've flown planes into the World Trade Center under the name of religion and God and all this shit, and that is not my idea of what God should be.' My idea of what God should be is a good guy, you know? I don't think there's any good in killing people in the name of your God. And so Geezer — that was my idea — and Geezer took it to another level.
Q: Did you ever have to have discussions about things that he writes that you might not agree with?
Ozzy: No, no.
Q: Is there ever a back and forth?
Ozzy: He’s very careful. I mean, if you listen to the lyrics on “God is Dead?” at the end of the song it says, “I don’t believe that God is dead.” people just look at the face value of the title, and I know on this tour we’re going to have Bible thumpers and people picketing us and people telling us that we’re evil and all that. We kind of laugh at it, because people just go the face value (of) “God is Dead?" and it’s all about Satan and it’s just quite amusing, actually, because they don’t really know what they’re complaining about.
Q: This is just a little bit off-topic. In the movie God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, I noticed toward the end you were learning to drive. I just wanted to know what was going on with that.
Ozzy: See what happened, I got a driving license, bought a Ferrari, I bought an RA Spider, and the people would get out of the bloody road when Ozzy was driving, I’m telling you. I was always getting stopped by the cops or running into somebody else’s car, so one day I said to my wife, “You know what? I’m 64. I don’t really want to be found dead in a Ferrari.” I’ve survived this long of all my trials over my life. I don’t want to drive over a cliff in a car, so I haven't really been driving since I sold the Ferrari and the RA.