From musical guests to guests from the other side, here are 20 facts about Black Sabbath you might not know.
While playing shows in England in 1969, Earth (now Black Sabbath) realized they were being mistaken for another English group called Earth. The inspiration for their new name came from a movie theater across the street from the band’s rehearsal space which was showing the 1963 horror film Black Sabbath starring Boris Karloff.
Fun fact: A U.S. psychedelic rock band called Coven released a song called “Black Sabbath” in 1969 (prior to Earth’s name change) and their bassist was named Oz Osborne. Coven later went on to record “One Tin Soldier” for the hit movie Billy Jack.
Other names that had been considered as band names included The Polka Tulk Blues Band, named after a talcum powder brand, and Blues Band Margarine.
It’s pretty much universally acknowledged that Black Sabbath’s debut album, Black Sabbath, marks the birth of heavy metal as we now know it. This is the place where “metal” became a distinct form of music separate from “rock.” Shout outs also go to Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and Mountain for their pioneering work right around the same time.
Guitarist Tony Iommi says he briefly left Black Sabbath in 1968, which was then known as Earth, to join Jethro Tull. He says he changed his mind after a week of early morning rehearsals. But, in a Guitar International interview, Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson remembers it differently: “He didn’t leave his band. I think it became apparent to me while he could understand where I was headed, the limitations that he faces as a guitarist due to the physical injury to his fingers, meant that he really couldn’t play some of the things that I would have wanted him to play as a guitar player in Jethro Tull. He simply didn’t have the fingers to do it.”
Most know that Iommi lost the tips of the middle and ring fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident. Tony was a welder, but filled in that day at the pressing machine, which he’d never run before. Iommi says, “As I was pushing the metal into the machine, it came down with such a force and bang, it just chopped my fingers. There was blood going all over the place. The bones were sticking out of them.”
The coughing heard at the beginning of “Sweet Leaf,” off Sabbath’s third studio album Master of Reality, is guitarist Tony Iommi. He had been smoking a joint in the studio given to him by Ozzy Osbourne. The title of the song was taken from a packet of Irish cigarettes which said “It’s the sweet leaf,” and refers to marijuana, which the band was using frequently.
“Fairies Wear Boots” was about an experience Sabbath had with Skinheads in England. At that time, Skinheads were not racists, but punks and anarchists. They usually wore boots, which is how Sabbath got the title. Regarding the rest of the words, guitarist Tony Iommi said, “We smoked a lot of dope, so that might be why some of the lyrics are a bit unusual.”
On the verge of breaking up, Sabbath rented the Clearwell Castle in The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, to record their fifth studio album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The castle had been previously used to record by Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople and Deep Purple. Although the surroundings ignited their creative juices, Iommi recalls in the documentary Black Sabbath, Volume 1: 1970–1978, “I’ve got to be honest, we frightened the life out of each other. We had to leave in the end, everybody terrified of each other because we were playing jokes on each other and nobody knew who was doing it. We rehearsed in the armoury there and one night I was walking down the corridor with Ozzy and we saw this figure in a black cloak. We followed this figure back into the armoury and there was absolutely no one there. Whoever it was had disappeared into thin air! The people that owned the castle knew all about this ghost and they said, ‘Oh yes, that’s the ghost of so and so. We were like ‘What!?'”
After hearing the riff of what became “Iron Man,” Ozzy Osbourne remarked that it sounded “like a big iron bloke walking about.” Geezer Butler took that a step further and wrote the lyrics as the story of a man who time travels into the future, and witnesses the apocalypse. While returning to the present, a magnetic field turns him into steel. He is rendered mute, unable to verbally warn people of his time in the future and of the Earth’s impending destruction. Because his attempts to communicate are ignored and mocked, it causes Iron Man to become angry, and drives his revenge on mankind, causing the destruction seen in his vision.
Tony Iommi recruited Dave Walker from Savoy Brown to join Black Sabbath after Ozzy Osbourne left the band in late 1977. The new line-up appeared on the BBC Midlands TV program “Look Hear” in January of 1978, performing “War Pigs” plus an early version of what would eventually become “Junior’s Eyes.” Shortly after this appearance, Osbourne decided to rejoin the band, so Dave Walker was out before ever recording. Ozzy subsequently left the band again in 1978.
Ozzy was replaced in 1979 by Rainbow’s Ronnie James Dio. In an ironic twist, Dio had been recommended by band manager Don Arden’s daughter, Sharon Arden, who later became Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife.
Tony Iommi was briefly engaged to metal goddess Lita Ford, who says, “When I was growing up, the first concert I ever saw was Black Sabbath, when I was 13, and Tony Iommi was just like a God in my eyes; he was a hero to me, and still is. Even though he almost killed me — literally. And I didn’t expect that from my superhero.”
She says it was an abusive relationship that almost turned deadly. From her book, she says, “After snorting tons of blow, he got angry and choked me unconscious. When I woke up, I saw him holding a chair above my head. It was a big, heavy leather chair with studs around the arms, and he was about to smash it over my face. I rolled over, and luckily I moved fast enough that he missed me and the chair smashed into the ground.”
After their breakup, she recorded “Close My Eyes Forever” with his bandmate Ozzy Osbourne, which became the only Top 10 hit of Ozzy’s solo career.
Bill Ward was often the target of the band’s many pranks. Once, they set his beard on fire, resulting in third degree burns. Tony Iommi also “accidentally” set Bill Ward on fire during the recording of Heaven and Hell, sending him to the hospital with more third-degree burns to his arms and legs. “The next day his mother phoned me up,” says Iommi, and said, ‘You barmy bastard. It’s about time you grew up.’ ”
Black Sabbath has had tons of guest musicians on their albums. Here are just a few:
- Queen guitarist Brian May playeds lead guitar on “When Death Calls” from 1989’s Headless Cross album.
- Vinny Appice played drums on all the Heaven and Hell releases, plus the albums The Mob Rules, Live Evil, Dehumanizer and two compilations.
- Eric singer played drums on 1986’s Seventh Star and 1987’s The Eternal Idol.
- Glenn Hughes sang on Seventh Star.
- Cozy Powell played drums on Headless Cross, Tyr and Forbidden.
- Yes’ Rick Wakeman contributed keyboards on the song “Sabbra Cadabra” from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
- Ice-T, who provided a rap verse on the song “The Illusion of Power” from the album Forbidden.
“Paranoid” was literally written and recorded as an afterthought when the band needed a three-minute filler for the album that was originally supposed to be titled War Pigs. The label thought “War Pigs” could be perceived as an anti-Vietnam song, so they demanded another track.
Among the movies to feature “Paranoid” on their soundtracks are Dazed and Confused, Sid and Nancy, Almost Famous, Any Given Sunday, We Are Marshall, and The Stoned Age.
In their early days, the band was asked by a group of Satanists to play their “Night of Satan” celebrations at Stonehenge. They refused, and the band was told that they had been placed under a hex. Ozzy asked his dad to make the group some aluminum crosses, which the group got blessed and wore round-the-clock for protection.
There are not many acts from the 60s that have avoided the death of at least one of its founding members, but all four original members of Black Sabbath are still alive, probably the last band anyone would have expected to survive. Of course Bill Ward has not played with them since 2012, and the band has “officially” disbanded as of March 2017. Still, it makes one wonder if they made a deal down at the crossroads…
In the early 1970s, Black Sabbath made a promotional appearance at the first gay pride parade in San Francisco. Unfortunately, there’s no audio of them, and nobody’s found any footage of them playing, but they appear in soundless 16mm archival footage held by the San Francisco GLBT historical society waving from the back of a parade float. They’re about 9 minutes and 15 seconds into the clip.
Tony Iommi once blew up Virgin billionaire Richard Branson’s prized carp. In an attempt to destroy a marquee as a practical joke while recording 1983’s Born Again at Branson’s The Manor Studios in Oxfordshire, the band ended up detonating part of Branson’s private lake, killing and maiming some of the billionaire’s fish. Iommi said, “He was not happy at all.”
While recording their 1972 album Vol. 4, Geezer Butler states that Black Sabbath spent about $75,000 on cocaine, which with inflation, would be about $476,000 today. The band would have the coke flown in by private plane, and Quaaludes and other drugs were also prevalent. In his autobiography, “I Am Ozzy”, Osbourne says, “I’m telling you: that coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine. One sniff, and you were king of the universe.”