Black Sabbath axeman Tony Iommi is one of the most influential guitarists in rock history. When he began playing with Sabbath some 32 years ago, Iommi had been in an accident that cut off the tips of two fingers, so he utilized a lower tuning that was more comfortable to play. He thus unwittingly created a heavier sound for his dark riffs and a template for future goths, headbangers, and grunge rockers.
These days, thanks to Sabbath’s reunion tour and headlining Ozzfest gigs, some recent tribute albums, and the recent two-disc Best Of Black Sabbath set highlighting the Ozzy years, Iommi’s legacy is reaching a new generation of listeners. He also just unveiled his first solo effort, simply titled Iommi. It features ten different singers who provided their own melodies and lyrics, including Billy Idol, Billy Corgan, the Cult’s Ian Astbury, Skin from Skunk Anansie, and Ozzy, of course.
Recorded sporadically over a four-year period, Iommi occasionally mixes up classic Sabbath-style brooding with modern influences. Hence the Nine Inch Nails-style intro of “Goodbye Lament” (with Dave Grohl) and the Pantera-like riffs of “Laughing Man (In The Devil Mask)” (with Henry Rollins). Iommi certainly enjoyed his first non-Sabbath outing and hopes to assemble some of his guest singers together for a short U.S. live jaunt sometime soon.
Was this material originally conceived for a new Sabbath album?
No, it was totally different. I probably have hundreds of thousands of riffs at home in boxes that I know I’ll never, ever play. Over the years I might go into my studio and play something and put it on a tape and in a box. And it’ll probably never see the light of day. By the time I go back and try and find anything, there’s so many riffs there without labels, you might have a hundred riffs on a tape.
Does that get frustrating?
Yes, actually. By the time you’ve sat and listened to them all, you’d probably come up with something totally different anyway. So I just leave ’em, and when it comes to writing, I want something totally fresh.
Is it true you did a brief stint with Jethro Tull in the late ’60s?
We rehearsed for a couple of weeks, and then I did a film with them, Rolling Stones’ Rock N’ Roll Circus, which was done in ’68. And then I left. I tried to get a copy for years. It didn’t come out for at least 10 or 15 years afterward.
Are there any notable guest appearances you have done that people might not know about?
I’ve done a couple of things with Dave Gilmour and Bryan Adams. We all got together to record a track in England. There were a lot of people. Brian May, Rowan Atkinson. I don’t know how [Rowan] got in there, but he did.
[laughs] “Mr. Bean” doing vocals?
No, he came in to play drums. We did a video. I shouldn’t really be associated with it, but it was good fun. It was [a 1991 charity single] called “The Stonk,” and Brian May asked me to play on it. We did it with two well-known comedians in England [Hale and Pace]. That got to number one in England. I did another [charity single, for “Rock Aid Armenia”] with Ian Gillan and Dave Gilmour — “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple.
You played flute on Born Again. How long have you played?
The first time I played it on album was on Paranoid. That was 1970. I don’t play it as much, just occasionally. We went through a stage with Sabbath of experimenting. I’d try anything once. I bought bagpipes, and I couldn’t play them. Most things I can play or get a note out of, but not that. We had this great idea once to do a string section and we thought “why don’t we play it ourselves?” [laughs] We went and got violins and cellos, and it sounded awful. We used a proper string section in the end.
After the flute, I bought a sax and drove everybody up the wall. I never actually used that on an album. I play piano, of course.
Remember “FX” from Vol 4?
It was one of those nights when it was getting pretty late, and we got pretty stoned, and we were jumping around naked. I stuck my guitar in the studio and turned it up, let it feedback, and we were just going around banging it, just being totally ridiculous. And the next day we listened to it and we ended up using it.
What’s one of your most memorable recollections from a Sabbath gig?
One of the things I remember was we played at Madison Square Garden, and we had this big cross built. The idea was that it would flick around with all the programmed lights and then it would burst into flames. At the time, in the ’80s, it was quite a big thing. We went on stage, and Ronnie Dio gave a big build-up about this cross, and the thing [was supposed to] burst into flames. And of course, it didn’t. A little spark came out.
That’s very Spinal Tap.
Very much so, yeah. On the Born Again tour, our Stonehenge set was where the Spinal Tap idea came from. We went out with a Stonehenge bigger than the real Stonehenge, and it couldn’t fit [the venues]. It was ridiculous. I mean, that was funny, that thing.
Freelance writer Bryan Reesman may be accessed at http://www.bryanreesman.com.