By Steve Newton
On January 19, 1984, Black Sabbath was scheduled to play the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. The British metal legends were touring behind their new album Born Again, their first and last one to feature Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan. Also in the lineup–though not on the album–was former Electric Light Orchestra drummer Bev Bevan.
How did you get Ian Gillan to join Black Sabbath?
Well, we were just looking for a vocalist. A lot of people contacted us.
Were you a fan of his former band, Deep Purple?
Always liked it, yeah, always liked it.
I understand you do one of his old songs, “Smoke On the Water”, in concert now. Why that song?
Well it’s really one of Ian’s better known ones, and he wrote the song anyway.
I was wondering why you didn’t choose “Highway Star” or “Strange Kind of Woman”.
Well we could have done, but I think “Smoke on the Water” is a better known song than those.
Why did your previous singer, Ronnie James Dio, leave the band?
It was just a bit of a conflict, really. He was doing his solo album while we were doing the live album, and we weren’t too happy about that situation.
The other new addition to Black Sabbath is Bev Bevan, an original member of E.L.O. Was that much of a transition for him–going from sort of a pop-rock band to a full blown heavy metal one?
It was really, but before E.L.O. Bev used to play drums with the Move, and they used to play quite heavy stuff. In fact he was known as “The Birmingham Basher” in them days.
He’s quite a pounder. I knew he could play pretty hefty stuff, but I was actually surprised at the way he’s improving as we do the shows.
Is he a permanent member of the band?
He is now, yeah.
So Bill Ward won’t be coming back.
No. It’s unfortunate, but he did have a problem with alcohol. And I wouldn’t like to see Bill have to go through coming on the road again.
What’s the story behind the song “Disturbing the Priest” on Born Again?
Well we recorded it at Manor House, and right behind the Manor House was a church and a cemetery–it was virtually outside the door. And we used to record sometimes at four and five in the morning, so we thought “Disturbing the Priest”. We did have a few comments from around the village, actually–I think we disturbed the village more than just the priest. And we were letting bombs off and stuff like that.
I understand you played a few explosive tricks on Ian.
Oh yeah [chuckles]. We did a few. Actually they’re quite dangerous, really. We blew a couple of things up, including his boat.
Yeah, he brought his boat with him. And that went up [laughs].
Your bassist Geezer Butler says that Born Again has much the same feel as your very first album.
Well it did to us, because the feeling of the band was like it was the first album–the vibes were great, you know. We were excited about doing it. And we did it quick in comparison to the last few albums we’ve done, which have taken a while.
The next album will probably sound better because we will have been with Ian and worked with him a bit–and with Bev. But at that time we just met Ian and then rehearsed, wrote the stuff, and went and recorded it.
Which is your personal favourite song on the new album?
I like “Disturbing the Priest”. And “Zero the Hero”. “Trashed”.
What do you think of the music Ozzy Osbourne‘s made since leaving Sabbath?
I think he’s done some good stuff. I really do.
Did you enjoy the late Randy Rhoads‘ guitar playing with Ozzy?
Yeah, he was a good player. I hadn’t actually heard him in person, but just from what was on the radio. He was very good for a young kid as well.
Were you surprised that Ozzy used all old Sabbath songs for his live double album, Speak Of the Devil?
Yeah, because there was no need to really do that–he’d established himself in his own right, really.
Did you collect any royalties for having cowritten the songs on that album?
So you weren’t complaining about that.
No. I mean, it’s not the money so much. We do this because we like it as well. But I don’t think Ozzy needed to do that when his own songs stood up on their own.
How do you feel–after 15 years and 13 Sabbath albums–when you see a young band like Def Leppard strike it rich after just a few years on the hard rock trail?
Oh, it’s good luck to them really. I mean obviously there’s got to be new people coming out all the time. But I don’t know a lot of their stuff. I haven’t sat down and listened to it.
I would say so, yeah. I mean without sounding big-headed, or whatever you want to call it, I think we must have had some influence on a lot of the people of today–along with Zeppelin and Purple.
What kind of music do you like to listen to when you’re not playing with Sabbath?
Oh, I like a lot of different sorts of stuff. I don’t listen to new wave stuff–I don’t really like that. I listen to a variety of classical and jazz. I like modern jazz.
And I like some of the heavy metal bands around now. But I don’t listen to a lot of heavy stuff because we’re doing that sort of thing. I listen to stuff like Flashdance. I think Irene Cara is fabulous.
How do you feel when people say that you play too loud?
Well, I don’t think much about that because if the kids like it, they’ll like it loud. I mean, we’ve played loud since the beginning.
Do you ever worry about your hearing?
Pardon? [laughs]. I don’t really worry about it. If I go deaf I go deaf.
When did you start playing guitar?
Well when I was a kid I wanted to play drums. And then when I got a guitar I became very interested in it.
But I did have this accident. I took the ends off my two middle fingers. I was told by all the surgeons that I’d never be able to play again. But I couldn’t accept that; I just went out and had a go. I mean I can’t feel the strings with my two middle fingers–I have to wear a cap, like a thimble, over them. But I just got used to it over the years.
Who were your main influences on guitar when you started out?
A group here called the Shadows, I used to like. And Django Reinhardt’s playing. I particularly related to him because he did the same thing–he only had two fingers. And that’s really what got me cracking on pushing myself to play.
To hear the full audio of my 1984 interview with Tony Iommi–and my 2007 interview with him as well–subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
…with hundreds more to come