Black Sabbath

Sabbra Cadabra

By Sean Dudley

09 April 2013

Words by Sean Dudley

In case you have been living on the other side of the universe for the last four decades, the UK’s Black Sabbath changed the course of heavy music forever when they released their debut album way back in 1970. Black Sabbath, the band that made household names of musicians like Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, was also instrumental in forming the musical genre we know as heavy metal. Pioneers of the genre, millions of metal bands owe their existence to this one band.

After numerous line-up changes, splits, and reformations, the original Black Sabbath line-up (minus drummer Bill Ward) have come back together one more time, to record a new album for the first time in 18 years and the first album to feature Iommi, Butler and Osbourne since 1978’s ‘Never Say Die’. With news spreading of the reformation and subsequent new album, requests were sent for interviews with the band, and in The Metal Forge’s case, they asked for a written interview with guitar-god Tony Iommi. As it usually is the case with giant bands such as Black Sabbath, they have little time for these interviews, and as a result Tony wasn’t able to complete the interview questions. However, fortunately for us at TMF, all was not lost as bassist Geezer Butler took the time to answer the questions. Having anyone from Black Sabbath to answer my questions is an absolute thrill and honour, so here it is – TMF’s interview with Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.

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Black SabbathTMF: How does it feel to have the original band (minus Bill Ward) back together again? Has that feeling changed at any time the band has come back together since the good old days?

GB: Well we have been together, off and on, since 1997, but it is particularly exciting this time because we finally have a new album recorded. You have to feel extremely comfortable with each other to write and record an album, since we have seen each other almost every day for the last two years, but we persisted and we have done the almost impossible.

TMF: What considerable changes have you noticed, in terms of song-writing and also gelling as a band, from the early days of Black Sabbath til now?

GB: In the early days, we would jam until one of us, usually Tony, hit on a riff. On this album, Tony had recorded 2 or 3 CD’s worth of riffs, so we decided on what we were doing before we started jamming on it. A couple of the new songs were spontaneous while we were jamming, like the old days, but we needed a starting point for this album, and Tony had more than enough choices.

TMF: What legacy would you like Black Sabbath to leave the music community once the band is finally put to bed?

GB: I don’t really go in for legacies. What will be, will be.

TMF: Where did the ideas, song-writing and lyrical content come from back when the band released the first few Black Sabbath albums, considering that this style of music had never been done before?

GB: The song writing and ideas came from our influences (blues and soul music, Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, Mayall) and jamming for hours every day. The lyrics came from our environment- religion, war, working class, depression.

TMF: With decades of hits to choose from for a concert setlist, how difficult has it been to whittle down the songs you'd like to play, to fit within the set time frame?

GB: Well, since all our albums date back to the 1970’s, that is the decade we will be dealing with. We always have to play the staples, such as Iron Man, Paranoid, Black Sabbath, War Pigs, Children Of The Grave, but it’s good to include a more obscure stuff.

TMF: Continuing from the previous question, without giving too much away, will Black Sabbath be performing songs previously never performed live before? What information can you give to your Australian fans when you arrive here in 2013?

GB: Hopefully, we’ll be doing one or two new songs from the new album.

TMF: With you being in the music business for a long time, what are your thoughts on the metal trends that have come and gone (and current trends) since Black Sabbath took the world by storm and were the pioneers of the heavy metal genre? E.g. - NWOBHM, nu-metal, power metal, black metal?

GB: I am not sure what all those different labels mean. I am glad that metal or heavy rock has defied the critics and the media in general, and has outlasted every other form of modern music genres. It is incredible to see so many generations of fans at the gigs now. It’s like one big family gathering, and it is universal (well, worldwide anyhow).

TMF: Remembering to back in the 60's, in your own words, explain how much the technology has changed in terms of recording/producing/mastering albums? How easy/hard was it to record the albums throughout the subsequent decades with the technology at the time?

GB: The first and second albums were recorded on 2 four track machines, the first album in 2 days, the second in 5 days, so it was basically like doing a live gig in the studio. We didn’t know anything about recording, as we had never been in a studio before, except for one 2 track demo we did. We were just happy to have our songs recorded. As technology advanced, it was almost a curse to have so many tracks to record on; we lost focus of what the band was supposed to be about. It was great for experimenting, but we wasted a lot of time (and money) just pissing about in the studio on the later albums.

These days, it’s great, because you can have the equivalent of a major studio on your laptop, so you can save a lot of time and heartache by recording your ideas at home and then playing them to whoever you are working with, to get instant feedback. There is nothing to replace jamming live together, but it is great to have a reference point, to give direction.

TMF: Again, remembering the early days of Black Sabbath, did you have any idea that this band would become as significant and historical as it is today?

GB: Not at all- we thought we’d be lucky to last 5 years, and then have to get a real job. The Beatles had only lasted 8 years when we put out our first album, so we thought if we could last that long, we’d be happy.

TMF: What negative criticisms did Black Sabbath receive back in the 60's and 70's pertaining to the style of music you played? And what were your thoughts on these criticisms?

GB: The critics hated us, mainly because they were based in London and hadn’t heard of us, since we rarely played in London. We had built up a huge following in the Midlands and the north of England, and Scotland, where we played most of our early gigs. The critics were made to look irrelevant when our album came straight into the charts and stayed there for 9 months, because they clearly didn’t understand what was going on in music at that time.

TMF: Who were your personal influences in wanting to play the bass guitar back when you were a young lad? What obstacles did you have to overcome while learning to play bass guitar? Do you know how to play other instruments?

GB: Jack Bruce, from Cream, fascinated me. I used to see Cream around the clubs in Birmingham, and I’d never seen anyone play bass like Jack Bruce before. Everyone would be staring at Clapton, while I’d be staring at Jack. The main obstacle was I couldn’t afford a bass. I had a Fender telecaster guitar at the time. I was paying it off at 50 pence a week over 4 years, so I couldn’t sell it until it was paid for. When I got together with Sabbath, I tuned the guitar strings down to simulate a bass. On our first gig, I borrowed a friend’s Hofner bass, it only had 3 strings, and that gig was the first time I’d ever played a bass. I swapped my Telecaster for a Fender Precision Bass, and that was that.

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TMF: After being in the music business for so many decades, are you still as passionate and excited as you were back at the start? Explain how it feels now long after the band was created to go on stage in front of thousands of fans compared to a few in pubs back in the day?

GB: It sounds contrived, but I still get the same rush going on stage now as I have always done, whether it is one hundred people, or one hundred thousand. We did a gig back in our home town in Birmingham last year, and it was the best gig I can ever remember. The atmosphere was pure magic; it was as if the band and the fans became one entity. Fantastic gig.

TMF: If you had to pick one album from Black Sabbath’s entire discography, which one means the most to Geezer Butler and why? And, which album meant the most to Black Sabbath as a whole and why?

GB: I think the first album, because it was proof that we existed.

TMF: Are you satisfied personally with what you have achieved in your career? Is there anything you would/could have changed? What has been your biggest achievement and why? What still needs to be accomplished that may have not been done before?

GB: Yes, I thank God/Satan/Nature/Mary every day that I’ve had such an incredible journey in this life. Everything happens for a reason, so I wouldn’t/couldn’t change anything. Biggest achievement is living. I want to be around to see the album out and the tour accomplished. That is all I ask.

Black Sabbath will be touring Australia in April and May. For more information on Black Sabbath check out www.blacksabbath.com.

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