Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK heavy metal band, originally formed '68 as Earth by former schoolfriends Tony Iommi (b 19 February 1948), guitar; Bill Ward (b 5 May 1948), drums; Ozzy Osbourne (b John Osbourne, 3 December 1948), vocals; Geezer Butler (b Terence Butler, 17 July 1949), bass; all from Birmingham. Iommi and Ward were ex-Mythology, Osbourne ex-Rare Breed. Earth played jazz-blues fusion in Europe; they had good reaction to live gigs but no critical acclaim; Iommi briefly flirted with then more successful Jethro Tull. They renamed themselves Black Sabbath after their song of that name, cranked up the volume and simplified the formula to sub-Cream riffing, and made much mileage out of a tenuous black magic connection to garner press. Their eponymous debut LP recorded early '70 in two days on a budget of £600 incorporated suitably spooky sound effects; despite the obvious formula they made no. 8 in the UK album chart and spent three months in USA chart.

Paranoid '70 marked the inclusion of mental illness in their subject matter, the title track providing first and only hit single, no. 4 in UK (14 on reissue '80). The album topped the UK chart and was 65 weeks in the USA top 100. The top ten album success continued in UK and their loyal fan following accepted their concentration on US market, where sledgehammer rock and satanic overtones found equally ready acceptance. Iommi's guitar was dominant with the screaming, crucifix-wielding Osbourne also in evidence; keyboards were added to the live show (unknown Gerald Woodruffe played in the wings so as not to steal any spotlight; keyboards were played by Rick Wakeman on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath '73). Management problems caused a mid-'70s hiatus in relentless album-tour-album schedule; they always played at top volume because, Charles Shaar Murray wrote early '76, 'when it ain't that loud, it becomes uncomfortably apparent that Black Sabbath are one of the dullest gaggles of clowns ever to haul onto a stage'. When recording recommenced with Technical Ecstasy '76, Iommi's insistence on a horn section and still more keyboards precipitated a split. Osbourne left temporarily (replaced by ex-Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac vocalist Dave Walker), then quit permanently '79 claiming dilution of a successful formula; the audience agreed and the albums began to slip, while publicity followed Osbourne's solo career.

Sabbath dawned anew with recruitment of ex-Rainbow and Elf Ronnie James Dio (b 10 July '49, Cortland, NY; d of cancer 16 May 2010, Los Angeles) as vocalist, Vinnie Appice (Carmine's brother) replacing the ailing Ward on drums. After successful studio LPs (Heaven And Hell '80, Mob Rules '81) arguments over the vocal mix on Live Evil '83 split the band again. The Americans left to form Dio; veteran Ian Gillan filled in on vocals for Born Again '83 before a Deep Purple reunion caused his sudden departure.

Osbourne meanwhile had solo success with Blizzard Of Oz and Diary Of A Madman '81 but biting the head off a dead bat on stage caused a rabies scare (we could not make this up); then guitarist Randy Rhoads was killed in an air accident 19 March 1982 aged 25. Osbourne's formula left little room for development, leading to personnel changes; mini-album Mr Crowley '82 celebrated Alastair Crowley, black magician and author of creepy stories; Ozzy showcased old Sabbath songs in '82 live Speak Of The Devil; Bark At The Moon '83 included two hit singles; further Osbourne albums were The Ultimate Sin '86, No Rest For The Wicked '88, Just Say Ozzie '90 (with some ex- Sabbath buddies), No More Tears '93, Ozzmosis '95. Guitarist Rhoads had played with Quiet Riot as well as Osbourne; two-disc Tribute '87 on CBS incl. live tracks with Osbourne and Rhoads. The original Sabs re-formed for a Live Aid appearance '85 with Osbourne, who had solo hit 'Suicide Solution' '85, was sued '86 by the parents of a West Coast teenager who shot himself. He married his manager Sharon Arden '82 and was said to lead a sane home life; he appeared in film Trick Or Treat '86. His solo success suggests that fans regarded the first Sabbath lineup as definitive (and that his childish vaudeville act was more popular among fans of this kind of music than Iommi's guitar playing); while Osbourne's albums mostly went top ten in USA, the Sabs did much less well with Iommi on Seventh Star, The Eternal Idol and Headless Cross '86-9, Dehumanizer '92 (reunion of Iommi, Butler, Appice and Dio), Cross Purposes '94 (including Butler). But none of them got off the gravy train. Osbourne and his family became stars of 'reality' TV.