Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)

Chapter 15. Earth to Black Sabbath

When we played near Carlisle at the Toe Bar, they always put us up in a caravan. In winter it was so cold we burned the furniture to keep warm. One day we turned up at this gig in Manchester and there was a guy on the door wearing a suit and a bow tie. We thought, this is weird for a blues club. He said: ‘Oh, you’re Earth, come in.’

In we went and he said: ‘I really like your new single.’

‘Oh, thanks!’

We didn’t have a single out at the time, but we took no notice, got all the gear in and set up. Then we saw all these people coming in in bow ties, suits and ballroom dresses and we realised they had booked the wrong band. We soon found out that there was another Earth, and that was a pop band. The manager caught on to us but said: ‘You might as well go on and play.’

We played one song and everybody out there, all expecting to dance, was going: ‘What is this crap!’

They pulled us off. Then the manager wouldn’t pay us, so we nicked the tea urn, we took the rug out of the back of the dressing room, we took knives and forks, we took whatever we could. And we said to each other: ‘That’s it, we’re never going through this again. We need to come up with a name that nobody else has.’

Jim Simpson came up with Fred Carno’s Army. Fucking hell, it was getting worse! Fred Carno was some old-time music hall impresario who had worked with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Ozzy’s idea was Jimmy Underpass and the Six Way Combo. So much for that. Geezer came up with Black Sabbath and it just sounded like a good name to use.

Jim Simpson got us our first gigs in Europe. The very first trip over there, we picked up Ozzy and he showed up with just a shirt on a hanger. We said to him: ‘We’re going away, you know.’

‘I know.’

‘We’re going to be away for a few weeks.’

‘I know.’

He only had one shirt and one pair of jeans, and that was it.

On our way over there we decided to change our name. Or maybe it was in one of the first clubs we played, the famous Star Club in Hamburg. It held 400 or 500 people. Because they had us back a few times we were able to build a following and we ended up holding the attendance record there, after The Beatles.

It was after the Jethro Tull thing and inspired by Ian Anderson that I had bought a flute and tried to play it on stage. We were smoking dope there a lot and I was pretty pie-eyed. I held the flute way too low so I was just blowing air into the microphone. Ozzy went backstage and grabbed this great big mirror, brought it out to the stage and put it in front of me. He tapped me on the shoulder and I went: ‘Ooohh!!’

Another high point came when Ozzy found this tin of purple paint and he painted his face with it. There was a big ladder behind the stage and he climbed to the top of it until his head was over the curtains and all you could see was this purple head popping up over the backdrop. Crazy stuff like that helped us maintain whatever sanity we had.

We did a couple of European tours in those early days. The first one took us to Hamburg, Denmark and Sweden, and following tours also saw us travel to Switzerland, where we played in St Gallen for six weeks. We played there for maybe three people, four or five spots a day. All we’d get would be a glass of milk and a sausage. No money: we were poverty-stricken. Geezer was a vegetarian, but he had to eat the sausages because we didn’t have any money to buy him any other food. We all stayed in this one room above this cafe across the road from where we played. If you weren’t in on time they’d lock you out. One night me and Ozzy went off with these two girls and stayed with them. Geezer came back from somewhere and couldn’t get in, so Bill tied sheets together, trying to pull Geezer up. As they were doing this the police came by. It took quite some explaining in two different languages to sort that one out.

We then moved on to Zurich. When we arrived there the place was packed. This band was up there playing away, looking happy and they even had champagne. We thought, this is marvellous, we’ll have some! Little did we know they had been there for six weeks and it was their last night. All these people were there seeing them off, so it was a big party night. As soon as we started the place was dead. We went, wait a minute, what happened? Where’s all the people? They had this one nutter coming in every day. He’d stand on his head, all his money would fall out of his pocket, he’d pick it up again and leave. And there was this old hooker sitting at the corner by the bar and that was it.

Because it was deserted anyway, we started making stuff up. And we thought, hang on, if Bill does a drum solo for one set and I do a guitar solo for the next set, the other guys can have a rest. That was great for a couple of days but of course they caught on. During Bill’s solo the owner’s daughter came up and said: ‘Shut that noise! We’re paying for you to play, not all this!’

It was a really grim place. We all slept in one room, together with a bunch of rats. The owner of the club had taken our passports, so we couldn’t get out. It was like slavery, with us playing five forty-five-minute spots and seven on the weekends with hardly any pay. But we did have a lot of laughs, also because we had the occasional joint. And Bill smoked banana skins. He used to eat the banana, scrape all the residue off the skin, put it on to a piece of tin foil, put that in the oven, cook it and then smoke it. He claimed it got him high, thought it was great and was really proud of it.

‘What’s Bill doing?’

‘Oh, he’s cooking his banana skin.’