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

Chapter 19. Sabbath, Zeppelin and Purple

John Bonham and Robert Plant were both from Birmingham. Me and Bill, when we were in The Rest, played gigs together with Bonham a lot. He’d be in one band and we’d be in another and we’d play the same clubs. And Geezer knew Robert Plant more than I did in those days. Geezer and myself were out shopping one day and we bumped into John and Robert. They said: ‘We got a new band, we’re getting together with Jimmy Page.’

‘Oh, great!’

We didn’t know Jimmy personally, but we knew him from The Yardbirds, so we were happy for them.

The first time I heard Led Zeppelin’s first album I thought it was really good. Their heaviness was in Bonham powering the drums. Jimmy Page played great riffs, but he didn’t have the heavy sound; his was a different sound. But it was a great combination. However, our direction was the other way round; it was the riff, the heavier sound of the guitar. Where Zeppelin relied on thundering drums, we had our massive guitar and bass wall of sound.

Bill Ward has said that at the time we decided to out-heavy Led Zeppelin. I don’t remember that, but we may well have. As you did in those days. But in reality there’s never been much rivalry between Sabbath and Zeppelin. We were both from Birmingham, we were all from the same gang if you like, so we always wished them well, as I’m sure they did us.

Nowadays everybody communicates with everybody else in other bands, but you never did that much then. We talked to the guys in Led Zeppelin because Bonham and Plant were mates. There was always this thing between bands from London and from Birmingham, from the Midlands. London musicians always thought that their bands were better than your bands. They looked down on people from the Midlands, and we in turn looked at Londoners as being snobby. There was a lot of competition because of that, with bands trying to outdo each other. It was always Zeppelin and Sabbath and Purple, but the rivalry was with Deep Purple, certainly later on, when we had Paranoid in the charts and they had ‘Black Night’ out. It was then, when we were both climbing the charts, that we felt real rivalry.

We were such good mates with Led Zeppelin that they even wanted us on their Swansong label. I don’t know why that didn’t happen. Maybe we couldn’t get out of the deals with Warner and Phonogram, because we did sign ourselves to them forever. We would have loved to have had Peter Grant as our manager as well, but it wasn’t to be. I think he only managed Zeppelin and of course later on Bad Company, who were signed to Swansong. In the early days there weren’t that many managers who managed a lot of bands. There was just one manager for one band. We had Patrick Meehan and he didn’t manage anybody else, at least not in the beginning.

When the guys from Zeppelin visited us while we were recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, we had a jam together. Bonham wanted to play one of our songs, I think it was ‘Sabbra Cadabra’, but we said: ‘No, we’re playing our songs already. Let’s just jam and play something else.’

I don’t know if any tapes exist of that. That would’ve been a different one: Black Zeppelin. It’s the only time the two bands played together. John did get up and jam with us in the early days, but Bill never liked him playing his kit. It was his pride and joy and Bonham always broke something.

‘Oh, Bill, let me play them . . .’

‘No, you’re going to break something.’

‘Let me have a go, Bill.’

‘No!’

They were mad, really.

We’re still mates with Zeppelin, even though Bonham really upset Ronnie when they came to see our show at the Hammersmith Odeon back in May 1980. John was on the side of the stage having a good time and drinking Guinness, getting more and more sloshed as the show went on. We came off stage and he said: ‘That guy’s got a great voice for a fucking midget!’

Of course Ronnie heard him. Bonham meant it as a compliment really, but it didn’t come out as one. Ronnie turned to John and said: ‘You fucking cunt!’

It nearly came to blows. That would have been a lopsided fight because John was a bit of a hooligan. So I said to him: ‘Look, please don’t.’

He said: ‘What’s the matter with him!’

‘Well, he didn’t much like that. Just go back to the hotel and I’ll see you later. It’s not a good time right now.’

He went away then, but blimey, it could have been quite nasty.

Pagey is a mate. A couple of years back he wanted to see our gig at Fields of Rock in Holland and he flew out with us. We hung out, he saw the gig, we watched Rammstein together and we flew back. I’ve seen him many times at various functions since.