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

Chapter 39. Bruiser in a boozer

My old friend Albert Chapman was the manager, doorman and whatnot of a club in Birmingham. I said: ‘Do you fancy coming and doing a bit of work with us in Australia?’

He went: ‘Oh, I’d love that!’

This was in November 1974. After travelling with us to the other side of the world he stayed on, doing the 1975 Sabotage tour, which took us to America for the summer. On a couple of dates we had Kiss supporting us. Their show was really interesting to watch. I couldn’t believe what was going on, all these costumes, the make-up, fire breathing, fireworks shooting out of the end of guitars and God knows what else. I had never seen anything like it.

At first we didn’t get on with Kiss. We even changed the first letter in the sign with their logo from a K to a P. We didn’t even know who the guys in Kiss were then, because we’d never seen them without their make-up. They’d be at the airport the same time as us, waiting for a flight, a group of guys, long hair, spots all over them probably because of all the make-up, and we’d go: ‘Yeah, I bet that’s them!’

As time went on, we came to know them and got on with them quite well. Years ago I did an American TV show called Rock School with Gene Simmons. They recorded it over here in England and the idea of it was to teach kids how to play. Gene’s done a series of them. He’s all right. Every time I see him now I just take him with a pinch of salt. He’s telling me how much money he’s earned and how to earn this and how to do that. But that’s the way he is. It’s just him.

After this very extensive American tour we did ten dates throughout the UK, some of them with Bandy Legs from Birmingham opening for us. I had met their guitar player, Geoff Nicholls, through Albert Chapman, who managed them. They later changed their name to Quartz. Albert signed them to Don Arden’s label, Jet Records, and he asked me if I would be interested in producing them. I liked some of their songs and I ended up doing it. When you’re involved in your own stuff, you have a routine with what you’re doing. When it comes to somebody else, you’ve got to put a different hat on. All in all it was a good experience for me.

Geoff Nicholls was their main songwriter. He reminded me of myself, how he liked to get things done and work hard at it. He was creative, he loved playing guitar and keyboards and he sang as well. After Quartz fell apart, Geoff would work with Black Sabbath for quite a long time, playing keyboards and so on.

As a matter of fact, the Sabotage tour was the first time we took a keyboard player with us. We had always been a four-piece and the other guys wanted to keep it that way, which was understandable. Ozzy simply said: ‘We don’t need keyboards.’

I just thought that having somebody there to back up the solos would bring more flavour to the songs. Also we were using more and more keyboards and orchestras on our records, and with a keyboard player we could reproduce some of it on stage. So we hired Gerald ‘Jezz’ Woodroffe. He was from Birmingham, where his family owned a well-known shop called Woodroffe’s Music Shop. And, God, did he get some stick! Our crew played him up something terrible. You never knew where he was going to end up; sometimes he was on the side of the stage, sometimes he disappeared from view completely. He had a big nose so he sort of looked like a parrot. We had all these smoke machines and the crew put one of the tubes of a smoke machine facing him. They covered it up so he couldn’t see it and then, when we were playing, we saw this toy parrot flying across on a wire, with its wings flapping. It stopped right in front of Gerald, still flapping. We were in stitches. Then we got to ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘da-daa-da’, and all this smoke blew in his face. The poor bugger took it on the chin, but he wasn’t happy about it. He’s a great musician, but he kept getting all these wind-ups. Funnily enough, to this day it’s happened with every bloody keyboard player we’ve had.

After the UK it was off to Europe. We hit Düsseldorf on 2 November, Albert’s birthday and my wedding anniversary, so we decided to celebrate. We went down to the Why Not Club. Geezer and Ozzy joined us and so did Dave Tangye and Luke from our crew. Roger Chapman, who used to sing with Family and supported us with his band, Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers, and Nicko McBrain, now of Iron Maiden fame, who was his drummer at the time, were in a different part of the club.

Our lot were sitting there drinking, having a good time and minding our own business. Then some bouncers from the club started circling our table.

‘Funny, isn’t it?’

‘Wonder what’s going on . . .’

It turned out they’d come to watch what we were doing, because there was some trouble caused by some of the Streetwalkers and their lot, and to them we probably all looked the same: ‘Oh, they’re all in that group.’

Ozzy went to the toilet and Dave Tangye went with him. Somebody said something, or grabbed him, and Tangye dived in to stop it and it turned into an almighty fight. Me and Albert rushed out to see what was going on. We ran downstairs and the bloke at the bottom of the stairs shot Albert in the mouth. The guy put a gun by his face and bang! Albert had a lot of teeth missing from boxing anyway, so there wasn’t too much damage to be done. He was all right. The bullet had gone clean through his cheek. I’ll never forget the bloke who did that. He was wearing a suit and black gloves. Albert then hit him so hard, the guy got covered in blood. It was a bad fight.

I ended up hitting this one bloke and between punches I noticed he was the chef from the restaurant. I don’t know how he got involved but it was a free-for-all. Like in one of those old westerns, someone would turn around and bang! There were fucking people going over the banisters and falling off the balcony, it was unbelievable. It just went from nothing to this.

The fight moved outside, into the street. We called this one bloke that Albert was fighting Bumble, because he had a striped shirt on. He was one of the security people over there. He just wouldn’t go down. He’d go down and then get up again, down, up again, down, up, and Albert beat the shit out of him. Then this other bloke stepped in and Albert beat the shit out of him as well. Just horrendous it was.

Meanwhile, this bloke who had shot Albert went to hit Ozzy on the head with a metal bar. I put my hand in the way and it hit my fingers.

‘Aargh!’

Fucking hell, that hurt. And then I started hitting him. It was mad. I thought, we’ve got to get out of this. These cars pulled up and I screamed: ‘Quick get in the car!’

I grabbed Albert, jumped in the back and shouted: ‘Hilton hotel!’

The two guys in front turned around and I was looking down the barrel of a gun. It was the police.

Ah, fucking hell.

They put me and Albert in jail. We got out in time for the gig the next night and the audience must have wondered about the state of us. Black eyes and everything. It was a terrible fight, and we got the blame!

So that was my wedding anniversary and Albert’s birthday.

We had a fantastic time!

After Europe, Ozzy hurt himself in a motorcycle accident, so we had to postpone a couple of UK gigs. When he healed we went back to America. We started off in Madison Square Garden, with Aerosmith supporting us. All sorts of strange stuff happened that night. The worst of it was somebody jumping off a balcony. We were told about it after the show. Apparently the guy broke his neck.

Over the years many things like that happened. We’ve had people climbing up the side of the sound system and falling off, hurting themselves. In America, in the very early days, we had gigs where people got squashed against the railings in front; they’d go underneath and get trampled on. You’d see them being pulled on stage and then carried off over the stage, dead. We heard of kids driving home from the gig and getting killed. And then they had all this Black Sabbath stuff with them . . .

It’s horrible, but it has happened a few times.

That same Madison Square Garden show, I got hit on the head by a full can of beer and all this blood poured down my face. I still kept playing away, we finished the song, I went off stage and somebody said: ‘Look, the guy who works for Muhammad Ali is here, who does all the repairs.’

Being a huge boxing fan, I thought, what’s good enough for Muhammad Ali is good enough for me: ‘Yeah, I’ll have that!’

He stitched it and put all this sealer stuff on it and he did it in no time at all. I came back on stage and carried on. But I had a hell of a headache.

Some people go a bit mad; they throw all sorts of stuff. They don’t think about hurting you, they just get a bit stupid. After it happened Ozzy shouted: ‘Fucking idiots!’ but he was allowed to. It was his birthday that day. A cake was wheeled on to the stage to celebrate this, and a girl jumped out of it.

As Madison Square Garden shows go, this one certainly took the cake.