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

Chapter 46. Bill goes to shits

We looked around the plane flying to Miami and said: ‘Why is there nobody on this flight?’

It turned out we were flying into a hurricane and everybody was leaving the place. We thought, everybody’s going out and we are coming in!

We got there and everything was boarded up. We had rented Barry Gibb’s house, but we stayed at a hotel first for three days, because it was dangerous everywhere else. They boarded the building up completely. Getting ready for this storm you had to fill your bathtub and you couldn’t leave the hotel. They had sandwiches there, but of course they ran out of food in the end. One day me and Geoff stood on my balcony like two idiots and we saw all the trees swaying. Then we heard: ‘You! Hey you! Get back in the room! Get off that balcony!’

It was this policeman.

‘You idiots, get in the room!’

It was frightening. It got to a point where they said: ‘Now it’s too late to leave so you got to stay. Get to shelters!’

We went: ‘Oh Christ. Here it comes.’

We only caught the edge of the storm. There were lampposts blowing over, traffic lights flying around and trees being uprooted, but it didn’t hit with the full force. Still, it was bad enough to frighten the shit out of us.

We stayed at Barry Gibb’s house for months. He’d moved into another place. We did the same as we did in LA: we created a rehearsal studio where we set all the gear up. We had Craig Gruber come in, a bass player who used to be with Rainbow, just like Ronnie. We kept Geoff because we got on so well with him that we tried him on the keyboards. He was fairly new to it, but he was good enough for what we wanted: play the chords and come up with some ideas as far as what to play behind the chords.

We wrote more stuff, without Geezer this time. It was awkward for me and Bill, because we were so used to working with him. Everything felt like it was on a temporary basis, because we were still hoping that Geezer would come back. It was hard, but we carried on. Writing actually went really smoothly and we soon finished an album’s worth of songs.

Bill was really boozing a lot. He had his wife with him there and she was drinking heavily as well. Bill would wake up in the morning, all bright, and he’d have a beer from the fridge, and another beer and another beer. I’d go: ‘Bill, how many beers have you had now?’

‘Oh, I’ve only had two.’

But it would be about ten by then. It became known as ‘he’s only had two’.

Throughout the day he’d go from this pleasant phase to being really dismal, changing as he was drinking more. We’d avoid him by nine or ten o’clock at night, because he would get into a real down state of mind and become aggressive. Meanwhile, his playing was fine. He’d drink in the mornings but he was playing all right if he’d only had a few. It was afterwards, at night, that he’d slip into the next stage. And if we decided to have a day off, bloody hell, he’d go for it all the way.

As ever, Bill was the one we’d play jokes on. On one occasion, I got this number of Alcoholics Anonymous and the name of the guy in charge. I said to Bill: ‘Some fucking bloke’s called up. You’ve got an interview.’

‘Huh?’

‘You’ve got an interview. Phone him up and ask for this guy’s name, and just say: “Can you help me, it’s Bill Ward.”’

And he did. Bill went: ‘Hello? I’m Bill Ward. Can you help me, I’ve been told to call you.’

They started going on about the problems of alcohol. We were in the back listening in, and he freaked out completely. I’d never seen him like that. The phone went up in the air and crashed to the floor. We all fucked off as fast as we could. He didn’t take it as a joke at all and was in a terrible mood for ages. We just kept out of the way for a good day.

Still, in spite of his boozing we gave him the job of going down to the bank to collect the money for the wages for everybody. We wanted to give him a purpose: ‘Don’t get pissed in the morning, Bill, you’ve got to go to the bank!’

‘Oh, all right, yeah, okay.’

He really took it seriously. He’d be up in the morning and fucking shave and dress up. He bought himself a briefcase and suddenly he became this business guy, going down to the bank and becoming all responsible. It was funny the way you saw the change in him every Friday, when he had to go to collect the money.

Ronnie really liked Bill. However, having Ronnie join changed the dynamics of the band and that affected Bill. He wasn’t 100 per cent happy with the situation. He was accustomed to having Ozzy around, as we all were, but Bill just couldn’t get used to him not being there any more. Also I think the drinking didn’t help. As a matter of fact, things got so bad that he wouldn’t stay for very much longer. Bill might have missed Ozzy, but this certainly didn’t mean we could have gone for somebody that sounded like him. Then there would have been criticism all over the place, and besides, there’s only one Ozzy. We went with Ronnie because we liked the way he worked and we liked his voice. The music took a different turn after he joined us. For Heaven and Hell we were writing for a singer who was so different that it opened more doors. When you work with Ozzy for ten years you know roughly what he’s going to sing and how he is going to do that. You’re familiar with his capabilities. We didn’t know what Ronnie’s capabilities were and it was a matter of pushing all the time, to see what he could do. It was new blood in the band, I could play different chords, it gave me other places to go music-wise. And Ronnie really encouraged me to play solos, to break out a bit more. It wasn’t like I had a lack of solos in the old days, but Ozzy would never say: ‘Why don’t you put a solo there?’

He wasn’t that involved in it. Or maybe he was for a bit and then his attention span would go and he’d be off. He didn’t put much in the pot. That wasn’t his fault. He just wasn’t that musical. He couldn’t play an instrument so he wouldn’t know what chords to go to, whereas with Ronnie we were working more like a band, because if you sat down with him, he’d have a guitar as well, or a bass, and he’d go: ‘What about this chord?’

‘Oh yeah . . . yeah!’

And then we’d improve on that. Ronnie had this huge involvement, which was great.

Ozzy would sing with the riff. Just listen to ‘Iron Man’ and you’ll catch my drift: his vocal melody line copies the melody of the music. There was nothing wrong with that, but Ronnie liked singing across the riff instead of with it, come up with a melody that was different from that of the music, which musically opens a lot more doors. I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Ozzy, but Ronnie’s approach opened up a new way for me to think, oh yeah, I can go here from that.

Ronnie brought quite a lot as far as the sound of his voice goes as well. He knew what he wanted and he could tell us in music terms: ‘Why don’t we try an A there?’

Ozzy couldn’t; he wouldn’t know what an A or a D was. At best he might go: ‘We’ll need something else there.’

‘Any ideas?’

‘Not really. What about, erm . . .’

We also became more professional. Ronnie always wanted to make everything better, he always pushed, both on stage as well as off. It was good for us, because it pushed all of us. Over the years we probably got a little bit lazy and relied too much on the things we knew, but Ronnie challenged us. That way we became more of a band again: we got tighter, trying to protect the band, protect what we had. And we believed in what we had.