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

Chapter 49. Vinny says Aloha

Bill was drinking in total excess, even on the gigs, which he never used to do. You didn’t notice it too much while he was playing. He was just getting more aggressive and angry, and physically he was getting in a bad way as well. He was constantly having little problems, panic attacks and stuff. It got to all of us, but we didn’t have to say anything to him, because one day he just disappeared. It was 21 August, 1980. We were due to do a gig in Denver, but he got absolutely legless, got in his bus with his brother Jim driving, and just cleared off. We didn’t even know he’d gone until somebody told us: ‘Bill has left.’

‘Pardon?’

‘Bill has left!’

‘No!’

He never said goodbye, nothing, he was just gone. I had talked to Bill a lot, but it shocked me when he left. That really caught me by surprise. And we were in shit street. We had to cancel the gig. Ronnie was concerned because he really liked Bill: ‘We’ve got to get him back!’

When we finally reached Bill, we heard that he didn’t want to do it any more. When we recorded the album he liked it, but the touring side really got to him. We had to go out and prove ourselves again; he couldn’t handle that and he didn’t want to know any more.

Finished!

So we had to find somebody to replace him. For me that was awful because I hadn’t worked with another drummer since well before Black Sabbath had even started. I relied on Bill a lot. We had played together for a hundred years!

We had a huge open-air festival in Hawaii coming up which we were headlining, so we were panicking: ‘Christ, what are we going to do?’

We had got some tapes from different drummers, and one of them was Vinny Appice’s. Ronnie had heard about Vinny, so he said: ‘Let’s get in touch with him.’

We literally had a day and a half to try Vinny out and agree whether he was going to be the one or not. If he was good, he was going to play in Hawaii with us, if not, we had to cancel the gig. And he was good.

He came with this tiny little kit and he was playing away, but I was used to Bill with his huge kit. I thought, oh, he’s only using that right now for the rehearsal. We went to Hawaii and I walked on stage where we had this big drum riser for Bill to use, and on it was this same tiny little kit. It was like a kid’s set. I thought, bloody hell, you are never going to be able to hear him! I really went to bits backstage, pacing up and down, and Ronnie said: ‘It’ll be all right.’

I said: ‘No! I’ve never played with another drummer for all these years!’

I was absolutely terrified. We went on stage and it just looked funny, with a big wall of amps, a big drum riser, and then this puny little kit. But, blimey, he played them great!

Vinny wasn’t 100 per cent sure of all the songs, so he had written out all these notes. It started raining and all the writing got smudged, so he couldn’t read it any more. He didn’t know where we were. But he did really good.

And, yes, we heard him as well.

That gig was real panic stations to me. Some idiot fired a real mortar bomb. We heard this ‘shhhhhhhhhh, boom!’ It exploded backstage. Luckily it was a real big area. None of us got hurt and I don’t think anybody else did either, but it created a big bloody hole. I still can’t believe somebody would do that. And where did they get one of them from? Pretty serious stuff!

It might’ve been Ozzy actually.

Missed!

There’s quite a difference between the way Vinny and Bill play drums. Vinny came in with all these fast rolls, which Bill didn’t play at all. Bill was from the John Bonham and Cozy Powell camp. He was good, but he had his own style, he created his unique thing. Very unorthodox. Bill wouldn’t play a straightforward beat, he always put some little bits in, like a percussionist. He would hear these symphonies in his head and try to play like he had eight hands. We’d say: ‘Bill, you know, you’ve only got two arms.’

But that was Bill. He’d listen to the songs and see all this dramatic stuff in them, timpanis and all that, so he’d think more percussion-wise. Vinny is just an out and out drummer, he’ll play the beat forever. He’ll also do these little odd rolls, but Vinny is a really precise drummer, whereas with Bill it was touch and go. Bill would do things and sometimes they would come off and sometimes they wouldn’t.

Vinny’s drumming brought something else to the music. It made it tighter, it made it more precise, probably even more mainstream. Where Bill did something like ‘boom-tsj-pa-pa-pa’, Vinny would simply go ‘boom-tsj-boom-tsj-boom-tsj’. Less playful, but more precise. And probably with less character, because Bill had developed his own style and it was – Bill. You either like it or you don’t. And I like it.

In playing with Vinny I had to retrain my mind as well. I thought, Christ, he’s really good, but he cannot be too precise on the old songs, he’s got to be a bit laid back. Black Sabbath was never exact on the timing. With Bill we would start off in one tempo and end up in another; it was a natural feel and Bill had that feel. I had to go through everything with Vinny, as I later have with every drummer, trying to coax him into playing the old songs as they were. But first things first. I said to him: ‘You’ve got to get a bigger kit if you’re going to be with this band!’

He never forgot that. He has this huge kit now, with drums all over the place. I said to him: ‘Fucking hell, Vinny, have you got enough drums there?’

And he said: ‘Well, you started it!’

There was no answer to that!