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

Chapter 50. Getting Black and Blue

We started our Heaven and Hell tour in Germany in April 1980. We would ping-pong between Germany and the UK for a while, before making our way to the States in July. Ronnie flashed his Devil sign all over the place, the one with the outstretched first and fourth fingers, while holding the second and third down with the thumb. He gets credited for inventing it, but I’ve got a picture of Geezer from many years before doing just that. But Ronnie brought it more to light and, in so doing, made it his own.

Our production featured a cross. We had this thing built that worked electronically. It flashed lights all around it and they changed in different sequences, and when we played ‘Heaven And Hell’ the cross was supposed to burst into flames. It hardly ever worked. One classic moment came when we were playing Madison Square Garden. Ronnie did this big build-up, saying to the audience: ‘I want you all to concentrate on the cross!’

He was going on and on about it.

‘Keep concentrating!’

He got to the crescendo and it was: ‘One, two, three!’ and the cross went: ‘Pfffft.’

Like a bloody little sparkler. And Ronnie went: ‘Well, I guess you’re not concentrating enough!’

It looked good when it burst into flames, but that night was one of those Spinal Tap moments. And that happened more often than not.

By this time we had Sandy Pearlman managing us. He’d been after us from the time we parted ways with Don Arden. We had nowhere else to go. Sandy looked like a hiker. He had a cap on his head and a bag on his back. I’ve never seen him dressed up. He was all right at first, but he soon turned out to be a bloody joke.

In the States he put us on tour together with Blue Öyster Cult. Because he had managed them for a long time, he favoured them over us. That’s why we did the Black and Blue tour, where they would close one night and we would close the other. We hadn’t been on a co-headliner before, because we’d always had bands supporting us. It seemed strange with them headlining, also because they weren’t that big. I suppose Sandy wanted to make them big by putting them in that position.

It was a disaster because they used this big bloody fibreglass Godzilla thing on stage and it took them forever to break it down. On the nights we followed them, we were backstage an hour and a half before we could go on. The kids would get bored waiting, and blame us for it. And then we’d go into overtime with the unions. It was a bit unfair.

Sandy didn’t manage us for very long. We fired him. He ended up getting paid off, so he walked away with a lump of cash. We just carried on with Mark Forster again.We were doing big shows and it was difficult for Ronnie to go out and stand in front of people who had seen Ozzy in that spot for ten years. Some of the kids hated it and they’d shout: ‘Ozzy, Ozzy!’

But eventually Ronnie won them over.

While we were touring Heaven and Hell, NEMS released Live at Last, an album of stuff we had recorded back in 1975. It was a Patrick Meehan thing. We were very upset about it, but it was at No. 5 in the charts by the time we got an injunction to stop it. The sound was awful on it and it interfered with what we were doing with Ronnie. The injunction collapsed on it and things were sorted out later. In 2002 it was released again, this time under the name Past Lives.

On 25 September 1980, while we were touring America, John Bonham died. That hit me really hard, but I don’t think anybody who knew John could see him going any other way. He loved to do everything to excess. Him and Keith Moon were much the same. A bit loony, good friends as well, and they did burn the candle at both ends as much as they could. They got a bit mad; you never knew what they’d do next. I always thought, they can’t keep on doing it all the time, they’ve got to hit a wall somewhere, there is a downside to it. But when I heard, it made me think about the vulnerability of everybody. Christ, who’s next? That could happen to us! It knocked everybody for a loop, it was really depressing. John had such a lot going for him.

About two weeks later, in the Mecca Arena in Milwaukee, somebody in the audience threw this big metal cross at Geezer and it bounced off his guitar and hit him in the face. They probably thought, oh, he’ll like this, a present, I’ll throw it on stage for him. People who do stuff like that are idiots. If it had hit him in the head it could’ve blinded or even killed him.

We walked off stage and because most of the audience had no idea about what had happened a riot broke out. They were fighting, breaking chairs up, throwing pieces about, it was mayhem. But what can you do? We could hardly walk back on, going: ‘Hello, we’re back again, everybody quieten down.’

In November we started our first Japanese tour with dates in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. I got food poisoning big time. It must have been the sushi. I was on stage, ran around in circles and just passed out, bang! They got me to hospital and they injected this stuff into me. It was the biggest syringe I’ve ever seen. God knows what it was, but it really worked. I should have got a load of that, really: ‘Can I have some to go?’

While I got floored by sushi, Geezer managed to do it to himself. He freaked out one night and he broke the end of his finger. It must have been the sake. Him and Ronnie used to go to the bar, have too much to drink and get into a squabble among themselves. Of course the next day they would both regret it. Geezer would often get carried away, so breaking his finger probably happened that way. I wasn’t there when it happened. I just heard later that the next couple of gigs were cancelled because of that. Geezer had a splint on it for a while. For once I wasn’t the only one dealing with damaged fingers . . .