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

Chapter 64. The quest for The Eternal Idol

While we were trying to get back on our feet with Ray Gillen, I got into a real hole. Don Arden stopped being my manager. He got done for fraud or something to do with tax evasion. They arrested him and put him behind bars for a while. I was asked to help him out, just like the other band that he managed, Air Supply. His lawyer said to me: ‘Look, Don’s in a lot of trouble. We need to help him out otherwise he’s going to die in that jail, he’s never going to be able to stand it. We’ve got three hundred grand off Air Supply. Could you put some money in as well? You’ll get it back. We’ll draw up these papers and everything will be sorted.’

So I did. I put about fifty or sixty grand in. Never got it back, of course, and neither did Air Supply as far I know. And suddenly all the papers we had signed got lost. What a mess. In the end somebody had to go to jail and Don’s son, David, got incarcerated instead of his father. David basically covered for Don and did the time.

At that point it was really difficult to find somebody who could manage us. Then Wilf Pine approached me. He said: ‘Patrick Meehan can help you out.’

Same old thing. It’s ridiculous and I know it was a stupid thing to do, but I got back with Meehan. The people who surrounded me were trying to rip me off anyway, so my thought was, it might as well be someone I know and who might do something for me while he’s about it. The devil you know. It’s all a bit vague now because it was a period when I was back into doing a lot of coke again. And so was Meehan.

So I got involved with Meehan and, of course, bang!, it went pear-shaped immediately. He got into too much of that playboy thing again. I went to a couple of places with him and he introduced me to some dodgy people. Nice people, but dodgy people. And I thought, here we go again.

We were writing songs for what was to become the The Eternal Idol album in London and I stayed in this hotel in Mayfair. I was there for six weeks and I thought, Christ, this must cost a fortune. But Meehan went: ‘It’s all right, because I’m buying the hotel.’

There was champagne and dinner and God knows what else. The whole band was staying there and Ray Gillen was in this apartment next door. As time went on the owner of the hotel kept saying to me: ‘When is Meehan going to sort out this hotel and all? When is he going to pay me any money?’

I’d go: ‘I don’t know. That’s got nothing to do with me.’

Meehan never came up with the money. Not long after that this bloke turned up dead: burned to death! The executors of his will went through all the books and they figured out how much I owed. I got a bill from the hotel which I had to pay in the end. Another Meehan special.

When we jammed at our rehearsals and writing sessions for The Eternal Idol, Ray would always sing just anything, but when it came to doing the actual songs, he didn’t come up with many lyrics. It’s difficult if the singer can’t come up with his own stuff, but I think the biggest problem with Ray was that he got carried away with the stardom. He went a bit wild. He stayed in a nice apartment in Mayfair; all of a sudden he had all these women around him and he got into this playboy lifestyle. He was up all night drinking and he became this other person.

Ray was a really nice guy, though. They were all nice guys, Eric Singer and Dave Spitz as well. Eric had this eighties hairstyle which made him look a little bit like a woman, and so we started calling him Shirley. He is a good drummer and he has done well for himself, playing with Alice Cooper and Kiss and the like. When we had Dave and Eric in the band, they were a great little team. They loved to play and would try stuff all through the night. They were always energetic and that was good for me as well.

Even so, something didn’t sit well with me. Geoff and me were older than the rest of the people in the band, so I felt ancient. Ray was only twenty-five. It was like he and Eric and Dave were novices; they hadn’t worked for it like everybody else who has been in the game a long time. They had come along and just like that they could go out and say: ‘I’m in Black Sabbath.’

It was great they were there and I liked them as players and as people. But it didn’t feel the same any more.

Meehan’s idea was to go to Montserrat to record the album, but first we went to Antigua for a short break. We stayed at this resort that Meehan had bought in the seventies. He said: ‘This is my hotel.’

I couldn’t believe it! I met people there who used to work for us and who I hadn’t seen for years. Even our old accountant was out there, still apparently friends with Meehan. Bloody hell, it was like our manager was the king of the town out there. I asked him about food and where I could go. He said: ‘Oh, go to any restaurant on the beach and just sign for it.’

‘How are they going to know who I am?’

‘Oh, they know who you are.’

And that’s what we did. We had lobster and this and that, no questions asked, and signed for everything. We lived pretty well and had a great time.

The other lads went on to Montserrat a bit earlier than me, because I decided to sail over there with Meehan on his boat. He had a skipper and the bloke’s wife worked on the boat as well. It was great during the day when we set off. We sat on the deck and sunbathed, it was lovely. We had all these coconuts and the captain made cocktails with rum and coconut milk. We drank these all day so I got absolutely rat-arsed. Then this big storm came in. It was pitch-black out there and the boat was flying all over the place, literally going up in the air. Water was pouring in and my suitcases were floating around in the bottom of the boat. I was inside, feeling sick and throwing up. Then all the cupboards burst open and all these things fell out, canned food and this and that. I was terrified because the captain’s wife came down saying: ‘Cor, this is one of the worst storms I’ve ever been in!’

‘Great! Thanks for telling me that!’

I survived, but I swore I’d never get on a boat like that again.

Meehan had rented a house in Montserrat for the two of us. We got to this five- or six-bedroom place and I thought, this is nice. My bags had all been underwater and everything in them was sodden. I had a leather briefcase that had gone completely green because of the saltwater. It had my stereo in it and my passport, and all the stuff was just trashed.

When we arrived it was still light, but after nightfall it was completely dark out there. Meehan had to shoot off and do something, so I was in this bloody house by myself for the first few days. No sooner had he left than there was a power cut. Because I’d only just arrived I didn’t know my way around the house. I didn’t have a torch or anything, and I couldn’t go next door because there wasn’t a next door. I was sitting there on my own and I shat myself. I started thinking, somebody might have cut the power so that they could come and stab me and cut my throat! I was praying for the morning.

Everything returned to normal, but I hated staying in that house on my own, stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Jeff Glixman, who had also done Seventh Star, came over to produce this album, but he wanted to change Ray Gillen and he didn’t like Dave Spitz, so we ended up replacing Jeff Glixman instead and got Chris Tsangarides to finish the album. In all this confusion Dave left because he had some problem at home. Bob Daisley, who’d done all the lyrics and written songs for Ozzy, was taken on to finish the album with us. He put all his bass bits down on the tracks we had done already and then we wrote another song with him. He was a good player and we got on really well.

Meehan would sort out advances for everybody, and I’d sign the cheques for the guys in the band. The money came from an account that contained the advance from the record company. Meehan would say: ‘We owe the band this much money, sign these cheques and I’ll do the rest, I’ll sort that out.’

The old con. I would have had enough coke or drink to go: ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good idea!’

I was in a terrible state. I always felt like I was going mad, because all these different things were happening and I didn’t have anybody to turn to. The band would go: ‘What is going on?’ And I’d say: ‘I have no idea. I don’t know what’s happened here.’

I didn’t know how this was done or how that got out of hand or how the other thing went wrong. Meehan promised everything to everybody and then, of course, when that all went out of the window it was down to me. It was a really, really difficult time for me. We were just going from day to day, surviving as best we could. Meehan was supposed to pay everybody. I later heard he didn’t, but I never knew that at the time. I was signing the cheques, but they weren’t getting them. I think that was the reason why Ray eventually left, and Eric as well. Ray ended up joining John Sykes’s band Blue Murder, and Bob Daisley took Eric Singer with him to Gary Moore.

It was the same all over again, until it got cut off, bang, just like that one day. I complained to Meehan about some cheque that had bounced, and he just said: ‘Well, if that’s the way it is, I don’t want to do it any more.’

And that was it. I thought, fuck!

He probably didn’t see enough money coming in. Of course, flying everybody to Antigua and Montserrat and keeping everybody alive for all that time must have been expensive, so it might well have cost Meehan more than he made off us.

Finally!

We recorded a fair bit in Montserrat, but what with Dave leaving, Glixman going as well and the troubles with Meehan, we decided to go back to London. We finished the album there with Chris Tsangarides. I knew Chris from old; he was the assistant engineer on some of the early Sabbath records. He was really keen on music and he loved our stuff. Geoff Nicholls, me and Chris even had a little joke band at the time. We called it TIN: Tsangarides, Iommi and Nicholls. We were just jamming around in the studio. I still have some tapes of that lying around somewhere.

By the time we got to the Battery Studios, Ray Gillen had left. My friend Albert Chapman managed this guy called Tony Martin. He said: ‘Try him, he’s got a good voice.’

Tony came into the studio without having had any warning or anything to sing on some of the tracks we’d written with Ray in mind. He sang some of the stuff similar to Ray, following some of the melody lines that we had already recorded. He did really well, so we replaced Ray’s vocals with Tony’s voice.

Years later, in 2010, Ray’s vocals surfaced on the Deluxe Edition re-release of The Eternal Idol. We decided to release it because fans had been asking for it for years, and after all this time it served as a nice hats off to Ray as well.

‘The Shining’ was the first single off the album. It was like a faster ‘Heaven And Hell’, it had a similar sort of tempo. We needed to do a video for it, but with Bob and Eric gone we didn’t have a bass player or a drummer. We brought this guitar player who I didn’t know from Adam, and he ended up miming playing bass on the video. Bloody hell, it was getting ridiculous. Terry Chimes of The Clash played drums in that video. He was a great guy and we ended up doing some shows in South Africa later with him.

The song ‘Nightmare’ came from me being asked to do the music for A Nightmare on Elm Street. A guy from the movie phoned me in Montserrat and said: ‘Will you come to LA tomorrow?’

‘I’m in the middle of doing an album. I can’t just pack up and leave everybody to come to LA.’

They sent me the script and I spoke to the producer a few times. I was all set to do it, but then Meehan started to put his oar in. He asked for so much money that they backed out. I would’ve loved to have done that. It didn’t happen, but I had already written a song and we called it ‘Nightmare’.

Bev Bevan came up to London to see me and ended up playing on ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’. He tried a few things, like maracas. With the old band we always used maracas and bits of wood, tambourines and anything. You were making up your own sounds. We always ordered a percussion box and used different things on every album, ‘doing!’ or ‘ping!’ or whatever. But the art of that disappeared with the more modern players. In the eighties and onwards nobody seemed to use that any more.

It was Meehan’s suggestion to use an idea based on a Rodin sculpture on the cover. I had no clue who Rodin was at that time. He told me about it and I said: ‘Oh, yeah, that sounds good.’

We went to this photo shoot where we had two people done in bronze paint. They stood there for bloody hours having their photos taken, to duplicate the idea of the original Rodin statue. They may well have ended up in hospital, because that’s what had happened with Bill when we painted him. You just can’t cover parts of the body up like that.

The Eternal Idol was released in November 1987. We started recording it with one band and ended up finishing it with another. You don’t want the band to break up, but when it does you bring somebody else in and that changes it again, and yet another person and it changes it some more, and you’re gradually pulling away from what you once were. I lost track of it all in the end, because there were that many people in and out in such a short time. How I’ve always looked on it is that you replace somebody when they leave. It’s like if you have a factory; if somebody leaves, you don’t close down the factory, you replace him. It wasn’t as cold as that, actually: I always looked to find somebody who could replicate a friendship as well, but I never found that. I was certainly never able to replicate the friendship the original four guys in Black Sabbath had. It was the same with the line-up of Heaven & Hell, with Ronnie. You can’t find that again. You think you can, but you never do.

The album didn’t sell very well at all, which was really disheartening. It was nice to finally get the thing done and get it out, but it was in the lap of the gods as to what was going to happen with it then. It must have been hard for fans to accept all the changes in the band. I remember when I was a kid and The Shadows got a new line-up it didn’t feel the same to me. Now kids saw us with yet another line-up. I can understand that they were thinking, oh, what’s going on? It always takes years for something like that to get accepted.

During the recording everything had fallen apart, everybody just left. But I couldn’t leave. I had to hold the fort and put it all together again.