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

Chapter 70. Bound and shackled

The modestly sized venues we played during the Dehumanizer tour reflected the changing times, but we started off with a bang. In June 1992 we did huge shows in São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. That was a bit wild. There was one show where we shat ourselves. We were in the dressing room and we heard that the crowd was rioting. We weren’t supposed to be on until a certain time, but they wanted us on there and then. They were getting all overexcited and started invading the stage. We thought, Christ, if they storm it, we’ve got no chance backstage! Eventually they got them to move back and we went on, but that was a bit hairy.

To be honest, we were more of a hazard to ourselves than the crowd was. One night in São Paulo I went to bed and left Ronnie and Geezer in the bar. They got drunk and had a disagreement. Geezer walked out all worked up about it and there was this big bronze statue in the centre of the lobby, which he decided to headbutt. Guess who came off worse?

I didn’t know about it until the next day, when I saw him in dark glasses. I said: ‘You all right?’

He mumbled: ‘Yeah . . .’

‘Well, blimey, what happened to you?’

‘Weuhh . . . long story . . . I dunno . . .’

If he drinks too much, Geezer can get a bit violent. But he picked on the wrong bloke then. I couldn’t believe it; his eye came up like a balloon.

On the last Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell tours we had individual dressing rooms. We did that to give each other space. If I wanted to run over stuff and practise for a while, the others didn’t have to sit there and listen to me. And if they wanted to start chatting with friends, I didn’t want to listen to them. I prefer not to see anybody before a show, because I like to get my head around what we are going to do, while Ronnie would sometimes see people. And Geezer likes to lock himself away and sleep. But on the Dehumanizer tour we couldn’t have our own dressing rooms because of the size of the venues. It was me and Geezer in one dressing room and Ronnie and Vinny in another.

This also came about because there was a bit of tension between both parties. We didn’t hate each other – it was just down to the different ways different people talk, what with Ronnie still being very outspoken and me and Geezer avoiding any kind of direct confrontation. But despite the downsized venues and the tension we were playing well and we pushed on.

At the same time Ozzy announced his retirement. About two months before he was to do the supposedly last gigs of his life, on 13 and 14 November 1992, at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, California, we were asked to perform there with him. It was Ozzy’s first farewell tour, so we genuinely believed that he was going to retire. So when they asked us to do it, we said: ‘Yeah, okay, of course we’ll be there.’

We were going to open for Ozzy with the current band and then do three songs with the original line-up at the end of his show, to round it all off. We thought it would be a nice gesture to do it. We asked Ronnie and he said: ‘I’m not doing that.’

In no uncertain terms.

‘I’m not supporting a clown.’

He was adamant he wouldn’t do it, but we were used to him being very direct, so we put it in our tour schedule anyway. We thought, well, he might settle down and change his mind. Of course Ronnie didn’t, so that was the nail in the coffin. Fair dues to him: he did say from the outset that he wasn’t going to do it.

We had agreed to come and play and it was all going ahead so we couldn’t really pull out. We needed to replace Ronnie for the two Costa Mesa shows and we thought, well, Tony Martin knows the songs. So we asked him first, but there was some problem with that. Then Rob Halford got in touch and he said: ‘I can do it if you want me to.’

We got a rehearsal room for one or two days in Phoenix, where Rob lived, and we went through a new set to play on this show. We did some Ronnie-era songs and Rob even suggested doing some of the Tony Martin stuff. We also rehearsed some of the old Sabbath songs that we knew Ozzy would never do, like ‘Symptom Of The Universe’. Rob still had the range to be able to do that. In the end we had a tight set of eleven songs. It was one after the other, bang, bang, bang.

We had managed to find a singer for the Costa Mesa gigs, but then somebody else threw a spanner in the works. Two nights before it was all supposed to happen, I suddenly found myself in jail.

We had finished a gig in Sacramento. I came off stage, got into the tour bus and somebody knocked on the door: ‘Is Mr Iommi on board?’

‘Who wants to know?’

‘We’re with the District Attorney’s office and we’ve got a warrant for his arrest.’

I thought, oh, no! What the fuck is this about?

They said: ‘Can we come on board and take Mr Iommi?’

‘No.’

‘Well, we can either come on board now, or keep the bus here until the proper papers arrive and come on board then and take him.’

So I said: ‘Just let them come on.’

My ex-wife Melinda had tried to do me for child support. She had claimed that I wasn’t paying it. Instead of checking that first, they just came out to arrest me. You’re immediately guilty until you’ve proven your innocence. They pulled cars behind and in front of the bus and that was it. They took me off the bus and said: ‘We’re not going to handcuff you now. We’ll take you in a car and we’ll go out around a corner where there’re no fans.’

As soon as we were out of view they handcuffed me and put chains on my legs. I was sitting in the back of this car and we travelled for an hour to Modesto. That’s where Melinda lived, so that’s where they were going to put me in jail. I was wondering what the hell was going on.

They put me in the holding cell with a guy with no shirt on, who kept saying: ‘You don’t want to be in this jail, man, they’ll kill you.’

I was in Modesto County Jail all night and I couldn’t sleep because of the noise and the worry. I probably lost about ten pounds overnight. I kept thinking, does anybody even know I’m in here? I’m very grateful to Gloria Butler, because she kept phoning the cops up every fifteen minutes, saying: ‘Don’t put him in a cell with anybody else, you’ve got to put him on his own!’

Eventually they did, they put me in a cell by myself. The guy next door to me was convinced I had come to kill him. He said: ‘I know you want to kill me, but I’m going to get you in the shower. I know Satan sent you!’

Fucking hell.

It was a Thursday night and they wanted bail money the next day, otherwise I would be in there over the weekend, until Monday. I had to get out to do a gig in Oakland the next night and the Costa Mesa thing with Ozzy the day after. They set bail at $75,000, an enormous sum of money because not paying child support was a big thing there. I had paid, it was all rubbish, but I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Eventually a lawyer came in with a briefcase with seventy-five grand in cash. Gloria had phoned Ralph Baker and Ernest Chapman and they had provided the money.

I had to go in front of the judge all shackled and I felt as if I had committed a murder. As soon as I entered the jail, it got around like wildfire. A guy who was serving the coffee to everybody, through the bars in tin mugs, knew who I was and so pretty soon all the prisoners knew. The guards were walking me down to this chamber to see the judge and there were all these guys in these cells that I passed, going: ‘Hey! Tony! What’s up!’

The governor of the jail, in his suit and tie, said: ‘I’m telling you now: we don’t want a John Lennon incident here. We are going to walk on each side of you, you’ll have one person behind you and one person in front of you, and you keep up pace with them.’

It was unreal. Me with my handcuffs on and with these shackles around my legs, just trying to walk, and in the meantime all these kids shouting all this stuff.

Unbelievable.

It was on the front page of the papers of course: ‘Arrested!’

I got out on bail but they took my passport off me, as I wasn’t allowed to leave America. The lawyer recommended I get out of California. He said: ‘Go somewhere nice and just sit tight.’

So after doing Costa Mesa I went to Florida, as far away from California as possible without leaving the country. But I developed a complex about going out in the streets. Every time I saw a policeman, I felt guilty.

‘Where’s your passport?’

‘I haven’t got it. They took it off me.’

All I did was sit tight and keep in contact with the lawyer. That set me back a bit, as he was expensive, a top guy coming to get me out. Eventually it all got sorted out and I got my passport back and I went home. But I don’t think I ever got the $75,000 back.

It was a right mess, that whole thing.

They got me out of jail in time to do the show that night in Oakland. It was Friday the 13th and it would be Ronnie’s last gig with us. We broke up after that. It never actually came to a ‘That’s it!’ We just parted company. Ronnie refused to do the Costa Mesa gig and said: ‘If you go and do it, you’ll be doing it without me.’

Those were the terms under which we did it, and so we did it.

The first of the two Costa Mesa nights, Rob was nervous. He walked on stage way too early and he started the song too early as well. It’s bloody tough to learn somebody else’s songs that quick, and then to go on and actually do them with the band, but Rob did great. He really is a great professional.

The second and last night we did the thing with Ozzy. We came off stage after our set with Rob, and then later we came on again, me and Geezer and Bill Ward, who’d joined us for the occasion as well, and we did ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’, ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ with Ozzy. Doing those few songs together brought back a nice vibe and the crowd was great. They were in awe; they couldn’t believe we were on stage together after all these years. It was a great gig.

Of course after that there were rumours all over the place about the old line-up getting together again. Everybody assumed, oh, they’ll probably do it. Well, it may have come up, but we didn’t do anything at all about it at that time. It was a great thing to do, but after the show we were left with nothing. We had a big finale and that was it. We didn’t have a band any more.

I sat in Florida for six weeks, waiting for my passport, dying to go home.