Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 13. A flirt with Tull in a Rock ’n’ Roll Circus
Earth had gigged for just a couple of weeks when we opened for Jethro Tull, who were already getting very popular. I thought they were really good, but obviously there was something going on, because during that gig their guitar player, Mick Abrahams, passed this note to Ian Anderson. It said something like: ‘I’m leaving’, or: ‘This is my last night’. After the gig they asked me if I’d be interested in joining.
I went: ‘Oh, bloody hell. I don’t know.’
And I didn’t. I was shocked by it all.
On the way home in the van I said to the others: ‘I’ve got to tell you something. I’ve been asked to join Jethro Tull. And I don’t know what to say.’
They were really supportive and said: ‘You should go for it.’
Tull got in touch and I said: ‘Well, yeah, I’ll give it a go.’
But it wasn’t as simple as that. They said: ‘You’ve got to come for an audition.’
I protested, but they said: ‘Come down to London. You’ll be all right.’
I went down there and I walked into this room and there were so many guitar players from known bands there that I panicked … and walked out again. I knew John, one of their crew, from his time with Ten Years After. He rushed after me and said: ‘Look here, don’t worry, just go and sit in the caf across the road and I’ll come and fetch you when it’s your turn.’
‘Well, I don’t feel comfortable with this.’
But he insisted: ‘You’ve got to have a go; they really want you to play.’
So he came and fetched me from the caf. Everybody was gone by the time it was my turn. We did a twelve-bar blues and I got to solo. We did another two or three jams and then they said: ‘You’ve got the job.’
Before I knew it I was in rehearsals with Jethro Tull for the recording of their Stand Up album. The song ‘Living In The Past’ from that album would go to No. 1 in the British charts. I came up with a couple of the riffs for ‘Nothing Is Easy’.
Because I felt so out of place in London and I really felt bad about leaving Earth, I took Geezer down with me for moral support. He would sit at the back of the room, and they were fine with that. John put us up in his flat and took us to the rehearsals. They started at nine o’clock in the morning sharp. I had never heard of nine o’clock in the morning with our band, none of us had. With Earth we would just straggle in whenever we felt like it. But with Tull it was: ‘Gotta be there, on time!’
The first day we got there maybe ten minutes late and I could hear Ian Anderson screaming at John: ‘Nine o’clock, I said!’
I thought, bloody hell, this is a bit serious. I hadn’t even plugged in and already the tension was palpable. At twelve o’clock sharp it was: lunch. I just sat down with Ian at a table. The others were at another table whispering to me: ‘No!’
I thought, what’s the matter with them?
They went: ‘You don’t sit with Ian. You sit with us.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘He likes to sit by himself. And we sit together.’
I thought, bloody hell, that’s a weird set-up. This is supposed to be a band!
That night Ian Anderson took me to see Free play at the Marquee. He introduced me to everybody as his new guitar player, so I thought, this is wonderful. I felt like a pop star. From being a nobody from Birmingham to people at the Marquee taking an interest - it seemed great. We watched Free for a bit and left early. Rehearsal again the next morning, nine o’clock. And don’t be late!
But it just didn’t feel good. The thing that put the nail in the coffin for me was a meeting with the band’s manager. He said: ‘You’ll get £25 a week and you are really lucky to have this position.’
That pissed me off. I said: ‘What do you mean I’m really lucky? They want me because they like what I play, not because of luck!’
After that I thought: I want to be a part of a band that’s going to make it all together, not be put in a band where they’ve already made it and I’m ‘lucky to be in there’. I went back to the rehearsal room and said to Ian: ‘Can I have a word with you?’
We went outside and I said: ‘I don’t feel comfortable about this whole thing.’
He said: ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I’m not happy with the situation. And I don’t feel right about being “lucky” to be in a band and all this sort of stuff.’
Ian was great, I can’t fault him at all; he was very nice about the whole thing. He said: ‘Look, if you are definitely sure you want to leave …’
‘Well, I am.’
‘We’re in trouble now, because we’re doing this film, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and we don’t have a guitar player. Would you do that at least?’
I felt bad walking out on them, so I said: ‘Yes, I’ll do that.’
And that was it. As soon as I came out of that last rehearsal I said to Geezer: ‘Let’s get the band back together.’
He said: ‘Are you sure about leaving Tull? You ought to give it time.’ He was pushing me, but then he said: ‘I’m glad you’re not doing it.’
I said: ‘Let’s make a proper go of it. Do what they’re doing: rehearse in the morning, really get down to it.’
He agreed. So we phoned the others from London and made a plan to get back together.
I still had to do this Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The opening of the whole thing was in the Dorchester Hotel. There was me with the same buckskin jacket again. I wore it for the film as well. The Stones had all their gear set up on the floor of a ballroom. The Who were there and Taj Mahal and all the people who were in the movie, but I didn’t know a soul and felt like a spare dinner. Marianne Faithfull must have sensed that; she came over and went: ‘You’ll be all right, I’ll talk to you.’
And so she did, she was great.
The Stones started playing but within a minute or so they stopped. They started arguing and had the biggest row. The whole room went quiet. Brian Jones and Keith Richards were screaming at each other: ‘You are fucking out of tune, you fucking …’
Because he was with Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger came over to us, saying: ‘They can’t even fucking tune their fucking guitars.’
It was a sure sign of troubles to come.
The next day we filmed in a big warehouse somewhere. They had a stage set up and something that looked like a circus ring. They wanted people to dress up in silly hats and circus stuff, which seemed ridiculous to me. Even Eric Clapton said: ‘I feel fucking silly wearing this stupid thing.’
They gave me this bloody clarinet and we all had to come out pretending to play as we were going around the ring. Clapton, The Who and John Lennon - everybody had to go around this thing. After we all did that I don’t know how many times to get it right, people started chatting and it got a bit more comfortable.
We were all eagerly awaiting the much anticipated jam with Clapton, Lennon, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards playing bass. I said to Ian Anderson: ‘I’m really looking forward to seeing Clapton play.’
They started jamming on this instrumental thing, bloody Yoko sitting at John’s feet, and they weren’t good at all. So Ian said: ‘What do you think of your hero now then!?’
We shared a dressing room with The Who, so that was my first time meeting them. They were nice enough and when they started to play they were really good. I was completely surprised when I heard Pete Townshend playing lead, because you never normally heard him do that very much and he played great.
Not everybody played for real; we did ‘Song For Jeffrey’. Ian Anderson got this hat and he said: ‘Try that on.’
I said: ‘It looks all right’, but I felt pretty embarrassed and kept my head down while I was playing so people couldn’t see me.
It was ages before that ever came out. I bumped into Bill Wyman two or three times and he said: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll get you a copy of that for you.’
He never did, so I never saw it until years later and it was horrible. It’s so out of date. But it’s a classic now; half the people who were in that show are dead. There’s John Lennon, Keith Moon, Brian Jones and Mitch Mitchell … it’s a Rock ’n’ Roll Circus, all right.