Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 17. Now under new management
The record company switched us from Fontana to one of their other labels, Vertigo Records. They pushed it more because it was a new label with more progressive acts. But we didn’t have a lot of contact with them; they only wanted to talk to the manager. At least, that’s what we were told. Sometimes you’d see people from the label turn up, but you wouldn’t know who they were.
The marketing people made sure the album came out on Friday the 13th, February 1970. We did interviews around the release, but that ended after Patrick Meehan took over management from Jim Simpson. He stopped us doing press, because us being unavailable for interviews made it more of a special thing. We hardly had any radio play because the only one who played us was John Peel. Even so the album sold 5,000 copies in the first week after release thanks to underground word of mouth, especially in the places in which we had built up a following by playing live.
The press hated us, and we got slagged left, right and centre. You obviously get concerned, but it’s not like we thought, oh, we’re going to change the music then. The album was selling, so obviously we’d done something right. We believed in what we did and we loved it, so there was nothing else we could do apart from carry on with what we were doing.
Only when grunge became popular, and all those musicians said that Black Sabbath was a great influence, did we become the flavour of the month, or flavour of the time. So here we were, reading good things about ourselves, going: ‘Hang on, what happened? They can’t write good things!’ Because we always said: ‘As soon as they start writing good things about us, we better give up.’
The single ‘Evil Woman’ didn’t do much, but the album went to No. 8. Jim Simpson had booked us a lot of gigs before it came out and we were still honouring them for something like £20, next to nothing. We said to him: ‘Hang on, how many more of these gigs are we going to be doing?’
‘Oh, we’ve got months of these to go.’
It was getting silly. Even the people who ran the clubs we played at were going: ‘You should be getting more than this! What are you doing playing here?’
We thought, well, fuck this, we’ve done enough! So when heavyweight manager Don Arden called, telling us he was interested in working with us, we went up to London to see him. Wilf Pine picked us up in a Rolls-Royce. Wilf was a nice bloke when you knew him, but, on the other hand, he was quite vicious. Fucking hell, I’ve heard tasty stories about what he did for Don Arden. Everything looked really heavy around Don. You saw lots of gangster-like characters floating about. We got to his office and it was a bit overpowering, with Don going: ‘You’re going to be great. You’re going to have billboards up everywhere. I’m going to get you to the top!’
And so on. He went: ‘Sign here!’
We just couldn’t do that. It was all too bombarding. So we came away, thinking, oh God, what are we going to do now? He’ll probably have us killed! He kept getting in touch with us, arranging to take us out to dinner and all that sort of business. He never let go. Then one day, Wilf got in touch. He said: ‘I’ve got another guy that wants to meet you. I’m going to bring him up to Birmingham.’
It was Patrick Meehan. He seemed a lot calmer than Arden and said the things we wanted to hear: ‘You’ve got an album out, nobody is pushing the record. You should get better gigs . . .’
All that stuff sounded good to our ears. Instead of being up on billboards, we just wanted to be out playing. He just had the right way about it at the time, so we ended up signing with Patrick Meehan.
Looking back at it now it was quite strange that Wilf, who worked for Arden, would suggest Meehan to us. Wilf probably thought, oh well, they don’t want Don but maybe they’re interested in Patrick. Which we were. But we didn’t know how close the relationship between Arden and Meehan really was. In the past Patrick Meehan’s dad had worked for Don Arden, so there certainly was a connection.
Wilf wrote a book a few years ago. There’s a picture of me and him in it, and then on the other side of the page there’s one of Wilf and John Gotti, then the head of the New York Mafia. I thought, fucking hell, how did I get mixed up in this?
Patrick Meehan had learned the ropes from his dad, who also had a management company. It was all very much roses at first. Meehan talked a good talk and in the early days he really got things going. He was the one who got us to America. The whole thing changed for us. We were travelling in private jets everywhere. Any time we wanted anything, we’d just phone him up: ‘I want to buy a new car.’
He’d go: ‘Oh, okay, what car?’
In my case a Lamborghini or a Rolls-Royce, or whatever.
‘Where is it?’
I’d tell him where it was.
‘How much is it?’
I’d tell him how much it was.
‘I’ll send them a cheque and I’ll arrange to get the car over.’
And that was it. If I wanted to buy a house: ‘Where is the house? How much is it?’
And I got the house. That’s how we lived. But we never saw any significant amounts of physical cash, even though there was a lot of it about. We got some money put into the bank, but not a lot. But for us, coming from what we came from, a few hundred quid in the bank was brilliant. I believe that we never really knew how much money we actually made. We had accountants involved with us, but we never really questioned what their role was or who they were taking instructions from.
‘Oh, it’s a big accountancy firm, it must be all right!’
We knew nothing at all about the business side of things. When we went down to the office it was always come in all’s great: ‘By the way, sign these papers. It’s basically so-and-so, I’ll tell you about it, all from the accountant.’
And you’d think it was all above board.
But I liked Meehan. We all liked him at first and we believed in him.