Happy birthday witches to you - Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers

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

Chapter 21. Happy birthday witches to you

There were people in whatever country out there who wouldn’t even understand our lyrics at that time, because they couldn’t speak English. But it was because of the vibe of the music that they felt it was satanic. We were actually invited to join satanic sects. Alex Sanders, the head witch of England, ‘the King of the Witches’, came to the shows trying to get us into his thing. And the first time we played San Francisco, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, held a parade for us there. I still have a picture of that. LaVey with a Rolls-Royce and a big banner that read: ‘Welcome Black Sabbath’. I thought, what’s all this? That’s nice of them to do that!

When we turned down an invitation to play Walpurgis at Stonehenge, this sect put a curse on us. We took that very seriously. That’s when we started wearing our crosses. First Ozzy wore this kitchen sink tap around his neck. Soon it would develop into a real cross. At the time we often talked about our dreams and many times it turned out we dreamed about the same situations, which was really weird. Maybe it was the Walpurgis thing, but one night we all had this dream about wearing crosses to protect us from evil. And so we did.

Ozzy’s dad gave us these aluminium crosses that looked like they were made of silver. After the first four he made, he started mass production because we started selling them at gigs to make some money. Later Patrick Meehan gave us the gold crosses. He saw us with these aluminium things on bits of string, so I suppose he thought, I’ve got to get them something a bit better looking than that.

I never go on stage without wearing my cross. When I go on tour I always have two things that I really look after: the cross and my thimbles. The cross is big, in fact I’ve hit myself in the face with it a few times. You bend down to get into the car and, bang! That really hurts. Geezer lost his gold one at an Aston Villa football match. Bill still has his tucked away somewhere, but he actually still wears his original aluminium one. I lost my original one. I probably did what I usually do: put it away somewhere and forgot where. I can just see some new owner of one of my old houses suddenly discovering it: what’s this cross … and this gram of coke?

Of course, neither us nor our music was satanic. Geezer and his family were very religious, Irish Catholic - he still is - but at the same time he was interested in occultism. He read a lot of books by the English occultist, mystic and author Aleister Crowley. We both had an interest in what happened beyond and got involved in it quite a lot. So he’d get his ideas from that. This certainly played a major part in that first album. I think Geezer felt that the music was portraying such a heavy thing, that the lyrical content had to be about something that went with the music. Everywhere else, it was all flower power and everything nice and happy and people weren’t writing about real life: wars and famine and all the other things nobody wants to face. So we saw that and thought we should be doing it. But being accused of having made an occult or, worse yet, a satanic album, was simply ridiculous.

Still, we got a lot of flack. Certainly in America, because there the Church is such a big deal. We’d get to the gig and there’d be ministers and their congregations holding up banners: ‘Don’t come and see this band. They are satanists.’

Then there was a case there of a nurse who killed herself in her apartment, and what did they find? Paranoid on the turntable! So it was our fault. There was an inquest. Paranoid was mentioned and they found it wasn’t to blame. But it was a shock to hear about this case, because it wasn’t what we were about. We weren’t trying to kill people! Besides, if people are depressed and put an album on, they’re certainly not going to kill themselves because of the music.

Then there were the people from the dark side. One night, three witches came to the gig. Well, supposed witches. They saw we had proper crosses on and they cleared off. A bit later, back at the hotel one night, we went up to our floor and there was a whole crowd of people with black cloaks on and candles, sitting in the hallway outside our rooms. We thought, what’s going on here? They really take you too seriously. Bloody hell! We climbed over them and got into our rooms as they held on to their candles, murmuring. We phoned each other up and said: ‘What are we going to do? Let’s give it half a minute and we’ll all go outside.’

So we did. We all went into the hallway, blew out the candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to them. They were disgusted, got up and left. But it could have gone the other way. They could have stabbed us!

Later on, around Volume 4, we were playing at the Hollywood Bowl. After the sound check we got back to the dressing room. It was locked up and there was a big red cross on the door.

‘Fucking hell!’

We finally did get the door open and we never thought any more of it. We got on stage and after a while my amp started crackling. It was one of those days. I got really pissed off, turned around and I booted my stack. Luke the roadie was behind it and I pushed it and tried to kick the thing over and then I just walked off. I was like that in those days, I had no patience. As I stormed off, I didn’t even notice there was a guy on the side of the stage with a dagger. He was about to stab me. They eventually wrestled him to the floor and took him away. It turned out he had cut his hand and put that cross on the dressing-room door in blood. He was one of these religious freaks, really out there. They showed the dagger to me and I couldn’t believe it: it was huge. Those were the sort of people you had to deal with a lot, but this one was a bit extreme.

Also in America the head of the Hell’s Angels came to give us his blessing. He said: ‘You get any problem at all, with anything, call me and I’ll get it sorted out, whatever it is.’

What can you say to a man like that making an offer like that? ‘Fuck off!?’ Blam! So we just went: ‘Great! Thanks!’

Maybe we should have taken him up on his offer with the guy with the bloody dagger …