Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 29. Going Snowblind
We took quite a long time to write and rehearse for the Volume 4 album. It’s not like it was becoming harder to come up with stuff, but the pub was only a mile away, so we’d start to come up with ideas, and it was: ‘Ah, oh …’
And they’d all go down to the pub for ‘a’ drink.
I’d think: I’m not going to go; I’ll just sit here and try to come up with something. I’d play for a bit, an hour, two hours, three hours, and they’d all come back plastered: ‘You got anything?’
Oh, great! I felt really pressured.
When it was suggested we go to the States to record, we were all very much in favour of the idea. It was a way to avoid the English taxman and the studio rates were better, cheaper, out there as well. More important than that, we thought it would be nice to really go somewhere else to try and get a different vibe. We went to Los Angeles in May 1972. Patrick Meehan knew John Dupont, from the Dupont company, lighters and paints and all that. A big - huge- company. We rented his house in Bel Air. It was a great place with a big ballroom-type room overlooking the pool. It had a magnificent view of LA, the works. We all lived together there, the band, Meehan and these two French au pair girls who came with the house.
The vibe in America was great. The Record Plant, where we recorded, was a state-of-the-art studio and far better than what we were used to. We decided to produce Volume 4 ourselves. It’s not like we were fed up with Rodger Bain or anything, I thought he was all right. But we had done so much studio work by then, that we felt we knew how to do it ourselves. I’ve heard Rodger has since disappeared and won’t talk to anybody any more. I don’t get that. I wonder why that would be.
Patrick Meehan put himself down as producer as well. I don’t know why he did that either. But he was there, he was in the control room and I suppose he thought, oh I’ll just add my name to it. Once or twice he may have said: ‘What if we try …?’ and that was it, his part in the production.
Producing it ourselves was everybody going: ‘I want my bass up’, or ‘I want this’ and ‘I want that’, but it worked out okay. It was only later, from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and onwards, that I started really poking my nose in more.
Recording took six weeks, maybe even two months. During that time we also set some gear up at the house in Bel Air, where we wrote the last of the songs. It was a different environment, everybody had a brighter attitude and there was a schedule: ‘We have got to get it done.’
We were still fucking about and doing stupid jokes, but ideas and the songs were coming out quickly. Perhaps having loads of cocaine helped speed things up as well. And we had a lot of it. It came in a sealed box the size of a speaker, filled with files all covered in wax. You’d peel the wax off and it was pure, fantastic stuff and loads of it. It was like Tony Montana in the movie Scarface: we’d put a big pile on the table, carve it all up and then we’d all have a bit, well, quite a lot. Word got around, and soon other musicians, lots of women and new ‘friends’ came to the house and everybody was diving in.
One sunny day we were sitting in the TV room around a table with cocaine tipped out on it and grass as well. This house had all these buttons around all the rooms. Bill thought it was the maid’s button and pressed it, but it was an alarm button for the fucking Bel Air police. Only a few minutes after that I stood up, looked out of the window and there were about six or eight police cars in our drive. I shouted: ‘Quick, the police!’
Everybody went: ‘Hahaha!’
‘I’m serious, it’s the police!’
I had literally to get one of them and go: ‘Look!’
And then: ‘Oooh, it’s the police!’
We quickly scraped all this coke and dope off the table. We had our own little stashes in our rooms as well, so we all rushed up there, trying to snort as much as we could before flushing the rest down the toilet. Then we said to one of the au pairs: ‘Quick, answer the door!’
She did and, of course, the police came in. We were sitting in the ballroom, all quiet-like, eyes wide open. They said: ‘What’s going on in there?’
‘Mmmm, nothing ... Why?’
You could obviously tell we were out of it. They wanted to know what we were doing there, and we told them we’d rented the house and so on and so on. It was hell on earth. If they’d have searched us, we would have gone down very badly. But they left after we explained about Bill’s button mistake.
We flushed a lot. Afterwards, of course, it was: ‘Oh fuck! It’s all gone, man! Quick, phone the bloke up again. Get him over!’
In the Record Plant, though, we were a bit more serious. Being in control in the studio we were free to experiment a bit more. The first three albums could’ve all been from the same batch really, but Volume 4 was when we started introducing different things. I’d found a piano in the ballroom up at the house and I used to play that thing when I’d had a million lines of coke. I’d never played the piano before and I started learning it right there and then, within a couple of weeks. Mind you, I was up all bloody night every night with a line of coke, play for a bit, another line of coke, play, so I was probably up for the equivalent of six weeks. And while doing that I came up with ‘Changes’. Ozzy came in and said: ‘Oh I like that’, and started singing to it. We got the Mellotron in and Geezer started playing that, like an accompaniment, an orchestral thing. And that was it, we decided to record it. It sounded really weird; I couldn’t believe it was us. I actually felt pretty embarrassed, because when we recorded it at the Record Plant, Rick Wakeman came in and he said: ‘Who was that playing the piano?’
I thought, oh no, he’s going to say: ‘That’s crap, that is.’
But he liked it.
I suppose we could have asked somebody like him to play these keyboards, but Geezer and me wanted to do it ourselves. Both of us were learning, it was a challenge.
If ‘Changes’ was unusual, ‘FX’ certainly was way out there. We were mostly naked at the time when we recorded it. When you’re in the studio for hours on end smoking dope, you go a bit mad. We started playing and were dancing around half naked, just being stupid. I hit my guitar with my cross, it went ‘boing!’ and we went: ‘Ooh!’
Everybody then danced past the guitar, hitting it. We were just playing about. We didn’t think of using this as a track, but they recorded it with a delay and we thought, oh, yeah, hmmm, and we put it on the record. I always put so much work in every song, putting all the different changes in and everything, and here we had a track that came about accidentally because a couple of stoned people were hitting my guitar, and it ended up on the album. A total joke! If only we’d had videos of it, it would have been amazing.
‘Laguna Sunrise’ was actually inspired by a sunrise at Laguna Beach. I was there with Spock, one of the guys of our crew who was a good guitar player as well. We were up all bloody night and I just started playing this acoustic guitar and came up with this idea. We also tried to work out the orchestra bit for it. I had never done that before, as we had never used orchestras up until then. I don’t know how to write music out, but Spock did, so we tried to work out the notes for the orchestra to play: ‘What’s that dot there? Okay, put that down.’
We went into the studio and, of course, the orchestra wouldn’t accept it. They wanted all their parts written out properly and once we got somebody in to do that, they were great. On the end of ‘Snowblind’ we also used orchestras, and again later on ‘Spiral Architect’ off the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. And ‘Supertzar’, off Sabotage, is me playing heavy guitar with a choir and a harp player. I did things like that to get a different sound into our music.
Bill nearly didn’t make it to the end of the recording process. We were rummaging around the house one night and in the garage we found all this Dupont paint. We grabbed these spray tins of gold paint and this clear lacquer. We got back into the house and there was Bill, pissed as a parrot and on the floor. We said: ‘Can we spray you?’
Of course he said: ‘Yes.’
We took all his clothes off, sprayed him, and he had everything gold. We then got this clear lacquer and sprayed him with that as well. It was bloody funny. Bill was lying there, all shiny, then he started making these weird little noises. Then he started throwing up and he went into this violent seizure.
Oh, fucking hell.
We phoned for an ambulance and we thought, how the hell are we going to explain this?
‘What’s wrong with the chap?’
‘Well … he’s sort of lying there and he’s … gold.’
And then trying to make it sound serious: ‘And he’s being really sick.’
‘Excuse me, what exactly is wrong with him?’
‘Erm … he’s sprayed gold and he’s on the floor, naked.’
They came out and gave us a right bollocking: ‘You idiots. Don’t you realise you could have killed the man!’
Everything was gold, his arse, his beard, the whole lot. Apparently it blocks all the pores up and you can die from it. They made us show them the tins of paint that we sprayed him with, and this lacquer as well. They read the tins, all seriously worried, and then they injected him with something. Meanwhile, we were standing there like naughty boys, going: ‘Is he going to be all right?’
We dashed back to the garage again, found some thinners and used that to get the gold off him as quickly as possible. It was quite a job cleaning him up. It was a fun idea, but it really backfired.
Recording Volume 4 was great. We had the Dupont house, the sun was shining, there was the swimming pool, women, everything. And coke, lots of coke. We had such a good time that we didn’t want it to end.
Towards the end of our stay one day we partied a little too hard. We were at the house and started messing around. First we threw a few things and in the end we got the hosepipe in, squirting it at each other. Ozzy painted himself in all these different colours, which caused such a mess. And then the doorbell rang. It was the owner of the house, John Dupont. Ozzy answered the door, soaked and with all this paint on his face. Dupont went: ‘What the hell is going on in here?’
He came in and it was a total mess. I was standing there with the hose, going: ‘Ah. How are you? Nice meeting you.’
He had a go at Patrick Meehan and we had to pay him. The situation was solved by money. As if he didn’t have enough, this John Dupont.
But crazy stuff like that happened because we were happy there. We rehearsed and came up with ideas and wrote stuff during the day and at night we went to the Rainbow Bar or whatever and partied.
That whole period was one of the most enjoyable times ever, and a song like ‘Snowblind’ makes it clear that it was also because of a certain drug. That’s why we wrote on the album sleeve ‘We wish to thank the great COKE-Cola Company’.
Just a little thank-you nod to our suppliers. I rented a house in Bel Air again a couple of years ago, when we were working on songs for the Heaven and Hell album, ‘The Devil You Know’. The Dupont house was on Stradella Road and, because I went out for walks a lot, I passed it every morning. Apparently it’s now owned by former Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith, so I used to look in, trying to catch a glimpse.
But I never did.