Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 34. The well runs dry
We’d had such a great time doing Volume 4 in Los Angeles, and we wanted to recreate the experience for what was to become our next album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. We all went back to LA and rented the same house. After us ruining the place the first time, John Dupont must have got a wad of money to allow us back. We also returned to the Record Plant, but the room was different.
‘What’s happened? It’s really small now!’
‘Oh, we built this Moog in here for Stevie Wonder.’
Back at the house I tried to come up with ideas, but I couldn’t think of anything. I don’t know what it was. I just couldn’t get it. Then I started panicking: ‘Oh, no, what am I going to do!’
Up until that time, when we went somewhere to write and rehearse, I felt that most of the time everybody was dying to go down the pub instead of working at the songs. But you need to get stuff done. It’s quite easy to sit around, telling jokes and boozing, but the money is going out of the window like this, sitting in some studio for bloody two grand a day or whatever it was. So I was really aware of that.
It was already getting harder around the time we were working there on Volume 4, because we were established by then. In the past I’d say: ‘Come on, we’ve really got to work on this!’
The guys would listen to me, because I had always been looked on as the leader of the band. But at best I was a very reluctant leader. It was a role that eventually got to me, because if something went wrong I had to be the pillar everybody leaned on and to say: ‘Everything’s fine, it’s going to be all right.’
If I had broken down, I think everybody would just have fallen to pieces. Me believing in what we did and not letting things get to us, I think the other guys looked at it as a strength thing. Maybe me being physically the strongest also had something to do with it. If we had a fight it would always be me they’d call for. It happened quite a few times. I came back to the hotel one night and Bill came running towards me, shouting: ‘Oh Christ, you’re back! Ozzy and Geezer are fighting upstairs, you’ve got to come up quick!’
I shot up there and they were drunk and really going at it. Ozzy was on top of Geezer and he was wearing this long mink coat. I grabbed Ozzy by the collar to pull him off. The next thing I knew I was standing with the collar held high, while Ozzy was still down there pounding on Geezer - I’d torn the thing clear off. I picked Ozzy up and he took a swing at me, so I landed one on his jaw and he went down. I felt bad, because I didn’t want to do that. But I was put in that position; somebody had to be in control because otherwise it would go all over the place.
Ozzy has said in the past that he felt that I always had a barrier around me. That’s probably because I tried not to get involved with the partying so much. We used to stay in these poxy hotels where you could hear everything through the walls. I often heard people screaming and smoking dope and having a good time, but I felt that if I went and joined them we’d all be in the same boat, so I didn’t. Somebody had to be in control if something went wrong. If I’d become the same, nobody would have listened to me any more. I think you have to maintain some sort of separation. It’s a bit like being the office manager: when people have a problem they go to his office. With Black Sabbath it was a bit the same, really. I didn’t want that, but that’s the way it was. I can’t say I was responsible all the time because I’ve certainly done my share of stupid things and in my own little world I was as bad as Ozzy, but I couldn’t let the whole thing get too close.
I think for many years Ozzy was frightened of me and if I said: ‘We need to this and we’ve got to do that’, he would listen. I became the bully again, which I didn’t want to be. But somebody had to do it. The whole purpose of it was to function, get the band on the road and work, with as little aggravation as possible. If somebody went: ‘I’m not playing tonight, I’m tired’, someone had to say: ‘Fuck it, you’ve got to play!’
Being in a band isn’t all fun, it’s bloody hard. I think you’ve got to deal with everything life has in store for you, no matter how bad that might be. I tend to fight through a lot of stuff, so it’s hard for me to understand other people not doing the same. I wouldn’t expect something to solve my problems, going: ‘I’ll take one of these pills and everything will be all right.’
It’s like these rehabs: I would never go to one. I just think it’s a cop out, going into rehab and walking out and saying: ‘Ah, I’ve been to rehab.’
Ozzy went into the Betty Ford Clinic and they had him scrubbing the floors. How was that going to rehab him? You could do that at home! I just think a lot of it is brought on by yourself; you can control it to a point. Like with me, at some point I was taking loads of coke. I could have said: ‘I’m going to go into rehab’ but I didn’t. I stopped on my own.
It does take a lot of determination and that’s something I really do have. That comes from the way I was brought up. I was always being told by Mum and Dad: ‘Oh, you’re never going to do any good.’
My other relatives chimed in as well: ‘Why don’t you get a proper job like your cousin!’
Because of that I became very determined to achieve something, no matter what got in my way, if only to prove to them that I could. It gave me the determination to fight on. It’s like when I cut the ends of my fingers off and they told me I could never play again. I wouldn’t accept that.
I’m sure it has actually helped Black Sabbath. I was the driving force in the band, I made them rehearse and got them off their arses to do everything needed to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I saw that it needed some control. You can’t just all go off willy-nilly and expect everything to happen just like that.
But as we got more popular, I was less and less in a position to firmly take the reins any more. And with nobody there to control it, it just got out of hand. If we were working in the studio but they decided to go down the pub, they’d go down the pub. If there was a particular part where I was trying to think of something for maybe fifteen minutes, they’d get impatient and say to each other: ‘Oh … shall we go and have a drink?’
The rest of the day would be shot, and then the next day it’d be the same, until I came up with stuff to work on. That became harder and harder. If you have no one to bounce ideas off, it becomes almost impossible, and I didn’t have that any more. In the early days, when we jammed I’d come up with riffs and then everybody would be enthusiastic, putting stuff in. We had now reached a point where it was like: ‘Oh, we got to do another album’, and nobody was motivated enough to really do it.
My role was to come up with the music, with the riffs. That probably stopped the others from writing music. If I didn’t come up with anything, we wouldn’t do anything. I felt the pressure of that, but I had always been able to cope with it. However, it got to me when we needed to do Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. We were all back again in Bel Air, sitting in the ballroom of John Dupont’s house. Everybody was looking at me and I couldn’t get into the vibe at all. It was totally different. I just couldn’t function. I got writer’s block and I couldn’t think.
So we knocked it on the head and moved everything out. We got back home to England all depressed. The other three thought, that’s the end of that now. I remember Geezer and Ozzy talking like it was all over. I panicked. I thought, blimey, it’s never going to happen again. My God, I’ve lost it all!
After a couple of weeks or so we rented Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire to see if we could get the vibe back and write again. We were just looking for something different. Everything in this place was dismal, especially its dungeons. It was really creepy down there. It was a big space with an armoury, another room with something else in it and a lounge. We set our gear up there and tried to get a vibe. We certainly got one: I walked down this long corridor with Geezer and we saw somebody coming towards us.
We had no idea who it could be, because we had rented the whole castle. We saw this bloke coming up, just this black figure, and he went into the armoury. We looked at each other, followed him into the armoury and … nothing! It was just a bare room with a big table with weapons on it and swords and shields all over the walls. And that was it. No other doors out. It baffled us: ‘What happened to him? Where’s he gone? Bloody hell, this is really weird!’
We looked everywhere but there was no trapdoor or anything in there. He couldn’t hide under the table either, because you could see under that. We got in touch with the woman who owned the castle and she said: ‘Oh, was it a guy with a hat on?’
I said: ‘Well, we just saw this figure coming up.’
‘Oh, that’s so-and-so, the castle ghost. You may occasionally see this person.’
As if it was the most normal thing in the world. Bloody hell. But we didn’t see him again.
About the same time we saw our ghost, Ozzy fell asleep in the lounge, which had a big fireplace. He had stoked the coal fire up really high and one of the pieces of coal fell out on to the rug and set it on fire. We came in and he was spark out on the couch and about to burn to death. It’s a habit of his, building the fire up too high. It happened in his own house. He set the chimney on fire and they had to get the Fire Brigade out because the house started burning down. And this time, if we’d come in a little later, Ozzy would’ve become a ghost himself.
After telling the others about the ghost, we started frightening each other. Our roadie, Luke, stayed in one of the rooms. It had this big bed and nice curtains, and there was this model of a big ship above the fireplace. I got some fishing line, put it under the carpets and fixed lines to the curtains and the ship. Then I labelled them all outside the door and put the carpet over the line. I waited until Luke went to bed and started with the ship, pulling that a bit. Then the curtain. And I heard him going: ‘What! Who’s there! Who is that?’
He was absolutely petrified and came flying out of the room. And there I was, holding the line.
The woman who owned the castle had said to Bill: ‘You might feel something strange sometimes, because there is a bit of a funny feeling in that room.’
Bill went: ‘Ah, oh, why?’
She said: ‘Well, many years ago …’
And she told him a story about this maid who used to live there and had a baby by the owner. She got the baby and jumped out of the window and killed herself. It happened in Bill’s room and apparently sometimes you could see this woman run through the room and jump. Bill got so scared he had this big dagger stuck in the side by his bed.
I said: ‘What are you going to do with that thing?’
‘If that ghost …’
‘Bill, it’s a ghost. How are you going to stab a ghost, for Christ’s sake!’
Geezer actually liked it at first. He stayed in this room that was supposed to be haunted and was trying to see if he could get a vibe. But at the end of the day nobody knew if it was something in there or if it was somebody playing a joke and none of us dared stay there any more. I thought, fucking hell: we got this place in the middle of nowhere so we could go and start writing, and everybody has terrified themselves that much that they’re driving home at night!
But the vibe there did lift my writer’s block. As soon as we started working the first song I came up was ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’. First day we were there, bang! I went: ‘Bloody hell!’