Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 38. Everything’s being Sabotaged!
At the beginning of 1975 we got together to write and rehearse for what was to become Sabotage. The making of that album took a long time because we were in the studio one day and in court or meeting with lawyers the next. A writ is a summons to appear in court and we were being handed writs even while we were working in the studio. It was so distracting. It felt like we were being sabotaged all the way along the line and getting punched from all sides. We were constantly in some problem or another with management or somebody. It made the band into a tighter unit, because it was us against them. We were trying to do music and it was hard to create it in that situation, unless we wrote a song about it, which sort of relieved that situation. That’s why one track is called ‘The Writ’ and the album is called Sabotage.
Apart from legal harassment, we were also having technical problems in the studio. We had a hard time recording ‘Thrill Of It All’ and eventually we got it down after no end of takes. Soon after we went to a bar across the road to play darts and Dave Harris, the tape guy, came over and said: ‘We’ve got a problem.’
I said: ‘What?’
He said: ‘One of the technicians has aligned the tapes up on the master tape.’
‘I’m not, honestly!’
Their job was to put this series of reference tones, basically a bunch of beeps going from higher to lower pitch, on to a master tape so it’s all aligned and ready for you to use. You had to in those days: align the heads and everything, make sure it was all right. He would set it all up on the tape machine and go: ‘That’s fine, you can use it.’
But he had mistakenly put the tones on to the master tape of ‘Thrill Of It All’. We listened to the recording of the song and suddenly it was: ‘Doo-doo-doo-doo.’
He’d wiped enough off so we had to record the whole thing again. It was such an ordeal. We didn’t kill Dave but did actually give him a nod for his screw-up on the album sleeve: ‘Tape operator and saboteur - David Harris’.
We produced Sabotage ourselves. The band disappeared most of the time so it was sort of left to me and the engineer. I got more and more involved with the production side of things, but it wasn’t like I would sit there and tell the other guys what to do, because they knew what to play, they put their parts to it. I just spent a lot more time in the studio because, when it came to doing the guitar bits or mixing, it would take longer and I’d be more into it than they were. I didn’t mind so much. I’d be there to the death.
Sabotage has a couple of unusual tracks, like ‘Symptom Of The Universe’. That has been described as the first progressive metal song and I won’t disagree with that. It starts with an acoustic bit, then it goes into the up-tempo stuff to give it that dynamic, and it does have a lot of changes to it, including the jam at the end. That last bit was made up in the studio. We did the track and after that finished we just started jamming. I started playing this riff, the others joined in, we kept it going and we ended up keeping it. Then I overdubbed it with acoustic guitar. A few things we’ve recorded came from jams like that. We’d just keep going on the thing and so the end of the song sometimes became longer than the song itself. A lot of our songs tended to be long anyway. Like ‘Megalomania’: we carried on and on with that until we just faded it out. Some of those tracks were probably twice as long as you hear on the album, but we had to fade them out.
I wrote ‘Supertzar’ at home with a Mellotron, to create choir sounds. I put heavy guitar to that and it really blended well. I thought, I’d love to try this in the studio, it would be great if we could use a real choir. So I booked the London Philharmonic Choir. They came down and were all set to go at like nine o’clock in the morning. Ozzy didn’t know anything about this. He walked in, saw all these people and he walked out again.
‘Fucking hell, it’s the wrong studio!’
He came back and went: ‘What’s going on, who are all these people in here?’
‘We’re just trying this song.’
‘Uh … Oh.’
This woman came along with a harp, because I had a harp at home and I could only play ‘ding, dong’. She said: ‘What do you want to hear?’
‘Well, sort of like “ding, dong”. That’s what I am playing.’
She said: ‘Ah, something like this …’
And her fingers flew over the strings.
‘Yeah! That’s it!’
I felt like such an idiot. What was I doing, asking her to play ‘ding dong’? But to my knowledge it had never been done before: a heavy guitar riff with a choir and this harp. It was a challenge. I thought, there’s a fifty-piece choir here and this harp player, this better work out. But we did it and it sounded really different and really great.
The Sabotage sleeve is probably our most embarrassing one. It had us posing in front of a mirror that reflected the wrong way round. We turned up at this photo session for it and Bill said: ‘I don’t know what to wear.’
He turned to his wife: ‘Can I borrow those tights?’
He put her tights on, but he had this checked underwear underneath that was shining through. Typical Bill. Ozzy didn’t do much better, dressing up in some sort of Japanese mourning gown. I’ve even heard it being described as ‘the homo in the kimono’. Such a naff thing; we’re all so different there. Fucking hell, we’ve had trouble living that down over the years!
On Sabotage the sound was a bit harder than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and my guitar sound was harder as well. That was brought on by all the aggravation we felt over all the business with managements, lawyers and writs. Sabotage did all right, but it didn’t sell as well as the previous albums. It’s the way it goes with everybody: you can’t go up and up and up, things go up and down. Other people come in and other music takes over. The taste of people moves, it changes. And yet we still plod on, doing what we’re doing. Even so, we’ve been pretty lucky with our fans because they’ve been very loyal. We did go through a period, certainly in the Paranoid days, of attracting a lot of screaming teenagers, which wasn’t our sort of audience at all. But they go for anything in the Top 10. We didn’t want to be involved in that because it wasn’t us. We weren’t about the pretty boy image; it was purely the music for us. That’s one of the reasons all our albums keep selling really well after all these years. I can’t believe the way it goes, it’s just phenomenal. It must be that new kids are coming around to buying it.