Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 42. We Never Say Die
Preparing for the recording of Never Say Die! we were trying to write songs, but it was hard. While we were touring America, punk happened. We even had The Ramones supporting us. I wouldn’t want to put them down at all, but I think that was a wrong match. They didn’t go down well and were getting things thrown at them all the time, so we had to take them off the tour.
I didn’t know whether I liked this punk stuff. Aggression is one thing in the music, but when it comes to spitting and cutting yourself, it just seemed a little bit far off to me. But I liked some of the songs, certainly later. And some credited Black Sabbath as an influence.
I thought, oh, I can’t see that somehow.
Punk coming in threw us a bit. The Stranglers were at No. 1 at that time. I remember Geezer saying: ‘We’re a bit old hat now with all these riffs and stuff.’
I almost felt like, God, what am I going to come up with then?! And again the other guys used to go down to the pub and then they’d come back asking: ‘Have you got anything?’
‘No, can’t think of anything …’
Writing became very difficult, especially after Geezer saying that. It felt like we didn’t believe in what we were doing any more. I felt hurt. I kept thinking, if I’m going to come up with a riff, then they’ll probably say: ‘Oh, can’t we do something else?’
The guys didn’t say that, but I felt like they would. All this when I had already booked a recording studio in Toronto, so the pressure was mounting.
Then Ozzy left. He just didn’t want to do it any more. It was a really difficult period for us, but we never considered packing it in. We asked ourselves, will he come back? He might change his mind, we don’t know. But we also said: ‘We can’t just sit here, we have to do something.’
Me and Bill knew this singer from old, Dave Walker, from the time when he was in a local Birmingham band called The Red Caps. He later sang with Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac and had moved to San Francisco. I remembered him having a good voice, so we got in touch with him. We were grasping at straws really, thinking, we’re here to write an album, we have a studio booked and we have no singer! We rehearsed with Dave for a while and wrote two or three songs with him. Word got out to the press and we even did a local Birmingham TV show with him, but we just didn’t feel it was right. Then Ozzy said: ‘I’m sorry’ and all that, and he came back. We told Dave and he went. However, Ozzy didn’t return until two or three days before we were due to go into the studio in Toronto. We couldn’t cancel that because we’d paid a lot of money up front. But we still had no songs apart from the three we’d done with Dave, and Ozzy wouldn’t sing those.
We went to Toronto and it was absolutely freezing. We each hired apartments close to the Sounds Interchange Studios. We also hired a cinema with a stage in it, to write and rehearse new songs. We worked here from nine o’clock in the morning in the freezing cold, because the place had hardly any heating, and then at night we went to the studio to record. It was just totally wrong for us. Up to that point we’d write something and then live with it for a bit, giving the songs time to grow: ‘Do we like it? Let’s change this bit, or let’s change that.’
In Toronto we never had that luxury. That’s why to me Never Say Die! is very much off the wall. There are some tracks I liked on it, but it’s hard to relate to that album because of the way it was done. It was a bitter time for us.
Accidents never come singly. The studio turned out to be crap. I had booked the place, so it was my fault. I just chose it based on the list of the names of people who had used it before. It was really expensive, but the sound was as dead as a doornail, so me and the engineer tried to get a bit of live sound in there by pulling all the carpet up. The owner of the studio heard what we were doing, so he came down barking: ‘What’s going on!’
I said: ‘We just can’t get a good sound. It’s dead.’
‘You can’t pull the carpet up!’
‘Well, we did. It’s rolled up!’
It was a nightmare. They said The Rolling Stones had used the studio, but maybe they just did some overdubs or something. I actually bought a stereo that had been left behind by Keith Richards, because I wanted to play music in my apartment. It had all these marks on the top of the speakers, where somebody had been chopping up drugs. We just smoked a lot of dope at the time. One day I smoked a little too much and I said: ‘I’ve got to go to my room.’ My apartment was three floors up. I used the stairs as I didn’t want to bump into anybody in the elevator. I walked up, put my key in the door, went into the room, put the light on and thought, strange, it looks different. It’s all been decorated. It’s got wallpaper and everything in here!
I don’t know why I didn’t stop there. I walked into the bedroom and there was a guy and his wife in bed and they shot up and I had the shock of my life. They screamed and I went: ‘Aaaah!’, screaming right back at them. I just couldn’t get my head together at all. So I said: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I must be in the wrong room!’ and shot out of there.
I had walked up one floor too many. My key had fitted in their door, which was really peculiar. I got to my own apartment and the next day the super came by, because my upstairs neighbours had made a complaint. I said: ‘Well, my key shouldn’t have fitted their door!’
I told them what happened, conveniently forgetting about the fact that I was stoned.
Despite the cold and the dope and the studio, we did manage to record an album. I actually sang backing vocals on ‘A Hard Road’. It was the first time I ever did that. And the last, because the other guys couldn’t keep a straight face. I was singing away, looking at them and Geezer was cracking up. I had to keep singing and he kept laughing. It was really embarrassing. Never again!
‘Swinging The Chain’ was a track that we originally did with Dave Walker. Ozzy refused to sing it, but we had to record it anyway, because otherwise we wouldn’t have enough to fill an album. Bill said: ‘Well, I’ll sing it then.’
And so he did. We kept the music and Bill just rewrote the lyrics.
It’s not like Ozzy didn’t want to do ‘Over To You’ either, but he couldn’t think of anything to sing on it, so we ended up bringing in these sax players instead. It was real funny period for us, what with Ozzy leaving and coming back. Going into the studio to record this album, it was very iffy. And, of course, Ozzy didn’t last much longer anyway after that. He actually did end up doing one song we did with Dave Walker earlier, whether he knew it or not. Geezer wrote the lyrics for it and we called it ‘Junior’s Eyes’.
The title track, ‘Never Say Die’, was released as a single, the first one since ‘Paranoid’. We’d said we would never do another single, because we were attracting a lot of screaming kids. But it had been a few years, so what the hell. It got in the English charts and we even did Top of the Pops with it. Again, that was a weird show to do. Bob Marley was on the programme with us. Bill at that time had his hair braided and everybody thought he was taking the mickey out of Bob. It wasn’t like that at all; it was just the way he happened to have his hair in those days.
All in all, it took us quite a while to record Never Say Die!. We plodded on I suppose. We didn’t not get along - we always got along - but it was hard work, much harder than it had ever been before. In the circumstances we’d put ourselves in, it was really difficult to make an album and I felt a lot of pressure doing it. It was expensive as well. It wasn’t just the studio, but we also had to live there. We all became shoppers, going to the supermarket with our trolleys getting our groceries and coming back in thick snow. Shopping was also a reason to get out of the apartment, to go somewhere different for a change. And we went to this club on the corner of the road we lived on, called the Gasworks. The supermarket and the club down the street … so much for entertainment.
Never Say Die! was doomed from start to finish. Ozzy leaving, trying out Dave Walker - it threw the whole thing out of whack. The album was just done day-by-day, so there was no format to it. You couldn’t sit back and think, oh, I can see that leads into the other. The songs didn’t relate to each other, it was so off the wall. The audience must’ve thought this as well: what’s going on here?
Again it was: ‘We don’t need a producer, we can do it ourselves.’
That wasn’t just me saying it, that was all of us. But it would have been far better if we had used a producer. We certainly realised that when we did our next album, Heaven and Hell. Having a producer involved takes the strain off.
Starting May 1978 the Never Say Die tour bounced back and forth between the UK, Europe and the States, with Van Halen opening for us all the way through until the end in December. Even though they still were relatively new, they were really good. They watched us play almost every night and we became close friends. I’d see Eddie a lot. I always had a bit of coke and he’d come around to my room and we’d talk till the death. As you do.
To me Eddie Van Halen was so different from all the other guitar players who were around back then. The finger tapping - although he doesn’t call it that - was a great technique. They were a really energetic band and they were going down great. They made us look a bit drab really, as they did all this acrobatic stuff, what with David Lee Roth doing somersaults on stage and Christ knows what else. Good showmanship, great players, you could see that they were really going to take off.
It was a great tour, but in our camp there were signs of cracking. Ozzy wasn’t happy. Possibly his father’s death had something to do with that. Jack Osbourne had died of cancer in the autumn of 1977, just before Ozzy left the first time. Ozzy’s dad was a great, lovely guy and I attended his funeral. But we never really spoke about it. Maybe Ozzy just wanted to get away from it all for a while, to deal with whatever hang-ups he had. But we didn’t have that luxury, we couldn’t take time off. It got to the point where we just plodded on. We had achieved quite a lot, we all had enjoyed success, we all owned homes and cars, everybody was comfortable. Perhaps we got too comfortable and we lost our drive, the aggression of wanting to go out and fight for it.
We also thought, we’re getting too old for this, because we saw younger kids coming up, like Van Halen. We actually weren’t even that old, but we were in comparison to most of the new bands. When we did interviews, the question always was: ‘How long are you going to be doing this? Don’t you think it’s about time to pack it in?’
We were only thirty, thirty-five years old and they started talking about us retiring. We were becoming old hat and I think the spark had gone. Everybody was thinking, we’re just going through the motions of it really. And we were playing an album we didn’t even like ourselves.
We played the Hammersmith Odeon on 10 and 11 June 1978 and that was our ten-year anniversary. Ten years was a long time. Van Halen with David Lee Roth didn’t last ten years! We recorded those shows and released that recording as a live home video cassette at that time. It was called Never Say Die!, but the band was not at all well, and even though the patient was still up and about, the illness ultimately proved to be terminal.
Well before Ozzy left us for the second time, he went missing. In November he disappeared before a show in Nashville. Supposedly he had a bad throat. We checked into this hotel and he drank a bottle of Night Nurse cold and flu medicine. You’re supposed to have just a few spoons, but he downed the whole bloody bottle. He went to his room but ended up in the wrong one. He saw this room open, there was a maid in there, she came out and he went into that room, passed out on the bed and that was it. Meanwhile, his bags had been sent up to his own room. We were doing a show on the night, but no Ozzy.
We phoned his room: nothing. So we got the guy to go and open the door. His suitcase was still there, all packed, and the bed was made.
‘God, what’s happened?’
We started worrying then.
‘What’s going on! I wonder if he’s gone down to the gig already …’
‘Why would he do that?’
We went to the gig first, to see if he was there: no sign of him. We didn’t know what to think. Then the rumour started that he had been kidnapped. We even got it advertised on TV, radio and everything that he was missing. It was just unbelievable. And it was getting closer and closer to show time.
We had to pull the gig, which really went down well. We left it to the last minute, thinking he might turn up. He had disappeared in the past and then just ended up in somebody’s house, out of it, but never on a gig day. So we were half worried to death, and half pissed off, thinking, we have a hall full of people, they are never going to believe us if we go on and say: ‘We can’t find Ozzy.’
We then really started to panic. Even though Van Halen played, the audience was going mad and we had to get out of there quick. We got in touch with radio stations and every fifteen minutes they’d do a bulletin: ‘Has anybody seen Ozzy?’
This went on and on and we were awake all bloody night wondering what the hell was going on. Then Ozzy phoned my room: ‘What’s happening?’
‘Fucking hell, what do you mean, what’s happening. Where the hell are you!’
‘I’m in my room.’
‘You’re not in your room!’
‘Yes, I am!’
‘No, you’re not!’
One of those.
‘I took this Night Nurse, I don’t know what happened, I fucking passed out.’
So that was the story. We were convinced he had been kidnapped and that there was going to be some ransom note. But he was in the hotel. We felt like killing him. But Ozzy’s disappearing act was only light entertainment in comparison with what would happen over the next couple of months.
Things would only get worse …