Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 47. Heaven and Hell
We recorded Heaven and Hell at the Criteria Studios in Miami, the same place where we had recorded Technical Ecstasy a couple of years earlier. For the first time since Master of Reality we had somebody else producing it, which was a great help. Martin Birch took a lot of the strain off me. He had done a few good albums by big name bands already, like Rainbow. Ronnie recommended him, so we thought we’d try him.
We were back in Florida, which meant there were drugs galore. A neighbour next to Barry Gibb’s house had constant supplies of coke like you wouldn’t believe. I’d visit him and he would have pounds of it in a big pile on the table.
‘Here, help yourself.’
It was unbelievable. Here we were at four o’clock in the morning: ‘Can we just pop around for a bit?’
And he would be up!
‘Yeah, just pop around.’
We just went over the top because it was there, on our doorstep. It didn’t stop our creative juices flowing.We’ve always had a fifth member, a presence, a guiding light if you like, that led us in the right direction. It was there when we were in Miami at Barry’s house and we wrote ‘Die Young’. In that song there’s a break. In the part where Ronnie sings ‘die young’, it drops down to a quiet passage. At that time Ronnie had never done stuff like that, with a drop-down, it was always out and out, go! I said to him: ‘We’ve done it for years in a lot of the Sabbath stuff, we put a quiet bit in the middle of it.’
And Ronnie said: ‘Oh, yeah, it works!’
It was another learning experience for him, seeing how we wrote and what you can do, somewhere else to go, a different area. I felt I knew where to go on these things. I think we all did, we all felt: this is the fifth member guiding us. ‘Die Young’ is a well-structured song. It was the second single, after ‘Neon Knights’, and to this day it goes down really well.
‘Children Of The Sea’ was the one that we had already done when Ozzy was still there. I still have a version with him singing on it somewhere, with a different lyric and a totally different vocal melody to what Ronnie did with it. When we recorded the new version, I wanted it to sound like galley slaves rowing a big ship. In my head I could hear this monk-type chant, so we said to the guy at the studio: ‘Anywhere we can hire some monks?’
He phoned around, trying to find some monks. It was a bit of a joke, really. But he came back all serious and said: ‘Well, we can only get one monk … but he can overdub!’
I got him to come in and, ‘oo-oooo-ooo’, let him do his chant. We were in stitches. We had imagined this whole choir and we got one monk.
But he could overdub.
When we were in LA we had these JVC tape machines that had built-in microphones so we could record whatever we were doing, wherever. We were in the house and we just jammed around. I had this little amp, just a few watts, and we had a little drum kit, and we must have played ‘Heaven And Hell’ for ages. We really liked it. Ronnie was playing bits of bass on it at first and then we had Geoff take over. Ronnie would sing something and that would give you an idea where to go next. We just built the song up, jamming like that.
In Miami, recording went well, but we wanted Geezer back, so I called him. He had sorted his stuff out by then, so we arranged for him to come in and play the bass on the album. Craig Gruber had put the bass parts down, but we took all that off without letting Geezer listen to them first. I was pretty confident that he would like the new music, because we often felt the same about stuff and I really liked our new songs. As a matter of fact, he was knocked out when he heard them. As soon as Geezer played his parts on it, it all came back to ‘this is the wall of sound’ thing, it made the music come back in shape again. Other bass players will just play something like ‘doom doom doom’, while Geezer will bend his strings and go ‘do-ommm’, to put more aggression into it. He’s just different from any other bass player I’ve ever heard. It worked out really good.
Having Martin Birch there prevented me from being there all the time and getting over-involved in everything. Doing it all by myself in the past, I could go on endlessly and just play on and on, until I didn’t know what was good and what wasn’t any more. But with Martin it was: ‘Fine! We’ve got it!’
‘Ah. Well, I’ll just do one more take.’
‘No. It’s all right. We’ve got it.’
Him drawing the line was good. And we probably saved a little money that way, too.
We managed to frighten the life out of Martin. He was tough guy, but at the same time he was a little bit nervous. He did karate and had a black belt in this and that, but he could be got to.
And we knew how to get to him.
We discovered that he was really frightened of black magic, so we made it worse for him. I got a twelve-inch piece of balsa wood and I carved it into the effigy of a man. I wrapped it in black cloth and put it in my briefcase. I got my case out pretending to look for something, and I pulled this thing out so he could see the little figure.
I went: ‘Oh.’
I covered it up quickly and closed the case.
‘What is it?’
‘It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.’
But he did worry. He said to Ronnie: ‘Tony, he’s got something in his case. It looks like a little voodoo doll or something!’
Of course Ronnie was in on it, so he played him up some more.
After the others had gone, Martin would start asking questions. I would go: ‘Martin, really … It’s my own personal thing.’
‘Yeah yeah, what … What is that thing in your case?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
He really got worked up about this thing. Then eventually he thought it was a voodoo doll to stick pins in and the doll was him. He said: ‘I’m feeling really strange lately. You haven’t sort of …?’
He thought that I was doing something to him and I wound him up some more. I said: ‘You’re not feeling … Are you feeling a bit weird today, Martin?’
‘Why! Why? Why should I? What’s happened! What are you doing?’
He built the whole thing up himself, and I just encouraged him. I would’ve let it go but he just kept prodding me.
‘Are you into this black magic thing?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it!’
And then we’d make stuff up. I’d say to Geezer, just loud enough so he’d hear: ‘Are you going to go to the … meeting, tomorrow?’
Martin: ‘What meeting?’
‘Nothing, Martin, it’s just … just … you know …’
He took the whole scam hook, line and sinker. We pissed ourselves laughing but he was in a terrible state. ‘Just tell me a couple of little things.’
‘Why, what …?’
‘Just tell me what happens. What do you do at these meetings?’
‘Oh, Martin, we can’t … it’s secret, it’s all very hush hush, we can’t talk about it.’
I loved it. I really lived on it. I was looking forward to going in the next day, just to wind him up some more. Martin changed from being this confident chap to being a nervous wreck, going: ‘What’s happening, what’s going on?’
‘Nothing … nothing.’
I got the doll out again and he said: ‘You’re sticking pins in it! It’s me, isn’t it? That’s me!’
‘That doll! That’s me, I’ve seen it!’
Fantastic, it was a real gem and it lasted the entire recording session. We never told him. He’ll read this book and go: ‘The bastard!’
We used Martin on the next album, Mob Rules, as well.
And carried on …
At a certain point our time was up at Criteria Studios. We needed a break anyway. Martin certainly did, because we had driven him loony. So we came back home to England.
I was doing a tax thing, where I needed to stay out of England for a year. I miscalculated and came back a couple of days too early. My accountant said: ‘Get out, get out!’
‘What do you mean, get out?’
‘Just get on a plane somewhere. Go to Jersey!’
I went to Jersey and Geoff came with me. I booked this Grand Hotel because it was the biggest hotel there, so I thought that was the place for us. We went down to the bar for a drink and I got pissed as a parrot. I was talking to the barman and he said: ‘How are the rooms?’
I warbled: ‘Ah don’t like mah room.’
He said: ‘Why don’t you change it then? Talk to the manager.’
He got the manager in.
‘Ahh don’ like mah roommm.’
He was going on about changing my room and I was sitting there drinking and eating all these olives. I ate so many olives they made me throw up right there in the bar. Good thing I didn’t get sick all over this manager before he agreed to give me another room. He said: ‘Yeah, no problem. We’ve got a great room.’
I didn’t even get what he had said.
He went: ‘It’s got electric curtains.’
And he carried on about it having this and that, but I couldn’t take it all in. I just heard: ‘It’s a big plush room.’
So I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll have that!’
I didn’t feel very well then and went to bed. At eight o’clock in the morning the phone rang and they told me my new room was ready. I felt dreadful and really didn’t fancy changing rooms at that point, but I felt obliged to because of the olive thing the previous evening, so I did. I went to this other room and it was really nice. It had this big, round waterbed and electric curtains and everything: really plush. I phoned Geoff and said: ‘Come down and we’ll have breakfast in my new room together.’
So he did. We stepped out of the door afterwards and there were five maids outside, all laughing.
‘Fucking hell. What’s the matter with them?’
I didn’t realise they had put me in the bridal suite. They thought we were a couple of gays.
From then on I’d say to Geoff: ‘I’ll meet you downstairs. Don’t come to my room. We’ll have breakfast downstairs.’
From Jersey it was on to Paris, as I still couldn’t go back to England. The rest of the band flew in as well. We booked Studio Ferber over there and we came up with the last song of the album, ‘Neon Knights’. We felt that we needed a fast number like this to balance out the slower songs on the album. I find that writing fast songs is difficult. I can write slow songs or mid-tempo ones until they’re coming out of my ears, but fast songs I really have to think a little bit more about. I suppose that’s because of the way I’ve always done stuff with Sabbath: most of the things were ploddy.
After Paris we finally went to London. We did overdubs and the final mix at the Town House Studios. That’s where I set Bill on fire. We made Heaven and Hell and for a few horrible moments Bill got a little too close to hell there …