Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 78. Bill, Vinny, and Bill and Vinny
With the Reunion album in the can, we planned a fully fledged tour with the original line-up and in May 1998 we went into rehearsals for it. It had been twenty years since the four of us had worked like that. This time we tried to communicate properly by talking things through, instead of going in like bulls in a china shop. Instead of: ‘We’re doing this’, or even: ‘Let’s do this and let’s do that’, everybody was going: ‘What do you think, shall we do this?’
We had a laugh and worked well together again. It was good because we were prepping to do something we knew. We just rehearsed through the songs. Ozzy would sing them and leave, and then we usually ran through them again on our own. On 19 May we were running through the show and, when we got to ‘Paranoid’, the final song, Bill said: ‘Cor, I feel really strange. Is it all right if I have a lie-down?’
‘Yeah, go and have a lie-down.’
I took him upstairs and he got into bed and said: ‘Could you ask my assistant to come up?’
‘Just to give me a massage for a bit, because my arm’s gone a bit numb.’
I never thought anything of it. Me and Geezer went out for a bit of fresh air and walked up the drive and then down the road. We saw this ambulance come flying past and we jokingly said: ‘Bill!’
We always did; any time we saw something like that it was always: ‘Ah, Bill.’
And, bloody hell, this time, sure enough, it was. Minutes later we saw the ambulance flying past again in the opposite direction, taking him to the hospital. We got back and Ozzy was going: ‘Bill has had a heart attack! Bill has had a heart attack!’
‘Christ, that was the ambulance then?’
‘Yeah, that was Bill!’
They took him to the closest hospital about twenty miles away. He had to stay there for a while and obviously couldn’t play.
We didn’t cancel the tour. We asked Vinny Appice to stand in for Bill while he was convalescing. We’d been working with Vinny on and off with Ronnie and Bill always liked him, so it just seemed the way to go. Vinny was fine with it; he came in and rehearsed with us, and then we did the tour of Europe with him.
We had rehearsed songs we hadn’t played for years. When we started off, we had a two and a half hour show. It killed me because it was a long set, but it was great. We were playing a lot of other songs besides the regular, routine ones.
The tour started off in June in Hungary. Certainly in the beginning it went really well. The Milton Keynes Bowl, with bands like Foo Fighters, Pantera, Slayer and Soulfly, was one of the highlights. Bill came to that gig; it was nice of him to turn up. We got him on stage and the audience loved seeing him. He was standing there in his tracky pants and I couldn’t help it because they were all loose and, whoosh!, I pulled them down in front of all those people. Typical me and Bill. I used to do that all the time to him and, of course, this was an ideal opportunity. He just stood there, pulled them up and took no notice. He’s a real character like that.
In October 1998 the Reunion album was finally released. Our label, Epic, organised a record-signing tour of eight cities in America for the four of us, including Bill Ward. They put us in the St Regis Hotel in New York. It was incredibly expensive: every room came with its own butler. We used that hotel as our base and we had a private jet to fly us out to Dallas or wherever it was we had to do the signings and radio interviews and anything else. We’d do the business and fly back to New York again.
Meanwhile, we had so many people coming to the stores where we did our album signings that it got out of hand. Sometimes security was rough on the crowds. We ended up saying to our tour manager: ‘They can’t do this to the kids, pushing them around and being aggressive with them like that. They are fans, they should take it easy on them!’
We did one in a mall and the whole place was packed. I’d never seen that, signings in the middle of a shopping mall. These appearances at record shops were really good, if not a little too successful.
We also did the Late Show with David Letterman, our first TV appearance together in twenty-three years. I was bit worried, because I wondered what it would be like to do ‘Paranoid’ with a live audience in a talk show like that. I thought Letterman and his people would be a bit snooty about it, but they were really nice. David was in and out, really; we saw him on the night when he came to say hello and shook our hands. We talked to him but not a lot. We saw Paul Shaffer during the sound check and had a chat with him. He might have asked if he could play, but we just did it with the four of us. And that was it. We played, it went down great, and good night.
We started off our American tour on New Year’s Eve in Phoenix, Arizona. That was the one Maria came over for. It was a big gig.
We always had a big fireworks display afterwards, so we could leave without getting stuck in the traffic of people trying to get out at the same time. We always got off stage and then left immediately.
Bill was back with us for this tour, but we took Vinny along as well. We didn’t want Bill to strain himself. As much as he said: ‘I’m all right’, we were concerned he might feel rough one night, and go: ‘I don’t feel well, I can’t play.’ Also, with Vinny there, if he got over-exhausted he could say: ‘I can’t play these two songs, I need a rest’, and Vinny could step in. I thought this would be good for Bill’s peace of mind as well, but I heard later that he was actually offended by the fact that we had Vinny up there. But none of us meant it in a bad way; we were just concerned about Bill. We never used Vinny anyway, because Bill played great and stayed healthy. As a matter of fact, I got flu and Ozzy caught a cold, but Bill was as fit as a fiddle.
Bill couldn’t drink, Geezer wasn’t drinking and Ozzy wasn’t supposed to be drinking, so the only one drinking was me. We each had our own bus and a trailer as well, and there I had wine and champagne and whatever else. I wouldn’t flaunt it in front of everybody and it was actually awkward when Ozzy came in. He’d often visit me in my trailer, and I never wanted to drink around him, so for me it also turned out to be a rather dry tour.
After the last gig of the American tour we felt it would be a shame to stop, so two months later it was announced that we’d go on, this time headlining the upcoming Ozzfest tour. From the end of May 1999 until the end of August we toured throughout the States with acts like Rob Zombie, Slayer and System Of A Down. On the second stage, among many others, was Maria’s band Drain STH, so we were on the road together.
On one of our days off we were staying at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach and Rob Zombie was there as well. Me and Maria were looking out of the window and we saw Rob coming out with his wife. It was roasting out there, but like always Rob was in all his leather gear. He walked up, got on a sunbed and was lying there, sunbathing the Zombie way. Everybody else was wearing shorts and Rob was dressed to the max in leather trousers, leather top, leather hat and leather boots. Maria and me were in stitches. Rob is a lovely guy, but talk about keeping up the image!
We ended the year with two shows at the NEC in Birmingham. I remember thinking, this could well be our final date ever. I felt a bit sad, not knowing if we were going to do it again. We recorded a live video there, called The Last Supper.
That seemed like a perfect name for it, but we weren’t done quite yet.