9 Wild Revelations From the New Black Sabbath Book
From drug-filled guitar amps to being attacked by crazed fans, “Symptom of the Universe” lifts the lid on Sabbath’s decadent glory days.
As Black Sabbath considers embarking on what might be their farewell tour, a new book by the band’s former publicist revisits the metal pioneers’ hellacious early days. “Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe” by Mick Wall spins tales about Ozzy Osbourne and his bandmates smuggling cocaine in their amplifiers, the night that Satan supposedly visited bassist Geezer Butler’s bedroom, and why Sabbath almost didn’t release their biggest hit, “Paranoid.” Read on for the heavy truth.
1. They filled their guitar amps with cocaine
At the height of their debauched 1970s heyday, Sabbath had their own coke dealer traveling with them on tour. The band who famously recorded an ode to the devil’s dandruff, “Snowblind”, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on drugs, even filling fake guitar amps with bags of coke and shipping them to gigs. “Me and [drummer] Bill [Ward] were the worst,” recalls Ozzy. “We were the Drug Commandos. We’d always enter a room through the plate glass windows, never the door.”
2. They thought “Paranoid” was a Led Zeppelin rip-off
Sabbath almost didn’t record their most famous song, the chugging rocker “Paranoid”, because Butler feared it was a blatant rip-off of “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin. “I said to Tony, ‘It’s too much like Zeppelin, we can’t do that,” Butler recalls. “I thought it was ‘Communication Breakdown’. I thought it was so much like that we couldn’t possibly get away with it. But everybody else just couldn’t see it.” Says Ozzy: “We all used to lie on the floor at rehearsals, stoned, listening to Led Zeppelin.”
3. Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne shit in a box, delivered it to Tony Iommi
When Sharon Osbourne heard that guitarist Tony Iommi had jokingly nicknamed the devil-baby on the cover of Sabbath’s 1983 Born Again album “Aimee”- – after Sharon and Ozzy’s recently-born daughter, she went ballistic. Sharon tells Wall that she paid Iommi back by getting a friend of hers–-a gorgeous Vogue cover model–to arrange a date with the guitarist at what was then one of L.A.’s swankiest restaurants, Le Dome. When the guitarist turned up “dressed in all his fucking crosses”, Sharon says, there was a gift box waiting for him. Assuming it must be from his date, Iommi untied the pink ribbons and lifted the lid expecting to find some sort of present. He did. “Two big turds – one each from me and Ozzy!” Sharon gleefully recalls.
4. “Iron Man” was almost “Iron Bloke”
Until they actually recorded “Iron Man”, it labored for months under the working title “Iron Bloke”, after Ozzy said the slow, clomping riff “sounded like an iron bloke walking.”
5. Geezer Butler claimed to have met the Devil
Butler gave up his fascination with the occult after becoming convinced that Lucifer himself visited his bedroom one night in 1968. After he saw the demonic apparition, Butler got rid of all the inverted crosses and satanic memorabilia in his black-painted apartment. “I woke up suddenly, and there was this like this black shape standing at the foot of my bed,” Butler recalls. “And it absolutely frightened the bloody life out of me. This shape, for some reason I thought it was the Devil himself! It was almost as if this thing was saying to me, ‘It’s time to either pledge allegiance or piss off!’ And from that moment on, I just went off the whole thing.’
6. Ronnie James Dio used the Devil Horns to distance himself from Ozzy
Dio, who replaced Ozzy as Sabbath’s singer from 1979-82, always said he got his famous hand gesture from his Sicilian grandmother, who used it to ward off “the evil eye.” But Wall reports that Dio began using it to distinguish himself from Ozzy, who often flashed peace signs onstage. After Sabbath finished their Heaven and Hell album, Dio told Wall of his plan: “The only thing worrying me now,” Dio said, was how he would be received by Ozzy’s fans when Sabbath went on tour. “I know they’re gonna miss him, so I’ve been trying to think of something that says, ‘look, I’m not here to try and be like Ozzy, but I am respectful of what he did with the band.’ And I thought of this…I figure the peace sign thing belongs to Ozzy. I can’t do that. Maybe I can do this instead.” Within a few years it became a common sight at metal concerts; a cultural signifier of brotherhood and rebellion, all wrapped up in one head-banging hand gesture.
7. Their fans were completely insane and sometimes armed
When Black Sabbath toured America in the 1970s, “We would followed around by all kinds of weirdos,” Iommi says. They included self-styled witches, tripped-out occultists and, at one memorable show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973, a knife-wielding lunatic who jumped out from behind a speaker stack and tried to stab Iommi onstage.
8. They changed the name of their debut album because of the Manson Murders
Sabbath’s second album was originally called War Pigs, but was changed to Paranoid after their American record company, Warner Bros., warned that releasing an album called War Pigs in 1970, when the Manson Family trials were going on, would lead to supermarket chains refusing to stock it.
9. They sometimes used stuffed animals as wedding witnesses
When Iommi, then in the throes of a lengthy cocaine addiction, married his second wife Melissa in 1980, the ceremony was held in his room at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles. The “witness” was a giant teddy bear Tony had bought her earlier that day.