Black Sabbath

  • Heavy metal band formed in 1968 from Birmingham England. The original lineup consisted of Ozzy Osbourne (vocals, harmonica), Tony Iommi (guitars), Geezer Butler (bass guitar) and Bill Ward (drums). All members contributed to songwriting.
  • Iommi and Ward were members of a band called Mythology, while Osbourne and Butler were members of a band called Rare Breed. In 1968, both bands split up, and Iommi and Ward wanted to start a new group that focused on heavy blues rock. Osbourne placed an ad at a local music shop that said “OZZY ZIG Needs Gig – has own PA.” The four joined, and they named themselves the Polka Tulk Blues Band that also included a slide guitarist and a saxophonist. Those two members soon left. They shortened their name to Polka Tulk, and then switched to the name Earth. Performing as Earth, they cut some demos and performed at gigs around England. Iommi briefly left in December 1968 to join Jethro Tull, but after a month he returned to Earth.
  • They discovered in 1969 that there was another band named Earth, so they needed a new name. A theater near their rehearsal space was showing a horror film named Black Sabbath, and the band was inspired to write a song of the same title. The song was ominous and dark, different than other music during the late 60s. The group liked it, and decided to name themselves Black Sabbath in August 1969. They planned to continue to write music in the same style.
  • By late 1969, they were signed to a record label. Their first single was a cover of a song called Evil Woman, released in January 1970. Their debut album Black Sabbath was released in the UK on Friday the 13th the next month, and it was released in the U.S. in May. It was panned by critics, but it sold well, eventually achieving platinum status after the band’s future music gained a following. The album is considered the first heavy metal album ever made.
  • Their breakthrough occurred with their second album, Paranoid, released in the U.S. in 1971. The title track was written at the last minute, as the group didn’t have enough songs for a full studio album. Iommi started a guitar lick, and 25 minutes later the song was done. It was released as a single, and it peaked at #4 in the UK and at #61 on the Hot 100 chart in the U.S. It received many accolades over the years – Rolling Stone’s first edition of the Greatest Songs of All Time list included it at #250, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame included it in their 1994 list of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. The second single from the album was Iron Man. It reached #52 on the Hot 100. In 1998, Black Sabbath released a live album that included Iron Man, and this version of the song won the 2000 Grammy award for Best Metal Performance.
  • Master of Reality was released in mid-1971. By now, the band was deeply into drugs. Their sound had earned a legion of fans, and this album included fan favorites Children of the Grave and Sweet Leaf. Rolling Stone initially panned it, though in 2003 they included it on the 500 Greatest Albums list at #300. While no singles charted from the album, it eventually was certified double platinum.
  • Their next album was released in 1972. The band wanted to name it Snowblind, a song on the record that dealt with cocaine abuse, but the record company wouldn’t permit it and subsequently named it Vol 4. Again, no singles charted – as their sound didn’t translate well to pop radio – but the album was certified platinum, as did their 1973 album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. 
  • Three more albums released from 1975 to 1978 were less successful. During this time, Osbourne began to lose interest in the band and in late 1977 he abruptly left. A longtime friend of the band, Dave Walker, was brought in to handle vocals. Walker performed once with the band, on a television program. In January 1978, Osbourne reconsidered his decision and he rejoined Black Sabbath.
  • By 1979, Iommi decided that Osbourne needed to be fired because of Osbourne’s dependency on drugs and alcohol. Ronnie Dio was hired to replace Osbourne, and they added Geoff Nicholls on keyboards. In 1980 they released their Heaven and Hell album. It was a success, reaching #9 in the UK and #28 in the U.S., and it was certified platinum. Dio also handled vocals on their next album, 1981’s Mob Rules. In late 1982, Dio left to start his own heavy metal band. He was replaced by vocalist Ian Gillan. Gillan’s only album was Born Again in 1983. Ward quit the band before the tour, still negative over the departure of Osbourne, and physically drained due to booze and drugs. He was replaced by Bev Bevan. After the tour, Gillan left to rejoin Deep Purple, Bevan and Butler left, and Iommi put the band on hiatus.
  • In 1986, Iommi recorded an album, using Nicholls on keyboards, Glenn Hughes on vocals, Dave Spitz on bass and Eric Singer on drums. After it was complete, the record company insisted that it be released as a Black Sabbath album called Seventh Star. Six more albums were released between 1987 and 1995 with various lineups, with Iommi and Nicholls being the only constants. In 1997, Iommi fired the other band members and the original Black Sabbath lineup was reformed with Iommi, Osbourne, Ward and Butler, plus Nicholls. They toured for several years, until 2006 when Osbourne again left the group. His reality television show The Osbournes had become a major hit, and Osbourne was focusing on solo work.
  • In 2007, Dio rejoined with Iommi, Butler and drummer Vinny Appice and they recorded and toured using a new band name – Heaven & Hell. In 2010, Dio died of stomach cancer, and the group dissolved after a tribute benefit concert two months after his death. The following year, Osbourne was back in the fold with original members Iommi, Butler and Ward, again performing as Black Sabbath. Ward did not last long – he was replaced with drummer Tommy Clufetos for their tour. In 2013, with Brad Wilk on drums, they released an album titled 13 – the first Black Sabbath album in 18 years. It was their first album to top the Billboard 200 album chart, and the single God Is Dead? won a Grammy award for Best Metal Performance. There was a planned twentieth studio album that was scrapped, and in 2016 they began their final tour, titled The End. When completed in February 2017, Black Sabbath disbanded.
  • We will see if they get together again. All four original members are alive and in their 70s. Black Sabbath was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, and in 2019 they were presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Rolling Stone’s 2010 list of the Greatest Artists of All Time put them at #85. Their history is complicated, but their legacy as Heavy Metal’s first successful band is undeniable. Here’s a video of the band performing Paranoid in 1970.

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