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"None More Black: The Story of Black Sabbath, 1980 To Present"

By David Lee Wilson, Contributor
Wednesday, January 29, 2003 @ 1:03 PM


A Sample Chapter From Author D

- advertisement -
"NONE MORE BLACK: The Story of Black Sabbath 1980 to the Present” is the unauthorized and uncensored biography of the Metal legends Black Sabbath during their renaissance period, i.e. post Ozzy. Containing exclusive photos, interviews and intensive research this biography is easily the definitive work on the subject. Due to be published in May of 2003 the book will contain a bonus “tribute” CD for which submissions may still be made. For info on pre-ordering the book or contributing to the bonus CD please e-mail ISEntertainment@juno.com.

Below is a sample chapter from the book. Any comments are welcome at the e-mail above.

Chapter 6

Fifteen Minutes Over Philadelphia.

. .

“Honesty” and “reality” are words seldom used or even understood in the fantastical world of show business especially by its most intimate of participants. The reality that both Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, as individual units, had honestly begun to see by 1985 was that they had both seen better days.

For Ozzy it was primarily a case of him taking the first staggered steps toward sobriety, a state that he trips into and out of regularly to this day. Ozzy and entourage were also becoming all too cognoscente of the fact that the “Heavy Metal Madman’s” upward arc of popularity and the attendant financial rewards of his solo career had begun to descend. Though his “Bark at the Moon” album would, in time, reach platinum status it was a long way from the success he had come to expect after his first three solo smash hits. Commercially, the fan acceptance, the units sold, the tour attendance, you name it, were all showing a considerable sag and when a pop artist sags in the music business it usually signals that the end is quite near. What better time to give the fans what they had really been wanting, a reunion of the original Black Sabbath? After a one off tour with his old mates Ozzy could just let the residuals sit in the bank and live in comfort and more importantly quiet for the rest of his life. From the negative perspective, if he didn’t do a reunion while he was still somewhat musically significant it would all look too desperate and probably fail so, best to get on with it. Add to this the fact that three fourths of his “Bark at the Moon” band was no longer in his employ and Ozzy had few reasons not to do a reunion. While both Osbourne and then guitarist Jake E. Lee were out and about looking for new players and charting ideas for a new album, (that was already late by the record company’s schedule), Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were dealing with troubles of their own.

After the loss of Bill Ward for a third time and the dismissal of David Donato from the vocalist position Sabbath was, once again, down to Iommi and Butler. Though they would attempt to plug a few more people into the holes Butler was quickly losing interest in Sabbath’s future, at least any future that did not include Ozzy Osbourne.

One of the fingers thrust into Sabbath’s oozing dyke of musicians was a then unknown singer by the name of Ron Keel. Keel had fronted a band called “Steeler” (which also featured wunderkind guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen) and was in Los Angeles to try and make a career for himself and his Steeler band which they never really accomplished. Steeler ended quickly after one independently released album and the defection of guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen to former Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnent’s band, Alcatrazz. Keel would eventually become a protégé of Gene Simmons of Kiss and launch another group under the name “Keel” but not before putting in a few days of work with Iommi and Butler. As Keel remembers it;

    “I had been doing the KEEL demos at Pasha in Hollywood, which was owned by Quiet Riot producer Spencer Proffer. Quiet Riot had just sold ten million records and Spencer was the hot producer, and he was set to do the next Sabbath album. Ian Gillan had just quit and Spencer heard the KEEL demos, hooked me up with Tony and Geezer, and I demoed some of the material that Spencer wanted them to record and we hung out for a few days plotting the future, basically Tony and Geezer wishing they could get Ozzy back. MTV, radio, everybody announced that Ron Keel was the new singer in Sabbath, but something went sour in their deal with Spencer Proffer and I went with it.”

Keel, along with a few others, had come and gone with none truly bringing the spark that Sabbath needed to re-ignite their fire. Butler quit and took up solo pursuits for a time, as did Tony Iommi. Finding no appreciable industry interest in his solo endeavors Butler thought it was time to make the call to Ozzy. As it happened there had been a golden opportunity dropped into Butler’s lap around this time that made the asking a little less the hat in hand experience he had talked himself into, a monstrous charity event that would be known as Live Aid.

Live Aid was the brainchild of Rocker turned crusading philanthropist Bob Geldof, the singer of a moderately successful group known as The Boomtown Rats. Geldof would eventually be knighted for his efforts to relieve the famine that had ravaged much of the African continent during the seventies and eighties. In furtherance of his cause Geldof had enlisted the full force of the entertainment industry to help him create a live production that would be held in several locations, most prominently Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and London, England. The industry heavies needn’t have twisted many arms to get a full roll call from the Rock establishment elite, most were eager to be seen as part of this “global event” to end world hunger. If Led Zeppelin, The Who and potentially, the three surviving Beatles could do it then a reunion of the original Black Sabbath should have been no problem. Tony and Geezer were more than eager to do it and had been contacted by the legendary Rock impresario Bill Graham to see if it were possible to coax both Ozzy and Bill Ward into the scheme. Much to Graham’s surprise Sabbath’s management, Don Arden, refused Graham’s invitation out of hand.

Butler was livid. How could Arden pass on such an obvious good thing? Actually, that question was easily answered. Arden and his daughter, Sharon Osbourne, were involved in a family feud (that would ultimately last another fifteen years) and he would be damned if he did anything to help Sharon, Ozzy or anyone who would defect his ranks to work for Sharon’s management company. Iommi spoke to Arden and pled his case for doing the show but Arden was firm, if it happened it would be without his approval. Arden also reminded Iommi that there was still a management contract between Black Sabbath and Jet Management, Don Arden’s legal auspices, that was still in full effect and which gave Arden absolute veto power over such an undertaking. It should also not be forgotten that Don Arden was prone to brag openly about his ability to have bones as well as careers broken if people didn’t come around to his vision of things so raising the ire of Don Arden was something to be avoided at all costs. Iommi and Butler were stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea knowing what they wanted but not knowing if it was worth the risk of reaching for.

The entertainment industry was absolutely electrified by everything concerning the Live Aid event. The projected number of viewers who would watch the satellite feeds of the London and Philadelphia concerts grew first from a few million to half a billion and then to over a billion by the week of the event. This was something that Black Sabbath, in any form, simply had to be a part of regardless of the consequences threatened by Don Arden. And so it was that Bill Graham’s office received a call from Sharon Osbourne asking that time be made for “Black Sabbath featuring Ozzy Osbourne.” Much to Mrs. Osbourne’s surprise Graham said, “No.”

Iommi, Butler and both Osbourne’s burnt through their collective roll-o-dexs and phoned everyone who was anyone in the industry to enlist their help in persuading Graham that Black Sabbath should be a part of Live Aid. At the same time Don Arden, an old acquaintance of Graham’s, let it be known that he did not want Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne on the bill. Graham remembered the incident in his autobiography;

    “Over the years, I have often paid that price because of decisions I’d made concerning benefit projects. Ten days before the show (Live Aid) I was in New York and I was getting pressure from every side. Black Sabbath was driving me crazy. Their agent would call and say, ‘Bill I got to get my act on the show.’ Ironically the act had been asked to do it a few weeks before but they had said, ‘We don’t wanna do another benefit.’ I told him, ‘The show is so tight. I’ve got eleven minutes for this act, twelve for another, fifteen for a third. . .’ Then the manager would call. Then the record company president. Heavy pressure. Also they started to squeeze Dell Furano, who was doing their merchandising. Finally, I made a slot for Black Sabbath at eleven in the morning. Can you imagine looking at Ozzie (sic) Osbourne at eleven in the morning? Following the Four Tops?”

Mission accomplished, the original Black Sabbath was scheduled to be a part of Live Aid despite Don Arden’s protestations.

With Ozzy, Iommi and Butler on board and already scheduling rehearsals for their fifteen-minute slot in Philadelphia an emissary of the Osbourne’s was sent to collect Bill Ward from the halfway house in which he had been living. Ward was, like Ozzy, making a concerted effort to kick drugs and booze so getting back on the Rock and Roll rollercoaster was not what he really wanted to do at that point in time but he felt that he owed it to his old friends to give it a shot. When called upon to return to active duty as Black Sabbath’s drummer Ward had in fact been sober, by his estimation, some eighteen months. Still, Ward thought it best to avoid the trappings of Rock and Roll excess as much as possible so as not to fall from the wagon. Ward opted to take a separate flight to Philadelphia than did Osbourne and entourage or Iommi and Butler and the result was that Ward arrived stone cold sober to play his part in Black Sabbath, this was a first for Ward. Says Ward;

    “Live Aid was nice to do. It felt good. What I felt good about was that I was able to fly back without taking a drink, and I was able to play in front of 200 million people without taking a drink and that to me was the most important thing.”

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne arrived several days before the show in Philadelphia and availed themselves of all the advance press that the world was pouring into the city of brotherly love to cover Live Aid. A few days later the rest of Black Sabbath trickled in and a time for rehearsal was scheduled. The countdown had begun. It was Thursday, the show was Saturday morning and all the four need do to pull it all off was re-learn how to perform “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid” as a cohesive unit, no problem, right?

As the four stood in a rented studio that was so cramped it kind of forced the four together in an uneasy circle they got down to it. It wasn’t that hard and after all, both Ozzy and Black Sabbath had done these numbers hundreds if not thousands of times in the intervening seven years since their split so it all came together fairly quickly. During breaks in rehearsal Butler would uneasily comment on how he felt that these rehearsals had reminded him of the old days and how nice it would be for them to keep “something going” after Live Aid. Iommi and Ward smiled politely while Ozzy would just remark on how the old days certainly did have their moments. Butler’s gambit was obvious, embarrassingly desperate and ultimately unsuccessful.

On the eve of the big reunion all was quiet and cheerful until Don Arden made his ominous presence felt courtesy of a clutch of legal papers stuffed into Ozzy Osbourne’s hands, during a televised interview no less. Arden had filed suit against all the parties involved in what he saw as a conspiracy to reform the original Black Sabbath on a permanent basis and having done so without the inclusion, compensation or permission of Don Arden Inc. The suit demanded the sum of one and a half million dollars (US) if any group including Ozzy Osbourne as a member and operating under the name Black Sabbath performed at Live Aid or anywhere else for that matter. There were further allegations concerning other artists as well but as always it was Black Sabbath dead center of all the mess. Just when things were starting to ease a bit between the original four here comes Don Arden with lawyers on a long leash. And damn it all to hell, though it was a classless move to prevent a group like Black Sabbath from performing at Live Aid, for charity, he was absolutely within his rights to do so.

This time Ozzy was livid. Iommi, and Butler knew it was coming as they had been warned by Arden not to do the show or face the consequences and Ward, well he was understandably oblivious to the intricacies of it all given his main fight in life now was remaining sober. With all this hanging over their heads, the four Saboteers still managed to rehearse once more for the next day’s show albeit with an obvious aura of “lets get it over with” to it. All retreated to their individual hotel rooms to rest up for the next day’s gig after a tense but mercifully short rehearsal. That evening a depressed and deflated Osbourne decided that he would not do a full-fledged reunion with Black Sabbath. Ozzy was overheard to say;

    “Don Arden needs psychiatric treatment if he thinks I’m the least bit interested in rejoining Black Sabbath!”

Osbourne didn’t let on to Iommi, Ward or Butler that a decision about the unasked question, would he reunite with Sabbath after Live Aid, was already resolved in his mind. It wasn’t going to happen. No way, no how. But, why ruin the chance to end his association with the world’s first and greatest Heavy Metal band with a set of classics in front of a few hundred million viewers? For several months after Live Aid both Butler and Iommi thought that there would be a time, ostensibly after their contract with Don Arden had expired, where the question of a reunion would be open for discussion. Obviously, it never happened.

Show day arrives and at the ungodly hour, (for Rock and Roll anyway) of 8:AM, Black Sabbath convened in their hotel lobby to await their shuttle to JFK stadium. Save Bill Ward, who traveled alone, each member of Black Sabbath had a respectable gaggle of guests in tow. The Osbourne’s were the most egregious offenders to burden the charity event’s guest services with unneeded personnel, tour managers, personal assistants et al. In the end it took three large leisure vans to transport Black Sabbath and company to the gig. In the two vans that carried the actual members of Black Sabbath the ride was a relatively quiet one with Butler and Iommi in one van and the Osbourne’s and Ward in another.

The band arrives at JFK stadium and is hurriedly put through a series of photo ops and meetings with concert organizers. The four’s handlers were made aware of what was expected and perhaps more importantly what was not. Free use of “the dirty seven words” was considered out of place for this global event and their use would only spoil the “up” atmosphere so, lets all be good boys now, this is for charity you know. Bill Graham is present and overseeing the big picture while desperately trying to ignore Sharon Osbourne’s protestations of the time slot for her Heavy Metal husband and his band. At exactly 9:55 in the A.M. of July 13th 1985 90,000 temporary inhabitants of Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium joined with many million more via satellite in raising the devil’s horn salute as the opening chords of “Children of the Grave” were struck. Bizarre in the context of a moment reserved for love and unfettered altruism but beautiful nonetheless. The crowd went mad.

The rumble of “Children of the Grave” combined with the stomping of 90,000 screaming fans quite literally shook the grounds on which the concert was being held. Even Bill Graham had to stop and look as this Heavy Metal Godzilla stomped through Philadelphia. He had made the right decision to allow them to play after all though he would have further troubles with the Osbourne’s as a result of his “mistreatment of Ozzy” by putting Black Sabbath on so early in the morning, but that is another story entirely.

By the time Bill Ward started to beat out his unmistakable introduction to “Iron Man” the four members of Black Sabbath were already lathered in sweat from having poured it on like they hadn’t in quite some time. Ozzy had mascara running down his face as he pranced barefoot and screaming for everyone to “Go crazy!” Butler dug a trench for himself as he head banged back and forth in a straight line between Bill Ward’s drum riser and the footlights. Tony Iommi prowled his own territory stage left preferring to grimace into each chord he struck rather than strut about. Ward, poor Bill Ward, hadn’t picked up a pair of drum sticks in nearly two years and was having a hell of a time just trying to hang on to the damned things. Ward was constantly struggling to grab for another stick to replace the one he had just lost but he managed it and never once lost his monstrous beat. This was the epitome of all things Metal and being done live in the flesh by the originators of the scene, who could ask for more?

Though he did his fare share of sweating, screaming and tossing of water buckets on the audience through the first two numbers, Ozzy seemed to come most alive for Black Sabbath’s signature song, and set closer “Paranoid.” In his mind this was it, the last song of the last performance of the original Black Sabbath and he was going to make it a good one. Through gritting teeth and outstretched hands capped with his trademark peace sign Ozzy let the emotion pour straight from his heart and onto the audience. When he cried, “We love you all!” he genuinely meant it. When you saw the tears well up in his eyes as the song drew to a close you knew that this was an important moment for Ozzy, it was the final laying to rest of his past.

As the band waved a quick goodbye from the stage the turntable mechanism which Graham had set up to facilitate quicker set changes spun the original Black Sabbath into the history books, or so most at the time thought.

After a quick shower and a few more photo opportunities Osbourne, Butler, Ward and Iommi floated around, separately, backstage and would occasionally stand side stage to catch some of the other performers but this soon grew tiresome and all retreated back to their hotel, again separately, and that was it. The four did not meet as a group again until late in 1992 when they once again convened to play a few numbers to cap Ozzy Osbourne’s “No More Tours” tour.

Toward the end of the night in Philadelphia Butler felt compelled to make another try with Ozzy and accompanied him back to the staging grounds to watch their old friends Led Zeppelin melt with the weathered and weary audience to a solid run at their classic “Stairway to Heaven.” Ozzy was non-committal to his old friend. Though he had already made his decision he didn’t have the heart to tell him. There would be no reunion as far as he was concerned. Sabbath was over and done, kaput.

Later in the evening the Osbourne’s departed for New York where they were to catch a plane for the UK to continue on with their preparations for Ozzy’s next solo album. During the journey Ozzy gave this observation/justification for his decision not to rejoin Black Sabbath to journalist Mick Wall;

    “I suppose, if I really wanted to be rotten about it all, I could also say, would they have allowed me back into the group now if it had been them, with Ronnie Dio still in the group. . .and I was down in the dumps somewhere still, in some fucking horrible bar in LA? If things were reversed and they were now bigger and better known and richer and more successful than me, would they still want us to get back together? Somehow, I doubt it. . .That part of my life is over. Well and truly. Finished. Over.”

**********************


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