After appearing on the ballot eight times, Black Sabbath is finally entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although the band has had extensive lineup changes in its nearly 40 years of existence, it is original members Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward who will be enshrined. In February, Billboard spoke with Iommi in England and Osbourne in California about their reaction to the induction.
What did you think when you heard the band would be inducted?
Tony Iommi: I couldn't believe it [laughs]. I mean, we've only [been up for it] eight times, and finally, we're in. I'm really thrilled with it, to be honest. I mean, you can't say you're not thrilled for any award, especially something like that.
Ozzy Osbourne: We'd been put up for it every year, I think, forever; for a long time, we were up for it, but Black Sabbath never got through. I don't know why, because, I mean, so many kids in these new bands... at the Ozzfest, when I'm walking down the street or whatever, they say, "I owe my life to you and Sabbath."
I didn't get kind of upset, because you're either in or you're not, you know, and it's a nice feeling to be accepted.
Ozzy, after the hall did not accept Black Sabbath in 1999, you called for the organization to take you guys off the ballad.
Osbourne: You build yourself up, then you get knocked down, then you build yourself up, then you get knocked down, and I'm thinking in one of my interviews I said something about the fact that, why should the Hall of Fame be judged by people in the industry? But I was just saying that because I was pissed off because I kept getting [kept out. I said that] the fans should vote, the people or whatever. I can't really remember.
You had said, "The nomination is meaningless, because it's not voted on by the fans. It's voted on by the 'supposed elite' of the industry and the media, who've never bought an album or a concert ticket in their lives, so their vote is totally irrelevant to me."
Osbourne: I'm glad, you know, I'm happy about it.
Why do you think the Hall of Fame accepted Black Sabbath now as opposed to before?
Iommi: God, that's a good one. Maybe they've been pestered to death, I don't know. I mean, I feel we should be in there, because without blowing our own trumpet, I think we've done a hell of a lot for the music, for what we've offered to the music industry.
Osbourne: I suppose that eventually they would have had to. I heard a response that had to come from someone who said something which was so f***ing pathetic: "Oh, why do you [give] a f***ing award for the man who bit the head off a bat?" And I thought, "Lame, how lame can you get if you have to use something stupid like that? Or if you have to say something bad about me, say it with a bit of a more f***ing interesting thing."
Everybody in the world, their No. 1 question for f***ing ever and a day is, "Oh Oz, did you really bite the head off a bat?" And so, it's not for me anyway, it's for Black Sabbath. Tony owns the name Black Sabbath, so it could be any f***er up there, ya know.
For years people told Black Sabbath its music was not going to amount to anything. After hearing that, is there any kind of satisfaction now that you are being inducted?
Iommi: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, we've probably heard that from day one, you know, that "You're never gonna be any good, you're never gonna last" and all this stuff. But it has, and it's stood the test of time, 38 years now.
Osbourne: All through the early days of Black Sabbath we never got a good review for a concert, we never got a good review for an album, and we kind of liked it that way back then, because we didn't want to be liked by the f***ing media or anybody because we were a people's kind of band.
After my departure in '79 from Black Sabbath I thought, "That's it, I'll probably be back on the f***ing unemployment line." Then they go and do two great albums with Ronnie James Dio, and then at the end of that, people come up to me when I started the Ozzfest, I hear all the time, "I'm not worthy," and all this f***ing stuff, you know. And at first I was going, "Are you joking? You're pulling my leg." They would say Sabbath was their biggest influence, and I must say, I do believe that Tony's been underestimated for coming out with the riffs.
It was really my big f***ing mouth in the first place I think that we didn't get in in the first place, you know? I don't know what the fucking reason was... It's kind of like when Jethro Tull won the heavy metal thing [the 1989 Grammy Award] and Metallica didn't. I didn't f***ing get that... It's like, "How the f*** can you say Jethro Tull's heavy metal? It's like saying f***ing James Taylor's a great lead guitar player."
What is it about Black Sabbath's sound that has made it so enduring?
Iommi: It's from inside, it's from the heart. It's something that a lot of kids can associate with because it's not a technical, you don't have to be a genius to play it. It's a very straightforward power, and I think you can associate to that the riffs are fairly simple riffs and they're catchy, and the melodies on top are the same, so I think you can associate with that more easier than sort of something that's very technical, because we're not technical.
Tony, you are the person who has always remained in Black Sabbath. Did it get frustrating with the lineup constantly changing?
Iommi: It really does throw you when somebody leaves or they have to be replaced, and it's not a nice thing, But the thing has to carry on, and yes, we've had some really good people within Black Sabbath. Cozy Powell, Neil Murray; we had some good players.
Of course, the original lineup, it was great when we got back together, I thought that was fantastic. It was such a thrill, I was so thrilled, because I always believed in my heart we would get back together one day, and when we did, it was just phenomenal.
What album or time period would you say, when it comes to the original four members, do you feel best-represents Black Sabbath?
Iommi: I think "Black Sabbath" and "Paranoid" probably represent Sabbath, that's the albums that most people associate with is, "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" and "Black Sabbath," of course, but yes, the later albums too, but those are more the ones.
Osbourne: All [the albums leading up to] "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." The other albums were OK, but... it's like, you have an idea, "Oh yeah, we'll call ourselves 'Black Sabbath,' and we'll scare people through our music," and then we started to go through this thing where we wanted to get away from that. But once you've cast the die; I mean, we tried to get hit f***ing ballads on the charts, but the fans said, "Uh-uh, no, no, you ain't going that way."
But I'm not saying the other albums were bad, but we were fighting the f***ing manager after "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." We found out we were being ripped off terribly, we got ripped off f***ing criminally.
People have been asking for years if the four of you will ever record another album as Black Sabbath.
Iommi: We talked about an album and we've talked a couple of times on and off, you know, but I just now go with the flow. If it looks [good,] I'd love to do another album, but it's got to be right and you can't just do an album for the sake of it. We wouldn't do that. It's got to be a very good album. But we haven't gotten any further with it, and it seems to have gone very quiet on that side.
Osbourne: Well, we have tried. I guess it will happen or it won't happen. I mean, I could probably go in the studio tomorrow with 'em and come out with an album written by Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and myself, but if it wasn't up to the standard where we used to be, what's the f***ing point in doing it?
Because it's called "Black Sabbath," because it'll be Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill. It's a pretty heavy thing to take on, because we're all different people now; we've all gone our own ways and got our own families, we're not four angry guys anymore. But I'm sure we could do one, but if it's not up to the standard, then I wouldn't do it. We did try to write, some of it's OK...
I've read a few things in some of these magazines that say, "Hey guys, you should get rid of Ozzy; you got no intention of doing an album." You've gotta be f***ing mad. If you think that I wouldn't do a Black Sabbath album if the material was great, you gotta be stoned.
Does that account for why there has been such a delay?
Osbourne: I don't know. I'd like to do more recording and less touring for about a year or so. All I've done throughout my life, you can't say I'm doing that much touring now, but I just take it as it comes... I'm not as young as I used to be. It's disappointing when I get f***ing sick on the road, it's disappointing when I can't deliver what I want to, and I'm fed up of having f***ing B12 shots up my ass.
With Ozzy now limiting his Ozzfest performances, what does this mean for Black Sabbath playing out? Do you guys just approach it very casually on when you get together and perform?
Iommi: Yeah, it's very much a casual thing. It's the phone calls, you know. We talk to each other; "Oh, yeah, are we gonna do this?" I mean, we couldn't possibly do Ozzfest again this time, because we've done it two years running now and there's only so much you can do, and I think we need a break from that.
And Ozzy, he doesn't particularly want to perform on them anyway this year, so yeah, we take a break, and if things happen again we do it, and that's how we seem to play it. We play it by ear now. If everybody wants to tour and people want to rehearse we usually get together and do it.
What do you think of the state of metal? Do you think it's capable of putting out a band as influential as Sabbath?
Iommi: That's a difficult one. Things are very, very different nowadays, of course, from when we started, and we sort of, we're one of the very first, for doing what we're doing. But there's been so many bands since then, of course, and there's some really good bands, there really is. Some of those we've had on Ozzfest have been good. But as far as who [could be as influential], I wouldn't know.
There's been so many, but I think it'll find a way at the end of the day, it always does. It goes round in circles and somebody pops out. But whether it's got the longevity, I don't know. I don't know if that happens these days now. Things seem to be moving a lot quicker, and people are in and out, you know. To be able to hold for 30 years or 40 years is a bit of a miracle now, I should think.
Do you think in metal today there are bands capable of creating a legacy like Sabbath has?
Osbourne: I think Metallica have. I mean, I like Nirvana, I thought they were f***ing great. Alice in Chains, I thought that was great, so sad that Layne [Staley] had died. But, it's a lifestyle.
The Ozzfest is kind of like a mania f***ing circus on the road, you know. That's one of the things I'm proud of. There's nowhere for these f***ing kids to play, so we've given them a place to play their music... System of a Down came from there, a lot of bands made it from the Ozzfest. Limp Bizkit, the fucking list goes on and on. Korn, they made it.
How would you like Black Sabbath to be remembered?
Iommi: Obviously for our music, and we've been there a long time, we've stuck to it, what we believe in, and played it, and it's, how can I say that one? [laughs] But it's nice to be remembered, and I think things like the Hall of Fame is, I said earlier, making sure we're there and will be remembered.
Osbourne: Well, just the fact that we were remembered is enough for me.
I know when I f***ing croak, I know what they're gonna put on my f***ing grave: "The man that bit the head off the f***ing bat in Des Moines, Idaho; Iowa, in 1980," whatever the f*** it was...
What I'm proud of is that we've given a lot of kids a reason to want to be in a band.
Ozzy, if the crowd reacts like it did at the U.K. Hall of Fame induction last year when Black Sabbath was admitted, do you think you will respond in the same manner?
Osbourne: I just think we're gonna take the award [instead of performing], which I'm glad. I mean, if I play f***ing "Paronoid" again, I think I'll shoot myself.
I understand that the crowd was a little sedate, so you dropped them a moon.
Osbourne: Oh yeah. I mean, it's f***ing rock n roll... you've got f***ing guys as old as me, if not older, sitting there being cool, you know? I mean, when I started rock'n'roll and when the Who started rock'n'roll and when the Kinks started rock'n'roll, it was great. [At that moment, I thought] I have to go for it, you know?
Is there anything you want to add?
Iommi: I think I've more or less said it. I think it'll be great, I'm really looking forward to the night, you know, to get there and have a good time and really enjoy it, because these things are so lovely to get, and I'm just so proud, you know. I'm pretty much looking forward to it, and thanks for all our fans for sticking with us.
Osbourne: Thanks for nominating us, whoever you are! [laughs]