Still Going Strong
In 1994 Black Sabbath existed 25 years. Nevertheless guitarist Tony Iommi, the only original member, did not celebrate it. At the same time a new CD was introduced, 'Nativity In Black' on which bands like Megadeth and Biohazard played their favorite Black Sabbath song. Behind the scenes people looked much more critical at the band. After over ten changes in the line-up Iommi still fires people and takes them back later. Especially the last few years he seemed to clutch at every straw to survive.
His biggest mistake was when he fired Tony Martin (singer), Neil Murray (bass player) and Cozy Powell (drummer) in 1992 after two very successful albums, 'Headless Cross' and 'Tyr'. It was sad to see that he asked Ronnie James Dio (singer) to come back to Sabbath. The cynical remarks from the press could not only be read between the lines but were also used as headlines.
Iommi's ideal line-up broke up when Ronnie James Dio refused to be Ozzy Osbourne's opening act and to be part of the accompanying Black Sabbath reunion in Costa Mesa, California. Dio left the band and Tony Martin was asked to come back to record 'Cross Purposes'. At the end of 1994 Neil Murray and Cozy Powell were also asked to join the band again. A few days before their departure to the States for their American tour with Motörhead several magazines were invited to come to the studios in Birmingham to interview them. The other magazines were only interested in the 25th anniversary but I was more interested in the honesty and creditworthiness of the band. Cozy Powell seemed to me the best person to talk to about these subjects. In 1992 he was fired because he couldn't play for a few month as a result of an accident. But in 1994 they asked him back without any hesitation. In between he didn't get bored, he played with Brian May. During the tour with Brian May he heard about what happened in Costa Mesa.
"I was too busy with Brian's tour to notice what happened in Costa Mesa. Later I heard about it and I think it was all rather pathetic and embarrassing. It seemed as if all the oldies were dug up again. I saw pictures on MTV of Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio and even Rob Halford who replaced Dio. Black Sabbath just looked like a travelling circus and everyone behind the scenes tried not to laugh. After all the changes in the line-up especially the last five years it isn't possible to build up or keep any creditworthiness as a band. If Black Sabbath wants to keep any right to exist it should keep this line-up for a few years. If this line-up will break up within a year I think that Sabbath's future will go down with the next change."
This line-up is indeed one of the best up till now. Nevertheless you should get a strange feeling to get fired and then to be asked back. According to Powell these developments are not meant to be personal but it affects the friendship within a band.
"Tony asked me back himself and that feels good. I was kicked out of the band because a horse fell on top of me and I couln't play for six months. Also a few dirty tricks were played and Tony suddenly ran off with an American version of Black Sabbath. Ronnie James Dio was hired as a singer and he demanded that Vinny Appice was hired as drummer. I didn't agree with Dio's choice because I already worked with him in Rainbow. I was disappointed in Tony's choices and especially because he didn't want to wait for me to recover. Whether I wanted to play with Dio remains to be seen but I thought Tony was my friend. I was too naive of course, I ought to know better in this business. You learn faster by making mistakes. If I took all disappointments in the music business personal I wouldn't be in it anymore. You just have to remain professional and don't think that you can make friends. They need you or they don't. But I have to admit that I have respect for Iommi and the fact that he asked me back himself made me feel good. He said he liked my playing and he thought that I could do something again for Sabbath. Everything had to do with the band, nothing was personal. The same goes for Neil. We worked together for years and that was the sound Sabbath could use again. This line-up has made some of the better albums of the past years. If you ask Tony I think he will admit that he wasn't too happy with 'Dehumanizer' and 'Cross Purposes'. We think the new album 'Forbidden' is the best product up till now because this new/old line-up has to bring Black Sabbath back in the limelight."
The American succes wasn't achieved by the line-up with Dio. It was said that Dio was asked back to be more successful in the States. Iommi didn't deny it, it's his band and he makes the decissions. Many fans weren't too happy with Dio's return, several fanclubs protested. By this decission Sabbath lost quite a few fans. The new line-up is not only much better it has also made a surprising new CD. 'Forbidden' sounds much more modern and less heavy than the last albums. Black Sabbath has rejuvenated under the influence of Ernie C., better known as Ice-T's guitarist and producer of various rap acts. Some even compare it with Sabbath's first albums. Powell is happy with the result but not excited.
"The rejuvenation is certainly a result of the production. Of course Ernie C. has a different outlook on the Sabbath material. He is used to different music but he was the one who suggested the cooperation. We recorded a few songs with him and it worked out. He is a musician and a fan of Black Sabbath and he was hired on these facts. In the studio we worked harder because we wanted to prove ourselves to him. Nevertheless the CD sounds a lot like an Ernie C. album so I didn't always agree with his decissions.
The music remains Black Sabbath's of course but because of the production it sounds less polished but more rough. Of course he didn't always got things his way. He preferred to use his own style more but luckily these four old musicians had also something to say. I think the drum sound has changed the most, it just sounds different. He is a guitarist and knows all about guitar sounds and I think he doesn't know much about drum sounds."
"The sound differs from what I thought it would be. I would never have chosen for this kind of drum sound. He's a guitarist and often he didn't understand how I wanted the drum sound to be. I was more involved with the production of 'Headless Cross' than I was with this CD. I had to take a step back because of my sudden return and the choice of the record company to hire an objective person for the production. Even Tony wasn't allowed to interfere in the production because the record company thought he wouldn't be objective with his own product. We did the pre-production ourselves and my drum sound was at that time still on its feet. I knew I had to be prepared to let someone else decide what course to take but it's difficult to let it go when your special sound is concerned. Sometimes changes are for the better but if I was the producer 'Forbidden' would have sounded different. Maybe this change is an improvement, who knows. Time will tell."
Powell is obvious disappointed, he's asked back but has nothing to say about some things. But with the lyrics he's extremely satisfied. This time Tony Martin chose for lyrics about real life instead of mythical lyrics about death, destruction or tales about Vikings. This change will certainly pep up the image of the band. Cozy Powell is almost 30 years active in the music business and he has become a much appreciated drummer. He has worked with artists like Rainbow, Gary More, Whitesnake and Brian May. After releasing a solo album ('The Drums Are Back') in 1992 he has still two wishes left. First he would like to form a super band with guitarist Jeff Beck, bass player Jack Bruce, keyboard player Keith Emerson and singer Steve Perry but this will probably always be a dream. Second he would like to write a book about the lies and conspiracies in the music business, especially about his period with Black Sabbath.
"The music business is a big cesspit. A few young bands are given a chance by the record companies. In the early days they signed up a lot more bands but nowadays they only want to invest in bands who will make a profit. The popular bands of today are mostly prefab bands, developed by the record companies. The bands are put together in the studio and by using a lot of equipment and expensive producers they record a hit song. Nowadays there aren't much songs that really affect me, perhaps it's my age. It's good to see that a lot of bands are still influenced by Black Sabbath.
The grunge period was just a weak infusion of our songs from the early seventies. To be honest, we were surprised by the sudden success of 'Nativity In Black' in the States. The last ten years almost no one was interested in the band and suddenly we were famous again. Especially the press was kindly disposed towards us. In spite of my criticism I cannot deny that I am proud to be a member of this band. I've put my experience in the new CD and it sounds good enough to get excited about it. I've put my second solo album on ice for a while. It's finished but Sabbath has the first priority now and I can do only one thing at a time. I've closed a Japanese deal and together with Neil Murray, Glenn Tipton and John West I have perhaps a future band to fall back on."
But for now they have enough to do. In the summer they will play with Motörhead in the States and they will come to Europe in the fall. Then they will go to Japan and Australia in 1996. Next summer a new album is planned but you'll never know with Tony Iommi. Besides you'll never know what the line-up next year will be.
Petra van Kasteren, Aardschok, Holland, September 1995