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Black Sabbath Biography

Group members Terry ‘Geezer’ Butler (17 July 1949, Birmingham, England; bass), Tony Iommi (b. Anthony Frank Iommi, 19 February 1948, Aston, Birmingham, England; guitar), Bill Ward (b. William Ward, 5 May 1948, Aston, Birmingham, England; drums) and Ozzy Osbourne (b. John Michael Osbourne, 3 December 1948, Aston, Birmingham, England; vocals) were originally known as Earth, changing their name to Black Sabbath in 1969. The band members grew up together in the Midlands, and their name hinted at the heavy, doom-laden and ingenious rock music they produced. The name had previously been used as a song title by the quartet in their pre-Earth blues band, Polka Tulk, and it was drawn not from a book by the occult writer Dennis Wheatley, as is often stated, but from the cult horror film of that title. Nevertheless, many of Black Sabbath’s songs deal with alternative beliefs and practices touched upon in Wheatley’s novels. Recording classic albums such as their self-titled debut and Paranoid (from which the title track was a surprise UK hit single), the line-up remained unchanged until 1973 when Rick Wakeman (b. Richard Christopher Wakeman, 18 May 1949, Perivale, Middlesex, England), keyboard player for Yes, was enlisted to play on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

By 1977 personnel difficulties within the band were beginning to take their toll, and the music was losing some of its earlier orchestral, bombastic sheen, prompting Osbourne to depart for a highly successful solo career in January 1979. He was replaced by ex-Savoy Brown member Dave Walker (b. David Walker, Birmingham, England) until Ronnie James Dio (b. Ronald Padavona, 10 July 1940, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA) accepted the job. Dio had been a central figure in the early 70s band Elf, and spent three years with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. However, Dio’s tenure with the band was short, and he left in 1982 following a disagreement over the mixing of Live Evil. The replacement vocalist was Ian Gillan (b. 19 August 1945, Hounslow, Middlesex, England). This Black Sabbath incarnation was generally regarded as the most disastrous, with Born Again failing to capture any of the original vitality of the band.

By 1986, Iommi was the only original member of the band still in the line-up, which comprised Geoff Nicholls (b. Birmingham, England), who had been the band’s keyboard player since 1980 while still a member of Quartz, Glenn Hughes (b. 21 August 1952, Cannock, Staffordshire, England; vocals), Dave Spitz (b. New York, USA; bass) and Eric Singer (b. 12 May 1958, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; drums). This was an accomplished line-up, Singer having been a member of the Lita Ford band, and Hughes having worked with Trapeze and Deep Purple. In 1986 the unexpectedly bluesy-sounding Seventh Star was released, the lyrics and music for which had been written by Iommi. In the first of a succession of personnel changes, Hughes left the band to be replaced by Ray Gillen (b. 12 May 1961, Cliffside Park, New Jersey, USA, d. 3 December 1993), an American singer who failed to make any recordings with them. Tony Martin (b. Anthony Martin, 19 April 1957) was the vocalist on 1987’s powerful The Eternal Idol and 1988’s Headless Cross, the latter produced by the renowned English drummer Cozy Powell (b. Colin Flooks, 29 December 1947, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England, d. 5 April 1998, Bristol, England).

Dio rejoined in late 1991 to record Dehumanizer, but Rob Halford (b. Robert John Arthur Halford, 25 August 1951, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, England) of Judas Priest was forced to stand in for the errant singer the following November at the Pacific Amphitheater in Los Angeles. Dio, having heard of Ozzy Osbourne’s plans to re-form the original Black Sabbath line-up for a one off performance on his farewell solo tour, refused to take the stage for Black Sabbath’s support set. By this time the band was suffering from flagging record sales and declining credibility. Iommi recruited their original bass player, Butler, and attempted to persuade drummer Bill Ward to rejoin. Ward declined, and Cozy Powell was recuperating, having been crushed by his horse, so Vinnie Appice (b. Vincent Appice, 13 September 1957) became Black Sabbath’s new drummer. (Bev Bevan of ELO had been part of the band for Born Again, and returned at various times - other temporary drummers have included Terry Chimes of the Clash.) Osbourne’s attempts to re-form the original line-up for a 1992 tour faltered when the others demanded equal shares of the spoils.

In 1994, a tribute album, Nativity In Black, was released, which featured appearances from all four original members in various guises, plus Megadeth, White Zombie, Sepultura, Biohazard, Ugly Kid Joe, Bruce Dickinson, Therapy?, Corrosion Of Conformity and Type O Negative. Spurred by the new interest in the band, the Powell, Iommi and Nicholls line-up, with Tony Martin returning as singer and Neil Murray (b. 27 August 1950, Edinburgh, Scotland) on bass, completed Forbidden in 1995. It was recorded in Wales and Los Angeles with Body Count guitarist Ernie-C. producing and Ice-T providing the vocals on ‘Illusion Of Power’. The line-up in 1995 of this ever-changing unit was Iommi, Martin, Murray, Nicholls and Bobby Rondinelli (b. Robert Rondinelli, 27 July 1955, Port Jefferson, New York, USA; drums), but following the end of the Forbidden tour the band was put on hiatus.

Butler formed GZR, but in December 1997 the original line-up of Butler, Iommi, Ward and Osbourne re-formed to play two live shows at the Birmingham NEC (with Nicholls providing keyboards support). In April 1998, Ward suffered a heart attack, and was replaced by Vinnie Appice for a brief period. Black Sabbath’s double album of live recordings, featuring two new studio tracks, broke into the Billboard Top 20 in November 1998. The band continued touring into the new millennium although no new studio recordings were forthcoming. Keyboard player Adam Wakeman (b. 11 March 1974, Windsor, Berkshire, England) joined the original line-up in summer 2004. The band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2006.

Osbourne’s popularity had continued to extend beyond his membership of Black Sabbath. In partnership with his wife Sharon Osbourne, he inaugurated the Ozz-Fest, a heavy metal tour package featuring himself and other hard rock bands. The tour proved to be a huge success and remains an ongoing and lucrative concern. Osbourne became a household figure in 2002 when his dysfunctional family life was featured on the MTV reality TV show, The Osbournes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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