You're here for crazy Black Sabbath stories, but before getting to that, take a moment to hail the almighty power of the riff, as manifested in human form by doom priest Tony Iommi, and brought to life by Iommi, Bill Ward (drums), Geezer Butler (bass), and vocalist Ozzy Osborne. Many of the stories on this list revolve around Ozzy Osbourne's insane behavior and the drug-fueled hijinx of epic '70s metal superstars; don't let that distract you too much from the potent majesty of the band's music, because the two are inextricably linked in the psychedelic nebula in which insanity meets genius.
Sabbath emerged from the thicket of blues-based British bands in the late '60s, around the same time as Led Zeppelin and, like Zep, pioneered a form of riff-heavy, psychedelic, drug-fueled thunder that forever changed the face of heavy guitar music. Also like Led Zeppelin, the members of Sabbath lived life to the hilt at a time when musicians were availed of a near-endless supply of illegal substances. For Sabbath, the drug of choice was cocaine. It inspired their music and madness, leading to bizarre, occasionally disturbing, consequences, as evidenced by these true stories about Black Sabbath.
Behind the scenes Black Sabbath stories go as far back as the formation of the band, in 1968, when it was known first as Polka Tulk Blues Band, then Earth. Re-christened Black Sabbath after a film of the same name staring Boris Karloff, the band moved away from free-loving blues to invent heavy metal. Sabbath was the anti-hippie band, with songs drawing heavily on religious themes, including "demonic subject matter" such as the supernatural, the afterlife, and the co-dependent relationship of good and evil. Among the many icons gracing the band's artwork was an upside down cross which, along with the occult name and themes, earned the band an association with Satan.
According to Sabbath, the band was a reaction to the drastic social and political change that happened as the hippie movement fell apart in the face of the Vietnam War, a strong conservative backlash to liberal ideals, heavy drug use, and formerly groovy violent cults such as the Manson family. According to Butler, who wrote most of the band's lyrics:
"War was the main theme [of our songs]. My brothers were all in the army and I thought I'd have to go and fight in Vietnam. Then there was the atomic bomb and the feeling that we were all going to get blown up."
When Ozzy left in 1979, dynamics changed drastically, as did the culture surrounding Sabbath; the hedonistic chaos of the 1970s gave way to the business-oriented and coke-fueled madness of the 1980s. Don't forget: cocaine. Lots and lots and lots of cocaine.
Black Sabbath was so enraptured with cocaine they included a paean to blow, entitled "Snowblind," on 1972's Vol. 4, a record that cost less to make than the band's coke habit while recording it. According to bassist Geezer Butler, the record came with a price tag of $60,000, while the snowstorm in which the band recorded cost $75,000. In fact, the band wanted to call the album Snowblind, in honor of their paean to coke, but the record label wouldn't let them.
As Ozzy explains:
"For me, Snowblind was one of Black Sabbath's best-ever albums - although, the record company wouldn't let us keep the title, 'cos in those days cocaine was a big deal, and they didn't' want the hassle of a controversy."
As Ozzy relates in his autobiography, I Am Ozzy:
"Eventually we started to wonder where the f*ck all the coke was coming from. All we knew was that it arrived in the back of unmarked vans, packed inside cardboard boxes. In each box there were about thirty vials - ten across, three deep - and each one had a screw-on top, sealed with wax."
Drummer Bill Ward was instrumental in developing Sabbath's unique sound, and played some very interesting roles in the band. Ozzy Osbourne referred to him as his fellow "drug commando," while Tony Iommi once said "[Bill] was our outlet, the one everybody picked on. I used to do terrible things to him. I actually set him on fire once - honest to God." *record scratch* What?
According to Iommi, during the recording of Heaven and Hell in late 1979 and early 1980, he set Ward on fire. He doesn't say why, only that he asked, "Can I set you on fire, Bill?" to which Ward responded, "Well, not now, not now."
Iommi didn't push the issue, and forgot about it. An hour later, Ward said, "Well, I'm going home now. Do you still want to burn me, or what?" Iommi told Guitar World in 1992:
"So I got this bottle of petrol, tipped it on Bill, set fire to him and -- voomph. I couldn't believe it! He went up like a Christmas tree. Well, he knew I was going to burn him, but he didn't know to what extent. He screamed and started rolling around on the floor. His clothes started burning and his socks melted -- the nylon socks stuck to his leg. I wasn't able to help him because I couldn't stop laughing.
It was actually pretty serious; he had to go to the hospital. I felt really bad. He had third-degree burns on his arms and legs and everywhere. The next day his mother phoned me up and said, 'You balmy bastard. It's about time you grew up. Our Bill is going to have to have his leg off.' She exaggerated a bit. But things like that were a regular occurrence with Bill."
In 1972, while living in a Bel Air mansion and recording Vol. 4, Sabbath plowed through mountains of blow faster than Paula Deen churns out fried cheesecake. One night, drug commandos Ozzy and Bill Ward, soused out of their gourds, were sharing a fraternal piss side-by-side when the Prince of Darkness decided it was a good idea to spray Ward's war pig with an aerosol can he found lying around.
Ozzy told Rolling Stone:
"I see this aerosol can and squirt his dick with it. He starts screaming and falls down. I look at the can and it says, WARNING: DO NOT SPRAY ON SKIN - HIGHLY TOXIC. I poisoned Bill through his d*ck!"
Interestingly, and perhaps symptomatic of years of cocaine abuse, Ozzy remembered the story very differently while writing his autobiography, I Am Ozzy:
"[O]ne day, Tony gets this can of blue spray paint and sneaks around the other side of the railing, and when Bill starts pissing over the railing, he sprays his d*ck with it. You should have heard the scream, man. It was priceless. But then, two seconds later, Bill blacks out, falls headfirst over the railing, and starts rolling down the hillside...
'Ah, he'll be all right,' I said.
And he was, eventually.
Although he did have a blue d*ck for a while."
In the Rolling Stone interview, Iommi chimed in with another incident of Ward being seriously harmed by spray cans.
"Iommi: We sprayed Bill gold once. He was pissed drunk, so we painted and lacquered him. We never realized we could've killed him.Osbourne: The coke was good when it was working. We used to sniff and jam for days, recording everything on big spools of tape. But it was the beginning of the end. Cocaine was the cancer of the band."
As the poet Rick James once said, "Cocaine is a hell of a drug."