The Horrific Accident That Created Heavy Metal
A 17-year-old Tony Iommi was on the path he had always dreamed of as a young English guitar player. Where most of his peers were doomed for a life of factory work, Tony was scheduled to go across Europe on his first tour with The Bird and Bees. But on the very last shift at his job in an industrial steel mill, it came crashing to a halt.
It was the mid-1960’s in a smog-riddled industrial town in central England. Iommi was finishing his last shift as a welder when he was told to work a massive metal flattening machine for the first time. His co-worker who normally worked that machine was a no-show, and there was no one else to do it. Tony had to push the metal into where it was being flattened, but what caught him off guard was the intense force of the press.
“As I’m pushing the metal through into this machine, it just came down on my finger, bang. I pulled my arm back, and as I pulled it back, I pulled the ends off the fingers," Iommi recalls.
At the hospital, Tony received devastating news. The doctors told him they couldn’t repair the ends of his fingers and that his guitar playing days were now over.
When most artists encounter adversity, they buckle. However, when the geniuses of the world encounter struggle, they innovate. “I made my own [finger]tips," Iommi explained in a Loudwire interview. "I got a washing-up bottle -- a plastic bottle -- and melted it down into a ball. Then I got a hot soldering iron, would drill a hole out in it, and fit it over my fingers, so there was this big ball in my finger. I'd sit there for days just rubbing it down to make a shape of a finger.”
Tony had to basically re-learn the guitar from scratch. His makeshift fingertips meant he couldn't play fast music very well and the loss of dexterity in his fingers meant he needed to make the most of simple chord shapes. With all of these changes, it had the added effect of making his guitar sound... different.
Losing his fingertips was devastating, but in hindsight, it created something new. It provided him with a whole new mindset... a whole new way to look at guitar playing. Tony created something new, something fresh, something good, out of what some would call a tragedy. That something was Black Sabbath.
Watch the full story on how Tony Iommi's severed fingers helped create the sound of heavy metal in the video below.