Tony Iommi Plans to Release Tony Martin Era Black Sabbath Box Set
Black Sabbath founding guitarist Tony Iommi was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. The conversation revisits the band's first era with Ronnie James Dio as their singer, as he replaced Ozzy Osbourne at the tail end of the '70s.
In celebration of this historic era, both 1980's Heaven and Hell and 1981's Mob Rules have undergone a reissue, which Iommi also spoke about, in addition to expressing his dismay that the previously unreleased song "Slapback," with Dio on vocals, also emerged after being posted to YouTube by Gary Rees, stepson and executor of the estate of late Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.
Iommi also disclosed that more reissues are in the works, including a box set to commemorate singer Tony Martin's often overlooked tenure as the group's frontman.
Read the full interview below.
Black Sabbath actually started as improvisational, jazz, and blues. What made Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules an altogether different blueprint for heavy metal?
We'd gone through with Ozzy and we had that particular sound at that time and then when Ronnie got involved, we took a different direction of writing. With a different voice, of course, you write differently and it took another path which we were enjoying.
Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio were different all around in terms of songwriting and performing. In what ways did you recalibrate as a musician because of that different dynamic?
Ronnie was quite the opposite to Ozzy. His voice encouraged me to write differently and Ronnie would sing more on chords than maybe on riffs when he first came with us. He wasn't used to singing that much on riffs. We started building things together and we worked together to make the sound that we had.
Black Sabbath, "Heaven and Hell" (2021 remaster)
Unlike other Sabbath albums, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules have already been reissued before. What was the priority when it came to releasing these new versions of those two albums?
Those were a record company idea, which was good, and we were involved in it. It's got all the bonus stuff, they've done a nice packaging.
We've done the Black Sabbath album box set, Paranoid, Vol. 4 And then there's Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. I'm really glad that we got to this period because this was a great change for us. It was a really great time and musically and vocally different to what we've done before.
When you're synonymous with one band, there's always an expectation. Tony, how are you creatively unlimited now without the Sabbath banner directly attached to music you might make?
Well, the Sabbath banner wasn't there when we went under the name Heaven and Hell with Ronnie [on 2009's The Devil You Know], so it was a different thing again. We didn't want to go into Black Sabbath, we stood on our own with Heaven and Hell [the band]. We'd done all the Dio stuff, which was really good. We had a great show with that and a great lineup.
Now, the difference in life is I'm open to do a lot of different things — different projects, solo albums, whatever... singles or film music. The thing's just open-ended and I'm really excited about some of the things I've been offered. So we'll see what that is.
Black Sabbath With Ronnie James Dio
Are any of those things that you mentioned stuff we might be seeing or hearing about soon?
Yes. Obviously with this pandemic, it stops a lot of things. I was working before this pandemic at home. I had my engineer [Mike Exeter] come over and we would work at my house putting some stuff down, but in England, there's been a complete lockdown for the last couple of months. For over two months you can't have anybody in your house and you can't mix with anybody — it's very awkward.
I usually rely on my engineer to come in and I can play all night then he records it, but when it comes to doing drums and all the rest of the stuff, I, I'm not very good at that. Uh, so I've got to wait until the lockdown is lifted, then he can come over and we can work and start putting more ideas down. I've got loads and loads of riffs, but again, I have to put them into some kind of order and put them down properly with the drums and bass.
The range of artistic influences is usually lost on the people who actually inspire it. What makes you most aware of the full reach and impact of your music?
The impact of our music has been amazing through other bands who have cited us as their influence. We've managed to be here for 50 odd years, which is brilliant really. We've had a great career, we've had loads of bands that have cited us as major influences now. I think that's fantastic. It's nice that we've been able to do something like that to create something that has lasted this long.
Rockers Celebrate the Riffs of Tony Iommi
The song "Slapback" recently surfaced, which I read was a previously unreleased song from the Heaven and Hell recording sessions. Is that song ever going to be released?
That's a bit of a problem for us at the moment. That has got released without any of our knowledge and [it's] not particularly a good thing. There was stuff floating around that [late Sabbath keyboardist] Geoff Nicholls had and he wasn't on that. It was before Geoff Nicholls came with us.
His stepson [Gary Rees, executor of the estate] suddenly just put the stuff out, which was bit wrong really.
There's no plans at the moment, but I'm going to go through... I've got a lot of lots and lots and lots of recordings of stuff we've done in the past that's never seen the light of day. I'd like to sort some of that out and put that on some of the albums. We are gradually going through these box sets and then there will be a Tony Martin [era] box set at some point coming out and stuff with Ian Gillan maybe. So, yes, there'll be other songs added, but it's never been used for anything.
What about the Forbidden album? I had read a while ago that there was a remix session going on for that record. Is that something that is in discussion for coming out soon as well?
We will do that once we get to the Tony Martin period. At the moment we're doing the Dio stuff, which I've really been looking forward to [because that era] really pleases the fans.
It's unfortunate that over the years Tony Martin has got buried in all this Ozzy and Dio stuff and everything. There will be a period now where we'll be able to release the box set with the Tony Martin albums with some good outtakes as well. I've already mixed [it] here at home, so that's all ready to go, but we have to wait until the time is right. We can't put all these things out together — it would cause confusion.
To be honest, I've got boxes and boxes of stuff that's probably never been heard. Even I can't remember it all, it's just a matter of rolling through it and finding it all — Oh, there's another song we did with Dio or Tony Martin or Ozzy or whatever.
Black Sabbath, Forbidden
Can you talk about one of the first times that you ever heard Ronnie? This was a British band — did you guys have any hesitancy about having an American singer for the band?
Ronnie had worked with a lot of English people, and of course, with Ritchie Blackmore [in Rainbow] for a while. He was well-used to working with English people. He fit in straight away because of our sense of humor. We'd always joke around and we had a different sense of humor and he could get it. He was one of the few that could understand what we were saying, which was great. I remember when Vinny Appice came into the band and he couldn't understand Geezer and myself because we're from Birmingham. Vinny used to ask Ronnie to explain to him what we said.
Thanks to Tony Iommi for the interview. Get your copy of the 'Heaven and Hell' and 'Mob Rules' reissues here and follow Black Sabbath on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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