Interview: Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi

By Andrew Catania

An ace lyricist, a virtuosic composer, and a master producer – Tony Iommi is one of those few legendary names in the rock and the heavy metal world that have contributed their optimum effort to innovate the genre and elevate it to a stature where it stands today.

Born on 19th February 1948 in Birmingham, Tony Iommi was bitten by the music bug early in his life. His primary influences were Hank Marin and the Shadows who inspired him to test his mettle in the music sphere. Iommi picked up the guitar in his early teens. By the time he turned 18, he had established meaningful partnerships with some bands, the most notable of which was with Polka Tulk, a band which was later renamed as Earth.

Polka Tulk’s lineup comprised of Bill Ward (drum), Terry ‘Geezer’ Butler (bass), Ozzy Osbourne (singer), and Tony Iommi (guitar). The band was still going through its incubation phase when Tony had to face a major setback that temporarily snatched the guitar from his hands. The tips of the two fingers on his right hand were chopped in a machine at the factory where he used to work.

The accident had a profound impact on his morale. He was on the verge of permanently giving up on his career when he came across Django Reinhardt, who too had lost two fingers in an accident yet still pursued guitar playing. This instilled a new ray of hope in Tony and compelled him to test his musical fate. Slowly resuming his techniques with plastic tips attached to his damaged hand, Tony embarked on his passion.

As he regained momentum, Tony Iommi was invited to join Jethro Tull in 1968. Since he had already bid farewell to Black Sabbath’s precursor Earth, he hesitantly joined Jethro Tull. The association helped him regain his lost confidence and just after a year, he rejoined Earth’s lineup and the group renamed themselves as Black Sabbath, which they are still known as till date.

The band released its debut album titled ‘Black Sabbath’ in 1970. The feat kick-started Tony’s career not only at Black Sabbath’s platform, but also brought along more opportunities, partnerships, and achievements to his claim. Tony also focused on building his solo debut album titled ‘Iommi’ in 2000.

The notable highlights of Tony’s career include cofounding Black Sabbath, his great solo profile featuring Fused and ‘The 1996 DEP Sessions’, and his major associations with Jethro Tull, Heaven and Hell, Velvet Frog and Mythology. Tony Iommi continues to play for Black Sabbath, and the combined efforts of Tony and his associates have bagged immense success for the band. Tony Iommi’s signature style has evolved to gain a branded stature over time. His deep riffs, fine detuning, improvised parameters and unrivaled mastery over chords has made a name that rhymes along and is synonymous with the rock and heavy metal genre of today.

Tony Iommi has been ranked 25th among the ‘Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Times’. Celebrating his undisputed axemanship over the genre, Tony Iommi has cast a major influence on the proceeding generations of guitarists worldwide.

Tony, It’s a pleasure speaking with you!  You’ve been an inspiration to many guitarists with your playing.  I’ve always wanted to ask you, how did you get your particular tone at the early beginning of Sabbath?

We played bluesy and jazzy stuff when we first got together with this line-up, and I’d played that stuff with Bill (Ward) before in a band before we got together as Sabbath, and it was one day we just turned it up loud really, and we liked the sound we had. We developed this sound with Geezer and the way he played and the way I played, and it just created that sound with the two guitars. We just worked on the sound that we heard in our heads. I knew I wanted to hear this really big sound in my head and I wanted to make it work from the amplifier, but of course, in them days, the speakers were essential. There was no preamps or anything.

How many guitars do you have on this tour?

I take about 8 – 10 because I have the main ones I use onstage and then I have a backup for each of those you know in case I break a string. But each night there are three main guitars that I use, each with different tunings.

I wanted to ask you about the Epiphone P94 Iommi model, and the humbucker sized P-90 single coil pickups. I’m curious as to why you chose the P-90’s over humbuckers?

You mean my latest Epiphone? Yes, they are the Iommi pickups that I have on the Gibsons, and I came up with those pickups many years ago when I went over to Gibson in Nashville, and we worked for a few weeks on designing these pickups. They’d wire one I’d try it, they’d wire another one, and I’d try it until they found one that I liked, and I’d test them onstage, and you know, I still use them to this day.

Your signature model Tony – the Epiphone Tony Iommi G-400 – with the USA Gibson humbuckers, is that your key guitar and the main one used on stage now?

Well, my main tour guitars are from a company that I’ve used for many years, Jaydee, which until recently came on the road with me. I enjoy the Gibsons and the Epiphones too.  I want to incorporate the Epiphones into the show more, but I only received the new model just before I left England, so I haven’t had the time to work on it, to get it just right.

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Who are your favorite artists these days? Metal or other styles of music?

I listen to a lot of different stuff, and I go through different phases, for example, I might play as silly as it sounds, a Doris Day album for a couple of weeks or Frank Sinatra I play a lot. I like a different amount of things it’s not just all rock or metal stuff. It’s something more relaxing. When you play Sabbath on stage it’s important to have that difference, it’s the spice of life you know.

It’s important to listen to all kinds of music.  With my website, I try and keep “shredding” alive and well.  A lot of the new music tends to forget this sort of music.

You know Andy, I haven’t had much time to listen to current guitarists. I looked at your site, and I like what you’re doing for the instrument. You need that torch to carry on to the next generation.  I mean there’s plenty of great players, but there’s nothing better to me than to hear someone play with great feel. And I think with some of the newer guitar players that are where they’ve missed it a bit, they’ve gone for all this fancy stuff. It comes out more emotionally in the music if you play what you feel. It’s good to have various forms of guitarists showcasing their talent for all to see.

The End tour is not just a goodbye to the fans but also in support of the latest album 13.  Are there any surprises to the setlist that might have Sabbath fans in shock?

Well the setlist is going to be classic Sabbath songs, we’ve brought in a couple of songs that we hadn’t played for many years but it’s mainly the songs that people want to hear, and if you don’t play them people say “well you never played this, you never played that” so you know, the show we put together I think is working really well. I mean we have tried some different things out, but people want to hear the real classics because we can play some tracks off the new album which people like but because it’s the final tour they want the classics that they know, the nostalgia of it all.

Tony thank you for your time!  Thank you for 40 plus years of great music, and I wish you the best for the rest of the Sabbath tour and afterward!

 

Check Tony out @ http://www.iommi.com/

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