Few would dispute that heavy metal’s most ominous strains can be traced to one source: Tony Iommi. Beginning with Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album, Iommi ushered in a dark, sludgy sound that through the years has impacted bands as varied as Nirvana and Metallica. Sabbath’s new CD, 13, harks back to the style of such vintage classics as “Iron Man,” War Pigs” and “Children of the Grave.” Below, we gather some choice quotes from Iommi about his life as a pioneering guitarist.
On his early guitar influences, as told to Guitar World (2008):
I liked John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. I thought they were really good. Of course Eric Clapton was a part of that. I liked the work that Clapton did later with Cream, but I really liked what he was playing with John Mayall. I listened to all kinds of blues records. I really can’t remember any names of the players because I listened to a lot of different things. From that I got into bluesy jazz, and it was the same thing.
On being credited for inventing heavy metal guitar, as told to Cosmik Debris (2000):
I never called our music heavy metal. It was always "heavy rock" or just "heavy." It's just pure power, really. My term, "heavy," comes more when I'm on stage. It's hard to come across on record with a real power, you know? Not so much these days, but it was years ago. It was hard to get that power out. Sabbath was always a very live band.
On not switching to right-handed playing after losing the tips of two fingers, as told to Guitar World (2008):
If I knew what I know now I probably would have switched. At the time I had already been playing two or three years, and it seemed like I had been playing a long time. I thought I’d never be able to change the way I played. The reality of the situation was that I hadn’t been playing very long at all, and I probably could have spent the same amount of time learning to play right handed. I did have a go at it, but I just didn’t have the patience. It seemed impossible to me. I decided to make do with what I had, and I made some plastic fingertips for myself. I just persevered with it.
On how the “Black Sabbath” sound came to fruition, as told to Ultimate Guitar (1982):
When we first started, we used to play jazz and blues and we were just sort of like pushed into this. It was just something that came out that was totally different at that time. We found that we were writing all these sort of doomy songs and the words were really meaningful. We’ve never been able to explain it. We just got in and rehearsed and we came up with something that happened to be “Black Sabbath.” It’s really been a mystical thing.
On his search for the perfect tone, as told to Guitar International (2005):
I took a long time working on it -- years and years. I’ve never been totally satisfied with it. I always keep trying. Even now, on stage some nights it doesn’t sound quite right. It might be the building or the stage or whatever. But ninety-percent of the time I’m happy with it.
On writing the riff for “Paranoid,” as told to Total Guitar (2010):
In those days, you didn't have tape recorders. You had to play riffs, keep playing them and remember them. We were recording the Paranoid album and the label suddenly said, “You don't have enough songs!” Within a few minutes I came up with the riff to “Paranoid,” and then played it to the other guys. They liked it, so off we went. That's how simple 'Paranoid' was – we wrote and recorded it in a day.
On writing the riff for “Iron Man,” as told to Gibson.com (2008):
Bill [Ward] may have played something and I just reacted to it. But I’m not sure, I really don’t know. Without Bill and Ozzy that song would have never happened. I think it came at rehearsal. It was one of those occasions where I said, “I’ve got a riff, I’ll come up with something.” Then I just built it, worked on it from that. A lot of that stuff came fairly quickly; it just sort of happened.
On getting his first left-handed Gibson SG, as told to Epiphone.com (2004):
My first Gibson, I actually played it upside down, much like Hendrix really, because you couldn’t get a left-handed Gibson. Eventually a strange thing happened to me. I bumped into a guy who played right-handed, but he had a left-handed guitar and played it upside down. I said, “I play upside down, too. Do you want to swap?” [That turned out to be] the SG that we used on the second album, and the third and the fourth.
On how pleased he is with 13, Sabbath’s new album, as told to Birmingham Mail (2013)
I could never have imagined that the album would turn out so well, but it has. I think it sits comfortably with our first three albums – Black Sabbath, Paranoid and Master of Reality. We wanted it to sound like the way we played in our early days -- back to basics -- and we recorded pretty much all of it almost live as a band.
On his musical legacy, as told to Guitar World (2008):
I’ve just been amazed at how my whole career has gone. These days I’m getting all these awards for the first time in 40 years. But I guess that’s what it’s all about when you’ve been around for a while. That’s what lifetime achievement awards are for.