When Black Sabbath is on the road, their local stop always demands consideration for “show of the year” among local metal fans. But this time around the iconic rock band has significantly upped the ante by releasing “13,” the band’s first studio effort featuring metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne on vocals in 35 years; and there should be no doubt that Sabbath's Aug. 24 stop at the Gorge Amphitheatre is the can't miss rock event of the summer.
Recently, Osbourne held a teleconference to promote the tour, taking questions from reporters across the country. Tacoma Weekly got things started by asking about drummer Bill Ward, a guy who will be notably missing onstage in Grant County. Here is a partial transcript with audio.
Question: I've got to ask about Bill Ward. When is the last time you spoke to him; and what are the odds that he’ll be back into the fold in the near future?
Ozzy Osbourne: We would love to have Bill back in the fold. But, unfortunately, it didn’t work out, and we knew we had to deliver an album because we'd kept people waiting for, like, 35 years. We all just got on the boat; and unfortunately, Bill had some discrepancy about something or other. But we’d love to have him back in the lineup and work something out.
Q: Have you spoken to him since negotiations broke down?
Ozzy: No. I’ve been so busy doing this project and working in the studio; we just couldn’t stop. I wish him no harm. I still love him a lot. We all do. You know, it’d be great to have him back. But we felt if we pull the plug on this one, people would have gone, “Oh, it’s never going to happen, you know.” We tried, and we'd been speaking about it for a long time.
Q: Among the sticking points he had …
Ozzy: (abruptly) I don't know anything about it. (Moderator jumps in to encourage keeping focus on tour.)
Q: I remember back when Sabbath originally got back together in the late 90s, and you guys did a lot of touring then into the next decade. You had tried back then, for a time, to get a new record together; and then it didn’t materialize. Can you put your finger on what made things different this go around?
Ozzy: You know what? I was at this television thing with “The Osbournes” back then. I had my own career, and I suppose it was a clash of egos. You know, it just didn’t feel right.
We tried to force an album. In fact, we recorded a demo with a bunch of stuff, which is nothing like the way we used to do. We were forcing it out of ourselves; whereupon this album, the “13” album - just came out. We just clicked.
Q: I’ve read in quite a few places where you talked about Rick Rubin kind of suggesting to you guys when you got together to start on the album to go back to the first Black Sabbath album, listen to that. That was kind of his idea for a direction, I guess, for “13.” And I’m curious what you guys thought of that idea initially.
Ozzy: Well, you know what? When Rick says, “I don’t want you to think of a classic heavy metal album,” I’m like, “Well what the (heck) do you want? What are you looking for?” Excuse my French. It took me the longest to understand what he was saying. He says, “Forget all the other albums. I want you to concentrate and zone into the vibe that you had on the first album. You know, that bluesy album.” So I thought, “What is he talking about, you know?”
Then the penny drops; and then I suddenly remembered ... we hadn’t written that many songs. It was just like a jammer on side two (with) a bluesy album sound to it. And so I got what he was saying. He didn’t want a structured album in the respects to - you know, verse, riff, verse, riff, middle, solo. He didn’t want that all the way through. So he wanted that freedom that we had on the first album, which was just a natural vibe.
Q: “13” has already proved to be very successful for the band. It’s the band’s first ever No. 1 album in the U.S. How does that feel, and what do you think it is about the Black Sabbath sound that, 45 years after you guys started, is still...
Ozzy: You know what? You’re asking the wrong guy. ... I’m going to wake up and it’s all been a dream; because had this happened in 1972, after “Paranoid,” I’d have gone, “Oh, yeah, okay.” But now, after 45 years up the road, and we get our first No. 1, it’s kind of a hard thing to swallow, you know. It’s great. I’m not saying I don’t want it to be No. 1, but I just don’t understand. Why now, you know? I mean, we’ve been around for a long time, in one way or another.
Q: I wanted to ask about the lyrics on the album. Now I know Geezer has a big hand in that. How does the process work?
Ozzy: Well, what happens is I get a melody, and I’ll just sing anything; and sometimes it can be like a beginning or a hook line or a couple of words that he gets inspiration from. He’s the main lyricist, although I wrote a couple of the sets of lyrics on the album. But Geezer gives Black Sabbath’s vocal message, verbally. Over the years, he’s given me some phenomenal lyrics, you know. He’s just one of these guys that can do that.
I get an idea like “God is Dead?” for instance. I was in the doctor’s office one day. I was in the waiting room, and “Time” magazine, it just said on the front “God is Dead?” And I thought, “Wow, that’s a good idea.” And I started singing that on the track, you know – the “God is Dead” bit.
Where I was coming from was that I thought, they've flown planes into the World Trade Center under the name of religion and God and Buddha … and all this (stuff.) That is not my idea of what God should be. My idea of what God should be is a good guy, you know. I don't think there's anything good in killing people in the name of your God, you know. That was my idea, and Geezer took it to another level.
Q: Okay, so now you’ve got the album that you wanted. What’s the live show going to be like? Are you going to be able to…
Ozzy: All I can say is a month or so ago we were in New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and it was astounding how the reception was. We’re going to do some old, and we're going to do some new. It’s just kind of interesting to be able to do some new stuff because in the past I haven’t been able to do a lot of new stuff because of the fact that my range is too high and I couldn’t do onstage what I did in the studio.
But now on this - on “13” I sang it in a range that I could do most of them on stage so we did new things, “End of the Beginning”, “God is Dead?" and a couple of others. … We’re going to do “Paranoid,” “Black Sabbath” – we'll play “Iron Man” – a good mix of the old stuff as well as the new stuff.
Q: I wanted to see if you could talk about Tony Iommi, just how inspirational for you it was watching your friend battling cancer while making this album, and his courage.
Ozzy: Believe me, I know from firsthand with my wife that treatment for cancer is not like doing a line of coke and going to a disco. It knocks the crap out of you, you know. But fair play to Tony, he just came down to the studio.
The only thing we had to do was make it easier for him to get treatment. In other words, we started off at my studio in Calabasas; but we all moved to his studio in England. I stayed in a hotel for a while, but we accommodated him. And he would come down to the studio every day. I’d go, “Tony, are you sure you’re okay to do this, man, are you ready?” And he goes, “No I'll do it.” And not only did he come down, he came down with the goods. I thought, “My God, man, he is Iron Man.”
Q: I’m kind of curious on what’s it like being on the road now versus 40 years ago?
Ozzy: Well, we’ve all got a few years older, and nobody gets stoned or drunk or you know. Geezer will take a drink every now and again, but I don’t drink or use anymore. I mean, every time I do I get in (freaking) trouble, that's why. We’re just guys now. We're men. We’ve got families and we've got responsibilities, but I’m still (bleeping) crazy. (Laughs) I’m still having fun, you know.
Q: I was wondering if going back and listening to that and trying to make an album in the spirit of the first Sabbath album put you in a reflective mood at all, if you thought much about the early...
Ozzy: When I hear “Paranoid” or “Volume 4,” I remember where my head was at when we recorded it. I remember the first album, for instance, we just drove down in our van on the way to a ferry to go to do some work at the Star Club in Hamburg or somewhere like that.
Our manager at the time said, “Stop off … at this recording studio and we’ll do all them songs you've been playing on the stage.” So we ... set the gear up, played and were back in the van going back to the ferry. (I remember) how quick it was. Really, the first album was a live album without an audience, you know. It just took me back to the way we were when I listened to that first album again. None of us had heard it for a long, long while.
Q: Given how unlike it was, you know, most of what was on the radio at the time, did you expect it to like, find the kind of audience it found?
Ozzy Osbourne: Sabbath in those days was always a band that was created by word of mouth, because you know, long-haired, dope-smoking crazy guys weren’t exactly the light of their lives. The formula for a successful rock and roll band would be a band that your parents love to hate and you'll get success; and that was our philosophy, you know.
The media never gave us one kind word. … I, myself, thought we'll only last a couple of albums; and here we are 45 years later and we just got our first No. 1. So I don’t know what I’m talking about.