By Australian Guitar | Wednesday, 06 April 2016 12:55
Very shortly, we’ll be seeing Black Sabbath share their legendary, monolithic riffage with Australian audience for the last time. As we fix the frayed ends of the many battle patches on our denim jackets and prepare to throw the horns to the greats harder than ever, we sent Sabbath expert Brett O’Riley off for a chat with iconic guitarist Tony Iommi about why this really is The End of his touring career, how he found his often-copied tones way back in the beginning and how he’s finally cutting the rest of the band some slack in the on stage volume wars.
Could we talk about how you managed to capture your particuar tone back at the beginning of Black 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 amplifiers were very basic. There was no preamps or anything.
Did you experiment with gain pedals, fuzz or distortions?
In them days there was nothing. I had a Range Master Treble booster and this guy I knew said “oh I can make that sound better for you if you want?” and I said, “oh, ok”. So I gave it to him and he put some components in or whatever and changed it around. He brought it back and I really liked it. I really liked the sound. It just really overloaded the inputs to give it a lot more guts. I had that und used that device up until 1980 when this idiot I had work for me threw it away!
As fuzz pedals and distortions and all of those things started getting produced, did you experiment with them?
Yeah, I didn’t really like the distortion pedals and all that. I found them all a little synthetic. I always went for trying to push the actual amp and drive that. Getting the sound out of my amp as opposed to a pedal.
You’ve always seemed to be an SG guy. I read somewhere it happened when your strat stopped working during the recording of the first Black Sabbath LP and the SG was your spare. Is that correct?
Yeah that’s right. On the first album I had an SG as a second guitar. I found this left handed SG. You didn’t see left-handed guitars much in them days in England and I got this SG as a back up guitar really. I hadn’t had it that long and I used to love the strat then. I worked on the strat myself for so many years getting it so it felt right for me. So we went in to do the first album and um, we played “Wicked World” on the strat and then the pick up went and I thought “ahhhh shit” and we only had that day to record the whole album so I had the SG sitting there and I thought, “well, I’ll have to use that” and it was the first time I’d ever really played it. So I ended up using that on the whole album and ever since that I just stuck to the SG.
So if BB King has ‘Lucille’, do you have an SG you love above and beyond all of the others?
Yes, I love the ‘Old Boy’ and I’ve actually had to retire the ‘Old Boy’ now because it was far too rare to take on the road. I’ve had a couple of guitars in the past stolen and I really didn’t want that to go so I’ve stopped bringing that on the road. But the ones I’ve got now that have replaced it are very good. There is still nothing quite like the ‘Old Boy’. I’ve got with me also my Gibson Iommi model on the road.
What is your live set up on this tour?
These days I’ve got two racks of four heads I think but I only use two of them. That is quite sufficient. That’s it.
Um, that can all be working but I don’t know if they are always have them all switched on. It depends on where we are playing. Generally these days we try to keep the sound down a bit because in the days of when you have everything blasting away, things have changed a bit over the years now and it makes it better for the guy out front mixing the sound if you can keep it lower on stage.
Yes. I’ve encountered that issue many times.
[Laughs] Yeah in the early days I used to go out with racks and racks of amps and cabinets and just have everything up and full on.
Do you think that is just a part of just being young as it feels so good standing in front of that kind of power?
It is. It’s just what you do in those days but now I work for what we need. On stage, so we can get a sound on stage without me being too loud over anybody else and so we can get it sounding better out front.
You are doing your final lap of the globe, something you have done countless times, and this could be the last time you ever play some of these places and see people that you’ve had associations with for many, many years. How are you feeling about all this during the final tour?
It’s really strange to be honest because it’s something that you could never really see or something that I could never really see because y’know, we were all going to just carry on forever. But it has to come to a point where you’ve got to stop and for me once I was diagnosed a few years ago it changed my life a lot. I can’t go at the pace that I did years ago when we used to tour constantly, you know be up all night. I just can’t do that anymore. I have to work within my limits. For me now touring has become much harder. It’s really just the travelling. I love playing, I love doing the shows, I love that, I shall really miss that but I won’t miss the travelling. That is what gets to me. It makes me not feel so good.
Are you happy? Are you feeling like you are leaving the legacy of Black Sabbath in a good place?
Well yeah I think that it is great that we have been able to finish with this lineup. It is a real shame that Bill couldn’t have been with us but that is the way it is. It is great to be doing one final tour and it really is the final tour, people are always saying, “ahh you’ll be back”…
No, no don’t be like kiss Tony…
Yeah, yeah I know [laughs]. I can’t say I’ll ever stop doing music but I certainly won’t be touring after this leg. That is why the tour is called ‘The End’ cos that is it.
Do you have a plan of what you are going to do with yourself personally once this is done?
I do really. I have a certain plan as far as my home life goes absolutely. And as far as musically I’m really quite open for doing stuff when I feel like it.
BLACK SABBATH “THE END” AUSTRALIAN TOUR
Fri Apr 15th – Perth Arena, Perth
Sun Apr 17th – Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Tue Apr 19th – Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Sat Apr 23rd – Allphones Arena, Sydney
Mon Apr 25th – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane