30 Years Ago: Black Sabbath’s ‘Live Evil’ Released
By all rights, the release of Black Sabbath‘s first official live album, ‘Live Evil,’ should have been the cause of great celebration — not only for the band’s incredibly patient and long suffering fans, but surely the revitalized band’s Ronnie James Dio-fronted lineup.
Just three years prior to ‘Live Evil’s release (which was Dec. ’82 in the US, Jan. ’83 in the UK) Dio had swooped in on a white horse — or perhaps a Shetland pony — to rescue the dopesick Sabbath from its post-Ozzy doldrums. Together, Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward (and later his replacement, Vinnie Appice) virtually erased all memories of Osbourne with the sheer majesty of their mighty twin studio efforts, 1980′s ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ’81′s ‘Mob Rules.’
But Sabbath’s former frontman would arguably have the last laugh, even in a year marked by the tragic death of guitarist Randy Rhoads. Even before ‘Live Evil’s release, growing tensions within Sabbath had boiled over during the album’s final mixing.
The probably apocryphal tale (but then you never know with this band) had Iommi and Geezer suspecting Dio of sneaking into the studio after hours to raise the volume on his vocal tracks. But the likely less dramatic reality was that Dio had been chaffing to strike out on his own for some time, after years playing second fiddle to established metal gods.
And of course that’s what Ronnie did, taking Appice along for the ride as Dio — the band — launched its career to great acclaim with 1983′s ‘Holy Diver.’ Sabbath, meanwhile provided even more fodder for ‘This is Spinal Tap’ during their disastrous subsequent happy hour with singer Ian Gillan, then waffled away the remainder of the decade playing lead vocalist musical chairs.
Adding even more insult to injury (and is there anything Sharon Osbourne enjoys more than that?), Ozzy’s competing double live release, ‘Speak of the Devil,’ hit record stores just weeks before ‘Live Evil,’ contained nothing but Black Sabbath songs — partially out of respect to Rhoads and probably partially to jab it to his former bandmates. too — and successfully stole some of its thunder.
With the benefit of hindsight, though, ‘Live Evil’ unquestionably stands up as the superior album (sales wise, Sabbath fared better in the UK, Ozzy better in America): documenting with pristine sound and spot-on performances (never better than the 20-minute version of ‘Heaven and Hell’) the formidable power of the Dio-fronted Sabbath lineup.
It was certainly pretty great while it lasted.