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Tony Iommi, ‘Iron Man’ – Book Review

Tony Iommi Iron Man
Da Capo Press

Black Sabbath‘s Tony Iommi is one of those guitar gods who fans arguably view as more of a Rock ‘n Roll caricature than a real flesh-and-blood man.

That’s understandable when you consider that in the 40+ years since four down-and-out kids in Birmingham England — Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and of course Ozzy Osbourne — formed the heavy metal band, it has become something of its own corporation.

Brilliant music and the wild tales of drugs, Satanism, groupies and more that surrounded them set the band off on that path almost from the start, and it continues today in the scramble for tidbits about a possible reunion of the original members, which were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

In his 350+ page autobiography ‘Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath,’ released today (Nov. 1) on Da Capo Press, Iommi leaves no doubt that he is fully deserving of the rock bad boy title but is even more worthy of the Hall of Fame nod arguably based on his personal determination to succeed against all odds.

Iommi, like his band mates, grew up hip deep in poverty and violence. Over-protective parents who forbade him from venturing too far away from home kept him alone in his room most of the time, where he began to devour music and started to teach himself to play guitar.

His fledgling music career almost ended when he was about 17, juggling a factory job and guitar duties in one of his first bands. “…I told mum I wasn’t going back [to the factory] for the afternoon shift. But she told me I had to, and to finish the job properly. So I did. I went back to work. And then my whole world fell apart.”

Or could have if the left-handed Iommi didn’t invent his own way to play guitar after losing most of two fingers on his left hand during an industrial accident.

That’s just one of the stories Iommi tells as he puts to rest a lot of rumors (‘N.I.B.’ does not stand for anything, including “Nativity in Black,” but is instead just the band’s nickname for Ward), and retells various classic Sabbath stories (When Ozzy was suggested as a singer for the fledgling group, Iommi originally nixed the idea).

What makes the book stand out, though, is Iommi’s lack of pretense, his insider perspective and surprising sense of humor in telling classic tales including:

– How the band mates relied primarily on Butler – “the intelligent one” — for lyrics and often didn’t full grasp their meanings. That was the case with ‘Paranoid,’ which Iommi said was written “in about four minutes” as something of a throwaway song. “I doubt we even knew what the word meant at the time. Ozzy and me went to the same lousy school where we certainly wouldn’t be around words like that.”

– Why he never goes on stage without his cross: “I lost my original [cross]…I can just see some new owner of one of my old houses suddenly discovering it: ‘what’s this cross….and this gram of coke?’”

– What it’s like to tour now versus when he was young: “In the early days there were only certain hotels that allowed bands in because of the reputation that everybody had. But now we stay all the time at the Ritz Carltons and Four Seasons, the top hotels. And at sixty-plus years old we don’t throw televisions out of windows anymore. Can’t pick ‘em up now.”

Sabbath fans will likely be somewhat familiar with Iommi’s tales, yet still delight in his recollections of his stint with Jethro Tull, his friendship with Ronnie James Dio, Sabbath’s tour with Blue Oyster Cult, and more.

It’s the rare glimpse into the personal perspective of Iommi the man and the rocker that makes ‘Iron Man’ a must-read for music fans.

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