Why Geezer Butler No Longer Talks to Ozzy Osbourne
In the epilogue for his new memoir, Into the Void, Butler reveals that a disagreement between their wives — Gloria Butler and Sharon Osbourne, respectively — is at the heart of the disconnect. "Me and Ozzy are fine, it's just that we're both ruled by our wives," Butler writes. "He's got a big heart and was always there for me in times of trouble."
Decades removed from their beginnings, Butler says that, on the whole, the band's brotherhood remains intact. "We might not be as close as we were, but we'll always be brothers," he shares in Into the Void. "How could we not be, given everything that we went through together?"
Leading up to the release of Into the Void, Butler spoke with UCR about Black Sabbath's early days and his current relationship with his former bandmates.
I loved reading near the end of the book, when you mentioned Tony Iommi in the acknowledgments, you added, "who actually still keeps in touch." It's great that you still have a friendship like that. That means a lot.
Yeah, he’s always been there for me. You know, he’s a good friend. We can slag each other to death. It’s like marriage, really. You have terrible arguments, you fall out and you come back together. But he’s always there. He always is. I hope he is after this book as well. I still love Bill [Ward], but he’s not on the internet. If you want to talk to Bill, you have to email his wife and she has to tell him. It’s really awkward. [Laughs] Ozzy I don’t speak to at all.
In the book, you say that you and Ozzy Osbourne are good, even though you don't talk. Do you think there's a chance those lines of communication will open back up at some point?
I very much doubt it. We didn’t fall out, it was the wives.
When you finished the book, what were you most proud of, looking back?
Probably the fact that I finally got it done. It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest, with the publishers. There were so many things that they wouldn’t allow me to say in it. I just thought they’d take my word for everything, but it was like, “Well, can you prove this?” It was like, “Well, no. I didn’t have a camera crew following me around for the whole of me life!” “Well, can you get letters from the person you’re talking about?” “No, I haven’t seen them for 30 years!” It was just such a struggle for them to believe some of the stuff in it without getting lawyers involved — and them getting sued, that was what they were really scared of. I said to them, “You either believe me about it or don’t put it in the book.” They said, “OK, we won’t put it in the book.”
Watch Black Sabbath Perform 'Iron Man' on The End Tour
Looking back at the first few Sabbath albums, it seems like the record label left the band alone for the most part.
I don’t think the record companies really understood us. That’s why they couldn’t really advise us on everything, because I honestly don’t think they understood the music that we were doing, so they just let us get on with it. The first three albums, we literally did just go in and treat it as a live show. We plugged in our amps and blasted away because we didn’t have much time to think about anything. We just did it as we wrote it.
So many bands disown their first album. Yet the first Black Sabbath album is rightfully regarded as a classic. What do you hear when you listen to it now?
I didn’t realize how naive it was until we did the 13 album. Rick Rubin took us down to his house in Malibu, he put the first album on and he says, “Listen to this, this isn’t metal. This is before the word ‘heavy metal’ or anything. This is Sabbath.” We listened, and I was blown away at how much we got accomplished in two days on that album. How raw it was and how it still stands up over all of the years. Because it was just a recording purely of us. There are hardly any overdubs, no technical tricks or anything like that. I think that’s why it stands the test of time.
How much of a benefit was it that producer Rodger Bain was so hands-off?
Well, it was his first gig, so he was naive to everything. He didn’t really know what was going on. [Laughs] It was mainly the engineer that sorted it out, and we didn’t even ask the engineer’s name at the time, and it turned out to be Tom Allom, who did the Judas Priest albums and stuff. [Rodger] got more into it on the Paranoid album. We had more time together and he came down to rehearsals when we were writing, so he was more aware of what we were doing on that album. But the first album, he just sort of sat there and listened to what we were doing. I’m glad because he didn’t make all of these silly suggestions, trying to commercialize us or anything like everybody else had up until then.
Listen to Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs'
How did "War Pigs" take shape?
That came together with a lot of jamming. I think a lot of it came when we were in Switzerland and Europe for six weeks. We were in this horrible club in Switzerland for two weeks. We only had the first album’s worth of material, and we were supposed to be doing seven three-quarter-hour spots a day. [Laughs] After the first two sets, we’d done everything. The next five sets, we were just jamming along. That’s where the “War Pigs” music started coming around. The lyrics were about the Vietnam War that was going on. We didn’t want to get dragged into that. There was a lot of things on television in England about the Vietnam War, really horrible things that weren’t being told in America. I just thought, “Well, I’ve got to get this out.” When we were in Germany, we spoke to all of these American soldiers just coming back from Vietnam, telling us horrible things that weren’t being [shared] on any media, so that sort of inspired the lyrics for the song.
Speaking of jamming, I love the anecdote in the book about how "Rat Salad" came out of those extended jam sessions at those concerts, a moment where Bill Ward would play drums for 45 minutes.
Yeah, and this one time, the manager of the club that he was doing that at got onstage and told him to shut up, right in the middle of his solo. [Laughs] So he had to stop playing. The manager was really getting pissed off because we were jamming for five of the sets and not doing any songs.
Some of the best songs are the ones that come along at the last minute, and "Paranoid" seems to be in that camp.
It came together really fast. Literally, Rodger Bain said to us, “You’ve got three or four minutes to fill, otherwise it’s not going to be counted as an album.” An album had to be a certain length back then. Otherwise, it would have been called an EP. To be called a LP, a long-player, you had to have so many minutes on the disc. Rodger said, “Come up with something three or four minutes long.” We said, “Well, we’ll go out and have a think about it.” We came back in and Tony was there, and he just played “Paranoid” to us and we went, “Oh, that’s great!” I thought it was too commercial at the time. It just goes to show how much I know about things. Rodger Bain said, “Yeah, that’s good. Three or four minutes, just record it!” Ozzy came up with the vocal line and I quickly wrote down the lyrics, and that was it.
Watch Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' Video
That demonstrates how much benefit there is in not having time to overthink something.
Well, that’s what I liked about those early albums. If we’d had a lot more time, we’d have ruined them, because there would have been tons of overdubs and I’d be thinking, “Oh, no, that bass part, I think I can do better than that kind of thing.” Ozzy would have done different vocal things. You’re right, it’s just like, the more time you get, the more you try and overdo it. I think that was the great thing about those first three albums. We didn’t have any time to overthink it.