Iommi: Tragedy To Triumph

“Tragedy To Triumph”

The Story of Tony Iommi & his band Black Sabbath: 1969 – 1978

By: RLSchwinden aka: MrZerr0 for

WDGY Article #4-BS Oct. 2017 (Mr. Zero’s Article #79-TI)


The hero of this story is one; Tony Iommi, he was born Frank Anthony Iommi on 19 Feb 1948 in Birmingham, England Iommi, an Italian Catholic (worth noting because of his incorrect association to the occult) as his mother was born in Palermo Italy. He attended Birchfield Road School where one Johnny Osbourne was a year behind him, in 1957 while attending this school an older boy chased Tony with a giant spider in hand, Tony lost his footing slipped & fell cutting open his upper lip, leaving a huge scar, as a result of, the other kids in the schoolyard started calling him “Scarface”, so when Tony was old enough to, he grew a mustache to cover the scar, Iommi has rarely, not sported a mustache since, soon after, he took up martial arts to defend himself.


> Guitar Player: 1960<

About age 12  (in 1960) Tony acquired a red guitar a Watkins Rapier 22, left handed model (Iommi is a left handed player), his main inspiration at the time he started learning guitar was Hank Marvin (b.1941) of The Shadows. In 1965 at age 17, Iommi was an Arc Welder at a sheet metal factory (in the UK you could graduate School as early as age 14 if you passed the proper exams) on the very last day of this job, in the very final hours of his shift, his foreman asked him to operate a cutting machine, which someone had removed the safety guard from, Iommi not well trained on this particular machine, had the accident that would change his life … a piece of sheet metal bound up in the blade and cut off the tips of his middle & ring fingers of his right hand, his fingering hand. After an attempt to play “Right Handed” Iommi inspired by Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) who had also lost the use of 2 fingers, his ring finger & pinky finger of his fingering hand, re-learned to play guitar mainly using his index & ring fingers, Iommi began an amazing odyssey.


> Craftsman: 1965 <

Tony realized these fingers were too short to continue to play without some sort of aid, so he took a empty plastic bottle of ‘Fairy Liquid Original’ (dish washing soap) melted it down, & used a soldering iron to hallow it out to fit his finger tips & sculpt it to resemble his own finger tips, sanded it down to fit, this closed the gap, but the new tips slid on the strings, so Tony, then used 2 small pieces of well worn leather & glued them to the tip surfaces to grip the strings. While these new editions improved his ability, it was not enough, he could not bend the strings enough to hit the notes he sought out. At the time in the UK the standard string gauge was approximately “.011 to .050” Iommi undaunted, went to his local Guitar Shop & asked for “The lightest gauge strings possible” the Clerk asked “Why are you playing banjo, now?” so Tony took a set of banjo strings & a set of guitar strings & using 3 strings from each set, created quite possibly the 1st set of light gauge guitar strings beginning with a .008 on the High “E” using a standard “A” .032 string for his Low “E” he continued making his own sets until 1970 when Picato Strings began to manufacture a “Light Gauge Strings Set” for Iommi.


*For the guitar players out there reading this. Iommi’s string sets are as follows: “Eb” (root note) tuning, his gauges are .008, .008, .011 (unwound), .018 .024, and .032,now considered “ultra light gauge”  For his “C#”  tuning, Tony uses .009, .010, .012 (unwound), .020, .032 and .042, now considered a “light gauge”.


> Innovator: 1967 <

However this was still not enough for the recuperating Iommi, he had this idea to tune down a 1/2 step to “Eb” to put even less tension on the strings on his guitar, which somewhat compensated for a tone loss of using such light gauge strings. Later in 1971, when in  ‘Black Sabbath’ Iommi had the idea to tune down a 1 & 1/2 steps to “C#” a 3 fold reason: 1. Even less tension on Iommi’s strings for his missing finger tips, 2. This created a deeper, heavier & darker  guitar sound to match the music they were creating 3. To make easier for vocalist Osbourne to sing certain parts.  


Then in 1974 Iommi had the idea to have a 24 fret neck, instead of the standard Gibson 22 fret neck, they said it was not possible so Iommi went to local Birmingham guitar luthier; John Birch (1922 -2000), explained what he was looking for & in 1975 Birch built Tony’s 24 fret neck “Cross Inlay SG Special” (later Iommi purchased the company). You see all of these obstacles that extended from his tragedy lead to the triumph of Iommi creating a new sound & type of music.


> Band Member: 1968 <

Iommi’s 1st band he was part of in 1964 to ’65 was the “Rockin Chevorlets” then he moved onto “The Rest” from 1966 -67 where he met one Bill Ward: (Bill William Thomas Ward 5 May 1948 Birmingham, England) on Drums, which they evolved into “Mythology” until Jul ’68 when they broke up, strangely, roughly at the same time the band “Rare Breed” with Ozzy: (John Michael Osbourne: 3 Dec 1948 Birmingham, England of the Church of England) on Vocals & Geezer:(Terrance Michael Joseph Butler 17 July 1949 Birmingham, England -Irish Catholic worth noting because of his wrongful association with the occult) on Guitar, soon switching to Bass, also broke up. Iommi & Ward answered an ad in the local music shop “OZZ Zig, needs gig (has P.A.)” met with Osbourne, when Tony realized it was the same “Ossie” from school, he told Bill “This guys an idiot, let’s get outta here”. Eventually Iommi, Ward, Osbourne & Butler formed “Polka Tulk” (after a talcum powder Ozzy’s mother used) in Aug 1968, which soon became “Earth” in Sep 1968 they recorded several demos including; “A Song For Jim” “When I Came Down” “The Rebel” & “Early One Morning Blues” (other Black Sabbath demos were recorded in “Eb”) in Nov- Dec ’68, Iommi was offered a spot in  “Jethro Tull” (Blackpool, UK) & was filmed performing “A Song For Jeffery” on the “Rolling Stones Rock N Roll Circus”, shortly after Iommi went back to “Earth” which changed their name To: Black Sabbath (after the  1963 Boris Karloff film) in Sep 1969 (because there was another local band with the same name). Within the band Iommi writes 80% of the Music, Butler writes 80% of the Lyrics, with Ward writing the rest, essentially Osbourne creates the melodies & writes less than 2% of the lyrics.


> What Is This: 1970 <

In Jan 1970 ‘Black Sabbath’ released their first 45 Single, a cover of the Minneapolis Band ‘CROW’ (#19 Hit in Jan ’70) song “Evil Woman b/w Wicked World” soon followed by the 1st LP ‘Black Sabbath’ (recorded in the key of “E”) in Feb 1970, on ‘Vertigo’ in the UK & WB Records in the USA, rises to #23 on the charts, the band appeared on “Beat Club” (Episode #55: Bremen, Germany)in May 1970 performing the songs “Black Sabbath” “N.I.B.” & “Blue Suede Shoes”, it was at this time Iommi began using his trademark Red Gibson SG (which is why I play SGs).The band’s 2nd LP ‘Paranoid’ a #12 on the Billboard Charts, is released in Sep 1970 (initially titled “War Pigs” also in the key of “E”) 2 singles were released  “Paranoid b/w The Wizard” in Aug 1970 which hit #61 on the Billboard Charts followed by: “Iron Man b/w Electric Funeral” in Oct 1971 which rose to #52 on the charts. The band appeared on “Top Of The Pops” (UK) performing “Paranoid” in Sep 1970 & then on & then in Sep 1970 on “Beat Club” (Epi: #59) performing “Paranoid” & “Iron Man”. The band’s 1st televised concert was;


“P-4 Ein Uber Film Festivals” Nov 1970 (aired on French TV)

(recorded Sat 3 Oct 1970 Brussels, Belgium @ Theatre 140)
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Iron Man
Black Sabbath
Behind the Wall of Sleep
War Pigs
Fairies Wear Boots


> On Tour:1971 <

The band’s 3rd LP & highest charting at #8, was ‘Master Of Reality’ released in Jul 1971 (recorded in the key of “E”& “C#”) with the 45 Single “After Forever b/w Fairies Wear Boots”. A strange thing I noticed, the band would make recordings in “A” 440, but in concert the band would tune down a 1/2 step to “Eb”.  The band’s 1st Minnesota appearance was:


1 Jul 1971 Thurs in St. Paul at the Civic Ctr.

(1st show for “Master Of Reality” Tour)

War Pigs
Sweet Leaf
Black Sabbath
Iron Man
Children of the Grave
Wicked World
Iommi Solo
Ward Drum Solo
Fairies Wear Boots


> Snowblind: 1972-73 <

The band’s 4th LP was ingeniously titled ‘Vol.4’ as the title “Snowblind” was not going to fly with WB Records released in Sep 1972, a #13 charting LP on the charts, (recorded in the key of “C#”) the 45 Single from this LP was “Tomorrow’s Dream b/w Laguna Sunrise” The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, used the Song “Laguna Sunrise” in their TV commercials in 1978, until they found out it was a song written & recorded by the evil Black Sabbath. This is my personal favorite of all of the bands LPs. The band makes 2 Twin Cites appearances this year on Tues 21 Mar 1972 St. Paul Civic Ctr. & then Mon 28 Aug 1972 Minneapolis Armory.


The 5th LP by the band is ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ released in Dec 1973, their 2nd highest charting LP at #11, (recorded in the key of “C#”) with the 45 Single “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath b/w Changes” released in Jan 1974, accompanied with Promo Video of the “A-side” to be played on TV. The song “Fluff” was played at Iommi’s 1st wedding, when they walked down the aisle, interesting trivia; John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) was his best man.


The band made a festival appearance which was broadcast on ABC TV at the

“California Jam” Sat 6 April 1974 in Ontario, CA. with:

Rare Earth
Earth, Wind & Fire
Seals and Crofts
Black Oak Arkansas
Black Sabbath
Deep Purple
Emerson, Lake & Palmer


> Feel It Slipping Away: 1975 -76 <

The band’s 6th & has been quoted by: Ozzy as his favorite LP recorded by this band, ‘Sabotage’ is released in Jul 1975, rises to #28, (recorded in the key of “E”) with the 45 Single “Am I Going Insane b/w Hole In The Sky” The band leaves the ‘Vertigo Label’ in the UK & signs with NEMS & also parts ways with their 2nd Manager Patrick Meehan & signs with Don Arden. KISS has the honor of being the opener” on 4 shows for Black Sabbath in early Aug ’75 & the band makes a another televised appearance on;

“Don Kirsnsher’s Rock Concert”

4 Sep 1975 Thurs Santa Monica, CA. (Broadcast date: 25 Oct 1975)

Killing Yourself To Live
Hole In The Sky
War Pigs

They make their 4th Twin Cities appearance on 20 Jul 1975 Sun; Minneapolis @ Parade Stadium. 


The 1st of many “Best Of” compilations is released in Feb 1976 ‘We Sold Our Souls For Rock N Roll’ when the band signed with NEMS in the UK, the NEMS Label acquired the first 6 LPs & former manger Meehan takes control of the band’s catalog & puts out re-issues of the first 6 LPs a ‘Best Of’ a ‘Greatest Hits’ & a “Live’ release, without the band’s permission.


The band’s 7th studio LP ‘Technical Ecstasy’ is released in Sep 1976 (recorded in the key of “E”) the LP hits #51 on the charts, Promo Videos for “Rock N Roll Doctor” & “It’s Alright” (Ward singing lead) are released to TV. On the LP cover, Ozzy had this to say “It’s 2 robots having sex, get it?” the promo ad was a cartoon version of the band, which was far more cool than the art used in the LP. I own about 8min of some Color 8mm Film of Black Sabbath playing Des Moines, Iowa Tues 28 Oct 1976 @ Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium with Opener ‘Boston’ & a copy of the ticket stub.


> All The Songs Are History Now: 1977, 78 & 80 <

NEMS & Meehan release ‘Greatest Hits’ in 1977, while the band is on hiatus & Ozzy quits the band sometime in ’77 & formed the 1st ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ with 3 members of ‘Necromandus’. The band hires Dave Walker (25 Jan 1945: UK) former Vocalist of ‘Savoy Brown’, ‘Fleetwood Mac’ & ‘Mistress’ the “New” Lineup appear on  the TV Show “Look Hear” in Jan ’78 & perform “War Pigs” & (the early version of) “Junior’s Eyes”. Within a few months Osbourne returns to the fold & appears on “Top Of Pops” Jun 1978 to promote new single. The band’s 8th & final LP with Ozzy is released in Sep 1978, ‘Never Say Die’ (recorded in the key of “E”) their lowest charting LP at #69, the single released is “Never Say Die b/w She’s Gone”. The band’s first concert video ‘Never Say Die: Live- 1978’ is released on Beta,VHS, Laserdisc & DVD. Van Halen opened for the band on 30 some USA dates.


Live Video

11 June 1978 Sun London @ Hammersmith Oden

Symptom of the Universe
War Pigs
Never Say Die
Black Sabbath
Dirty Women
Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor
Electric Funeral

Children of the Grave

(Iron Man, Fairies Wear Boots, Hand of Doom, N.I.B.,Gypsy were performed, but not released)


A full year after Ozzy is fired from the band ‘Live At Last’ is released in 1980 (recorded in “Eb”) recorded from 2 concert dates; 11 Mar 1973 @ Manchester Free Trade Hall & 16 Mar 1973 @ The Rainbow, London, on the “Vol.4 Tour” this contains the un-released song “I Love My Woman” the band would often try out new materiel live in concert & then mold them in the studio for release. Worth checking out: ‘History Volume 1’ released in 1991 & ‘History Volume 2’ released in 1992 & Ozzy’s (with Bill Ward) ‘Don’t Blame Me’ released in 1991 on VHS & DVD. 


This article is dedicated to my Uncle Johnnie Urby who turned me onto ‘Black Sabbath’ the summer of ’72 & my Dad Dr. Wm Schwinden, who, though he was hard up for cash X-mas ’78, found it in his wallet to buy me 3 ‘Black Sabbath’ LPs for Christmas that year, all 3, I still own to this day. I cannot listen to “Junior’s Eyes” & not think of you Dad … R.I.P. & to De Dee because this is the greatest “Tragedy To Triumph” story I know. You can catch my Black Sabbath Tribute Band” Never Say Die” live coming up in 2018. & make sure to catch The Black Sabbath” Show on  Mr. Zeros PsychoGello Vinyl Radio Show on Sunday 29 Oct 2017 @ 10am  on WDGY 740am & 92.1fm & Streaming 103.7 playing 1 song off of each Black Sabbath LP.If you are into  Horror & Sci-Fi & Tribute Bands like:  KISS, Dio, Rob Zombie, Iron Maiden, AC/DC., GnR & MPLS ‘s Own MORTICIA check out CRYPTICON: 3-5 Nov 2017 in Bloomington @ MSP Hilton & Happy 9th Halloween from Mr. Zero’s Roseville 55113 on 1744 Lexington Ave. N. www.MrZeroS.Com

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath 1970

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