Sunday, September 14, 2008

Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi

Where did the term "Heavy Metal" come from? Most people point to the lyrics of the 1968 Steppenwolf song, "Born to be wild."

Specifically, this line:

"I like smoke and lightning...heavy metal thunder..."

Ultimately, who knows!

More importantly, who cares? Even if the term came from the Steppenwolf song, I know who hammered the nails into the coffin and sealed the fate of the music world inside of it...that "hard rock" or "heavy metal" would endure basically forever, much to the ire of music critics who were in love with Led Zeppelin but looked down their nose at the likes of Black Sabbath.

In the early days of Hard Rock there was a concept of Heavy and Light, the band names "Iron Butterfly" and "Led Zeppelin" instantly spring to mind as examples. On the first two Black Sabbath Albums, there was a whole lot of "Iron" and "Led," but very, very little "Butterfly" and "Zeppelin." No, it was, as one reviewer in a guitar magazine I once read, "Sturm und Drang." (Not to be confused with the Finnish metal band "Sturm und Drang" which probably took their name from that article on Black Sabbath.)

The man with the hammer in his hand, that would influence so many other people in the years to come was none other than Black Sabbath's Guitarist, Tony Iommi. Along with Bassist Terence "Geezer" Butler and Drummer Bill Ward, both of which had a hand full of nails in their hand in their own right - they changed "Hard Rock" forever. Ozzy Osbourne, Vocalist as everyone knows, also played a large part in securing the whole Heavy Metal concept and he, possibly more than anyone else up to that time, defined what a "Front Man" was going to be in years to come. He also played Harmonica better than Jim Morrison. 8-)

Mr. Iommi has been called, "The Godfather of Heavy Metal" and anyone who has heard The First Four Black Sabbath Albums might tend to agree if they are honest. It doesn't matter if you like that genre of music, "Heavy Metal," the fact remains, it was the bludgeoning riffs and power chords from Tony Iommi that would spawn hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people to pick up a guitar and try to figure out what this unique British Gentleman was squeezing out of a thin Gibson SG and a Laney Amplifier cranked up to ear-hemorrhaging levels. A few of those inspired people went on to make music of their own.

One online interviewer asked Tony Iommi if he ever met Jim Morrison of The Doors. Iommi said that he was too stoned to remember. Another interview with an "expert" on The Doors stated that Black Sabbath was billed to open for The Doors on August 31, 1970 at the Montreux Casino in Montreux, Switzerland but The Doors canceled the show. They were canceling a lot of shows back then, primarily due to Jim Morrison's personal excesses, as usual. I have been unable to find out if the concert ever took place at all. It would have been an interesting show, to say the least. Two guys with very distinctive guitar styles both playing Gibson SGs, Robbie Krieger of The Doors and, of course, Iommi. Oh, and enough gloom and doom between Black Sabbath and The Doors to easily fill a mental institution.

I cannot remember if I was six or seven years old, I heard this song on Baltimore's premier (at the time) rock station, WKTK. It started out with these heavy bass drum beats, like a heartbeat...or footsteps... Then the strangest thing happened, this incredibly bizarre sound came out of the speakers.

I'm sitting there and the hook was in me and I didn't even know it yet. After those nine bass drum beats there are three reverse bends on the E string (open).

You pre-bend the E string, open, by placing the index finger of the fretting hand behind the nut at the top of the guitar's neck. And you pick the note and slowly release the tension on the E string. Then you can give it a slight shimmering vibrato by vibrating that string behind the nut. When you combine this with a screaming high gain amplifier that is distorting, you get what you hear at the beginning of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man."

That was it man! The power chords that came after that, just this stomping song the likes of which I had never heard before...and I was hooked forever.

I grew up listening to OLD COUNTRY MUSIC which is totally different from the pablum-like Pop-Meets-Poop that passes for Country Music today (With a few noticeable exceptions, of course...).

Songs like, "Young Love" by Sonny James, "I Never Picked Cotton" by Roy Clarke AND Johnny Cash, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," by George Jones and so many more I could list them for the next hour and not cover half of them.

Being thoroughly indoctrinated into the syncopated, popping, CHUGGA-CHUGGA and TWANG! of the country guitar, I was most intrigued by this distorted, dirty and incredibly sinister sound that a guitar could be coerced, if not tortured, into blasting out.

I still love Old, Classic, Country Music to this day which, in my opinion, has more to do with Hard Rock than new Country Music does with anything...

I love music. I don't care what kind of music you love as long as you love something musical. I don't have much use for people that hate music. How can you have a soul and not love music?

Some of us have been through unpleasant things and we don't necessarily enjoy happy music which is more like ingesting Zoloft than simply living with the way things are combined with our own personal experiences.

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