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Black Sabbath - Home of Metal

Masters of Insanity: 5 Absurd and Historic Tales Woven Into Every Black Sabbath T-Shirt

Who doesn’t love a good Black Sabbath story?

From pioneering a genre that tore like a thunderstorm through the era of Flower Power, to wild stage antics and rampant substance abuse, and from The Prince of Darkness to the Holy Diver himself, Black Sabbath’s legacy is one that defined a generation.

black sabbath merchandise
Source: Flickr

The forefathers of Heavy Metal have had a long and colorful history in the public eye, with ex-frontman Ozzy Osbourne at the helm of their tales of debauchery.

But that’s not to say the rest of the group didn’t carry their weight.

Here’s looking back at the crazy shenanigans and wild stories of the last half-century of Black Sabbath.

What’s in a Name?

 Strap into your time machine and follow us as we venture back through space and time to the war-torn factory city of Birmingham, England. Ground Zero for what would become a musical revolution penned in mythical allegory to the haunting melody of the tri-tone.

Long before the words “Black Sabbath” were plastered across the hoardings of major stadiums and international tours, the foursome of Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne was joined by two extra members, including a saxophonist.

The Polka Tulk Blues Band, as they were then known, found inspiration for their moniker in the title of a talcum powder brand.

They also briefly went by the titles Polka Tulk, Earth, and Blues Band Margarine before (mercifully) settling on Black Sabbath, named after a 1963 horror film.

Black Sabbath Barclays Center
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Heavy Metal and Industrial Accidents

The true tour de force behind the invention of the genre, Tony Iommi’s sound was unlike anything else around in the 1970s.

Raw, doom-inspiring, and in a word, heavy, Iommi’s riffs were the secret ingredient that elevated Black Sabbath to the global stage.

What the uninitiated often miss, however, is that his signature style and ground-breaking creativity were part design and part unfortunate accident that could very well have changed the face of rock and roll history as we know it.

Tony Iommi Home of Metal Fox
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Growing up in Birmingham in those days, you were either a factory worker or destined for a life of burglary and crime.

While Ozzy had a brief soiree with the latter, Iommi, an avid musician and performer, took up work at a sheet metal factory to earn an extra buck, ensuring his evenings were reserved for music.

It was there that, on one fateful day, both Iommi’s life and the history of music would be forever changed.

While working on a large “guillotine-type” press, Tony suffered a brutal accident that took the ends off of two of his fingers.

“I went to the hospital and they cut the bones off and then they said, ‘You might as well forget playing.’ God, I was just so upset.”

While understandably distraught by the prospect of never playing again, Iommi found inspiration in a video of Django Reinhardt, the jazz multi-instrumentalist with only two good fingers on his left hand.

With two partially severed fingers, the injury made playing an incredibly painful experience for Iommi. It was then that he fashioned himself a set of prosthetic thimbles, made by melting down a plastic bottle, which was then wrapped in fabric from an old leather jacket.

The practical issues presented by Iommi’s crude solution to his newfound handicap were the recipe for Black Sabbath’s signature chord-heavy style, a legacy that carries on to this day.

The Tumultuous Legacy of Bill Ward’s Beard

 As one might imagine, the Black Sabbath tour bus was the holy mecca of pranksters, with Bill Ward being the butt of a few too many practical jokes.

Famously, Iommi had made a habit of burning off bits of Ward’s beard (with his consent, of course). On one particular instance, however, the joke went a little too far.

“I tipped rubbing alcohol over him. Normally it just burned off, but this time it soaked into his clothes, so when I lit it he went up like a bomb. He was rolling on the floor, shouting and screaming. I thought it was part of the joke so I poured more stuff on him.”

While Ward’s relationship with the group eventually soured, the band and its legion of fans owe more to Ward’s infamous beard than they might realize.

N.I.B., the title of one of the bands most enduring tracks, has been widely accepted to stand for “Name In Blood,” or the more popular, “Nativity in Black,” the title of two Black Sabbath tribute albums with the musical stylings of such paragons as Megadeth and Godsmack.

However, the true story of the title refers to— you guessed it— Ward’s beard.

As the story goes, Ward earned the title of “nibby” for his pointy beard, which the rest of the band believed resembled the nib at the end of the pen.

As Butler puts it, “When I wrote N.I.B, I couldn’t think of a title for the song, so I just called it Nib, after Bill’s beard. To make it more intriguing I put punctuation marks in there to make it N.I.B. By the time it got to America, they translated it to Nativity In Black.”

Witches, Cults, and Curses

With a name like Black Sabbath and token references to the devil being the defining theme of the group’s dark image, it’s not surprising that Sabbath sometimes attracted some peculiar and unwanted attention from self-proclaimed occultists.

Instances of witches conducting prayer-circles outside their hotel bedrooms while on tour or religious puritans accusing the group of conducting blood sacrifices were not unusual for the members. Still, one instance, in particular, caused some alarm amongst the group, as Iommi recalls.

“There was some black magic organization that wanted us to play at a stone circle… We said no – we were sort of against Satan as opposed to promoting it – so they allegedly cursed us.”

“The head of the white witches called our management and said he knew we had a curse put on us, and we should wear crosses and he’d do a ritual thing. It all sounds so hokey.”

Hokey or not, the members did indeed start wearing crosses, fashioned by none other than Ozzy’s father, for protection.

The Mob Rules

Fans come in every shape, size, and color. So, what makes blue any different?

While the individual members of Black Sabbath have had their fair share of run-ins with the law, it wasn’t all bad blood.During the 2006 The End tour signaling the end of Black Sabbath, 20,000 fans from across all age groups flocked to Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena to bid a final farewell to the Gods of heavy metal.

Greeted by the sound of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, fans were shocked to learn that the powerful tribute emanated from none other than a police wagon parked by the turnstiles, blaring the entirety of the Paranoid album for the waiting fans.  

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Featured Image from: Flickr by Dauvit Alexander

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