And we were fortunate to witness a fabulous show at Newcastle’s Arena in the autumn of 2007 with Ronnie in fantastic form.
As we pay tribute to one of the finest singers in rock and metal history here’s rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth’s interview with Iommi prior to those UK shows. “Tony was so excited about playing live with Ronnie again and playing all of the early 80s classics,” recalls Rushworth. “They were a match made in metal heaven.”
Black Sabbath isn’t all about wrinkly rocker turned reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne. Simon Rushworth talked to founder member Tony Iommi about the second coming’s second coming.
They said it was all over for the godfathers of heavy metal when, after an ill-fated return for the forgettable Never Say Die record, lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne finally quit Black Sabbath in 1979. Drug addled, the deadliest of enemies and drifting on a rock road to nowhere, the various members of a fading giant appeared destined for the history books. Then Ronnie James Dio rode into town.
On Sunday the diminutive singer with a pair of rock’s most powerful pipes will reprise the glory days of the early 1980s as he leads the second coming of Sabbath at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena. The opening show of Heaven and Hell’s UK tour promises to provide a history lesson in how metal was meant to sound long before support acts for the night, Iced Earth and Lamb of God, took the fight to the teenage masses.
Heaven and Hell? For the uninitiated that is Black Sabbath by any other name. It is the name of the band’s definitive Dio-era debut record and a name which resonates strongly with fans old and new. “If we’d called ourselves Black Sabbath on this tour we would have been beset by problems,” said founding member and lead guitarist Tony Iommi. “People would have turned up at the shows expecting to hear War Pigs, Iron Man and Paranoid when, in actual fact, I want to play something different! I’ve been locked into playing those songs on the Ozzfest for years and it’s a long time since I’ve been able to blast out the best bits from the Dio years. That’s why we’re not called Black Sabbath right now.”
Fair enough. But for the second generation of the band’s devoted fans this is Black Sabbath. Dio may only have fronted two studio albums but in Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules he added his melodic touch to two of metal’s classic records. Reunited with Iommi after more than 15 years, it seems the chemistry and the pre-split camaraderie is stronger than ever.
“I met up with Ronnie in Birmingham a couple of years ago and we talked about doing this then,” added Iommi. “Then I called him and told him the record company were looking at releasing Sabbath – The Dio Years. We decided to record three new songs and then agreed to do a few shows. We’ll have been on the road for around a year when the tour wraps up! Do I regret not doing this earlier? Not at all. The timing is perfect and right now Heaven and Hell is my priority.”
Which could be bad news for Ozzy. “There’s talk of a 40-year anniversary with Ozzy but I’ve also talked to Ronnie about writing a new record,” added Iommi. “I like what I’m doing now and I’m not particularly interested in anything else. The last few tours had become the Ozzy show anyway and because of his various problems the shows were getting shorter and shorter. I resented that a bit.”
Heaven and Hell has morphed into a monster all of Iommi’s making and the axe maestro likes it like that. “It’s been nice to do all the Dio stuff,” he added. “It’s been a challenge and a thrill. We’ve just come back from Japan and Singapore and before that we toured the US with Alice Cooper. It’s been all that we had hoped for and more. I had dinner with Ronnie in Japan and for the first time we talked about the future. I see that future with Heaven and Hell and I think he does too.”
* This article was first published in the Newcastle Journal in October 2007.