With recent 40th Anniversary Deluxe editions of the classic albums Heaven and Hell from 1980 and Mob Rules the following year, two of Sabbath biggest icopns have been setting the record straight about the turbulent times at the end of the 1970s when the band seeme destined for destruction. While the main albums from the Ozzy years are still regarded as benchmarks of metal, the two subsequent albums with new frontman Ronnie Dio have gained increasing fans and critics respect over the years.
By 1979, Sabbath was one of the biggest bands in the world, but it had correspndingly massive problems, with Geezer admitting that inspiratuion had been drying up, the various members were wrestling with major personal problems and wre no longer getting on with each other.
He said: “It was obvious that Sabbath needed a change. It felt like the original lineup had to come to an end. By the end of the ’70s, it just wasn’t happening together.
“Ozzy was really unhappy doing stuff, I was thinking about leaving, and the record company seemed to have lost interest in us. It either needed to completely split up or get somebody else in that was into what we were doing.”
Ozzy had temporarily quit just before recording 1978 album Never Say Die!
Back in 1992 Tony said: “We never wanted him to leave, and I think he wanted to come back – but no one would tell the other how they felt.”
Instead, Dave Walker was drafted in and new material written. When Ozzy soon returned, he refused to record worked on by Walker and recording the whole album became a disjointed, bloated and unfocussed mess.
In his autobiography I Am Ozzy, the frontman wrote: “It was obvious things had changed, especially between me and Tony. I don’t think anyone’s heart was in it anymore.”
Plus the band was trying to produce everything themselves.
Geezer said this week: “It was a bit of a disaster. The Never Say Die album was all over the place.”
Tony told Goldmine Magazine: “Once Ronnie came into the fold, we had a different voice all together. It encouraged us to write in a different way, really…
“Ronnie could sort of adapt, with his voice, and it created a different vibe altogether and started us off writing some different new material.
“We had been in a bit of a doldrums. Once Ronnie got involved, it made us work and made us think more about what we were going to do. And he was encouraging us to do more. It was really refreshing.”
Speaking on Heaven and Hell’s opening track Neon Lights, Tony said: “The thing with Ronnie was, you could do some up-tempo stuff, because he was able to; he was good at the up-tempo stuff as well, as was Ozzy in the early days.
“Also, Ronnie would really be up for you doing guitar solos. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we don’t need a guitar solo.’ He used to encourage me to play as well as write in a different way. To me, the album was tighter and more professional, with more excitement to what we had done before.”
And Geezer happily stepped back and allowed Ronnie to handle the lyrics.
Geezer said: “I felt like I’d come to the end of my lyrics, on the Never Say Die album, I just had nothing else to write about. So it was an incredible relief to have somebody come in and do that.
“His stuff, I think it’s more fantasy and dragons and all that kind of stuff. Mine was more a lot of politics and everyday occurrences, while his were more surreal and out of this world kind of thing.
“When it came to the second album (Mob Rules), the only thing that was said to him was like, no rainbows and no dragons. (laughs) That was it. He got the message and did what he did.”
Geezer and Tony also described a new healthier balance in the band, recording Heaven and Hell while living at Barry Gibb’s Mimai house, with Ronnie feeding everyone, except vegan Geezer.
Tony added: “He’d be standing in the kitchen there in his shorts with his little thin legs, cooking a curry or doing some pasta or something. He loved it and we loved it too; it was a great atmosphere, really.”
The two albums with Ronnie were critical and commericail hits. A double live album Live Evil followed before he left for his own solo career.
Sabbath went through a messy decline and succession of line-ups through the 1980s, with Geezer leaving in 1984. He and Ronnie rejoined Tony to recreate their classic Sabbath line-up in 1990, leading to 1992 album Dehumanizer.
Ozzy, of course, would rejoin the band himself, on and off during the next few decades.