Bill Ward on Making Peace With Black Sabbath, Selling Old Gear

"I lit a candle for them and I just wished them well," drummer says of how he spent the night of his former band's final show

Former Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward talks overcoming resentment toward his ex-bandmates, selling off old gear and what he's up to musically. Credit: Igor Vidyashev/Zuma

In 2011, when Black Sabbath announced their reunion, all four original members were present, a rare case among bands of their era. But drummer Bill Ward split from the group in 2012, citing an "unsignable" contract, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler carried on with their Rick Rubin–produced 13 LP and extensive international touring without him. Ward and the rest of the band traded barbs in the press over the ensuing years, but no resolution ever came. When Black Sabbath played their final show this past February, Ward's touring replacement, Tommy Clufetos, sat behind the drums.

The ordeal had caused the drummer serious anguish in recent years. "I've gone through a lot of tears," he tells Rolling Stone. "I've grieved the loss of three of my best friends. I've grieved the loss of their company, their words, their laughter, their joy, and above all, their music. ... I've grieved the loss of the fans, and I've grieved the pain of what all this has created."

But now, he says, he's come out the other side. "I can't afford to have resentment," he explains. "I can't afford to be angry. I can't afford these things spiritually or physically. So I knew I had to be rid of them."

Along with moving on from Sabbath emotionally, the drummer is also parting ways with much of his old drum gear from his time in Sabbath, as well as his solo projects, via a newly launched online sale. Creatively, he says he's putting most of his effort into new band Day of Errors.

In an interview with Rolling Stone this week, he opened up about his current projects, his garage sale and why he still loves his old bandmates and hopes to work with them in the future despite everything that's happened.

What's going on with you musically these days? Is Day of Errors your main project?
I do have several projects, actually, but Day of Errors is the number one project that we're pushing on. We're going to try to get something on iTunes relatively soon, and we've got dates for Day of Errors later on in the year. ... I continually write music all the time. I've been working on a couple of books. I write poems. Every day, I write. I have a writing period – it's usually in the morning – or I'm writing songs. I wrote a song yesterday morning. I'm gonna listen to it today and see what's going on.

What instrument do you write on?
Keyboard – I play keyboards. So yeah, my world is still centered very much inside music and art and everything else. I think it'll be coming to the public maybe in the next three months, I think it'll be publicly seen. But right now, everything's at home with my crew that helps me to put all this stuff together. So everybody's working. We're working on a lot of different things.

You've just launched an online shop where you're selling a lot of your old gear. Is this something you've been prepping for for a long time?
It's something where we've been wondering what to do for a long time. We're wondering how to deal with the fact that we had ... I think we had eight storage units. The warehouse that we have is overloaded and it's been obvious to some people, me of course, that we need to sell some things and get rid of some things and just lighten the load a little bit. So last year we took everything out of the storage unit, much to the happiness of my accountants, and I picked out the things going on sale. There's a couple of things there that I grimaced a little bit, like, "Oh, I still like that." But in actuality, I let it go a long long time ago.

It was suggested that I do a sale, then Walter Earl, who's my production manager, told me about Reverb, and we made a deal with them. So we've got some things that are coming out on sale, and we tried to price it so there's something affordable for everybody. There's some rare things that may be a little more expensive, maybe they'll sell, maybe they won't. Whatever. So that's what we did. It's just something else that we did, another thing we wanted to put out there.

What were the toughest items to give up?
To somebody else it might be stupid, but I noticed that some of my original Zyn cymbals were selling. To be honest, they'd been in storage for years, they'd been in storage for 25, 30 years – 35, 40 years. They come all the way back from Field Farm, where we lived back in the early Seventies. They've just travelled with us. What it is, is just the memories that come with those Zyn cymbals. These are some of the cymbals that we used on early Black Sabbath recordings. Also, I used them onstage. Some of them survived. We've also got some Avedis Zildjian cymbals that were played on early Black Sabbath tours. I have very joyous memories about those times. So it's that – it's like, "No, let me hang onto them." I'd look at them and go, "Maybe it's time to say goodbye." I already have a plethora of a brilliant cymbal collection that I use now with [the Bill Ward Band] and Day of Errors. With cymbals the way they are, now they've completely changed. So that would be one of the items that would be particularly tough.

Some of the other stuff, I'm very happy to let it go actually. I think it might be some good deals for some people. Everything's pristine and well looked after.

Is there something particularly special in the store that people should keep an eye out for?
Yeah, there's a bass-drum head, one of two, from my double bass drums early. From 1971 – '72, something like that. There's a bass drum head that's, to the right person, it would be particularly valuable. There's only one in the world, so it's pretty unique. I think the Ludwig kit that we're selling is pristine, and the sound quality on it is great, so I think for any younger drummer that's setting out that likes to play 26-inch bass drums, then this would be an excellent drum kit, I think. It's really solid. But I haven't played on it for a while. I played on it when we were doing the advertisement for Reverb, but it's been two years since I played on the Ludwig. So they're really very good drums. It's all good stuff.

Turning to Sabbath, what was the last contact you had with the other members? I know there was a 2015 interview when you accepted an award with Tony and Geezer – it seemed pretty cordial.
It was 2015 when I saw Tony and Geezer, and it was cordial. But that's been the last time. I haven't talked to anybody or written any private emails to anybody. I think there's been a couple of other press statements that might have gone backwards and forwards, but that's been about it, really. I'm at peace with those guys. If something comes up that I feel is contradictory, I'll always make a statement back in defense of whatever I need to defend. But my general outlook towards them is not of resentment, it's not of fear, it's not of hatred or anything like that. I actually really, really, really love these guys. I wish them absolutely nothing but the very best, I wish them nothing but the best in their lives. Every day, I say prayers and I wish for them health and happiness and just nothing but good things to befall them. I [don't] in any way... have any grudges or any arrogance or anything else. It's been like that for a while.

At first, I was really upset but I've cooled off a lot. I'm in a different place; I've moved on. But I haven't moved on from the idea of if [they] ever wanted to play again. I've not moved on from that idea. That would be something that would have to be worked out. But if they've moved on from that idea, then that's fine, I'll support that. I haven't moved on. I've been told to have an open mind, so I'm going to be open-minded about it. ... That's how I feel about them. I don't have any anxiety about them or any tragedy anymore.

So as far as you're concerned, even though the band was officially put to rest in a touring capacity, you're still open to the idea of some future incarnation of Sabbath?
Yeah, I'm open-minded to it. It depends what it is and it depends what all it [entails]. But I definitely have an open mind. I'd be stupid not to. Time's moving on; we're getting older. I've loved them guys for a long time now. I love Black Sabbath's music.

It sounds like none of these experiences have lessened any of your feelings about these people and your bond with them, or what you guys produced.
I feel very compassionate towards them. I just disagree with them when they send something in the world press and I look at it and I go, "You know what, that's not quite accurate." Then I have to defend. Because I have to defend, it doesn't stop me from loving them. And when I think about them, I don't think about them with resentment in my heart or revenge in my heart or anything like that. I don't have any of that whatsoever.

Were you already in this place at the time when they were playing their final show in Birmingham earlier this year?
Yep, I was in this place. I definitely wished them well. On the night that they were playing, I was pretty much there with them. Again, I said prayers, I lit a candle for them and I just wished them well. The place where I am now has been going on for a couple of years now.

How did you manage to get to that place of adopting a more peaceful attitude?
In 2013, I was working on surrendering the things that I felt were objectionable in me. Then I got really sick in 2013. That was when I did get really sick for the first time. That was a proper one. ... In 2014, I knew that, because I had gotten sick through having a really tough time with resentment and what have you, I realized that I needed to make a new change. In 2014, I was still in a defensive posture. I was already working on coming to terms of peace with myself, regarding all of them in 2014.

By the time 2015 had come, I was all but pretty much at peace with everything. I still had to defend myself then, but this has been more since late 2015, all of 2016, and definitely all of 2017 so far. It's been a while. 

We actually sent a message to their management, I think it was 2016, I'm not sure about that, but we asked if they would like ... if they wanted me to come play in the band. We actually asked them. But the response was, "No, thank you." And that was fine. I remember me being very OK with that. It's just like, "Well, we asked, they said no." I just moved on with my life. So yeah, I'm at peace with this.

The four of you started off as best friends and bandmates, and now, all these years later you're having to deal with these issues through lawyers and through managers. Is it hard to feel so mediated from your old friends?It's been very very difficult – 2012 was horrible; 2013 was not so good either; 2014 was when the changes come about. Today I feel really strong, even if there are managers and lawyers still around. For myself, I'm crystal clear. I sleep well at night, I don't have the nightmares of 2012 anymore. I've grieved a huge loss.

"The only thing I can say is that I tried to stay true to myself, and because of that, I paid the ultimate price." 

It must have been nice to see those guys in 2015, just to have some more personal time together.
Yeah, it was really nice. It fell right into place, like nothing had happened. It was very nice to see Terry [Geezer Butler], and I miss Terry a lot. It was really nice to see Tony – I miss Tony, too. I miss Oz. I think about Ozzy all the time. This is not to discount Tony or Terry, but probably the biggest loss has been Oz. I loved him in a very special way. That's been the toughest one to let go and to wish him farewell and happiness in his life and everything else.

Do you remember the last time you spoke to Ozzy?
The last time I spoke to Ozzy was January the 22nd, 2012. Either the 21st or the 22nd, 2012. The conversation was, "I'll be over as soon as I can, Oz," and he said, "OK, we need to move quickly." I said, "Yeah, I know. I understand. Just trying to get the airline ticket sorted out and everything else." That was on January 22nd, 2012. That was my last conversation with him.

It's wonderful to hear that you're in a better place.
Good. What I'm going through and what I'm passing through, I hope it will help with the healing. I know a lot of people were disturbed; I know a lot of people were put out. A lot of people have been very sad and have had to grieve themselves. This has been an unbelievable [sighs], historical catastrophe. I think that I'll always be indebted and in regret to how Sabbath ends. I'll aways be. The only thing I can say is that I tried to stay true to myself, and because of that, I paid the ultimate price. I can only ask for forgiveness for trying to stay true to myself.

You made yourself very clear in the statements that you made, and it seems like people understand. Obviously, everyone wanted the same thing, which was to see the original band back together. But it's helpful that you've been so transparent about it.
And I'll continue to be transparent about it, because that's how I have to live. Where I've been now, I've been clean and sober for a long time. I have no choice but to be transparent. I have to be, in order for me to live. That's just how it is [laughs]. It's a pretty good deal, actually.