Black Sabbath's Bill Ward: 'I Don't Know If I'm a Member'

In his first interview since asking for an apology from Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward has a lot of things to get off his chest

Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward detailed infighting and contract disputes after asking for an apology from to Ozzy Osbourne. Credit: Kevin Estrada/Retna/Corbis

UPDATE: Ward has responded to Ozzy Osbourne's Facebook post in a new post on his own Facebook page. The drummer refuted that he wasn't physically up to record and said the "unsignable" contract, contrary to Osbourne's assertion, wasn't a "smokescreen."

It's been three-and-a-half years since Black Sabbath announced they would record their first album since 1978 and nearly as long since they decided to move on without founding drummer Bill Ward. In 2012, Ward released a statement asking for what he called a "signable contract" from his bandmates, but the negotiations ultimately fell apart. They released their comeback record, 13, with Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk behind the kit in 2013, and Ward has been mostly silent on the matter until recently.

The drummer, who is planning the release of a new album called Accountable Beasts by his Bill Ward Band, released a statement earlier this week asking for frontman Ozzy Osbourne to apologize for "untrue" statements he had made about Ward. "I have no expectations of anything coming from this," he tells Rolling Stone. "My part in this is to let the fans know the truth about me. If he feels that he's been wrong in any of his statements and if he wants to apologize, that's fine. And perhaps we can even resume a friendship again, but I don't wanna resume a friendship with him if he's gonna be like this all the time."

Osbourne returned fire the day after Ward made his statement, claiming that the drummer was physically unwell to commit to touring and that the group had decided to move forward without him because of Tony Iommi's lymphoma diagnosis in 2012. "Stop playing the victim and be honest with yourself and our fans," the singer wrote.

Ward spoke with Rolling Stone prior to the release of that statement about why he decided to issue his missive in the first place and to clear up what he feels are untruths about him. "If we ever get past this impasse, and I ever get an apology directly from him, then I would want to play with Black Sabbath as I've done all the years," he says. "That's how it would be with me." Ward declined to comment directly on Osbourne's statement when reached again on Thursday, but detailed his side of the infighting between him and the singer.

To begin, are you legally a member of Black Sabbath?
That's a good question. I wonder myself actually. I don't know. I'd probably have to ask my legal department [laughs]. I'm actually not sure. I've always regarded myself as a member of Black Sabbath, so....

You wrote in your statement, "I've neither severed nor discontinued my relationship with Black Sabbath."
Right. In other words, I haven't left. If I was leaving the band, I would make a statement saying I've actually left the band.

Why speak up now after being silent for so long?
It's been weighing on me; everyone wants to talk to me about it. It's unresolved, and I needed to speak on it before I could turn the focus to my own music. That, coupled with the recent rumblings of Sabbath activities, I wanted to let the fans know where I'm at before more rumors start up.

The other Black Sabbath members have said they're working on a new album. Have they approached you at all about that or touring?
No, they haven't approached me directly. They talk about it, and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to be vocal about this now, because I feel like sometimes when I hear those stories, they're talking about me, but they don't actually directly contact me. The only person that's directly contacted me was [bassist] Geezer [Butler], and that was a couple of years ago. He was asking me if he could do one more gig with me, and I basically said, "Well, you better ask Sharon [Osbourne]." That actually was my answer. On my part, it was rather not a very good answer, but at the time, I wasn't in a very good mood about these things.

"I actually grieved the loss of [Ozzy's] life in my life. It was fucking terrible. I cried."

What inspired you to write your statement?
There are some specific statements that I thought were really unrealistic and just downright rude. I think if there's ever going to be a future relationship, especially with Ozzy, then these things would need to be addressed and cleared up. I would like him to amend it. I saw the headline yesterday, "Bill Ward Demands an Apology," and I'm not demanding anything at all; I have no expectation of ever receiving any kind of amends, but I'd need them for me to move forward.

Would you like to clear up any statements specifically?
One of the most painful things for me was Ozzy claimed in 2012 that I ought to have spoken up to the band and admit that I couldn't cut it. But in my world, there was no such reason to do that. I was completely capable of playing in the studio and on tour.

I came out with the "signable contract" statement in February of 2012, and that's because I needed to bring everything out into the open. Since then, nothing's been spoken about the signable contract. Instead, they talk about my character and they blame me for pulling the plug, which is not true. I'm so loyal. Actually, it hurts when I talk about it. I'm so loyal to Black Sabbath, and I would never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, go into a situation with them under false pretenses. Tony and I have been playing together since we were 16 years old. How could you possibly derive that I wasn't able to admit that I couldn't cut it?

Ozzy also claimed that you were "incredibly overweight." Is that true?
The truth is that I was overweight for playing onstage, but I wasn't overweight for the studio. I could cut tracks with the weight that I arrived at. All of those guys know that I have a really rigorous exercise regimen. In August 2011, I started to drop weight because, at that point, I thought, "OK, we're probably at five or six months away from actually doing a tour." When we were in England, I was walking six miles before breakfast, I was doing bench presses, I was walking possibly two to three miles in the evening, and I was playing, like, three to four hours a day.

What would have made the contract "signable" for you?
I wanted to earn some better money than we had been in the past for festival gigs. I think it was somewhere like $80,000 for the festivals, which I can hear everybody gasp now, but $80,000 is not a lot of dough when you're playing festivals. And for all the other gigs in between, I was prepared to negotiate in a correct and proper manner.

And I would like to be included in some publishing and want my name and likeness to have a secure contract because the name and likeness has been a problem in the past. I'm paid a flat fee for my name and likeness on merchandise, and we've been fighting with the lawyers to try to have a correct contract to use my name and likeness. That's been going on for fucking years. Unfortunately, it just didn't work.

I also wanted a little piece of the action in publishing [songwriting revenue]. It was just a gesture of good faith that "drumming means writing." If you're laying a track, you're writing. I don't play beats. I hate playing beats. I'm an orchestration drummer. I'm a musical drummer. I'm a visionary drummer and I have been for a long, long, long time. I was asking for recognition. Nothing of what I asked for is exorbitant, wrong or over the top. I thought I was actually very reasonable.

Tony Iommi said you were the one who "pulled the plug" on the reunion.
I didn't pull any fucking plug. I was still trying to negotiate even after they closed the door. In January 2012, I received a letter from their management saying I've come as far as I can come, but I just felt absolutely dismal that it had come to that. But I still continued. I tried to make contact with everybody and I couldn't. Ironically, the only person that was calling me was Ozzy, and Ozzy called me up that month saying, "When you gonna come over? You got to come over." But you know, that poor guy probably didn't even know that they closed the door. 

You mentioned wanting publishing, but you've always been credited as a songwriter on Sabbath albums.
My publishing is in tact for the Black Sabbath catalog. If I signed the contract for the new album, I would not have received any publishing on those new songs. I was trying to negotiate, even for a small percentage, but that wasn’t forthcoming. It's the new deal on the block: If you're a drummer, you're shit out of luck.

How did your last tour with the band, in 2005, go?
Musically, I had a great time, but I walked away very, very uncomfortable because of the contractual decisions I'd had to sign into. I wanted to play with the band. They knew it, and so I decided to sign yet another contract that wasn't that great. I said to Tony, "That's it. I can't go on. I can't do this anymore." I basically came off the tour broke. Them guys who think I got millions of dollars? I earn good money, but it's so unrealistic.

You appeared with the band on November 11th, 2011 when it announced it would be making a new album. Why did you make the appearance without the contract?
I gave the benefit of the doubt to the lawyers that were trying to work on sorting out this contract. I didn't want to do the 11/11/11 because I wasn't in contract. And I looked and I said, "I'm just going to trust in good faith that we'll probably get the contract." It placed me in a very uncomfortable position knowing full well that I didn't have a contract.

When did you stop trying to make contact with the band?
We were trying to negotiate right up until a week before they did the charity concerts in Birmingham [in May 2012]. We were literally packed and good to go in Los Angeles, waiting to get on a plane, had they said yes. I was playing three to four hours a day at our rehearsal place here in Los Angeles on a Sabbath stage kit.

"We've been fighting with lawyers to have a correct contract to use my name and likeness. That's been going on for fucking years."

What has kept you from communicating with the other band members on a personal level?
It felt like, "Let's find as much stuff as we can and blame it on Bill." So I gradually started what we call "detachment" in sobriety terms. When you love somebody, and they start saying things that are not true and really hurt, you have to remove the love. When I say, "removing the love," it's not a love that's gone, it's a love that was put somewhere safe inside me. So the love's still there. That's pretty much what I did by 2012.

If I still am out and going, "It's OK, guys, don't worry. Yeah, you can shit all over me," that's going to destroy me as a person. I'm not going to go down that road; it's self-abuse. I'm fucking 32 years without a drink and a narcotic; I've learned to laugh about being sober and just not putting up with stuff that's really inappropriate. It felt like Ozzy Osbourne came in, shit up the fucking walls. And it's like, "Oh, really Oz?"

But why wouldn't you call him as a friend?
Oz chastised me in public. Had he just chastised me behind closed doors, we'd probably just have a good argument, and say, "Hey, fuck you." But he did it in public. So I'm using the same forum that he used. He's out in public. I'm out in public.

You speak as though you lost a friend.
In June and July of 2012, I went through the loss of a dear friendship. I actually grieved the loss of his life in my life. It was fucking terrible. I cried. It was really horrible. I thought, "My God, I don't even know who this person is anymore."

A few years ago, Ozzy said, "I don't hate Bill. I love Bill. But we couldn't keep people waiting. I don't wish him any harm. It was a business decision. We had to get on with it."
Well, for somebody that loves me, he sure as hell changed his mind on that one. People that love each other don't usually go around making really elitist comments about being overweight or questioning my loyalty to the band. It's pretty sinister stuff.

Since you bring up your weight again, how is your health right now?
My health's really good. I'm at 180 pounds. I'm walking all over the place. I walk on treadmills.

"I'm so loyal to Black Sabbath, and I would never, under any circumstances, go into a situation with them under false pretenses."

You have said you were sick for a bit, though.
I did get sick in October 2013, which was well after all of this has been talked about. I had perforated diverticulitis [a disease of the colon] that kicked the shit out of me. I actually lost another third of my heart when that happened. So I was in really bad shape; I was on death's door for a little while. When they cut out my stomach, I got some scars now that I can show everybody.

Four days before I got the perforated diverticulitis, I had right shoulder surgery. That's what happens to drummers who slam. The shoulder surgery was successful. It was nice and quiet and I thought, "Great, it doesn't look like I'm going to be on tour so I'll take care of my shoulder. This is a good time to do it." I wound up with a frozen shoulder because the perforated diverticulitis took center stage.

I went into cardio rehab to rebuild the heart muscle, which I'm doing really well with. They're trying to get me back up to 70 percent heart; I'm probably back up to maybe 50 percent now. Your heart muscle will grow again, providing that you're exercising. And my shoulder is way, way better now. I still go to shoulder therapy, but I've been playing now for well over a year and I'm slamming hard. I can fucking play drums.

Would you be in shape right now to rejoin Black Sabbath?
Absolutely, yeah. I have no doubt in my mind. I know that they've suggested that I played half the gig, and I don't want to play half the gig. I'm quite capable of playing a complete fucking Black Sabbath set. So this health thing has been bandied around, and it's true that I have heart disease, and it's true that I did get sick a couple of years after the fact. But when the health card is being thrown around, the bottom line is that I really tried to take care of myself. Every day, I always look at the day and say, "Could I have played a gig today no matter what's going on with me?" And the answer is always, "Yes." I'm much harder on me than those guys could ever be.

Earlier, you said you were with the band in England, before the 2011 reunion announcement. Were you jamming?
Oh, the jamming sessions were brilliant. They came up with a lot of stuff, but unfortunately we didn't come out of the whole thing with one song. We came out with some possible ideas for songs, but we just couldn't settle on anything. But I thought Tony played quite brilliantly. I was playing well. I was playing very loud. Those were good days for me.

Did any of those song ideas end up on 13?
I haven't listened to the 13 album actually. I've only listened to one song, and I think it was called "God Is Dead?" I listened to it for 30 seconds, and then I listened to a drum pattern that I used originally on the track, and I switched it off. I'm not saying that to create a problem or anything or be clever about it. I'm just saying I don't want to hear my ideas being played by somebody else on the album. I won't listen to that album. I just don't want to find out what else is on there. And quite frankly, I didn't like what I heard. It doesn't sound anything like what I consider to be Black Sabbath.

Anything else you'd like to tell Black Sabbath fans about the current situation?
I come with a realistic point of view. I have no hidden agendas. I have no desire to batter them into the ground. I have no desire to argue with them or to be mean or weird toward them. There are some things that have been said; they need to be cleared up. They need to be addressed before I can move on and feel comfortable in saying, "OK, let's renew our friendship." If they don't want to go down that road, that's OK. I'm just simply stating the truth and I'm bringing it out into the open, and I hope that the fans can understand that. I'm just trying to be accountable, literally, about where I'm at and just trying to be forthright and honest.