How Black Was My Sabbath

Twelve homesick hours with the dark princes of downer rock

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Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 94 from October 28, 1971. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

"It's different."

"What do you mean different?"

"It's Heavy."

"Heavy?"

"It's freaky. It makes you feel you're in a graveyard."

"You like that feeling?"

"Yeah. It makes you feel
more alive."

The limousine pulled up to the side of the Rhode Island Arena and the riders, some with musical instruments, piled out and started walking towards the door. The path was interrupted by a two-foot cement embankment which everyone jumped down as gracefully as possible, guitar cases and all. Policemen with clubs stood still and stared, fascinated by the four tough-looking rock stars, the limousine, chauffeur, and instruments in black cases. A waiting policeman banged loudly on the side door three times. The door opened and a man in a red usher's jacket, bald and 5'2", leaned out.

"Yeah?" he said.

"They're here," said the policeman.

"Who?" said the little man.

"The group that's playing here tonight, Black Sabbath," said the policeman.

"No one comes in this door," said the man, shaking his head. "They go in the other side."

"Just a minute here," said the group's manager in a delicate English accent. He was dressed in a light blue fitted suit with a white ruffled shirt, snow white shoes with no socks, and a white wool shoulder bag. "We're the group that's playing tonight."

"I don't care who you are, buddy. I've got my orders. No one comes in this door. Go around to the other side."

"Now really, sir," said the manager in a reasonable tone. He could see through the slightly opened door that the door the man referred to was directly opposite on the other side, identical to this one. "You'd better let us in."

The man in the red jacket wouldn't budge, so the policeman and the chauffeur interceded for the manager, and tried to convince the man to let the group in. But he was adamant and repeated, "No one comes in this door. Use the other side."

"Alright!" screamed the manager. "Alright, there'll be no concert if you don't let us through."

"What do I care," said the little man with a shrug. "It don't mean nothing to me. No one comes in this door. Go around to the other side."

"Alright," said the group's manager, seething, and then firmly, quietly, distinctly: "Alright, there'll be no concert. Back to the car everyone."

"Fucking Providence," yelled one young fan. "They don't know how to do nothing right."

The entourage climbed back over the embankment, some walked around it. In the car Ozzie rolled his eyes, Billy shrugged, Geezer smiled and Tony remained impassive. They were relaxed and in good humor, knowing what the outcome would be. But the manager was still furious.

Somehow they weren't tired. This was their third concert in as many days in as many cities, and they had two more to play that week, and planes to catch for each. They had arrived that afternoon at the Rhode Island airport from Philadelphia. It was the third week of a six-week tour of the eastern United States. They'd do the West after a month's rest back home in England. That is if Ozzie, the singer, could keep it together—in the airport the others had been calm, but Ozzie danced from foot to foot, his green eyes wide open darted nervously around. He chattered continuously on the ride to the Holiday Inn in Providence, and reacted violently when the newscaster on the radio announced that there had been a record low of dead men that week in Vietnam. "Only twenty-five he says! Really, that's disgusting, that's human lives they're talking about."

"It's the devil's work," smiled Geezer.

In the lobby at the hotel, the group had gathered around the manager, who, like a camp counselor, called out names on letters for the boys to claim. None for Ozzie, or Tony, or Geezer, but one for the roadie, and one for Bill, the drummer, from his wife at home in Wittington outside London. He glanced quickly at the neat writing on blue paper, and put the letter in his pocket to read more carefully later, after lunch.

Everyone filed into the Holiday Inn dining room. "Disgusting," muttered Ozzie at the red plastic furniture and walls. Tony, the lead guitar, sat at a table with the road manager. His long hair, worn with Prince Valiant bangs, sat on his head like a wig. He looked like a big burly bouncer, or a heavyweight boxer in drag. He hunched over a picture-perfect fruit salad garnished with tiny paper umbrellas, which he carefully removed.

"He's the quietest member of the group," said Bill gesturing at Tony with the paper Japanese umbrella he'd just plucked from his shrimp cocktail. "He's the oldest, 23, and the best musician, really, of us all." Bill had a gentle manner, and bitten fingernails.

Geezer, the bass player, delicate, impish, ordered a vegetarian lunch, smiling coyly. He ate his grilled cheese sandwich with a knife and fork, and only tasted his fake mashed potatoes once. He had a way of staring at people when he spoke to them, as if he could see through them. He was the seventh son of a seventh son, and claimed that he was Lucifer, and could see the devil. He struggled to get a spoonful of his cantaloupe, which was rock-hard but umbrella-less.

"It's a satanic world," he sighed, speaking softly. "The devil's more in control now, and happier than ever before." He smiled an impish smile. "People can't come together, there's no equality. The higher you climb, the more people you have to cut down. You feel you're better than other people, that they're inferior to you, and it's a sin to put yourself above other people, and yet, that's what people do."

On the last tour, the year before, Geezer had taken acid with some people in Los Angeles, and had had a few bad trips where he saw evil all around. "Even in freak communities," he continued. "People are trying to be freakier than the other person, to be one up on them, to be better. That's the devil's work, that's why there is war."

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