The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has no shortage of heavy hitters. But in purely sonic terms, it’s about to get heavier than ever — thanks to the induction of metal progenitors Black Sabbath. More than a decade after becoming eligible for induction into the Hall, the thud-mongering survivors were selected for the Class of 2006, prompting singer Ozzy Osbourne to back off from his declaration that he’d rather be removed from consideration forever. A kinder, gentler Ozzy shares his reaction to being added to the Hall’s roster — and his memories of how the band evolved from Fleetwood Mac wannabes into the force of nature they became.
What was the family reaction to your induction?
I think they’re happy. I’ve had platinum discs, I’ve had Grammys, so I suppose they’re kind of spoiled to the fact that daddy goes out one day and he comes back with another award. I’m not saying that to be bigheaded; it’s just that they’re all into their own thing. When I was their age, if my dad did anything, I didn’t want to fucking know [laughs].
You once said you didn’t want to be inducted into the Hall. Have those feelings changed?
There was a point, if I can remember right, that we’d get nominated, but never get in. So it’s like you’re in a race and you’re nearly at the finishing line and someone comes up and kicks you in the nuts before you cross it. I can’t remember the exact words I used, but it was basically, “Don’t fucking bother putting us in.” But I realized I don’t have the right to speak for Black Sabbath. All I am is the singer. If we’d all sat ’round a table and talk about it, that would’ve been OK, but I didn’t have the right to say that, and I truly apologize.
How would you like to see Black Sabbath commemorated in the Hall?
No different to anybody else. Just the fact that people consider Black Sabbath to be a worthwhile band is nice . . . Take it this way: We went through the Seventies and from record one, we were a fucking hit, and it went on and on. Then at the end of the Seventies, I thought, “That was a good run. I’m back to being unemployed now.” But into the new millennium, kids come up to us, and the freaky thing, people say, ‘Man, if it wasn’t for you guys and your music . . .” It’d be like if I went up to my dad and said, “Dad, I really like that Al Jolson record.” If my dad liked something, I purposely wouldn’t, because he liked it.
Were you aware, at the beginning, that Sabbath was doing something unique, with the heaviness of sound and all?
No. We started off as a six-piece. We had a saxophone player, a slide guitar player. . . we kind of modeled ourselves on the original Fleetwood Mac vibe. There was a big blues thing in England, and we started playing twelve-bar blues, which was easy to do as a singer. If you listen to those early riffs, you can easily turn any of them into a twelve-bar. And we used to rehearse over the road from a movie theater, and [either guitarist Tony Iommi or bassist Geezer Butler] said, “Isn’t it weird that people like to pay money to get scared?” So we decided to do scary music. It just came natural to us.
But then playing scary music led to the idea that you were scary people or Satanists.
Well, you know Halloween? If that Halloween shit was for real, you’d never let your kids go out trick or treating, right? The only difference between that and Black Sabbath was that we had Halloween every fucking night! We never realized people actually practiced black magic until we started getting invites to these weird things in a graveyard at twelve o’clock at night.
You initially left the band under less than amicable circumstances. Was it difficult for you to see Sabbath go on with different singers?
Of course it was. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. It’s exactly the same as a divorce. I came from a real low-end part of [Aston, England], and Sabbath got me out of it. When Black Sabbath fired me, I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m back to that.” The hurt was so bad, but it gave me determination. Shortly after that, my first wife divorced me, my father died, Randy [guitarist for Osbourne’s solo band, Rhoads] got killed in the air crash . . . I’m going like, ‘Why is it all coming on me?” If it wasn’t for Sharon [wife and manager, Osbourne], I’d be sitting in a room somewhere . . . or dead.
Did you — and do you — approach your solo work much differently than you did the Sabbath stuff?
Black Sabbath never used to write a structured song. There’d be a long intro that would go into a jazz piece, then go all folky . . . and it worked. Tony Iommi — and I have said this a zillion times — should be up there with the greats. He can pick up a guitar, play a riff, and you say, ‘He’s gotta be out now, he can’t top that.” Then you come back and I bet you a billion dollars, he’d come up with a riff that’d knock your fucking socks off.
It took almost twenty years to finally rebuild that bridge. Was it difficult to come back to the fold?
You know what? If you’re having a “who’s better than who?” battle, it gets tiring. You spend all your time trying to beat them, and at the end of the day you just go, “I’ll do my thing, they can do their thing.” To be honest, I had as many guitar players, bass players, drummers, as they had singers. It’s very rare for a band to replace a singer — although it does happen – and go on to do bigger and better things. Everybody thinks I hate [replacement singer] Ronnie James Dio. At one time, I was pissed off at him, but not now. God bless him. To be truthful, I wish I had as many people trying to imitate my voice as him.
Are you planning on performing at the induction ceremony?
You know what? I don’t care if I play. I mean, it’s not my call. I phoned Bill [drummer, Ward] up a few weeks ago, and he said, “It’s great and I’m happy to be going.” And I didn’t mention it. Then I think I spoke to Geezer, and I said, “If we do play, we can’t play ‘Paranoid’ again.” And then I heard that Tony didn’t want to play. And you know what? If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t want to play. He didn’t want to play — it’s his choice. At this point, it looks like we’re not gonna play. But you never know, you know.
And will we see you in a tuxedo when it comes time to deliver the acceptance speech?
That’s up to my wife. I’m fucking useless. I’d just as soon turn up in jeans and a T-shirt . . . or wear a fucking ballroom dress.