Tony Martin is an English heavy metal vocalist, best known for his time with Black Sabbath. Martin joined the band in 1987 and recorded three studio albums, including HEADLESS CROSS (1989) before he was fired in 1991 because of the short-lived return of Ronnie James Dio. Martin was asked to re-join the band in late 1993, and the band released well-received CROSS PURPOSES in 1994. In 1997 Black Sabbath announced the reunion of the classic lineup of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward. Martin found himself unemployed again, and he’s not been with the band since. Over the years, Martin has done a lot of studio work and been a part of many projects, including The Gage, Empire, M3, Phenomena, Forcefield, and Giuntini Project. He has also released three solo albums, BACK WHERE I BELONG (1992), SCREAM (2005), and THORNS, which was released in January of 2022. Now it was a good time to get in touch with Tony and discuss the new album, possible tour plans, the upcoming Black Sabbath re-releases, and of course the different stages of the man’s career, including Sabbath and much more.
THE NEW ALBUM
Well, first of all, congrats on the new album THORNS, which finally saw the light of the day early this year. How long time it’s actually been since you first started working on it?
It’s been going on for thirteen years. Yeah, I actually started– the album was going to be called BOOK OF SHADOWS, originally. And that was like 12, 13 years ago. I was kind of interested in that unplugged sort of acoustic, heavy sort of songs with choirs and all that kind of thing. And so, I sort of started off doing that. And then, about ten years ago, I found Scott McClellan, and he started sending me all this heavy shit. I mean, really heavy shit. “What the fuck am I supposed to do with that?” So, I sort of contacted him and said, “Do you want me to sing on this stuff? I mean, what? Why are you sending me all this stuff?” He sent more and more and more and more with— “Oh, wait a minute. Okay. We have to have a conversation about this.” I mean, I didn’t quite understand what we were doing here. So, I said, “right, let me try one. I’ll just try one.” And that was “As the World Burns.” And it sounded really good. So I thought I said, “Okay, okay, you know what? Don’t tell anybody. Don’t say a word about this. And let’s see if we can make something happen.” And so, I started, all of the riffs that he was sending me, I was cutting them up and moving them around and making lyrics and stuff like that. And slowly, we started to build like this heavy thing. But now I had a problem because I had already started the album a long time before, so now there was a conflict of which direction am I going to take this album. And it took a long time. And also, I’m a singer-songwriter, and I work in the studio. I’ve been working in the studio for 25 years, writing and recording for other artists. And so, as when work comes in, then the solo album gets put to one side. And then, when I start to work it again, then there was always more work coming in, and the solo album was put aside again. So that combination of working and writing, it kind of made last thirteen years. And then COVID hit. Oh, shit, man. Come on. Give me a break, like fuck. How much more shit can you throw at me? So, it just went on and on and on and on. This year, it seemed like the right year to release the album. People are dying to get rocking again, and we were the first to release an album this year in January. So, I think this was just the right time, the right album, and the right amount of work had gone into this. So, it sort of hit us now. And I’m really pleased how it sort of turned out.
As you said, making this record has been a long process, but I think that the results are just brilliant. What I like most about this album is the variety of the songs. There is a lot of solid heavy metal stuff like “As the World Burns” and “Black Widow Angel,” but it’s not the whole truth because there are also a few totally different songs like; “This Is Your Damnation” and “Crying Wolf.”
Yeah. But those are crazy songs. I think you know what? I actually tried to take off “Damnation” because I wasn’t sure about it. I thought that it was too weird. It’s like crazy-sounding stuff, but then everybody said, “No, no, keep it. It gives a lot of variation to the album.” And then I said, “Okay, okay, we’ll keep it, and we’ll see what happens.” Well, people, I think they’re into it in a strange way—because it is so different, but it’s got some modern lyrics, and they’re talking about COVID and stuff like that. And so, it’s kind of, it wasn’t the worst track on the album after all, so I thought, “Well, that’s really cool.” And I think it’ll make more sense when there was a video for it. Once you see that, you will get what the song is about. I think people will understand it more and get onto it. But also, it sets up the last track, “Thorns,” really well. When people listen to “This Is Your Damnation” and think, “What the fuck is happening?” and then “Thorns” hits, and it’s like, “Whoa!” That song just separates everything. And so, the whole unplugged, acoustic thing with “Crying Wolf” and “Book of Shadows”; I’m really pleased that I allowed myself to put all of that stuff on the album. I mean, you could start with heavy stuff and finish with heavy stuff and just have nothing but heavy stuff in between, but it feels like an album. The way how the songs vary on the album is really cool. And that also is a little bit of a mistake. Did you notice that the songs, they’re all in alphabetical order?
No. I didn’t notice that?
A, B, C, D, E, F, G? It’s all in alphabetical order. And that was a kind of happy accident because you probably know we use computers these days to record stuff like Cubase and Pro Tools and all that stuff. When you save your files, the computer puts them in alphabetical order. Well, I didn’t notice that. I didn’t notice that. And when it came to about five years into it, I was thinking, wait a minute. We should put these songs in order. And I thought, they already were in order. How did that happen? And then, I looked at the files in the folder, and there they were like, all listed. I went, “that is weird. That is fucking weird. How did that happen?” I don’t think anybody has ever done that. And so, the way that the songs turned out in that order just worked, so I kept it. Amazing. But having all of those low songs, the acoustic, and the heavy stuff, they all turned into the right position in the right sort of order. We used to have people in the record labels do that for a job, making the tracklists. ”So, a fast one first and then do like a rocker one. Then do a slow one, and then, let’s bring it back up again.” And there was somebody that used to do that but not on this album. I just put them all in a folder, and that’s how it came out! “Laughs”
You have a lot of great musicians on this record, including Dario Mollo, Greg Smith, Magnus Rosen, Danny Needham, and Bruno Sa. But perhaps the most exciting name of them all is Pamela Moore. How did she end up on the album?
Okay, so that’s on the song “Thorns,” and “Thorns” needed a girl singer. I couldn’t sing that part myself. It needed a girl singer, and I was thinking about who we are going to ask. And I had a few thoughts in mind. But very quickly, one of the record labels says, well, have you thought of Pamela Moore? And I went like, “shit. Pamela Moore.” Okay, now, Pamela Moore has got exactly the same birthday as me. And so, on Facebook, every single year, she comes up, “hi, brother. How are you doing, my brother from another mother.” “Hi, sister. You’re my sister from another mother”. So, we always have this conversation. Through the years, we have had these funny interactions with each other. I’ve never actually met her, but we have spoken on Skype and stuff like that. She’s a nice lady, and obviously, I know who she is and what she has done. So, I said, “wait, yeah. Okay, this is good. I like this idea of Pamela Moore.” So, I sent the track to her. And she’s just immediately said, yes, I’d love to have a go. So, I said, “okay, well, have a play and see what you come up with. And then, we’ll try it out.” So, I sent her some ideas for the vocal line and stuff like that, and it came back brilliant. It was really, really good. And I was really pleased with the way that turned out, but it needed that girl singer part to make that song work because the song is about a woman, a girl. And it was a kind of strange story on that song. It started off as just a song about a girl, a woman who has been abused. And she goes on to the street, and she hides. And she doesn’t want to talk to anybody, she self-harms. She cuts herself. And every time somebody tries to be kind to her, she hates it because the kind words feel like thorns sticking in her skin. It’s like, don’t speak to me. And so, I needed a girl to sort of put that across, and Pamela did it really well. So, what a great guest she is!
RECORD LABEL TALK
You obviously have now a new record label, or should I say, you now have two new labels you’re working with. Tell me something about that?
So, there are two record labels. The main label was Battlegod, and I was introduced to Battlegod because of Tony Mills. You know Tony Mills from Shy and TNT. You know that Tony Mills died?
I know that. He was a great vocalist, and I met him several times during the years.
Right. It was very sad, but before he died, he invited all his friends to a party, and it was just weeks before he died. And so, we all went to this party, which was really weird, it’s somebody’s living wake, it’s their funeral in reverse. And he took me to one side, and he said, “Do you know what?” He said, “I fucking love you, man.” He said, “You are a fucking great singer, and I followed you around everywhere.” He said, “You’re my inspiration.” I’m going, oh, man, that is a really beautiful thing to say, man. I said, “Thank you very much for that.” He said, “Well, listen, there’s a record label called Battlegod, And I’ve just done my past–” I think he’s done four or five albums with Battlegod or something like that. And he said, “Give them a try.” Okay. Well, I don’t know Battlegod, so this is the first time I’ve worked with them. And he said, “Give them a try. They work really hard. They don’t have all of the connections around the world, but they work really hard.” I said, “Okay.” So, then the guitarist, Scott, spoke to me about Dark Star in America. So now I’m thinking, okay, this might be good because you’ve got connections in America, you’ve got the hard-working guys around the rest of the world. Maybe two record labels would work okay. And I’ve done it before with Black Sabbath. They had IRS and EMI working together, doing the same product around the world in different territories. So, it’s not a new thing for me. I thought it would work. Well, yeah, okay, the two labels that I’ve got, I mean, they’re good in their own thing. I don’t think they like each other very much, but they’re good. They’re doing their own thing. And those each are releasing their own versions, not the music, but I gave them different artwork and packaging. So, the artwork in the American version is different from the artwork for the rest of the world, and so on. So, I think that’s really cool because it gives the collectors, the fans, lots of things to talk about to collect, “I got this version,” “Oh, I’ve got this version.” So, I do like it. It’s hard to work, keeping two labels like together, but it’s part of the story, and that’s where we are. So, we can’t change that now so we’re doing it as best we can with the two labels together. But the main label was Battlegod because they started it, and part of the advances came from them, so we have to sort of look to Battlegod first and the Dark Star after.
What kind of deal do you have? Does it include more albums after THORNS?
Potentially. It could keep going. I’ve already spoken to them about what happens next, and they go, “Yeah, yeah, cool.” So, it’s all ”yes” at the moment; there’s no ”no’s” There are lots of ”yes,” and there are good words being spoken about this album, THORNS. I’m very happy with the way that people are talking about it. It’s a good thing to build on. We can go further from here, so I hope so.
Good. I think this is.
BACK ON THE ROAD
As we discussed earlier, there are a lot of good musicians on the record, but when it’s time to start playing live shows, do you currently have a permanent band?
No, no. It’s a problem for me because my career came into the studio. And I’m still here in the studio, doing guest appearances. That’s just the way how my career went. I don’t have a band. So, if I tour, I have to hire the musicians if they’re available. You know, money, timing, all sorts of things might come into the problem, and then you have to rehearse it from the beginning. It’s not like if you’ve got a band, then you know where you start from. But with hired musicians or a band, it makes it that much harder. So, I do have a regret, and I wish I had kept a band. But I didn’t. That’s just the way my career took me into the studio rather than on the road. So yeah, I have to work harder to get a live show on the road. And that is one of the questions that is coming up. I said to the labels; I would love to get back out there. It would be fantastic, but the problem I’ve always had is that when you– sometimes the promoter hires a band for you, and it can sound and look a little bit like a tribute act because it’s not right. You know what I mean? It’s not like quite there. They could be great players and very capable, but it’s just like hard to make it work sometimes. And I said, if we do this– if we take this on the road, it’s got to be done right. So, we have to get the band together, rehearse the band for a long time – weeks, not just a couple of hours – and see what we can do. Then you need a show, and then, you’ve got to in advance to book it. You need six months in advance to book a show. So, it’s not going to happen this year. There’s just the thing with COVID and everything; it just can’t happen now. But we’re already writing the next album. So, I mean, what if we make another album and then, later on, we tour two albums together, somehow? I don’t know. It’s a question, and it’s a regret. I wish I had got a band but it’s one of those things. That’s just where my life took me, so.
Maybe you don’t have a permanent band, but you have musicians you have worked with for a long time together already, like Danny and Magnus?
Right. And Danny works with Venom, so I have to wait for him to be available. It’s not like he’s just there. He has work to do and recording and other bands and tours and stuff. So then, I can only tour if they’re not touring if I want to use Danny. And it’s the same thing with Magnus Rosén. I mean, Magnus Rosén is an insanely mad person who works all the time. He’s always doing something, Magnus. And so, I have to wait for him to become available, or then I have to go and find another band. But these people are on the album, so you would think that they would be in the band.
The last time you did more touring was in 2005-2006, after the SCREAM album. I actually saw one of the shows somewhere in Europe, and Geoff Nicholls was still in the band. I also remember when he got sick and sadly passed away in 2017. You then said in some interview that Geoff is just impossible to replace because he was not just your longtime colleague from Black Sabbath but also your good friend, a writing partner, and so on. I wondered if Geoff’s absence was one of the reasons this album took so long to finish, or am I just wrong here?
Well, this album ended up with very few keyboards on it. There’s only “Book of Shadows” and “Crying Wolf” that have some keyboards by Bruno Sa. But yeah, the thing with Geoff Nicholls was that he was my connection to Black Sabbath, musically. So, if I went on tour, for example, he would be able to help me explain to the other musicians how it’s supposed to be. He was in Sabbath much longer than me. He joined the band in 1980 and played on HEAVEN AND HELL and all subsequent Sabbath albums up to the 1999 REUNION album. So, he has much more knowledge about the Sabbath sound, how it was constructed. so that is almost impossible to replace, you know, that sort of information—that knowledge. And what a nice guy he was. I mean, Geoff Nicholls was a fantastic man; everybody loved Geoff, and he was just the fun guy to have on tour, and that’s impossible to replace. So, in many ways, Geoff was impossible to replace, but there are other keyboard players that are very, very good. Bruno Sa has played with me before in the South American things that we did out there. So, I do know him. But if I do a tour, how much Black Sabbath stuff do I do? I mean, it’s interesting. I mean, I wouldn’t be doing any of Dio stuff for sure, but maybe I’ll do some songs from the Tony Martin era? I think we would do “Headless Cross” and things like that, but it would have to be a question for the time when we bring this on the road. Then we’ll find out what we are going to do if that makes sense?
THE SABBATH YEARS AND THE ETERNAL IDOL
Of course, we have to discuss a bit about your past career with Black Sabbath as well. One of the great news at the moment is that your era Sabbath albums are finally getting re-released.
Yeah, I found out a few weeks ago that they’ve now got a record deal for them. And I do know is that there won’t be individual albums; it’ll be a box set of the Tony Martin era. I don’t know what exact date they’re planning to release this stuff, but it will be later this year.
That’s just brilliant news, but if I’ve understood correctly, THE ETERNAL IDOL is not included in it?
No, because someone else owns that.
Do you know who the owner is?
It’s a syndicate. It has something to do with a previous manager of Tony Iommi’s, who owns the rights to that one album that Tony Iommi doesn’t have, so he can’t re-release it on his own. It’s down to somebody else to release that one. It’s a shame that they’re not altogether. It’d be nice if THE ETERNAL IDOL would come at the same time. But this is politics in bands. It’s crazy shit but that happens, and it’s not always nice, but that’s the way it is.
THE ETERNAL IDOL was your first album with the Sabbath. Ray Gillen had left the band in the middle of recordings, and you replaced his vocal tracks on the album. How much the album was still in process when you got the job?
The whole thing was already done—even the singing. Ray Gillen had even sung it, the whole album. I mean, there are versions of– his version of THE ETERNAL IDOL is out there. You can get his version of it. And I actually was asked to join the band before that. If you remember, Glenn Hughes was in the band, and they did SEVENTH STAR. I was asked in 1986. They said that they’d probably have a gig for me because Glenn, they’d lost Glenn Hughes somewhere, I don’t know what was happening, and they put me on standby.
I was thinking like, “What the fuck?” That scared me to death because it’s Glenn Hughes. I can’t sing like Glenn Hughes; nobody can sing like Glenn Hughes. Only Glenn Hughes can sing like Glenn Hughes. That’s crazy. So, I was really scared. And then, they rang me again and said, ”Okay, we found him. No worries. Stand down” I was like, “Fuck, thank God for that!” Soon later, Glenn left, and they got Ray Gillen in the band. Then they rang me again when they had problems with Ray Gillen and said, “Okay, you better come down to London and do an audition.” And now it was 1987. So now, I’m still scared because I don’t know what they’re doing, and they wouldn’t give me any songs. They just said come to the studio in London. So, I went there, and they gave me one song, which was “The Shining,” and they said, “Sing that, and let’s see how it goes?” So, I sang it, and they said, “Okay, thank you,” and then I just went back home. And then two days later, they called me and said, “Okay, you’ve got the job. You’ve got one week to sing the album.” So, I’m like, “Okay. At this point, I’m not sure what I can do.” But you know what? Because Ray Gillen had already sort of put his vocals down, that was kind of good because that gave me direction. They said, “don’t change anything. Don’t rewrite the lyrics. Don’t do anything. Just sing what’s there.” So, I said, “Fine. I’ll do that.” And that was good because I didn’t have to think about what I was going to write or what melodies were going to be. They’d already done it, which gave me a break, really. It was relieving thing for me. So, I did the best I could, and it was okay. I did alright with it. And then, when HEADLESS CROSS came up, well, now that’s me writing and bringing up the melodies and stuff like that. So, you can see the difference, really, between THE ETERNAL IDOL and HEADLESS CROSS. There’s a definite change. So, HEADLESS CROSS was, that’s me writing and recording that. And I was grateful for THE ETERNAL IDOL because that gave me an understanding of the band, how they record and how they work.
At that time, there were many line-up changes in Sabbath. Ray Gillen, Eric Singer, and Bob Daisley had left the band in the middle of the recordings. You replaced Gillen, and Dave Spitz and Bev Bevan returned to the band. The new lineup played a show in Athens, and it was also your first performance with Sabbath. But then Bev Bevan left the band because he refused to play the following shows in Sun City, South Africa. What do you remember from those six shows you played in Sun City then?
Oh, okay. I know about that stuff now. But back then, I had no idea what this was about. And I was going; I couldn’t understand why Bev Bevan didn’t want to be in the band. Geezer Butler didn’t want to be in the band? I mean, why is everybody leaving? “I don’t understand why everybody’s leaving. Oh, it’s South Africa. What’s wrong with South Africa?” I was just young, and I had no idea what was going on there. And of course, the decisions are made by the management. And so, I’m on the plane, and I’m going, “why the fuck is everybody leaving the band?” And then, they sort of told me, and I went, “oh, ah, okay. Well, now it’s too late. There’s nothing I can do about it.” So, I sort of went along with it, and I did what I had to do. But then afterward, then the press was like, “you guys went to South Africa?” “Yeah. Sorry about that.” So, it was just like, nobody told me anyway because I didn’t make any decisions. I’m not part of the management thing. And so, I’m just doing what everybody else has sort of said we do. And then we did a tour in Russia. Where else did we go? Well, we went to play places where the bands didn’t really go to back then. I think we were one of the first Western bands who went to play in Russia. I guess that Ozzy and somebody else had been there before us, but not many.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed Terry Chimes, who replaced Bev Bevan, and played the Sun City shows with Sabbath. And he told me a funny story about how almost he lost his teeth just before the first show?
Well, Lord, I can’t remember why. Did he say why he lost his teeth?
Long story, in short, he then had new bridge-fitted teeth, which accidentally fell to the floor and smashed to pieces just a few hours before the first show. But with the help of a local pharmacist, he managed to get it fixed using superglue, just in time. “Laughs”
That’s funny. Now when you say that I remember it now. Yeah, that was crazy, but everybody was just flown in like at the last minute. It was just a really crazy time. And I think that proves to you that Sabbath was going through a hard patch that was low, low times for Sabbath, then. And nobody wanted to really work with the band and all the problems. People were leaving, members changing, and the fans started to lose interest in the band. It was just crazy, low period. So, we had to work really hard, and I think we did okay, I mean when HEADLESS CROSS came, and when we did the following tour, then the whole thing started to pick up, and we did start to bring it back.
I still remember when HEADLESS CROSS was released and besides the great music, I loved its “dark” theme and “evil” lyrics. Where did you get that inspiration for those lyrics back then?
Well, you know what– I mean the whole God and Devil thing– I mean bands have been writing about good and evil for decades. So, the trick or the secret really is to make it into a story. So, with Sabbath, for example, I chose themes to talk about, like God and the Devil, so the HEADLESS CROSS was mostly about English history, mostly, and then the TYR was the Viking thing kind of mostly. And then I had these images in my head of going with the Shamans, maybe of the American Indian theme or the Samurai Warriors. You see, the thing with the themes was like that’s what I was thinking, it didn’t work because I got fired! “Laughs,” But at the end of the day, I just wanted to try and do something that I was known for, not what either Dio was known for, or Ozzy was known for. Now that good and evil thing hasn’t gone away, it’s still around. And so, on this THORNS album, there is some old-school stuff in there, but the stories are pretty cool. And I’ve been able to bring some of it into the modern period. So, it works for me, and it works for my voice and the melodies that I write.
FORCEFIELD AND BLUE MURDER
You did some interesting projects outside of Black Sabbath in 1988. One of those things was the album TALISMAN which you recorded with the band Forcefield. How did that thing come about?
Cozy Powell got me that gig. Forcefield was a kind of musical collective Cozy had formed with Ray Fenwick in 1987. I don’t know why they were looking for a singer because they were already doing some things with other guys. But anyway, I went along, and that was completely different, songs like ”Carrie.”And the Forcefield music was much softer material than I was used to do, so I had to kind of reset my voice somehow to make it fit the music they were doing. But it was great to work with Jan Akkerman and Cozy Powell. And actually, the bass player was Lawrence Cottle, who was later on the HEADLESS CROSS. So, there were a lot of great names, and it was a good thing. I got a few hundred bucks just for a session, great. “Okay, I’ll have a go.” [laughter] I’m quite cheap, you see; I don’t cost much money. “Laughs”
In early 1988, you also worked briefly with John Sykes fronted Blue Murder-band. Indeed, it must not have been a coincidence that you replaced Ray Gillen in this band too?
I know. I replaced Ray Gillen, and Cozy Powell was originally in the band also. You see, the way Geoff Nicholls explained it to me was that, well, Blue Murder loved Ray Gillen because they’d heard THE ETERNAL IDOL, and they thought that Ray Gillen had written that. So, they thought, “ah, great looking guy. And he writes, and he sings and stuff like that.” But then, when he went to join Blue Murder, they found out that Ray actually didn’t write any of it. It was down to Geoff Nicholls and Bob Daisley, who wrote all lyrics for THE ETERNAL IDOL. So, when Ray got there, it came to a bit of a stop, and of a sudden, they got me up there. Well, again, it was like, okay, we’ve only got a week. Won’t people stop doing that to me? Why is it always a week? So, I went in and did some stuff and started writing “Valley of the Kings” and the other stuff. Now, if ever you get to hear the Blue Murder demos, in fact, some of the songs on the album– if you listen to those really carefully, the melodies are very similar to THE ETERNAL IDOL because I had no time to really work anything. And so, I was just saying, “Yeah, okay, this I’ll do for now, as I’m sort of singing that.” Well, they took that away and used it. Actually, I said to them, “No, you shouldn’t use that.” But they did, and I really didn’t get much credit for it. And then, there was this crazy, crazy contract they sent me. My manager said, “oh, no, no, no, no. That’s not going to work. You better come home.” So then, on the day before they were about to fly out to Canada, my manager came and got me and said, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, you’re not doing that.” And took me out. So then, John Sykes sang it himself.
Yeah, so did Cozy leave the band at the same time as you did?
Yeah, pretty much, but he was already gone when I worked with the band. It was very high… –it was a very intense period. John Sykes, he’s a nice enough guy, but hard to work with. And he’s angry. He’s always really angry. Oh, yeah, man.
BACK WHERE I BELONG AND DEHUMANIZER
As you mentioned earlier, the band decided to fire you and Neil Murray after the TYR -tour in November of 1990. Tony and Cozy remained in the band, and Ronnie James Dio and Geezer Butler joined them. Of course, there was a lot of politics in the background, but what Cozy was thinking about that decision back then?
Well, Cozy wasn’t doing very well then. He had an accident on his farm, and he was fighting with his health a little bit. So, yeah, that was not necessarily political. That was just stuff that was happening in his life that wasn’t really working well. He did come back and did something; I think that DRUMS ARE BACK was an album that he did. And he also worked with Brian May and the guy from Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green. I think that Cozy had really nothing to do with band politics. It was just about changes in his life, really. I mean, I wasn’t expecting to be fired, that was a surprise to me, but then that’s again band politics. And that’s how shit happens, really. It’s some of the things you have to learn. And because I was young, I’m 12 years younger than the other guys. There always was this gap; I was never able to close the gap. So, it was hard work for me to try and keep up with these guys, but I kind of got through it and learned the trade. And now I’m still here through all this time and back to this solo album now, so it’s really cool.
In 1992 you released your first solo album BACK WHERE I BELONG, which is musically very different from your Sabbath albums.I could describe it or call it AOR music, but how would you describe it yourself?
Well, you see, after I got fired, I didn’t want anything to do with Sabbath. I went, “No, that’s it. I’m finished with that,” and so I started wondering, what do I do? And at the time, I was kind of into that like 1980s commercial rock stuff. And I thought, “Okay, I’ll go that way.” That’s where my head was going. And so, I tried it, but it didn’t fly. It was great to work with all these brilliant musicians, and the first time I’d worked with a gospel choir was fantastic. But no, it didn’t really work. So, then I went sort of back to the heavy thing again, which is where my voice works best, I think, for me, anyway. But you see, this is what it’s like inside my head, it’s a nightmare inside my head, it’s a curse because my head is into all these different kinds of music, different instruments, different sounds, it’s full of shit. To try and make it work is almost impossible. So, if you could climb inside my head, you would be going, “Argh, fucking hell, it’s crazy in here. What the fuck is that.” [laughter]. That’s what it’s like. So somehow, I have to try and make it work, which a lot of singers don’t have to do. They’re in a box, and that’s where they fit. Not me, no, it’s harder for me because my head is just a nightmare to work.
At the same time when you were recording BACK WHERE I BELONG, Sabbath was in the studio with Ronnie James Dio, working on DEHUMANIZER. A few weeks ago, you almost blew up the Internet when you said in public for the first time that Sabbath asked you to rejoin the band in the middle of their recording session. Maybe you can share a bit more information about what happened then? For example; which songs did you try to work with the band in the studio?
That was a surprise call. Can you imagine getting that telephone call? What the fuck? I was still working on BACK WHERE I BELONG, and Tony Iommi called me and he said, “Can you come back?” And I went, “No.” [laughter] He went, “Why not?” I said, “I’m doing a solo album now. No, I can’t do anything about it.” He’s like, “Okay, okay, no worries.” Then he called me back again, sometime later, he said, “Are you sure you can’t come back?” And I went, “No, honestly, I can’t do it. Why?” He said, “We’re having problems with Ronnie.” And I don’t know what the problems were, but he said, “It’s not going very well.” And so, I said, “Okay, look, I can try. I’ll come down and try and have a look.” So, I went to the studio. Cozy was there. Geezer Butler was there. Tony Iommi was there. And so, I walked in, and they played me some of the songs. You have to understand that at the time, the songs didn’t have names; it was just like riffs and melodies and tunes that they’d been putting together. And they’d sort of got some kind of names, but nothing that you would probably recognize now. But if I listen to the riffs, I can hear some of it, like what I worked in, but nothing of what I’ve tried still exists. Because when I was there, and I was listening to this stuff, I said, “I would have to rewrite this for it to work with me.” And they said, “We don’t have time.” I said, ” Yeah, here we go again, talking about no time. Let me guess, a week.” So, they said, “No, we don’t have time.” I said, “Okay, the best thing for you to do really, I think, is that you just finish it with Ronnie. Do the album and get it released, and then maybe we can talk afterward.” And that’s kind of what happened. And then they contacted me for CROSS PURPOSES. Then I sort of went back, but I did try. I did go and have a look at the songs and have a listen and stuff with the guys, but I couldn’t really make it work, so they did it.
It’s not a secret that some of the songs in DEHUMANIZER were actually really old. For example, ”Master of Insanity” was originally recorded by Geezer Butler -band in the mid-’80s. When you heard the final version of the album, were there any songs or familiar riffs that had already been written when you were still in the band?
There was a couple, but I can’t tell you what the names of the songs were. I’ve got a cassette copy with a couple of the riffs on. I go, “Argh, I know that riff.” But this is what they do. I’ve told this story many times that when we used to go to Tony Iommi’s house, he would fetch out a box full of cassettes of riffs. And it might have a riff in E, well that doesn’t mean anything, a fast riff in E, okay, that doesn’t mean anything. A riff in A, okay. And in the end, he would say, “Fuck it, let’s just write some new ones.” And then we’d write some new rifts, and then they would go on a cassette, and that would go in the box. So, you never actually– you’re always looking at old rifts with Tony Iommi; he has got thousands of riffs. Do you know what, they’re all good, there’s nothing bad in there, it’s just how do you make it into a song? For me as a singer, I have to make it into a song, and it’s not always possible to use riffs. There are some strange time signatures and really odd stuff, but fantastic. I think that you can sing over verse-chorus-type stuff. So, yes, it does not surprise me that they play older riffs because they start by looking at old riffs, to start with. And sometimes they can cut that and put another riff into it and make it into a song that way, so.
If you think of DEHUMANIZER as a whole, and if you should compare it to the other ”Dio Sabbath” -albums, how well does it make in that comparison?
How would I rate it? Well, we played some of the songs on tour, we did like ”Computer God,” I think– what else did we do? We sometimes opened shows with” Time Machine.” I liked it. There was some good stuff on there. I think the problem with it was that they weren’t getting on with Ronnie, and I don’t know why. I mean, they’d known each other for years and years, so they obviously know how each of them works and what kind of person they are. It seemed like it fell apart really quickly to me. I don’t understand what really happened for them there, but maybe that had a bearing on the songs, I don’t know. It’s another era of the Sabbath. I think you have just to take DEHUMANIZER as DEHUMANIZER. And if you listen to it that way, then there’s good stuff on it. If you try to compare it to like HEAVEN AND HELL, well, HEAVEN AND HELL is the best album for me– maybe MOB RULES, but no, HEAVEN AND HELL is the one that really, really worked, I think.
CROSS PURPOSES AND FORBIDDEN
You were asked to rejoin the band in mid-1993, and CROSS PURPOSES was released the following year. If I have understood correctly, this record was not originally intended to be released under the name Black Sabbath. But then the record company demanded it, and so it became a Sabbath album?
Yeah. No, I joined on the understanding that it would be Black Sabbath, so I didn’t hear anything different. You probably know more information than I do, but to me, they always said, “Yeah, it’s a Black Sabbath album.” And then Geezer Butler’s wife Gloria, who was his manager, took over and started steering it. Actually, the sound of CROSS PURPOSES was really good, I thought. They had a producer guy, Leif Mases, and he did a really good job, I think. For me, it was really cool to work with Geezer Butler, and at the time, he said it was the best album that he’d ever worked on. He probably doesn’t say that now, but at the time, he said it. But yeah, it was cool. I enjoyed the process. And I did ask at the time, I said to Geezer, “Do you want to write any lyrics, or do you want to put any melodies on this?” He went, “No. No, I’m not interested.” I said, “Okay, I’ll just do it myself then.” He said, “Yeah, you do it.” “All right, then I’ll do it.” [laughter]
I remember that it was a great tour and I also saw Black Sabbath performing live at Provinssirock Festival in Finland on that tour. I guess that it was the most extensive tour you did with the band?
Oh, yeah, the ”Cross Purposes” tour was long. Because we did Europe, Asia, and America, we also did those giant “Monsters of Rock” shows in South America. I remember being away from home for nine months. Okay, that didn’t do the marriage any good, by the way. [laughter] Yeah, that was a long period. But then, when we did the FORBIDDEN thing, we sort of linked a few of those things. We went to Asia again with that. So, every single album with Sabbath was a different era, a different period, and it’s been the same with my solo albums, BACK WHERE I BELONG, SCREAM, THORNS, they’re all different. So, I’m kind of used to it. It’s not a problem exactly, but I think it’s a great story that you can tell, and Sabbath is one of the greatest bands with a huge story to tell.
The last album you did with the band was FORBIDDEN. Because I like it a lot, it sometimes feels unfair that the album has often been named the worst Sabbath release of all time, it has the worst cover ever, and the worst production, etc. What is your opinion about the album nowadays?
Well, I know there are a lot of fans out there that like it, and I have to sort of sit back and roll my eyes a little bit and go, “Okay, fair enough.” But for me, it’s one of the worst albums because that was really band politics at the time. When they said they were getting Ice-T to sing on it, they wouldn’t tell me– they couldn’t or wouldn’t say how much of it he was going to sing. So, I said, “Well, is he singing a song, a line, two songs, all of the songs? What’s he doing?” And they said, “Oh, well, we haven’t decided yet. Just keep going, and we’ll decide later, okay?” So, then I carried on going. And then I asked them again, “What’s going on? Who’s singing what?” And they’re going like, “Oh, we haven’t really decided yet, just keep going.” And by the time I got to the studio to record it, I still didn’t know if I was going to be in the band, so now I can’t concentrate. I can’t really make my voice work properly because I’m just thinking about all this shit. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to get fired again here. It doesn’t feel good,” it’s like one of those feelings. So, I kind of did it, but it wasn’t the best. I mean, I could have made it better if I was confident and knew that I would actually still be in the band. Then it turns out that he only sang in one song, and that was it. So, it’s all a bit messed up to me.
But you know what, the guys, Ice-T, great guys, funny, really, really nice guys to work with. But the production, you’ve got the rappers telling Cozy Powell how to play drums. Cozy sort of sat there, and he’s going, “You do know who I am, right?” [laughter] “Cozy Powell, yeah, yeah, yeah. We know you’re Cozy Powell. Yeah. Yeah, great. We love what you do, man, yeah, yeah.” “Okay.” And they said, “But can you play it like this?” And he’s going, “I will try.” So, it was like the rapper was trying to tell Cozy how to play. And he did the job, but it was just wrong– for me, it was just wrong, and Cozy Powell didn’t like it. And I know what they were trying to do, that Run-DMC thing with that album. So, I understand where they were trying to go with it, but it was Black Sabbath, and Cozy Powell was playing those rhythms and stuff.
Tony Iommi said already many years ago that he has plans to remix FORBIDDEN again someday. Do you know what’s the state of that project at the moment?
So, now what I understand is Iommi has remixed it, but with a harder sound and without some of the effects and stuff that was on it, and he made it drier and much more up-to-date, I think. I haven’t heard it, but they tell me that it’s much, much better. So, as you do, I’ll wait to find out what that was about. And of course, that whole FORBIDDEN tour thing just after that, it just fell apart, really.
As you said, you had a stressful time during FORBIDDEN -album recordings in the studio, but it certainly didn’t help the situation that there was that “behind-the-scenes” discussion at the same time about the reunion of the classic Black Sabbath lineup. Maybe it was a secret everyone knew, but no one was talking about before it was all official?
Well, I asked them at the time because I heard that they were talking to Ozzy again, and that was fine because, as I said,” You just have to tell me because if I know now, I’ll plan something new, and I can do that.” But they said, “No, no, it’s just rumored.” Yeah! Anyway, that’s how kind of it came about, and everybody knew that’s where they were going with it. And I think it was just that they wanted to close the end of the record deal with the record label, and then it kind of stopped, really. That was the last thing I did with them. So that gave me eleven years of association with Sabbath from 1986 which is when they first asked me to replace Glenn Hughes on tour. They released the compilation album, SABBATH STONES, in 1996, and that kept my name again attached to the band, even though we weren’t really working there together anymore. And then that made it 11 years association, even though the DEHUMANIZER thing where they got me back down the studio. So, it was broken sections, but it kept my name attached to the band, long service.
No matter if it’s been put together from broken sections, eleven years is a long time to spend in a band. However, you played your last show with Black Sabbath in 1995. Do you still remember that show?
Yeah, wasn’t that in the Philippines or Singapore or somewhere like that? The reason I remember it is because we did “Changes,” the Ozzy song “Changes.” And Tony Iommi played piano on stage. Wow, that you don’t see very often. Yeah, I remember that. In fact, there’s a recording of it somewhere, and I’m trying to get it. That’d be cool to hear that again.
THE LAST WORDS
Before we close up this interesting interview, let’s go briefly back to your new solo album. I’ve heard from your record label that there are plans to release a vinyl version of THORNS as well. If so, when will it happen?
Well, we were going to do vinyl, but there are too many tracks on it. And they said you have to take some off. I went, “What? What the fuck are they fucking telling me to…. Fucking– no, I’m not taking songs off, no, no, no, no, no, no.” And they said, “Well, there’s only one other option. You need to write some more songs, and then we’ll do a double vinyl later on. So, “Okay. Well, I’ll do that.” So right now, the prolific guitar player, Scott, has sent me 39 ideas, oh, man. So, at the moment, I’m going through them just to find out which ones we could use. But we need four extra tracks to make a double vinyl, so we’ll also do that. And also, some people ask me to do audio cassettes. Who the fuck wants audio cassettes nowadays?
It’s coming back. You will see! “laughs.”
Oh, man. So, we’ll do the whole analog thing later in the year. So, we will do audio cassettes, vinyl, and stuff like that later on. So that’s going to ring– you guys will be asking me more stories about that, “What the the fuck is that?” And then it’s onto the next album, really. So, there are lots of things going on, and there are lots of stories to tell. I just want to say ”Thank you” to everybody because all of the guests that worked on the album have been fantastic. My daughter is on there. My son is on there. And all these people, they’re all friends mostly, so they’ve been fantastic. And Danny was great. Danny actually recorded the drums twice. He did the whole album twice because we thought we had a mistake on the original recordings, so we did it all again. And then when it came down to mixing it, we hadn’t had a mistake– there wasn’t a mistake. So, Danny worked really hard on this, and he deserves lots of mentions and stuff.
Okay, the last question. Now when you said that THORNS would be released on vinyl at some point, is there any chance that you could release SCREAM on vinyl as well? And who owns the rights of it?
I own the rights to SCREAM. So, re-releasing BACK WHERE I BELONG and SCREAM, that could be something. And in fact, I spoke to the record labels, and they go, ” Yeah, possibly, that’s possible.” So, it’s not for now because we’ve got stuff going on, lots of things happening right now. So, my priority at the moment is making a new video. I need to try and get some videos made, and with COVID, it’s been really hard to get people together. Scott lives in America, Magnus lives in Sweden, and Danny’s up by Scotland, so we’re trying to find ways for us to make a video with all of that. And then maybe after the whole THORNS thing, then we can sort of think about releasing the SCREAM album and that kind of thing. But I want to try and make THORNS a sequence of albums, not just one album, make two or three, possibly.