With the 53rd anniversary of the release of the album, “Black Sabbath”, clearly in sight, it seems/seemed appropriate to dig into “Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Bear”, for an insightful view of the band’s journey from being Earth to the release of that first, all important classic album. “Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Bear”, the book by my brother Ron and myself, charts my time in what we laughingly refer to as The Music Business from the 1960s Brum Beat years, my time with Sabbath, working with American bluesmen through until more recent times.
There are three hefty chapters devoted to The Sabbs.
The original membership book for Henry’s Blueshouse shows John Michael Osbourne and Anthony James Iommi as early members at the princely cost of one shilling (5 pence) a year. They became regulars, we got talking, they told me that they were in a blues band, that I should call them Ozzy and Tony, that their band was called Earth, recently name-changed from the Polka Tulk Blues Band. Sometimes they brought the other band members, Terry Butler, known as ‘Geezer’, and Bill Ward.
After a while they asked if they could play the intermission spot at Henry’s. They were such serious folk that I had no hesitation in offering them a date. The fee for the intermission bands was £5, but the guys in Earth asked if they could have a Henry’s Blueshouse T-shirt each instead of a fee. No problem there.
The first time that Earth played Henry’s was to support Ten Years After, a big attraction at the club, so the boys got to play in front of a full house that night, and they played well, succeeding in the tough job of winning over an audience that was there specifically to see another band.
The support slots kept coming and a real Earth fan group was emerging, so, when the band asked me to manage them, I acceded with alacrity. The Earth datesheet at that time was pretty blank, but they already had a following in the Carlisle area and the beginnings of one in Birmingham. It was a pretty tough time to be a blues band in the UK. The blues boom had subsided, leaving in its wake hundreds of out of work, mostly boring bands who looked the same, wore the same battered jeans, smelt the same, stared at their boots in the same way, played the same repertoire and featured the same endless 200-mile-long guitar solos.
That description in no way fitted Earth who ploughed a serious blues furrow, but unfortunately, although the band were many cuts above the competition, in the eyes of many a venue they were just another blues band. We tried, with some success, to put ink on the datesheet, but I had believed from the beginning that the band’s name Earth was nondescript and tame and in no way reflected what the quartet did on stage. Believe me, even as a blues band, with Ozzy’s dynamic vocals, Tony’s powerhouse guitar riffs and the steaming rhythm team of Geezer and Bill, Earth made for a very special band. So I determined on a name-change as a launch-pad to move the band forward, even though, to a man, they were against it. I took to scouring the listings and small ads in the Melody Maker, the most important of our music weeklies, and very soon was rewarded for my efforts when I found not one band, but two, with the name Earth, both London-based and prominent enough to make it to the pages of Melody Maker.
So that was it – done and dusted! They reluctantly agreed to ditch Earth, but that led to another, even more difficult question: ‘What are we going to call ourselves?’
Every name that any of us suggested was immediately crushed and ditched as rubbish by the other four. This process seemed to go on forever, in fact, certainly for so many weeks that by the end every suggestion was dismissed almost before it left someone’s mouth. Fans who came to the band later on might be so obsessed with them biting the heads off everything from bats to bears that they find it ludicrous to think of them dutifully attending a weekly band meeting in my home in Edgbaston where we had a proper serious agenda and took and distributed meeting notes! I’m sorry if this disabuses anyone’s preciously guarded impression of the band as drug-crazed hooligans who somehow found the time for the odd gig, but that’s how it was: four young men utterly dedicated to improving their performance with regular rehearsals who demanded the same dedication to the cause from their manager, just as he demanded continual improvement from them.
So Geezer arrived late for a morning meeting, poked his nose round my dining room door, somehow not as contrite as he should have been; in fact there was a positive glow about him.
‘I’ve got it, chaps, I’ve got the name.’
There were random calls of, ‘You’re late! Where’ve you been?’ and ‘What is it this time?’
Still not deigning to enter the room, still poking his head cheekily round the door, he said, ‘Black Sabbath.’
There was a collective intake of breath, followed by a deafening silence and an exchange of quizzical glances, before a unison yell of approval. It had taken the rest of us less than a minute to agree that Geezer’s proposal of Black Sabbath was officially the new name for the band – and Earth was consigned to history.
From the moment we had a name that we could all subscribe to without reservation, and a new musical direction began to emerge. The satanic overtones, rooted in neither knowledge of, nor conviction about, the occult, seemed a pretty beezer way to go. After all, you couldn’t go on stage cheerily bouncing through Got My Mojo Working when your flag spelled out Black Sabbath. Musically, at that time, the material still had roots in the blues, but there developed a new intensity, a drive, a conviction that this is what we are, we’re committed to a cause and, if you don’t get it, then step aside because the Sabs are coming and we know exactly what we’re doing. The print, posters, press releases and T-shirts took on a new meaning and there is no doubt that the band suddenly became prolific in their songwriting, more intense in their rehearsals and infinitely more self-critical of their performances. This was a period when I could not have been more proud to represent the band. We shared a self-belief and had no time for anyone who didn’t get what Black Sabbath were about.