In 1968, John Michael Obsourne, Terence Michael Joseph Butler and William Thomas Ward from Aston, together with Anthony Frank Iommi from Handsworth, were playing The Blues as a band called Earth. Known to each other as Ozzy, Geezer, Bill and Tony, they were gigging sporadically around Birmingham and, Carlisle, when they landed an interval spot at Henry’s Blueshouse supporting Ten Years After. The capacity crowd, there specifically to see TYA, gave Earth a standing ovation.
I thought that they were gripping. Raw, under-rehearsed, but rocking the blues impressively. I rebooked them as support a couple of times, but so swiftly did they build a dedicated following that I soon had them headlining, making Henry’s a sort of residency and regularly doing turnaway business.
Somewhere along the way they asked me to be their manager, to which I replied that I thought I already was. So we signed them to Big Bear on a long-term deal, name-changed to Black Sabbath and got on with it.
We quickly built up their datesheet, with performances throughout the UK, with the notable exception of London, where they – the media, venues and the music biz in general – just did not get Sabbath. We got the band into Europe, notably extended seasons at the venerable Star Club in Hamburg, which were ball-breaking, but helped build the band into probably the tightest, toughest most rocking band imaginable.
The fan base grew swiftly, as did the return bookings and it wasn’t long before they were performing in Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and France.
David Platz of Essex Music, who already had the publishing on Big Bear bands Locomotive, Bakerloo and Tea & Symphony, reckoned that he owed me one. Although not particularly taken with Black Sabbath, he fronted the money to enable the recording of the album “Black Sabbath” – for which he got their publishing. Naturally.
The budget didn’t stretch to any of the fancy studios, so they recorded in the straightforwardly simple and unpretentious Regent Sound Studios – which perfectly suited the band. They didn’t need a posh green room or any of the usual luxuries, nor did they need to take a month to study their navels, write material or do dozens of overdubs.
Countless onstage performances had honed their repertoire to perfection, all they had to do was to play it like they always played it, and there it was, finished in just one day’s recording in a modest studio. This was the album that signified the birth of a totally new style of Rock Music – Heavy Metal.
Nowadays there are dozens of sub-styles of Metal, and they all have one thing in common. They acknowledge Black Sabbath as the fountain-head.
So why has this blues blog been turned over to Black Sabbath?
Firstly, because they are the most famous, notorious even, graduates of Henry’s Blueshouse. Secondly, because here we are in January 2021 sitting neatly between the anniversaries of the release of the first Black Sabbath single on January 9th 1970 and their first album which saw the light of day on Friday 13th February 1970.
The single was the comparatively unimportant “Evil Woman”, an inappropriate cover version of a Crow song that was foisted onto us by the largely uncomprehending production company. The album was the seminal “Black Sabbath”.
This might all seem to have been a smooth and straightforward rise to stardom, but it was anything but that. To a backdrop of their new but rapidly expanding fanbase, they met with a wall of indifference, scorn even, from the London-based music industry and media.
Even when their “Black Sabbath” album, which was to become arguably the single most influential album in the history of Rock Music, was released, it was met with a barrage of indifference, hostility even.
“There’s a diabolically pretentious poem….and the music made by this trio [TRIO?] is the sort you think you have heard a million times before…..sadly unoriginal. One star,” wrote The Disc & Music Echo, while Melody Maker said, “Black Magic Music For The Sick Masses….my advice would be not to listen at all if you like your albums to contain something new and fresh musically. To me this stuff has all been done a million times before.”
I wonder how these music business professionals felt when the album entered the Music Business Weekly Chart having sold 5000 units on the day of release, and went on to become a music milestone that is still celebrated over 50 years later.
The London-based media weren’t always that generous. Take Caroline Boucher, for instance, writing in The Disc & Music Echo under the headline “Black Night!” she wrote:
“There isn’t much Black Magic about Black Sabbath. The vocalist wears a red robe with a sign on the back and the drummer wears a crucifix, but that was the right way up.
“And although there isn’t really a set of rules for what Black Magic music should be like Sabbath certainly doesn’t seem to faintly resemble anything evil, mysterious, black, or doomy. At London’s Marquee on Monday I was positively bored.
“As a group they have little visual impact; no accompanying mime like Black Widow. Singer Ossie [!sic??] Osborne [!sic??] seemed obsessed with flopping his hair in front of his face so his facial features are scarcely visible for most of the time. Guitarist Tony Iommi played a loud and mainly meaningless guitar. Within minutes of going on stage he was doing sprawling untidy guitar breaks, which continued throughout their hour’s performance.
“And if the lyrics are something to write home about I am afraid I missed those too, but this may have been due to the volume at which seems imperative for speakers to be tuned to these days.
“Their repertoire was samey, their musical ability insufficient to carry an act with only a bass, lead, drums, and vocalist. Head-banging volume doesn’t make up for a bad basic sound. They seem to lack that rapport that links a good band to the audience. Black Sabbath seemed a very insular act, which may have been due to nerves, but I was unmoved.
Thus encouraged, The Sabs pressed on for a few more years, around fifty in fact, and made something of a name for themselves.
Henry’s old boys did good.
See inside the room where Sabbath played their first gig in Jim’s visit to The Crown, Station Street