June 11, 2008

Sam Ash Music recently conducted an interview with legendary heavy metal guitarist Tony Iommi (BLACK SABBATH, HEAVEN AND HELL). A couple of excerpts from the chat follow.

Sam Ash Music: What's your writing process like? Does it differ depending on your collaborators?

Iommi: Yeah, I generally come up with the riff first and we build it from there if that's suitable for Ronnie [James Dio] make a chorus and just build the song up. We change it around and try different things to experiment.

Sam Ash Music: Was it the same way writing with Ozzy [Osbourne] or in the past with Ronnie?

Iommi: In a way, I suppose. Back then we just jammed and played loud (laughs). Now, it's in a control room either at my house in England or Ronnie's house. At the moment we're at Ronnie's house in L.A., sitting in the control room (Geezer, myself and Ronnie) coming up with the ideas. It's a bit different. It's better like this, you can hone in more on what you're doing. We seem to get more done this way.

Sam Ash Music: I notice there's a lot more lead work and improvising with HEAVEN AND HELL than there was with Ozzy. What is your take on that?

Iommi: Absolutely. It's been great. To me, that's what we're all about. And we always used to do that with the original SABBATH in the old days. We would just jam. But unfortunately, it got too regimental towards the last tours, doing the Ozzfests and everything. You couldn't improvise that much. It more or less became straight, one song after another because of the time factor and everything else. With Heaven and Hell, it allows more looseness. You can jam around and try different ideas, make something up on any given night, which is great and I like that. It keeps you more stimulated.

Sam Ash Music: Are there any songs that you've written and recorded and now cringe at in hindsight?

Iommi: Well, I think you always get that. If you didn't get that, you probably wouldn't be progressing. The way the industry changes, the way the gadgets change, going from tape to computers. Effect pedals are changing. Everything is changing. There's always something better around the corner and you say, "Oh god, I could have got a better drum sound," or, "I could have got a better guitar sound," but that's always going to be the way. And you think later on, "Oh I could have done that better." That's the way it is and you have to accept it for that time, the way you did it.

Sam Ash Music: Who has been your favorite collaborator over the years?

Iommi: Geezer is really great to work with. Ronnie is always great as well. It's great to bounce ideas off of them both. It has been really good. We can just swap ideas. Geezer can say, "I like that" or Ronnie will go "I like that." You need that, you know, otherwise you would be sitting on your own playing stuff thinking, "Well, do I like that?" or, "Is that good?" It's nice to have a response from somebody. The chemistry between myself, Ronnie and Geezer is great. We started off at my house in England and Ronnie came over and we wrote some ideas there, which are really good. And now we're here, in L.A. at Ronnie's and it's been great as well. Geezer has been involved. I am really pleased with the stuff we have been coming up with.

Sam Ash Music: When is a potential date for everyone to hear the new HEAVEN AND HELL music?

Iommi: Well, we really haven't put a time on it. We will be going on tour in August. We're really looking forward to that. It'll be nice because we're doing the tour together with JUDAS PRIEST, who are old friends of ours and, of course, MOTRHEAD. After the tour, that's when we'll probably be thinking of heading into the studio.

Sam Ash Music: If you could assemble a dream band of any artists living or not, who would be in your super-group?

Iommi: I have always liked, and I don't know why, but Tom Jones (laughs),I always wanted to do something with him. I just like his voice. He has a great voice. But I think I played in a lot of my dream bands. I played with people who I wanted to play with. In fact, even my solo album was a good thing for me because I had different singers and musicians. It was interesting to do, with so many different people. It was very enjoyable.

Sam Ash Music: After Ozzy went solo he's had a number of guitarists cover your songs. Do you have any memories of your first time hearing Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee or Zakk Wylde playing your compositions and solos in their own styles?

Iommi: I remember hearing bits but to be really honest, I can't remember it now. I haven't heard them in so many years. But no, I didn't mind them playing what I did. I mean, I noticed on a couple of things, they weren't right. But as a player you will notice that. I think I remember one now, hearing Brad Gillis playing the riff wrong (laughs),but there we go (laughs)

Sam Ash Music: You've been going strong for 40 years. What's the secret for keeping it all together for so long?

Iommi: It's the belief in it, wanting to do it, and enjoying it. I think the time when I don't enjoy it anymore will be when I don't do it anymore. At the moment, I am really enjoying it and it's been really good and I don't want it to end. It has been great playing with the Ozzy lineup and it has been great playing with the Dio lineup. I've been fortunate to do the two, which has been just marvelous. I think that is the ultimate kind of thing for me.

Sam Ash Music: What have been the biggest changes you've seen in the music industry over the years?

Iommi: Well, I think the computer age using ProTools has been a real help in a lot of ways. But in other ways, you sort of miss the old style of recording. I like the technology to a point. If you can use it like that, I think it's really helpful. The change is certainly about how quick you can do things now and having the availability of things. If you wanted to get a sound years ago, you had to make it. Now, it's there on the computer. You know, what I found strange in L.A., we went down to try and find a record store, and we couldn't find one. Tower Records, gone. Virgin Megastore, gone. Where the hell did it go? We ended up going to Borders to find a bloody DVD. It's peculiar. I just didn't know where to go. It is very sad and becoming a real shock that a lot of record stores are going out of business. The whole business has changed as far as the record label is concerned as well. Who would have thought many years ago that record labels would be going out of business?

Read the entire interview at

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