Black Sabbath were an English rock band, formed in Birmingham in 1968, by guitarist and main songwriter Tony Iommi, bassist and main lyricist Geezer Butler, singer Ozzy Osbourne, and drummer Bill Ward. The band experienced multiple line-up changes, with Iommi being the only constant member throughout its history. Originally formed as a blues rock band, the group soon adopted the Black Sabbath moniker and began incorporating occult themes with horror-inspired lyrics and tuned-down guitars. They also composed songs about social instability, political corruption and drugs.
Osbourne's regular use of alcohol and other drugs led to his dismissal from the band in 1979. He was replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Following two albums with Dio, Black Sabbath endured many personnel changes in the 1980s and 1990s that included vocalists Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen and Tony Martin, as well as several drummers and bassists. In 1992, Iommi and Butler rejoined Dio and drummer Vinny Appice to record Dehumanizer. The original line-up reunited with Osbourne in 1997 and released a live album Reunion. Black Sabbath's final studio album and nineteenth overall, 13 (2013), features all of the original members but Ward, who left the band prior to the recording sessions due to a contract dispute. A year after embarking on a farewell tour, the band played their final concert in their home city of Birmingham on 4 February 2017, after which they broke up. Iommi has stated, however, that he has not ruled out the possibility of new material or one-off shows under the Black Sabbath name.
Black Sabbath are often cited as pioneers of heavy metal music. The band helped define the genre with releases such as Black Sabbath (1970), Paranoid (1970) and Master of Reality (1971). They were ranked by MTV as the "Greatest Metal Band" of all time, and placed second in VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock" list. Rolling Stone magazine ranked them number 85 in their "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". They have sold over 70 million records worldwide. Black Sabbath were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. They have also won two Grammy Awards for Best Metal Performance.
Formation and early days (1968–1969)
Following the break-up of their previous band Mythology in 1968, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward sought to form a heavy blues rock band in Aston, Birmingham. They enlisted bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, who had played together in a band called Rare Breed, Osbourne having placed an advertisement in a local music shop: "Ozzy Zig Needs Gig – has own PA". The new group was initially named the Polka Tulk Blues Band, the name taken either from a brand of talcum powder or an Indian/Pakistani clothing shop; the exact origin is confused. The Polka Tulk Blues Band featured slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips, a childhood friend of Osbourne's, and saxophonist Alan "Aker" Clarke. After shortening the name to Polka Tulk, the band again changed their name to Earth (which Osbourne hated) and continued as a four-piece without Phillips and Clarke. Iommi became concerned that Phillips and Clarke lacked the necessary dedication and were not taking the band seriously. Rather than asking them to leave, they instead decided to break up and then quietly reformed the band as a four-piece. While the band was performing under the Earth title, they recorded several demos written by Norman Haines such as "The Rebel", "Song for Jim", and "When I Came Down". The demo titled "Song for Jim" was in reference to Jim Simpson. Jim Simpson was a manager for the bands Bakerloo Blues Line and Tea & Symphony. Simpson was also a trumpet player for the group Locomotive. Simpson had recently opened a new pub named Henry's Blues House and offered to let Earth play some gigs in his club. The audience response was positive and Simpson agreed to manage Earth.
In December 1968, Iommi abruptly left Earth to join Jethro Tull. Although his stint with the band would be short-lived, Iommi made an appearance with Jethro Tull on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus TV show. Unsatisfied with the direction of Jethro Tull, Iommi returned to Earth in January 1969. "It just wasn't right, so I left", Iommi said. "At first I thought Tull were great, but I didn't much go for having a leader in the band, which was Ian Anderson's way. When I came back from Tull, I came back with a new attitude altogether. They taught me that to get on, you got to work for it."
While playing shows in England in 1969, the band discovered they were being mistaken for another English group named Earth. They decided to change their name again. A cinema across the street from the band's rehearsal room was showing the 1963 horror film Black Sabbath starring Boris Karloff and directed by Mario Bava. While watching people line up to see the film, Butler noted that it was "strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies." Following that, Osbourne and Butler wrote the lyrics for a song called "Black Sabbath", which was inspired by the work of horror and adventure-story writer Dennis Wheatley, along with a vision that Butler had of a black silhouetted figure standing at the foot of his bed. Making use of the musical tritone, also known as "the Devil's Interval", the song's ominous sound and dark lyrics pushed the band in a darker direction, a stark contrast to the popular music of the late 1960s, which was dominated by flower power, folk music, and hippie culture. Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford has called the track "probably the most evil song ever written". Inspired by the new sound, the band changed their name to Black Sabbath in August 1969, and made the decision to focus on writing similar material, in an attempt to create the musical equivalent of horror films.