Tony Iommi is synonymous with heavy rock, his innovative, de-tuned, dark riffs are considered to be the blueprint for hundreds of bands that followed.
Born on February 19, 1948, in Birmingham, England, left-handed Tony picked up the guitar after being inspired by the likes of Hank Marvin & the Shadows as a teenager. By 1967, he had played with several blues-based rock bands, and formed a group (Earth) with three old acquaintances from his school days — bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler, drummer Bill Ward, and singer John "Ozzy" Osbourne.
Iommi's musical career was nearly derailed prematurely as he suffered a horrible accident at a sheet metal factory, when a machine sliced off the tips of the fingers on his right hand. Depressed and figuring that his guitar playing days were behind him, a friend turned him onto guitarist Django Reinhardt (who lost use of two fingers in a gypsy caravan campfire accident), inspiring Tony to give the six-string another go, with soft plastic tips attached to the ends of his fingers.
Shortly thereafter, Iommi received a tempting offer to join Jethro Tull's band in 1968, which he reluctantly accepted. After only a single performance with Tull (playing the track "Song for Jeffrey" on the Rolling Stones' never-aired TV special "Rock & Roll Circus"), Iommi split from Tull to return back to his pals in Earth.
With another band already playing around England by the name of Earth, Iommi & co. were forced to change their name, taking "Black Sabbath" from the American title of the classic Italian horror movie “I Tre Volti Della Paura”.
With the name switch came a change in musical direction — the band would explore dark lyrical subjects, while the music would be repetitive, plodding and heavy. In the process, Sabbath created the blueprint for heavy metal with such incredibly influential, all-time classic releases as their 1969 self-titled debut, 1971's Paranoid and Master of Reality, 1972's Vol. 4, and 1973's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, becoming one of the world's top hard rock bands in the process. Iommi's guitar playing propelled such metal standards as "Black Sabbath," "N.I.B.," "Paranoid," "Iron Man," "War Pigs," "Into the Void," and "Children of the Grave," which boast some of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history.
But by the mid- to late '70s, constant touring and drug abuse began to fracture the band, leading to Osbourne’s exit in 1979. After keeping the Sabbath name alive with several inspired non-Osbourne releases, including the Ronnie Dio albums - 1980's “Heaven & Hell” and 1981's “The Mob Rules” – which re-established the band’s commercial success, Iommi then shifted the band’s focus to Europe and recorded a number of albums with Tony Martin, including “Headless Cross”, and undertook ground-breaking tours to Russia and all parts East.
In 1985 the original line-up returned together for a memorable appearance at Live Aid.
The original Sabbath line-up reunited for highly successful tours in the late '90s, making new Sabbath fans out of a whole legion of people too young to have caught the band in their '70s heyday. A Grammy Award followed the “Reunion” tour when the track “Iron Man” (recorded at the Birmingham NEC and taken from the tour’s live album) won in the Best Metal Performance category in 1999.
And although a few Sabbath albums from the '80s and '90s could have arguably been considered Tony Iommi solo albums (1986's Seventh Star was labelled a Sabbath album at the last moment by Warner Bros.), he issued his first true solo release in the form of 2000's “Iommi”. The ten-track disc, which was very warmly received by both the press and the public, featured many of rock's top names lending their vocal talents including Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Phil Anselmo and Ozzy Osbourne, among others.
The following year Iommi returned to touring, with Black Sabbath as the headline act at 2001’s Ozzfest. The band earned a second Grammy nomination for the track “The Wizard” from the live album “Ozzfest 2001: The Second Millennium” that followed the tour.
On 3rd June 2002, he joined Ozzy to perform “Paranoid” in front of the Queen, the Royal Family and 12,000 members of the public (plus millions of TV viewers) on the lawn of Buckingham Palace at a concert to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
As one of the writers of “Changes”, Tony received his first Ivor Novello nomination when the song competed in the category Best Selling UK Single following the 2003 cover released by Ozzy & Kelly Osbourne.
The early part of 2004 was spent in the studio working on solo projects, including putting the finishing touches to material recorded with Glenn Hughes in Birmingham in 1996, which was picked up by Sanctuary Records for an autumn release under the title “The 1996 DEP Sessions”. In between this, Tony and the 3 other members of the original Black Sabbath line-up reunited as the headline act for summer 2004’s Ozzfest in the USA.
The touring continued in 2005, with a Black Sabbath tour of Europe starting in June (including a notable performance at the UK’s Download festival), and another headline slot at Ozzfest from July to September. The Iommi solo album ‘Fused’ was also released in July 2005. Featuring Glenn Hughes on vocals and Kenny Aronoff on drums, the album was recorded at Monnow Valley studios in Monmouth, Wales in late 2004 under the production skills of Bob Marlette who had produced Tony’s first solo album back in 2000.
Black Sabbath was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2005. The band was inducted by Queen guitarist Brian May, and performed ‘Paranoid’ at the ceremony at London’s Alexandra Palace. In March 2006, Metallica inducted Black Sabbath into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in New York. Throughout all of this, Tony was also working on his radio series ‘Black Sunday’ for the UK’s Planet Rock station.
In late 2006, Tony reunited with Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice to record three new songs for the CD Black Sabbath: The Dio Years which was released by Rhino in April 2007. In the month leading up to the release, the foursome did a tour of Canada under the moniker ‘Heaven & Hell’ which ended with a special show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and a live DVD. A tour of the USA followed in April & May, followed by European summer shows, Australia, a second US run, Asia and finally a UK arena tour in November 2007, in total 98 shows in 9 months!
At the start of 2008 the band began working on a new Heaven & Hell studio album, for release in early 2009. During the summer this was put on hold while the guys played under the 'Metal Masters' banner with Judas Priest for 17 shows across the US. To coincide, Rhino Records released a box set of the complete works with Ronnie James Dio, re-mastered and with extended liner notes.
Picking up where they left off the guys finished writing and went into the studio in the autumn to record the new album. Whilst track laying at Rockfield Studios the guys took time out to join Tony as he was awarded a star in the pavement at Birmingham’s Broad Street.
“The Devil You Know” was released in April 2009, and was greeted by rave reviews, the guys backed it up with a world tour that kicked off in South America and concluded some 47 shows later in the USA. Along the way the band recorded a live DVD at the Wacken Festival in Germany. Unknown to everyone at the time, this video would have a huge significance as Ronnie’s health suddenly deteriorated and in the autumn of 2009 he was diagnosed with cancer. Despite putting up a tremendous battle he sadly passed away in May 2010, the DVD being a fitting tribute to a huge talent.
In October 2009 the Armenian government honoured Tony for his work on the “Rock Aid Armenia” charity that had taken place some 25 years earlier. He travelled to Armenia with Ian Gillan to receive the Medal of Honour and whilst there was taken to some of the areas that had been rebuilt. He and Ian were upset to find that a music school was the one institution still operating in temporary tin huts and they decided to get the facility re-built. A single “Out of My Mind” followed featuring Ian and Tony, plus Nicko McBrain, Jason Newsted, Jon Lord and Linde Linstrom. This had the effect of both raising funds and the profile of the project, and they subsequently released a full album entitled ‘WhoCares’ of rare recordings to further the cause.
2010 was largely spent in the studio writing new music, and working on his autobiography with writer TJ Lammers. A chance conversation with Sharon Osbourne resulted in the idea of the original Black Sabbath working together again and he met up with Ozzy at Christmas to discuss things. Geezer had already dropped by the studio and was also keen to give it a go so they all met up, including Bill Ward, in Los Angeles, January 2011 and spent some time together discussing the way forward.
Most of 2011 he spent working on new material and the release of his autobiography “Iron Man” in October that went on to make the New York Times Bestseller list. It was after feeling unwell whilst undertaking promotion for the book that he went for a medical check-up. His concerns were well justified as the removal of a lymph node confirmed he had lymphoma. Being his ever determined self, and despite undergoing both chemo and radio therapy, writing for the new Sabbath album continued at his home studio as Ozzy and Geezer came to the UK for an extended period.
Whilst unable to undertake the planned European tour, Tony was well enough to play a hometown gig in Birmingham, along with headline appearances at Download Festival and Lollapalooza, the mighty Sabbath were back!
As of September 2012, the band is back on track recording a new album with producer Rick Rubin.