GEEZER BUTLER On BLACK SABBATH's Early Days

On May 14, Steven Rosen of Ultimate-Guitar.com conducted an interview with legendary bassist Geezer Butler (HEAVEN & HELL, BLACK SABBATH) about Eagle Rock Entertainment's "Black Sabbath: Classic Albums - Paranoid", a DVD highlighting the recording of BLACK SABBATH's classic "Paranoid" LP. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: What does it feel like hearing "Iron Man" as the main theme song of the "Iron Man" movies? Are you blown away when you hear the music all these years later in a modern film?

Geezer: It's one of the first songs that we wrote and one of the most successful ones way back in 1970 or whatever it was. And it is very strange to hear it. We were influenced by the comic and now the comic's influenced by us. I mean, it's really strange that after all, Iron Man was always one of my favorite comic books when I was a kid and now it's sort of turned around. To see our music sort of promoting that film. it's great.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Do you miss those days? Is there a feeling you had back then making music with SABBATH that maybe doesn't exist anymore?

Geezer: Well, because we were barely out of our teens and the whole world was all a new experience for us. So everything that we did was for the first time and we were all experiencing it together. It really was magical because you're learning with every new day; it brings a new experience. And when you've sort of, you know, been-there/done-that kind of thing, you never sort of get that same feeling ever again.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: By the time you recorded "Paranoid", did you better understand who the four of you were as a band? You'd done the first album and had that experience so was making this second record a bit easier?

Geezer: Not really, 'cause it was all done so quickly. We started the first album and the second album, "Paranoid", was almost all written in one go. Because we were on the road all the time so we'd just literally write and stuff at gigs and I think half the "Paranoid" album was written when we'd written the first album. So we didn't really have time to think back then. It was just like, "We gotta write this, gotta write that." As long as the four of us enjoyed what song we came up with, we'd just go in and record it.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: In 1970 when "Paranoid" came out, [LED] ZEPPELIN had released "Led Zeppelin III" and [DEEP] PURPLE put out "In Rock". "Live at Leeds" was out and, as you mentioned, THE BEATLES put out their last album, "Let It Be". Did you listen to these other bands to see what they were doing? Were you interested in hearing what your sort of contemporaries were doing musically?

Geezer: Oh, absolutely! The first ZEPPELIN album, we loved that album. That was probably the one album that the four of us absolutely loved. I mean, Ozzy was always a BEATLES fan. Tony [Iommi] wasn't a big BEATLES fan; he was more into the SHADOWS and guitar-based bands and jazz kind of guitar. Bill [Ward; drums] was into big band stuff: Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and that kind of stuff. And the one thing that we all came together on was first of all the blues and the typical Robert Johnson and CREAM and Hendrix and John Mayall. And the one band that we went, "Wow, this is incredible" was LED ZEPPELIN.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: You were the main lyricist in SABBATH. As you were writing, did you try and think about what types of words and phrases would seem natural when Ozzy sang them? Did you try and craft the lyrics around Ozzy's delivery and his particular way of singing?

Geezer: It was trial and error. I wrote the lyrics that I wanted to write and then I'd give them to Ozzy. He'd sing them to his melody and if a certain word didn't fit, I'd rewrite it or he'd rewrite it. But usually because I dealt in syllables, I'd fit each word that I wrote [to] match his syllables. So usually it was matched.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: The melodies came from Ozzy? I mean, did you ever have a different melody for "Iron Man", for instance, than the one Ozzy had?

Geezer: No; that was all down to Ozzy.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: "War Pigs" actually started out as "Walpurgis"?

Geezer: Yeah, it was "Walpurgis" at first; that’s why it was comparing war to a witches sabbath conjurin' up satan. And that's what the whole thing was about: the generals gathering together to conjure up satan; satan being war. The record company wouldn't let us call it that so we changed it to "War Pigs".

Ultimate-Guitar.com: In an interview I did with Tony Iommi, he described Ozzy as an "interpreter; he breathes in the music and spits it out." How would you characterize what Ozzy brought to SABBATH? Was he more an interpreter than an actual writer?

Geezer: It's hard to say; I don't know what the difference would be. There was no one like Ozzy that could take those riffs and do what he did with 'em. There's just no other singer could have done that at the time. We all worked so well together. We were all as important as each other to bring out that sound.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: So there really was that sort of fifth element that emerged when the four of you got together to make music.

Geezer: It's like a probably a lot of bassists would probably try — if you'd been brought up on BEATLES stuff or KINKS stuff or Hendrix stuff or whatever — you'd probably play around the riffs rather than play the riff. And same with Ozzy: if he couldn't sing around the riff, he'd sing with the riff; he'd sing the same thing. So whatever worked. He was a master of interpreting Tony's riffs. Yeah, definitely.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Working with Ozzy must have been the antithesis of working with Ronnie James Dio in the HEAVEN & HELL band. Conceivably could SABBATH have recorded any of the HEAVEN & HELL songs?

Geezer: Yeah, because we started off a few songs on HEAVEN & HELL [that] were the last SABBATH with Ozzy stuff. "Children of the Sea" started off as the original band song. Ozzy wasn't interested in singing on it.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Were Ozzy and Ronnie at different points of the spectrum in terms of their vocal and musical approaches?

Geezer: Yeah, he [Ronnie] was a lot more serious musically. Because he can play guitar and he can play bass, he understood what went around it and he could work things out. He'd go away and work things out around the riff on his guitar or whatever. Whereas with Ozzy, whatever we do at that particular time that's where it's always gonna be. Whereas with Ronnie, he'd come up with something and if he wasn't satisfied he'd go away and keep changing it and keep changing it until he was satisfied with it.

Read the entire interview from Ultimate-Guitar.com.

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