TONY IOMMI On The Future Of HEAVEN & HELL And BLACK SABBATH

Paul Cole of the Sunday Mercury recently conducted an interview with the legendary BLACK SABBATH/HEAVEN & HELL guitarist Tony Iommi. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.

On late HEAVEN & HELL/BLACK SABBATH singer Ronnie James Dio:

"I first met Ronnie at a party in Los Angeles, and we got on well. I liked him straight away because he wasn't flash like many of the people in this business. He was a nice guy, very down to earth.

"So when things weren't working out with Ozzy (the rock wildman was sacked in 1979 after becoming increasingly unreliable) I called Ronnie and invited him over for a rehearsal. He'd just left RAINBOW, and was free.

"Call it fate if you like. He was really good. I played a couple of guitar riffs I'd been working on, and he just sang away. By the time we'd finished, I knew he was the new BLACK SABBATH singer.

"We hit the road on a long tour, and it was always going to be difficult for Ronnie to step into Ozzy's [Osbourne] shoes. At first the crowds were chanting: 'Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy!' but Ronnie was a blindingly good singer and worked the crowds well.

"Within a few dates, he'd been accepted. We played the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan and it got better with every gig.

"Ronnie had the common touch. He preferred a good pint of real ale to bourbon or champagne, and he'd spend hours after the gigs just chatting with the fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs.

"When he came to rehearse at my house in the Midlands, he'd stay at a posh hotel but was always slipping out to find some spit and sawdust pub and sit at the bar, talking with the regulars.

"Had Ronnie not come along when he did, I think BLACK SABBATH would have ended there and then.

"But he had such a unique voice, and was so utterly professional, that he gave us good reason to carry on. He gave us something new."

On Ronnie's death:

"The first inkling we had that anything was wrong came when Ronnie complained about stomach ache. At first we all just thought that he had an acid tummy. You never expect the worst.

"Ronnie took painkillers but nothing seemed to shift it. Just before we went onstage one night, I said to him: ‘You want to go and get that checked, you know.' He said that he would when he got time.

"On some nights he was in agony onstage but he'd just carry on. Sometimes he was on his last legs, but he insisted on completing each and every show of the tour. For Ronnie, the show must go on.

"After the tour we had to take a break. I have problems with my left hand, and I went in to have stem cell treatment to see if it would ease the pain.

"Ronnie was going to go off and do a short solo tour during the break but decided to go and see his doctor. He was referred to hospital for tests and they found the cancer. He had a tumor in his stomach."

"I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. I was talking with Ronnie right up to the week before he passed away, and he was optimistic. He told me the chemotherapy seemed to be working.

"The tumor had been shrinking and they gave him the go-ahead to come back out on the road.

"Our summer tour got the green light and we were constantly on the phone, talking about what songs we'd do.

"Ronnie was really excited. We were going to try out some new songs; the band was really tight; we were on fire. He was so looking forward to the European tour. It was going to be a new lease of life.

"But early in May they found that the cancer had spread to Ronnie's liver, and things went downhill pretty quickly. We cancelled all the tour dates, still hoping against hope that he'd pull through. He was a fighter.

"It wasn't to be. Geezer Butler (bass player with HEAVEN & HELL and BLACK SABBATH) spent a lot of time in hospital, sitting by Ronnie's bedside. He went through it all with him, and he was there right to the end.

"I'd had to come back to Britain but I kept in touch by phone and by e-mail. Then I got the call I'd been dreading. Geezer told me that he didn't think Ronnie had long left to live. I tried to get the first flight out there but I was too late.

"I wasn't quick enough to say farewell. He died on May 16. In the end, I flew out for the funeral on May 30. We were all devastated by his passing. He was one of a kind, and can never be replaced."

On the upcoming July 24 tribute concert at the High Voltage festival in London's Victoria Park:

"This will be the very last gig we play as HEAVEN & HELL. We chose the name because the band comprised the BLACK SABBATH lineup that made the 'Heaven And Hell' album. We couldn't carry on under that name without Ronnie. It just wouldn't be right, and none of us has the desire to do that. We wouldn't call ourselves BLACK SABBATH either."

On being joined at the upcoming tribute concert by singer Glenn Hughes and Norwegian frontman Jorn Lande:

"Glenn sang at Ronnie's funeral, doing a great version of 'Catch The Rainbow'. Jorn is best known in the U.K. as the singer for MASTERPLAN.

"He sounds spookily like Ronnie. We had thought about bringing him in on the summer tour as a back-up. If Ronnie had felt too weak or too tired, we'd get Jorn to deputize. But, of course, it was never to be."

On what's next for Tony Iommi:

"We'd like to do something, and carry on playing. But in what form — and with what singer — I don't know.

"Geezer is back in Britain this week so we can rehearse for the tribute. Maybe then we'll have time to see what the future holds."

On whether a full-blown BLACK SABBATH reunion on the cards:

"I spoke to Ozzy while I was in Los Angeles after Ronnie's funeral, and he said he'd give me a call when he got to England on his own tour. But I've not had that telephone call yet.

"Ozzy and I have a complicated relationship but we've always kept in touch, no matter what else might have been going on. Would I play with Ozzy again? Who knows? It's weird with me and Ozzy.

"There can be all sorts of shit going on but when we talk, it's like nothing bad has ever happened. Once the tribute is done, we can all sit down and decide what it is exactly that we'd like to do."

Read more from Sunday Mercury.

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