Tony Iommi says that it was "wrong" for the Ronnie James Dio-era BLACK SABBATH song titled "Slapback" to be released without the band's knowledge.
Gary Rees, the stepson and executor of the estate of SABBATH's longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, uploaded the track to YouTube in early March, writing in an accompanying message that he had found it on a cassette tape that contained other material recorded during SABBATH's 1979 songwriting sessions for the following year's album "Heaven And Hell". (Note: The song has since been removed from YouTube.)
Asked in an interview with Full Metal Jackie's nationally syndicated radio show if there are any plans to properly release this tune, Iommi said (hear audio below): "That's a bit of a problem for us at the moment. Because that has got released without any of our knowledge, and it's not particularly a good thing. There was stuff floating around that Geoff Nicholls had, and he wasn't on that. I mean, it was before Geoff Nicholls [played] with us. But that suddenly got hold of by his stepson, and he just put this stuff out, which was a bit wrong, really."
Iommi went on to say that while there are no immediate plans for "Slapback" to receive an official release, other previously unreleased tracks will be included on future SABBATH box sets. "I've got lots and lots and lots of recordings of stuff we've done in the past that's never seen the light of day," he explained. "And I'd like to sort some of that out and put that on some of the albums. We are gradually going through these box sets. And there'll be a Tony Martin [-era] box set at some point coming out, and stuff with Ian Gillan maybe. So, yes, there'll be other songs added that have never been used for anything."
Last month, Iommi told SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk" that he was "not at all happy" with the fact that Nicholls's estate decided to release "Slapback". "It's left a really bad taste in my mouth," he said. "At that point, when we did that, Geoff wasn't even involved in the band; I hadn't even got Geoff over at that time. That is actually Ronnie playing bass on that… And that was just in the lounge recorded on a cassette."
As for why "Slapback" never saw the light of day before, Iommi said: "We had one or two things that we'd jam around on and play on and stuff, but it [wasn't] right for the album, so we didn't put it into shape; we didn't record it [properly] or anything," he explained.
Iommi's assertion that Dio played bass on "Slapback" seemingly contradicts Geezer Butler's claim that he is featured on the track. In early March, the BLACK SABBATH bassist told "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk" that "Slapback" was one of the songs he and his bandmates worked on before he exited SABBATH for a short time in order to deal with some personal issues. "It's probably the reason I did leave," he joked. "It was just one of those songs that didn't make the grade."
Asked if he in fact played bass on the recording that was uploaded to YouTube, Butler said: "Yeah, that was right before I left. It was just a one-off thing. We just jammed it and didn't think anything more of it. It didn't really work."
The "Slapback" upload came a month and a half after Rees shared a previously unreleased rehearsal recording of BLACK SABBATH playing the "Heaven And Hell" title track during the same sessions. That recording featured Nicholls on bass due to Butler's absence during the initial writing stage for the LP.
Butler went on to say that it's "incredible" to see both these recordings see the light of day more than 40 years later. "And it's quite good quality as well," he said. "I've heard the two songs from the Geoff Nicholls thing. It's reasonable quality."
Dio joined SABBATH for the first time in 1979 and quickly found kindred spirits in Butler, Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. When "Heaven And Hell" was released in April 1980, the album was met with effusive reviews for the band's return to form on metal masterpieces like "Neon Knights" and the title track. The LP reached No. 9 in the U.K. and No. 28 in the U.S., where it was also certified platinum.
Released on March 5, "Heaven And Hell: Deluxe Edition" added several bonus tracks that have never been made available in North America, including versions of "Children Of The Sea" and "Die Young" recorded live in 1980 in Hartford, Connecticut. The set concludes with live rarities like "E5150" and "Neon Knights" that originally appeared in 2007 on the Rhino Handmade's limited edition collection "Black Sabbath: Live At Hammersmith Odeon".
Nicholls died in January 2017 after a long battle with lung cancer.
Geoff, who played keyboards on all of SABBATH's albums between 1980 and 1995 and toured with them, was reportedly in remission from cancer at the time of his death but succumbed to the side effects of chemotherapy.
Nicholls's first appearance on a SABBATH album was on "Heaven And Hell". Although his main role with SABBATH was on the keyboard, Nicholls also played some rhythm guitar at concerts. In addition to not always being credited as a full member of the band, Nicholls rarely appeared on stage during SABBATH shows and would instead play on the side of the stage or backstage.
Nicholls's involvement with the band ended when Adam Wakeman (a member of Ozzy Osbourne's solo band) was chosen to play keyboards during SABBATH's 2004 and 2005 tours as part of Ozzfest.