It was the spring of 1990. I had only been writing album reviews for Kamloops This Week for a couple of months when I received a copy of former Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward’s first solo album “Ward One: Along The Way”. It should be noted that Sabbath is my favourite band.
Having never done an interview before, I wondered how hard it might be to get a hold of someone like Bill for a chat. I assumed one had to go through the manager, so I flipped the album over and saw that his manager was a guy named Mike Slarve. Knowing that Bill lived in California I theorized that Mike’s office would be in LA and tracked him down through directory assistance. Mike told me that no subject was off limits and that Bill loved to talk, so I’d better have lots of tape handy. He was right- my first interview, with one of my heroes, and we chatted for nearly two hours. We got into some deep, heavy stuff too. Since he was my first interviews, he’s also first up in “Rock Soldiers”.
When did Black Sabbath start? When did the 4 of you get together and play for the first time? You were school chums, weren’t you?
Ozzy and Tony went to school together, and I think I was 15 years old when I first started playing with Tony. Sometimes we’d have to leave each other for various reasons, usually financial. In our early teens it was pretty difficult to survive. If there was another band that was maybe earning an extra 10 bucks a week, we’d go and join that band, earn that extra $10, then get back together again. So Tony and I played together on and off until we finally arrived at Earth, which later became Black Sabbath. And I met Geezer when I was 16 or 17. He was in another band called The Rare Breed and I would go listen to them play. Ozzy was the last person that I met. We’d reached a place- Tony, Geezer and myself- where we were looking for a singer. We saw a really neat ad in a local music shop and it said something like ‘blues singer available’ and it added ‘Ozzy Zig’. I was attracted to weirdness you know. And so we went and visited Oz and got together, basically playing blues. This was around mid to late ’67, towards 1968.
I saw an old TV special a few years ago with you guys playing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. You actually played that kind of stuff, didn’t you?
Yeah! (chuckles) We were playing for fun and still learning. All of us had done our apprenticeship in wedding bands, the local hop bands and the top forty bands. It was time to be a little more serious …
Take it to a higher level?
I was getting more serious about my playing and the kinds of things I liked and enjoyed as far as music was concerned, you know. I mean I was nearly 18 years old and I was terribly influenced by a lot of the music that was around at that time. I was looking at myself as to what I really did like to play.
Were you self-taught, or did you take lessons?
I didn’t start taking drum lessons until about 18 months ago. Up until that point I’d just literally played whatever I felt, you know. And I do have a drum teacher now, Roy Burns, here in southern California. I’ve begun to learn now what it is that I’ve been doing! (laughs) But no, I started as a kid playing drums on cardboard boxes and tin pots and whatever I could find.
Do you find it helps your playing?
I spend a lot more time these days in song writing and production, and there’s often times where I’ll be with session players, and I needed to learn the language. In other words I’d been in sessions over these last three years and find myself quite awkward actually in trying to communicate ideas to percussionists or another drummer or what have you… I didn’t know how to translate. I’m learning for myself and as a courtesy to my fellow musicians.
It was something I felt quite uncomfortable with. I’m not a very quick learner, but I guess you’re never too old to learn. I’m starting at scratch one, where most 9 year olds would be learning. I’m 42 years old now, and I’m back where a 9 year old would be learning, real basic rudiments, and that’s okay, I feel good about that.
Can we talk about Black Sabbath? Maybe your thoughts on some of the albums.
I understand “Black Sabbath” (the album) was recorded in 3 or 4 days…
We did the first album, I think, in 2 days. In those days it was “we’ll take a chance on you but we’re not going to invest a lot of money, here’s a little bit of studio time”. We thought it was wonderful. It was “Wow, we’re going to go in the studio and record this stuff?!?” It was on an 8-track recorder, we went in and just did it. “Paranoid” (their 2nd album) was more or less the same…. very little double tracking, we went in and just did it, you know.
When Sabbath started falling apart in the late 70’s, what exactly was going on? Was it the management and drug problems? What was going on in the band at that time?
From a business point of view, I know now that we got into some real bad business deals which took us a long time to get out of. We were 18, 19 year old kids that were clamouring to get our music out there, all of us were ready to sign on the dotted line. I felt that we were taken advantage of by some rather unscrupulous people, and we paid the price later on. There’s a lot of people that made tremendous amounts of money from Black Sabbath, I’m talking in the millions.
The album “Sabotage” itself, I understand was recorded with lawyers actually in the studio, and the song “The Writ” was about your legal problems at the time?
“The Writ” was a resentment song towards our former manager who we had at the time, which was Patrick Meehan. But no, we didn’t have any lawyers in the studio, not that I can recall. There were a lot of lawyers and barristers, all kinds of legal complications. We were trying to get on our feet, trying to break loose from these pretty heavy contractual agreements we had gotten ourselves involved in. It was a real mess, it was… and there’d been some direct rip offs, it was not a particularly nice thing that was going on from a business point of view. Also, in the late 70’s, we’d been together playing since mid-’67 or ’68, done a lot of touring, been on the road for a long time, been making a lot of records. I know I was starting to settle down to more of a home life, and I guess the other guys were too. It gets tiring after 5 or 6 years on the road, of non-stop…
Yeah, it’s such a grind…
Being out there all the time is a lot of work. We were all searching for our own musical identities too. I love to play drums in Black Sabbath, but when I close the door and come home at night, I’d sit down and tinkle on the piano and I’d find songs I really enjoyed that weren’t necessarily “Black Sabbath material”.
Ozzy has said the same thing about songs, like on his first solo album, “Goodbye To Romance”- he says that’s the kind of song he couldn’t have necessarily done in Black Sabbath. He actually quit during the “Never Say Die” sessions in Toronto, didn’t he?
Yeah. Oz did leave at one point and we tried to fix it by getting in another singer, which I just felt real uncomfortable with. And then he came back and we tried to put things back together again. To this day I’m not entirely sure what happened. I’d reached a point in my own life where I was pretty numb to most stuff that was going on. I was using drugs heavily, and I was drinking a lot, and I wasn’t aware of a lot of internal grinds or resentments that the guys might’ve had towards each other.
So you were just showing up for work…
I was there physically (laughs), showing up saying “Okay what do we do now?” I guess it was in 1979, 1980 that the real changes began to happen, when Oz was asked to leave the band and Ronnie Dio was introduced to the band.
How was it working with Ronnie? “Heaven & Hell” is another landmark album in Sabbath’s career.
The idea of bringing in a new singer originated from Tony. I felt very uncomfortable at the time but I kind of went with it. I get on with Ronnie, I got no bad feelings towards the guy or anything like that- I missed Oz a hell of a lot. I d been used to Black Sabbath as Bill Ward, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler- that, for me, was Black Sabbath. And this new change, regardless of how the music was sounding, was difficult to accept. I felt a little bit left out because as a co-writer in Black Sabbath I was able to at least put in some ideas, but when Ronnie entered the band it was more like a Ronnie and Tony Iommi collaboration. I don’t know but I think Geezer might have felt on the sidelines too. I wasn’t really in touch with how angry or upset I was at Oz not being with the band anymore until some years later, when I let myself feel it. That’s why in 1980, on the Heaven & Hell tour, I left. I just felt real alien in the band. Also during that period I began to drink even heavier than what I’d been drinking. And the booze was killing me. I mean, physically I was just a wreck, I just couldn’t cut it anymore, John. The resentment that I felt towards the new organizations that we were bringing in, and some of the new things, I just couldn’t hang with it.
You rejoined Sabbath for “Born Again” and for a lot of people that was a low point in Sabbath’s music. It’s the worst sounding album you guys put out.
I didn’t really like the album myself, to tell you the truth. After I’d left in 1980, I went on a 2 year drug and alcohol binge, which got me to a place where I just wanted to be sober. When I did “Born Again” I was physically sober, the guys found out that I was getting sober, Ronnie had left and they recruited Ian Gillan. t seemed like there were some wonderful plans going on. I joined primarily for selfish reasons… I’d fallen on my ass real good, and I thought wow I’m sober and I get to join my old band again, this is gonna be great. During the summer of 1983 I began to really see that I was not only physically, emotionally and mentally unable to continue with a rock & roll band, but I felt real uncomfortable with what was going on lyrically. I felt okay with the music side of it, it was nice to be playing again, but I felt real disorientated and out of touch with myself and a lot of other things. I guess it was when I started to hear the lyrics- and I certainly don’t want to offend Ian Gillan- but I didn’t particularly live on the same street anymore as I had with Black Sabbath. There was things like driving your car real fast and getting into a crash, and disturbing priests- it sounded very cliché to me. I felt real uncomfortable with it, that part of that and was living a lie, because I really wasn’t there anymore. I was being very dishonest, not only with myself but with the guys in the band. Also the fact that a tour was imminent in the fall of 1983 scared the crap out of me.
So you quit the band before the tour?
The fear of touring without a drink in my hand was absolutely terrifying. I was just a wreck- and I left. That’s when I came back to California and basically hid out. I came back to California and started drinking again. I just couldn’t face that and I felt incredibly guilty that I let everybody down, one more time again, and I felt real responsible for fucking things up, excuse my language! (laughs)
That’s when I went through some of the worst stuff I ever went through with drinking. I went through some suicide attempts, I wanted to disappear off the face of the earth.
I’d read about you sleeping in alley ways and on the beach, and being a total bum. It really DID get that bad, didn’t it?
When I came back from recording “Born Again”, I literally ended up in the streets. I drank out of water faucets on the street, and I mean I was dying- I was literally dying. I’d given up on everything- it was a very sad, very pitiful time in my life, you know? I’ve really been there, and it’s not a real nice place to be. I thank God that it’s not like that today, but I guess I had to go through that to get to wherever it is I am today.
Drummers like Bonzo and Keith Moon went over the edge (but) what pulled you back? This might sound indelicate Bill, but how come you’re not dead?
I often wonder that myself, John, and I don’t feel that it’s indelicate at all. I don’t know why it is that I’m not dead, because I certainly abused myself with alcohol and drugs. Without question I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict, I have no problem with that at all.
I guess part of the road to healing is being able to talk about it…
Oh yeah, definitely. Back then I came real close to death. My last suicide attempt came just after Christmas in 1983. I put a loaded 12 gauge shotgun down my throat, I just wanted to say “That’s it, I’m away.” But I didn’t pull the trigger, I didn’t have the guts to kill myself. There’d been a couple more suicide attempts earlier that year too. That was the turning point- I just didn’t have the balls to kill myself, and I put the gun down, I put the bottle down, and since then I’ve been growing and been moving forward out of all the negativity and the doom and the gloom of everything.
So it was Christmas of ’83 then when you finally turned things around?
Yeah. I put my drink down on, I think it was January the 3rd. My last drop of alcohol
You made millions of dollars with Black Sabbath, did you not?
Yeah, I’d made several millions over the years. All of that money went up my nose- I mean literally the whole lot. During the 2 year binge I went on between ’80 and ’82, I don’t even know how much money I went through. But that was all through drug use, and that’s what drugs did for me.
Is that what drove your family away, your first and second wife?
Yeah. My first wife, alcohol got in the way there. She knew I had a drinking problem and confronted me with it. I was 19 years old, and I was in so much denial at that particular point in my life that I found myself a new wife that wouldn’t confront me. Alcohol and drugs got in the way of my relationship with my son and my 2nd wife too.
How old is your son now?
He’s 16 and he’s wonderful. We play together andhave an incredible relationship.
Does he play drums too?
He CAN play drums, but he likes to play keyboards and guitar.
Is that who I see on the album credits, is Richard Ward your son?
No, that’s my nephew, actually. We flew Richard over to do the guitar solo on “Sweep”. My son, my eldest son, is Aaron. Aaron helped with some of the roadie-ing, he helped put some of the sounds together on the album. It was very much a family thing.
It’s one of the best albums I’ve picked up so far this year.
Thank you John, I appreciate that.
Let’s get into the new album. How did you go about getting a record deal? You come off this incredible drug binge, and you have to pick up your sticks again. When did it occur to you that “Hey, I have to make music again”?
Back in that ’83 period, I tried to forget entirely that I was a musician. I tried to stuff it all down, and I tried my very best to not exist anymore. In 1984 I actually rejoined Black Sabbath!
I thought “Well, I went through this period in ’83, and what makes you think it’s going to be any different in ’84, Bill?” But I figured ‘what the hell’ and ‘let me go check it out and see what’s going on’. And yet another singer was now in the band.
Who was it?
It was David Donato.
I’ve read about him, but he never actually recorded with the band, did he?
No, it never got off the ground. My priority was being sober now. In 1983 my priority had been money, property and prestige, on reclaiming some fame, and ‘oh yeah, I’m going to stay sober as well’. This time I didn’t give a damn- I was staying sober, period. That was my priority. I started to see some things that I didn’t want to be around anymore. Musically, I just didn’t feel that I was accomplishing that much. It seemed like another Elastoplast was being put on the band, another fix job. I felt like we were jumping on a heavy metal band wagon or something. I didn’t know where Black Sabbath had gone, I was just starting to find out who I was, and I didn’t even know at that point who Tony and Geezer were. They were guys that I’d been with for the best part of my life, and I was looking at them going “I don’t really know who you are.” (laughs) I don’t really know who I am, and I don’t know who you are!” And I made a decision after about 2 or 3 months of rehearsals with the band to leave. The difference was that this time I didn’t try to kill myself, and I didn’t drink, and I didn’t feel guilty. I had no idea what I was going to do at the time- all I knew was that I was leaving Black Sabbath physically. It took me about another year to let go of the band emotionally…
It’s like a divorce, isn’t it?
Yeah, exactly! I knew when I’d let go emotionally when I watched the band on MTV or see Tony’s new Black Sabbath or whatever, and I didn’t feel any envy, any jealousy, I just wished him well. I felt ‘God bless you, and I hope it really works for you and I wish you absolutely everything in the world’, and that’s when I knew I’d let go emotionally. I was now becoming independent and starting to grow. It was about at that time that I decided to start to see what I might be capable of as a musician. I was ready to give it all up, I thought that life finished after Black Sabbath. I’d always been playing around with this music like I mentioned earlier…
When I’d come home from studio sessions I’d always played around with my own stuff, but never completed it, never been serious with it, never actually finished a bloody song! I’d made an excuse, or got loaded, or there was some reason why I could never do it. I thought “Well, to hell with this- before I finally lower the flag and bow out as quietly as possible, let me see what I’m capable of. Let me do my best to see what I’m about, let’s see if I can finish a song, let’s see if I can play with other musicians”. At the time, the thought of an album or a record deal, and going out and touring, and writing more music, and the things that I’m doing now, that was not even in my head. I started very simply by looking at if I could complete a piece of music, to see what I was capable of. Something else was happening to me as a drummer too. I found that I was incredibly angry and had to take a look at what that was. And I was angry about what I couldn’t play. I found myself being incredibly jealous watching other drummers and what they could play, and I was very angry that I couldn’t play what they were playing.
Yeah. Your style with Sabbath was somewhat basic.
I play very simple, and I would get frustrated that I couldn’t play some things technically, some real nice fills or what have you. I can hear them, but I can’t play them. (But) I found my way through that. Going back and 3 or 4 years now, I started to take a look at that anger, and what I did was stop looking at what I couldn’t play, and started looking at what I could play, and the anger just dissolved. I accepted the kind of player that I am and focused on what I could do, and then I like to inter-weave melodies, and different forms of arrangements and time inside very simply drum patterns.
Did you play drums for all the tracks on the album? I noticed Eric Singer is in the credits.
Eric came in, and that’s an example of me not wanting to play. What I’ve found now is that when I’m writing a song, sometimes I don’t want to participate as a player. I’m the arranger, writer and producer or co-producer of it. I enjoy having another drummer come in and play a particular part… if I can’t play a part, I’ll ask somebody else to come in and play. My goal in a song is the song, and I want to try to make it as best as possible to how I’m hearing it. On “Shooting Gallery”, I could hear a real fast double bass drum part, and Eric Singer was the perfect solution to that dilemma. Eric’s a friend of mine, I think he’s an excellent rock drummer. He came in and laid the track, man, and the song worked. There was some other stuff- Leonis Juniman came in and played percussion also on “Pink Clouds An Island”… I can play certain percussion things, but Leonis just does a better job than I do and I wanted the song to be as best as possible. Those are examples of me taking a back seat and letting someone else who can do it technically better play it.
It’s nice that you can be that comfortable with yourself, to step aside and let someone else do the job better than you can.
Well yeah, I do feel comfortable with myself, I’ve done a 20 year apprenticeship in the rock & roll business and I’m not in competition. I’m beginning to learn who I am and what I’m capable of. I’m trying to think of a couple of examples – Al Van Halen or Louis Bellson or whatever… Alex plays what Alex plays, Louis plays what Louis plays, and I play what I play.
It’s really that simple isn’t it?
It is for me now. I just play because I love to play, I want to be able to present music, and hopefully other people will enjoy it too.
The album, “Ward One: Along The Way”… did you come up with it song by song, or did you conceive the whole package first? I’m guessing it’s autobiographical.
Yeah, it’s very personal, it’s very intimate. I saw it more as theatre, I saw it like as a play, and I didn’t want to be self pitying either. I saw Bill as this person who had gone through all this stuff and was just beginning a new life, and he had some friends that would come in and sing songs to him, and share their stuff too. All the material wasn’t written at the time, some of it came quite late in the day. “Music For A Raw Nerve Ending”, which is about lust, (laughs nervously), came in the autumn of last year (’89). It was the last song to be finished off. So a lot of those songs have been chosen over a period of the last three years. There’s a lot of material that I didn’t use, and possibly I’ll use it on other albums. On “Tall Stories” , I could hear Jack Bruce doing some vocals there, you know. I originally had asked Geezer to come and play bass on the album and at first he agreed, but then backed out for some reason. I wanted to get a good bass player, and the first person I thought of was Jack Bruce, possibly because I’m a big fan of Jack’s anyway, and he’s got one hell of a good voice too. So we contacted Jack, and Jack agreed that he could come in and do some things with us. The same thing happened with Oz. Ozzy found out that maybe Geezer would be participating in the album, and Oz offered his support and said “Look, I’d like to be a part of it too” you know, “just let me know if there’s anything I can help with. I’d love to do some singing, man.”
It’s nice that you got that kind of support from the musical community, not just from Ozzy and Geezer, but from all the other people that are involved in the album as well.
The musicians were absolutely wonderful. I can’t credit the musicians that played on this album enough… and actually the musicians that DIDN’T play on this album, a lot of them showed up and didn’t get an opportunity to play. The musicians were unbelievably supportive. I can remember Eric (Singer) coming in and saying “God, I love this song, Bill!” And he listened to “Jack’s Land” and he loved “Jack’s Land”. And that helped me a lot because I was still kind of timid, going “Well, I know I like these songs but I wonder if anybody else is going to like them.”
You need that kind of support…
Yeah, and it was the musicians that hooked into it first, they really liked what was going on. I felt for the first time in my life that I was valid as a songwriter, because up until that point I’d always been a co-writer. And although Tony, Geezer and Oz supported my ideas in Black Sabbath, I’d never come this far before.
You did sing lead on a couple of Sabbath songs, though. On “Technical Ecstasy” was “It’s Alright”, and you sang “Swinging The Chain” as well on “Never Say Die”.
Yeah, I did a couple of things there. “It’s Alright” was a song that I played around with, it was one of those were you’d come home off a Sabbath thing. It was Ozzy that hooked into that song and suggested that we do it, and Geez really liked it too. Tony agreed to participate and he put the solo in and what have you.
Was he reluctant to have the song on the album?
I’m not sure, but I know he was the last to come round to it. At that time I did spend a lot of time with Ozzy and Geezer, moreso than Tony off the road. Geezer didn’t live too far from me, out in the country where we lived in England. I was always checking his music out, and Geezer is an excellent songwriter, has wonderful music. I hope that one day we’ll all get to hear it at a more public level because I love his music, you know.
When Geezer left Sabbath he was going to work on a solo album, and nothing was ever heard of that. Nothing was heard of Geezer until he surfaced with Ozzy’s band on the last tour.
Well yeah. I learned a lot from Geezer at that time, I believe that he got messed about quite a bit with trying to bring out his own solo project, and he was kind of underway for awhile and everything filtered out that… I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I believe that he run into some problems that, for whatever reason, he wasn’t able to get through. I knew that I’d been out of the picture for a long, long time, and there is a business side to this business, you know.
That’s something a lot of musicians don’t realize…
I’d watched Geezer, still with kind of the Black Sabbath name plates flying high, ending up in a cul-de-sac. I took a second look at my stuff, and I wasn’t for one second thinking even if I would get an album deal, quite honestly. But I’d got the music to a point I was looking at possibly getting a record deal. But I wasn’t walking down the street going (serious voice) “Hey, guess who I am? I’m Bill Ward from Black Sabbath”. I was Bill and sure, I used to play in Black Sabbath. I wasn’t expecting someone to go “Oh sorry Bill, are you ready for a record deal now?” I knew that I was starting from scratch one, regardless of what I’d done for 20 years before that. So that’s why I, in some cases, deliberately asked some name players to come in and help, hoping that it would be a more attractive package. Some of these people were good friends anyway- beside the fact that they could play extremely well, I knew that I could get what I was looking for through these players. In the end, had about 5 songs.
Do you recall which ones they were at that point?
“Bombers”, “Tall Stories”, “Shooting Gallery”, I think “Sweep”, and “Pink Clouds”. We took them to every single recording company in the world and they all said “well Bill, we really like the songs but we’re going to have to pass”. For 9 months my manager Mike Slarve, who has been absolutely incredible, he’s taken the risks and he’s just been wonderful- literally, we took it round the world for 9 months. During that period everyone busied themselves with whatever they could find to do. At the end of 9 months a very disappointing “no” came back and we went “What do we do from here?” I just wanted to go ahead anyway and finish the project. I didn’t know if we were going to put out our own cassette, go on the street and sell them if we had to, you know.
Yeah, some bands have taken that route and it’s paid off.
I really didn’t have any expectations at all of getting a record deal. In the end, 2 independent companies became very interested, they DID like what was going on, and out of the 2 independents, one of them was Chameleon Records. I can remember saying to my manager about 18 months ago “You know Mike, I’m a pretty crazy guy, and you’ve hung with me and been willing to hang with some of the risk taking I’ve been wanting to get involved in”, and I said “to make this thing work we’re going to have to get involved with a company that’s equally willing to hang and take risks also.”
You won’t find big record companies willing to do that…
Well, big record companies like to make the money… they’re in business to sell records.
It’s sad, because if disco’s big then we hear nothing but bloody disco on the radio…
Yeah. I’ve been playing roll since I was 14 and I’m going to be 42 in 4 days, (but) my experience has told me that most record companies are there to sell records. Chameleon were willing to take a gamble. They really liked the music and they said “Yeah, let’s see what can be done here” and it bowled me over. From the starting point which was back in ’84, after I left the Sabs it took nigh on 6 years, a pretty hard slog and a lot of patience, and we finally arrived at the point where the public got to hear what we’d been doing.
I’ve listened to Ward One probably 2 or 3 dozen times myself now, and it strikes me as being almost kind of Pink Floyd-ish in the way that it’s put together and in the way that it tells a story. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
Well, I think it’s a wonderful comparison, actually! (laughs) I have many influences and I love Pink Floyd, you know? I love Black Sabbath, I love Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, AC/DC, Tchaikovsky- I love music, period. I felt like I’d been real honest in this album, and I hope that I can be honest in all my music, be in touch with what’s inside of me. There was a press report not too long ago which compared it to The Beatles, in England they’ve been calling it ‘The Sergeant Pepper of Heavy Metal’, (quick laugh) which was incredibly complimentary!
Yeah. The first single is “Bombers”, it’s being played on some metal stations in the states.
Yeah… the album was released on January the 3rd 1990.
I understand it’s doing well in the States, but the critics haven’t been too kind to it up here in Canada…
I’m not sure (but) I believe the Canadian critics have done the thumbs down for whatever reason, and that’s okay, you know. If that’s their opinion, then so be it. I really like the music, I feel like I’ve made a good beginning, but across the world the British press have been incredibly supportive. 99.9% of the United States press have been incredibly supportive of it, the radio media in the United States have been very, very supportive of the album. Most of the people I talk to really do like the album, they sound real sincere. They’ve given it a good listening and I don’t feel like they’re just giving it lip service.
The first time I listened to the album it kind of went past me because there’s so much going on and there’s so much to listen to, to get into the story. When I was talking to Mike, your manager, a couple of days ago I told him it’s the kind of album you can’t just throw on and clean the apartment, you really have to sit down and listen.
I feel like it’s a listening album, yeah. I’ve tried to do the dishes and vac the floor while listening to it (both laugh) and I agree with you! Record sales-wise in Great Britain it’s done quite well (but) it isn’t even released in England yet…
It was #1 on the import charts. So there are people over there that are obviously enjoying it, but I believe in the United States the actual sales figures have been a little down. I’ve got nothing to compare it to, just the expectations of the record company! (laughs)
Oh sure- they always want the album to be huge.
You know, because it’s got such incredible support from radio and newspaper, and I guess one would think “wow, this is some sort of special album” or it’s gonna do really well. And I guess the same thing that happened to you, where it flew over you a couple of times?
Yeah, it did…
I believe that’s what’s happening with the public too. Who knows? That’s a possibility, that it might take some time before people can actually ‘hear’ it. It took ME some time before I could hear it, it took me some time to understand what I was doing, and it took me some time to figure out. So it took ME time, and it’s coming from me, and of course from the support of Keith Lynch and Rue Philips also, who I have to mention because that’s their music also, they’ve been just marvellous.
Is Marco Mendoza (bassist) a member of the core band as well?
Yes. Marco is an independent player. He plays with Al Jarreau, and he plays sessions where he can and when he can. I’ve got it set up with Marco where I kind of have him on call, so if I’ve got bass parts and things we’re about to embark on if we have a project, then Marco will come into that project, you know? With Keith and Rue, they’re with me on a more permanent basis. In fact Rue’s with me more or less 24 hours a day.
Rue’s the guitar player on the album?
Yes, he’s a guitar player and singer.
And what is it Keith does?
Keith Lynch, he’s our official lead guitar player.
It’s a great album, and the public is going to just have to sit down and listen to it. There’s so much disposable music on the radio nowadays, I’m sure you hear it listening and I hear it working from the inside, that they’re just not used to something that they have to deal with on this level. It’s dance rhythms and “Like A Virgin”, and “Rhythm Nation 1814” and rap, that’s what seems to be doing big business.
But I think the important thing here is that you’re doing music for yourself, and as long as you stay true to yourself, I think the fans are going to pick up on that.
Yeah,. With Black Sabbath we were real true to ourselves. We’ve always been there in our early albums by playing what we felt we wanted to play. I’ve always been like that, and I’m playing what I feel like I need to play. I didn’t come out wearing a black mask and an upside down cross, saying (low voice) “hi guys, I’m the ex-member of Black Sabbath and I’m gonna kick some ass” you know? (both laugh)
Yeah, like Ozzy did on his second solo album with the upside down cross and the horror makeup. He was still playing off that image, but you ignored it completely.
Yeah, because I don’t live on that street. That’s been tough because sometimes it can be tempting financially… I’m certainly not making any money from this! (nervous laugh) It can be tempting financially to say “Hey let’s get a big kit of drums and get some leather clothes on and do this”. I don’t want to do that because I’m not there.
That would be an easy out commercially. The record company might like it, but…
Yeah, it would make some people’s lives a little easier except for one thing- emotionally, I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t be being honest with myself, and I wouldn’t honest with the people that are listening. I’ve gotta live with it, and I can’t play pretend. I take it seriously but I have a lot of fun that way too. Pretend can be real painful, man. I can watch MTV on any given day and literally feel the pretend people. I found out a long time ago that when you’re on tour, it’s late a night and you’re stuck in the middle of Idaho or something. The truck just broke down, it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you haven’t seen your family for 7 weeks, you’re real tired and you’re real hungry and you just want to go home, you’d better like what you’re playing. You’d better love what you’re playing because if it’s pretend, you will not last the course. I’ve watched many, many bands fall to pieces because some of them were not playing where they were really at, they were playing where it was commercially at. They were able to get away with it by keeping themselves real numb or because they love money. I’m not condemning them and saying that’s wrong, it’s just that for myself I don’t want to do that. Some good friends of mine have fallen into the abyss going that route.
Is there anything going on nowadays in music that you take notice of?
Yes there is. There’s a street thing that I see coming from Australia, from Ireland, and from England and in the United States too, and I truly believe this-that there is a new music that’s real positive and healthy. I believe that a lot of the negative music self-pitying music, the gloom and doom, the depression and morbidity, I think its days are numbered. There’s a lot more focus on world matters, the Berlin Wall’s come down, everybody knows about Exxon and what happened up there in Canada…
There’s a lot more solutions being offered, from the periods that we’ve had to travel through in our short rock & roll history, from early 1950, where the real rebellious rockers came about like Jerry Lee and Little Richard and Fats and those guys. All that stuff passing through the drug eras and the hippy eras too, I believe there are some things going on now which are an accumulation of all those good energies being done without the problem. I think there’s always going to be a rebel without a cause, (laughs) I love Marlon Brando- “What are you rebelling against? Whaddaya got?” Right? (both laugh)
Yeah, I mean quote unquote, I just love it! I dunno… I can hear the bands that are offering some real solutions- some permanent solutions, not like… you know I felt some of the ‘hippy solutions’ were possibly misguided. I love The Beatles’ solution, ‘all you need is love’, but how do we get that?
Yeah… they point the direction but they don’t tell you how to get there…
Yeah, exactly. How do we do it? Now in the 1990’s, in the short time that we’ve been in this year, I can see some definite solutions, you know. Let it begin with me. How does it begin with me? Start recycling. You know? Simple things that can be done by every single person who wants to be involved. I love Michael Jackson’s record, “The Man In The Mirror”…
Yeah, it’s a beautiful song…
What Michael’s saying is, ‘let it begin with me’. And THAT is the solution right there, it has to begin with each individual. And of course somebody might say “Aw to hell with this bullshit, what the hell is this?” It’s about getting through the resentments and the self pitying and working through that crap, and getting into some solutions like putting your hand out and saying ‘Good morning, how are you really doing?’ I can hear that. I love some of the new bands coming out of Australia, and of course U2, I believe they’re saying some very nice things. It starts in the streets, man, it starts there every time.
Yeah, it has to…
A lot of the metal stuff I’ve been listening to, or a lot of the stuff that I won’t listen to, is very self pitying, telling me I’m wrong and to come up with the solution to their problem. It’s knocking all the political societies just like Sabbath was very self opinionated in the early 70’s. And a lot of that stuff, although it was trying to carry a positive message when I analyze that, when I recall that and look at that, I can see that we were those angry young men saying “We’re okay, you guys gotta get it right, though” you know? (laughs)
In some of the music that I’ve been hearing, rather than the political attacks that come in metal music which sometimes can be real negative, some of the political attacks in the new wave music or whatever… some of those are more of an action attack. There’s a suggestion of solution being offered, an alternative.
Yeah…in that respect, Midnight Oil comes to mind.
Thank you, it was Midnight Oil that I was trying to think of. Yeah, Midnight Oil seems to show some action in their music, whereas I can listen to a metal band and it offers NO solution, it just offers the problem up over and over and over again.
Absolutely. Just getting back to the music you’re making now… now that the album is out, are you looking at some live shows?
Yeah- as a matter of fact I’m working on that this very day. I do plan to do some dates, (though) I’m not sure when. One of the neat things is that you’ve just asked me a question which, five years ago, I couldn’t have even answered. I would have probably rolled up in a ball of fear and disappeared off the face of the earth again. Now my answer is ‘yes’, and I feel like I’ve grown that much now and come away from some of the horrible things that were killing me, just to turn around and say “Yeah”. Although I’m a little scared, I’m real excited too. I want to take up the challenge, get myself out there a little more, and hopefully have a lot of fun doing it.
It’s great that you’re excited about the music again.
Yeah- I feel like I’ve come back from the dead, you know! (laughs)
Well, you literally have, really…
Yeah. You know, I’ve been to hell, I know what it’s like, and I care not for it, thank you very much! On most days I just feel like I’m alive, and I love writing. I just love it, and even if it never gets heard, I hope to God that it’s something I never try to shove down again and deny. My head and my heart wants to play music. I tried to shut it off and it didn’t work.
Are you going to put another album out in another year or two? PLEASE don’t make us wait for another six years!
No! (laughs) I hope not! I’ve got six songs that are near completion. I tried to put the idea forward of possibly a live e.p. I’ve got a combined thing going right now. I’m slowly collecting the material that I need to put the rehearsals and the tour together, which is like a slow moving train. I’ve just taken a batch of six songs- there are more, but I just want to focus on these six, which I’m rather enjoying right now- and looking at synthesizing the arrangements and cleaning them up. Those are my two musical projects right now. I’m going over some tapes this evening and cleaning some things up.
Sometime this year, are you hoping to get this together?
I’d like to, yeah. I’m trying to complete this end of it in the next couple of months, to have all the arrangements done and to see how far ahead I am now. After a couple of months more I may look into doing some touring. I’d like to have something else out on vinyl, or rather compact disc. The age does show sometimes! (both laugh)
Just one more quick question before we end the interview proper. Black Sabbath fans would probably hate me if I didn’t ask, but is any chance of the original 4 getting back together to do anything?
How I felt in 1983 when I left, and how I felt in 1984 when I left, I would certainly not say no. I feel like I’m in a place now emotionally and physically where I could participate in an album. It sounds to me like a real non-threatening thing now. Just the thought of getting up on a big rig and playing some real hard driving songs is quite appealing to me, because it’s something that I know is not going to be a career thing, it’s something that sounds like a lot of fun.
It would probably be kind of a one off thing, wouldn’t it?
Yeah. I would love to do an album, I would love it if everyone could resolve their differences.
What exactly are the differences within the old band now as you see it?
If I answer that question I feel like I’d be imposing on their privacy, you know? I try to respect the privacy of the guys and their feelings. Hopefully whatever differences they’ve got, whatever it might be, maybe they can come to some sort of resolve. All I know is, from my end of it now, if Ozzy and Tony and Geezer called me today and said “Well Bill, shall we get together and do an album and a bit of touring?” my answer would be yes, it’s something that appeals to me now. I would love to make a good rock & roll album, hopefully to where we are right now, in touch with where we are now as players.
I’d like to be able to… part of me still feels like it isn’t done, you know?
Because it ended so badly?
Because it sort of drifted away and ended up wherever it did, I don’t feel like it’s done. I feel like I’ve resolved my end with Geezer now, you know. I have no resentments towards Tony, Geezer or Oz. I’ve got the best relationship that I’ve probably ever had with Ozzy right now. He called me last night- we speak an average of 3 or 4 times a week, I see him whenever I can and he sees me whenever HE can. I haven’t spoken to Tony since we did Live Aid, but if the man called me tonight says “Hello Bill” I know that I’d call him back.