Mixing equal parts bone-crushing volume, catatonic tempos, and ominous pronouncements of gloom and doom delivered in Ozzy Osbourne's keening voice, Black Sabbath was the heavy-metal king of the 1970s. Often despised by mainstream rock critics and ignored by radio programmers, the group still managed to sell over 8 million albums before Osbourne departed for a solo career in 1979. The band's original lineup reunited for a two-year tour in 1997.
The four original members, schoolmates from a working-class district of industrial Birmingham, England first joined forces as the Polka Tulk Blues Company, a blues band. They quickly changed their name to Earth, then, in 1969, to Black Sabbath; the name came from the title of a song written by bassist Geezer Butler, a fan of occult novelist Dennis Wheatley. It may also have been an homage to a Boris Karloff film. The quartet's eponymously titled 1970 debut, recorded in two days, went to Number Eight in England and Number 23 in the U.S. A single, "Paranoid," released in advance of the album of the same name, reached Number 4 in the U.K. later that year; it was the group's only Top 20 hit.
The single didn't make the U.S. Top 40, but Paranoid, issued in early 1971, sold four million copies with virtually no radio airplay. Beginning in December 1970 Sabbath toured the States relentlessly. Despite the band members' intense drug and alcohol abuse, the constant road work paid off, and by 1974 Black Sabbath was considered peerless among heavy-metal acts, its first five LPs all having sold at least a million copies apiece in America alone.
In spite of their name, the crosses erected onstage, and songs dealing with apocalypse, death, and destruction, the band members insisted their interest in the black arts was nothing more than innocuous curiosity (the sort that led Ozzy Osbourne to sit through eight showings of The Exorcist), and in time Black Sabbath's princes-of-darkness image faded. Eventually, so did its record sales. Aside from a platinum best-of, We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll (1976), not one of three LPs from 1975 to 1978 went gold. Osbourne, racked by drug use and excessive drinking, quit the band briefly in late 1977 (ex–Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac vocalist Dave Walker filled his shoes for some live dates). In January 1979 he was fired. Ronnie James Dio, formerly of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, replaced Osbourne.
Although Dio could belt with the best of them, Sabbath would never be the same. Its first album with Dio, Heaven and Hell (1980), went platinum; its second, Mob Rules (1981), gold. But thereafter, the group's LPs sold fewer and fewer copies, as Black Sabbath went through one personnel change after another. Ill health forced Bill Ward out of the band in 1980; Carmine Appice's brother Vinnie took his place. Friction between Iommi and Dio led the singer to quit angrily in 1982; he took Appice with him to start his own band, Dio. Vocalists over the years have included Dave Donato; Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan; Glenn Hughes, another ex-member of Purple; Tony Martin; and Dio again.
By 1986's Seventh Star, only Iommi remained from the original lineup. He had to wince when Geezer Butler teamed up with the phenomenally successful Osbourne in 1988, though the bassist did return to the fold three years later. Despite bitterness expressed in the press between Osbourne and Iommi, the original foursome reunited in 1985 at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, and again in 1992, at the end of what was supposedly Osbourne's last tour. Throughout 1993 word had it that Osbourne, Iommi, Butler, and Ward would tour, but by year's end Osbourne had backed out, allegedly over money. The indefatigable Tony Iommi went right back to work with Butler, rehiring vocalist Tony Martin and adding former Rainbow drummer Rob Rondinelli. That lineup proved as unstable as the previous one, with drummers coming, going, and returning over the following years. Despite hiring Body Count's Ernie C to produce 1995's Forbidden (and inviting guest vocalist Ice-T to sing on a track), Black Sabbath seemed increasingly out of touch with the times, and at the end of the Forbidden Tour, the band unofficially went on hiatus.
But not for long, as Iommi, Butler, and Osbourne reunited to headline 1997's Ozzfest. Ward was not invited (he was replaced by Faith No More's Mike Bordin), but he did participate in two shows in the band's hometown of Birmingham, England, in December 1997. The resulting live album, Reunion (Number 11, 1998), also featured two new studio tracks, including the single "Psycho Man." The album went platinum in the U.S., and the live version of "Iron Man" earned the band its first Grammy for Best Metal Performance — nearly 30 years after the song was originally released. The ensuing tour lasted two years and ended in December 1999. Tony Iommi released his first solo album in 2000; a prestigious roster of guest singers (Osbourne, Billy Corgan, Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl) handled the vocals. Among metalheads, Iommi is something of a guitar god, due in part to the fact that he plays spectacularly despite having lost the tips of two right fingers in a welding accident at age 17. His hero was the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who also lost two fingers and yet continued to play. In mid-2001 it was announced that all original members were writing material for a new Black Sabbath album.
In mid-2001 it was announced that all four original members were writing material for a new Black Sabbath album to be produced by Rick Rubin. The band scrapped all the material and the album never materialized, although Sabbath performed one new song, "Scary Dreams," on that year's Ozzfest. The band was put on hold throughout 2002 as Osbourne refocused on his solo music and new MTV reality show, The Osbournes, in which his family was portrayed as a sort of real-life Munsters. The band came back together for the 2004 and 2005 Ozzfest tours. In 2005, Black Sabbath was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and the following year, after many years of eligibility, the band made it into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2007, Iommi and Butler reunited with Appice and Dio to record new material for the compilation Black Sabbath: The Dio Years (Number 54); that configuration of the group toured as Heaven and Hell (to avoid being confused with the Osbourne-fronted Black Sabbath) into the year 2008. A new Heaven and Hell album is slated for 2009.
The Rules Of Hell - 2008
The Dio Years - 2007
Reunion - 1998
Dehumanizer - 1992
The Eternal Idol - 1987
Seventh Star - 1986
Born Again - 1983
Live Evil - 1983
Mob Rules - 1981
Heaven And Hell - 1980
Never Say Die - 1978
Technical Ecstasy - 1976
We Sold Our Soul For Rock & Roll - 1976
Sabotage - 1975
Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath - 1974
Black Sabbath Vol.4 - 1972
Master Of Reality - 1971
Paranoid - 1971
Black Sabbath - 1970
The Devil Cried - 2007
Rhino Hi-Five: Bang Your Head 2 - 2006
Rhino Hi-Five: Metal - 2006
Rhino Hi-Five: The Gods Of Metal - 2006
Rhino Hi-Five: Bang Your Head - 2006
Lords of Dogtown: Music From the Motion Picture - 2005
Stand Up And Shout: The Dio Anthology - 2005
The Dio Anthology: Stand Up And Shout - 2003
Sabbath In The Suburbs... Tribute to Ozzy Osbourne - 2002
Awaken The Lair - 2002
Ozzfest 2001: The Second Millennium - 2001
Tales From The Crypt: Monsters Of Metal - 2000
No Boundaries: A Benefit For The Kosovar Refugees - 1999
Detroit Rock City - 1999
Speak of the Devil - 1995
Dazed And Confused - 1993
The Ozzman Cometh Ozzy Osbourne - 1997
All information from Rolling Stone - http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/blacksabbath/biography