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Interview:
Black Sabbath feeling luck with "13"
 

By GARY GRAFF
@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

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Black Sabbath's absence clearly made headbangers' hearts grow fonder.

"13," the iconic British hard rock band's first new album in 35 years to feature singer Ozzy Osbourne, became Sabbath's first No. 1 album in the U.S., topping the Billboard 200 upon its release in June. It's also the group's first No. 1 album in its homeland since 1970.

And the reception has left Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler -- who co-founded the group during 1968 with drummer Bill Ward -- nothing short of overwhelmed.

"I am blown away," says Osbourne, 64. "I mean, 45 years down the road and we've got a really great album to put out -- talk about icing on the cake! It's unbelievable.

"I've said before (that) 'Never Say Die!' (in 1978) was my last album (with Sabbath) and I wouldn't have rested good in my grave if that had been the last Black Sabbath album. It wasn't a nice time. So if, for whatever reason, we never do another thing together, I'm really happy with this album 'cause it's rounded it off real nice, and it's a good album."

"13" did not come easy, however, with as much bad luck as the title number usually connotes.

Just getting the band together was its own kind of hurdle. Osbourne, who went on to a successful solo career as both a musician and a reality TV star reunited periodically with Sabbath during the interim -- first for the 1985 Live Aid, then for several OZZFest tours. In 1998 Sabbath released a live album called "Reunion," which went platinum and earned the group its only Grammy Award, Best Metal Performance for "Iron Man."

The set also included a pair of new studio recordings, "Psycho Man" and "Selling My Soul," which represent several false starts towards making a full-fledged new Sabbath album.

"We tried before, but for one reason or another it never worked out," Osbourne laments. "The easiest part of getting a Black Sabbath album going is to agree on it. But so far, every time we started writing one thing or another, there was a spanner in the works."

Butler, 63 -- who's Sabbath's chief lyricist -- recalls that the group "tried again in 2001. We did about six or seven songs but we didn't feel they were up to standard, and everybody seemed to be more interested in other things at the time. Ozzy had his TV show ('The Osbournes') to do, and he was doing an Ozzy album and it just didn't feel right, so we abandoned it.

"I didn't think we'd ever record together after that."

Osbourne continued his solo career and Sabbath was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. After that, Butler and Iommi wound-up recreating Sabbath's early 80s lineup with singer Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinnie Appice, calling it Heaven & Hell due to ownership conflicts over the Black Sabbath name. The group released a compilation, a live album and a new studio set but came to an abrupt end when Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer, passing away in May of 2010.

"When Ronnie died, me and Tony were talking about putting something else together," Butler remembers. "I think Ozzy got in touch with Tony and suggested that we get back together, and Tony came up with the idea of doing a new album. He had lots of (guitar) riffs to go through and we listened to all the stuff and felt we had enough there to start an album.

"So when that opportunity came, we grabbed it."

All four original members were initially on board for the reunion, which was announced on 11-11-11, along with Grammy Award-winning producer Rick Rubin, who had also worked on the aborted 2001 sessions. The group even entered the digital age with a new web site and social media pages. But things quickly went awry.

In January of 2012, Iommi was diagnosed with Lymphoma and began taking treatments immediately in England. A month later, Ward announced he was dropping out due to a contract dispute. Both Osbourne and Butler plead ignorance to the specifics of Ward's unhappiness -- "I came back from a holiday, and Bill was gone," Butler recalls -- but they say Iommi's situation fueled their resolve to make the album a reality.

"That's when we thought we've got to get this thing done or we'll never get it done," Butler says. "We rallied, because what happened to (Dio), he got diagnosed and within six months he was gone. It inspired us to all get down and work on it a little harder."

Osbourne does acknowledge a bit of despair, however: "I remember thinking, 'F***! It's never gonna happen! But I must confess (Iommi) turned up every day. I don't think he missed one day. And he came up with the greatest riffs and did a great job, and we just marched through it."

Rubin, meanwhile, led the charge as producer, steering "13" -- with its extended songs and bluesy and psychedelic sonics -- back to the sensibility of the very first Sabbath album.

"I felt the closer to the original Sabbath sound that people fell in love with that we could get, the more of a creative success the album would be," explains Rubin, who brought in Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk to take Ward's place. "Sabbath isn't actually a heavy metal band; they are a blues-based, psychedelic hard rock band. They have more in common with Led Zeppelin and Cream than they do with Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Their first album was the clearest view of their ringing themselves as eclectic original artists, so that's what we wanted to get back to."

Osbourne says that "Rick Rubin was great to work with, as far as I was concerned. He had a vision -- the thing is, he never told us about his vision. He just let us go about our business and subtly steered us where he thought it should go. He was brilliant."

With Iommi currently cancer-free, Black Sabbath has hit the road to support "13," joined by Osbourne's solo band drummer (and Detroit native) Tommy Clufetos and with dates booked into December. Butler says he's most happy that "we were able to come together and do one final album," but he quickly casts a more hopeful, if cautious, eye towards the future.

"You should never say never," he says. "We'll see how this album goes, see what happens." Osbourne, meanwhile, feels much the same way: "If there's gonna be (another) album there's gonna be an album, but I don't want to say if there's going to be a follow-up. I wouldn't mind doing another Sabbath album with them."

Then he adds with a laugh, "Let's put it this way; It's taken us 35 years to do this one, so let's enjoy it first and then worry about what's next, alright?"

Black Sabbath and Andrew W.K. perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $39.50-$125 pavilion, $30 lawn with an $80 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.



Comeback Kids


Black Sabbath isn't the only comeback story in town this week. Here's who else is returning from lengthy absences from the music scene:

* Justin Timberlake: The former *NSYNC heartthrob has concentrated on acting and other endeavors since 2006's "FutureSex/LoveSounds." But this year he`s back with the chart-topping, double-platinum "The 20/20 Experience" (with a second volume coming Sept. 30) and has joined forces with Jay-Z for the Legends of the Summer Stadium tour, which plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at Ford Field, 2000 Brush St., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50-$250. Call 313-262-2013 or visit www.detroitlions.com.

* Throat problems and subsequent surgery forced John Mayer to cancel his planned 2012 tour dates, but he's recovered and returning this year -- with a new album, "Paradise Valley" (produced by Detroit native Don Was) coming out Aug. 13. Mayer and Phillip Phillips perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7 at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $75 and $55 pavilion, $36 lawn with a $111 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

* Backstreet's not only back -- it's back to full strength. Co-founder Kevin Richardson has returned to the Backstreet Boys after a six-year hiatus, performing on the group's just-released new album, "In a World Like This," and taking part in the tour that plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Jesse McCartney and DJ Paul D also perform. Tickets are $30-$65 pavilion, $27.50 lawn with a $75 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com. -- Gary Graff



Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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