Friday, April 27, 2012

The #14 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Tony Iommi

At #14, a guitarist who has exerted considerable influence on the heavy metal scene:

#14:  Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath
49 years as an active guitarist

Anthony Frank "Tony" Iommi was born February 19, 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.  He was the lead guitarist, songwriter and founding member of Black Sabbath.  As the only consistent member of the group through many lineup changes, Iommi is recognized as one of the most important and influential guitarists of heavy metal.  Allmusic goes so far as to say "Iommi is one of only two guitarists (Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page being the other) that can take full credit for pioneering the mammoth riffs of heavy metal."

Iommi had initial interest in the drums, but after being inspired by Hank Marvin and the Shadows, began playing the guitar as a teenager.  He learned to play left-handed after an industrial accident at the age of 17 left him without the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand.

Tony began playing in several blues and rock bands, beginning with the Rockin' Chevrolets in 1964.  The Chevrolets booked regular concerts and played in Germany.  In 1966, Iommi played in the group the Rest, which also included future Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.

Beginning in 1968, Iommi joined Mythology, but the band split up in July.  In August, the band Rare Breed also broke up, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and rhythm guitarist Terry "Geezer" Butler (who would play bass) joined with Iommi and Ward, along with slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan "Aker" Clarke formed the Polka Tulk Blues Company.  After two gigs, however, Phillips and Clarke were fired from the band and the name was shortened to Polka Tulk.

Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne renamed the band Earth in September 1968.  Iommi did one performance with Jethro Tull ("The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus) but rejoined Earth immediately after.

In 1969, since another group had the name Earth, the band renamed themselves Black Sabbath.  Because of the factory accident mentioned above, Iommi detuned his guitar from E to C# in 1971 to ease the tension on his fingers and Butler did the same.  Black Sabbath thus became one of the first bands to do this, a technique which has become common in heavy metal music.

Black Sabbath set out with ominous music and dark lyrics in an effort the create the musical equivalent of horror films.  The group signed with Philips Records in 1969 and recorded their self-titled album.  The album remained on the chart for over a year and went platinum.  The group recorded the album Paranoid just four months later, and the durable title song was recorded in the studio at the last minute, only because the album didn't have enough songs.  "Iron Man" from the album also remains as one of the favorite Black Sabbath songs among fans.

Paranoid went on to sell four million albums and remains as one of the most influential heavy metal albums of all-time and Black Sabbath toured the United States for the first time in 1970.  The following year, the group began work on their third album, which they completed in April 1971.  Thus, the three releases were in rapid succession.  Master of Reality reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and went on to achieve platinum status.  Critical reaction was unfavorable.  

Sabbath went to the famous Record Plant in Los Angeles to record their next album, which was plagued by drug issues.  The album was titled Black Sabbath, Volume 4.  Once again, critics blasted the album but it did go gold.  "Tomorrow's Dream" was released as a single but it did not chart.  The group toured the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

The group initially returned to Los Angeles to record a new album, but when no songwriting emerged, Sabbath rented Clearwell Castle in the Forest of Dean.  It was here in the dungeons that Iommi came up with the riff for "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath".  Elite keyboardist Rick Wakeman from Yes contributed to "Sabbra Cadabra" and in 1973, the group released their new album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.  For the first time, reviews of a Black Sabbath album were positive.  The album became the fifth straight platinum album for the group, and was a #4 album in the U.K.

Sabbath began a world tour in 1974, concluding with the California Jam festival on April 6.  Sabotage was released in 1975, the first album that failed to reach platinum status.  It did feature fan favorites such as "Hole in the Sky" and "Symptom of the Universe".  Black Sabbath toured, but were forced to cut the tour when Osbourne had a motorcycle accident.  

Black Sabbath added keyboardist Gerry Woodruffe to the lineup for the album Technical Ecstasy, released in 1976.  The album featured more synthesisers and uptempo rock songs.  The album did not make the top 50, but did reach gold status in 1997.  Sabbath toured both the U.S. and Europe.

In November, 1977, Osbourne quit the band but, three days before Black Sabbath was set to record a new album, he had a change of heart and rejoined.  The group spent five months recording Never Say Die! in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The album was panned as unfocused to the group's drug abuse.  Black Sabbath toured to support the album, but was upstaged by opening act Van Halen.  

The group returned to Los Angeles to work on a new album, but as Osbourne had nothing to contribute, Iommi fired him in 1979.  Ronnie James Dio was brought in as the new lead singer.  Geezer Butler temporarily left in September, replaced by Geoff Nicholls on bass.  Butler returned and Nicholls moved to keyboards.  With the fresh new sound thanks to Dio, Heaven and Hell in 1980 became one of Black Sabbath's best albums, charting at #28 in the U.S. and #9 in the U.K.  

Black Sabbath toured the United States with the concert at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, filmed and released as Black and Blue.  On July 26, Sabbath played before 75,000 fans, thanks to the presence of Journey.  During the tour, drummer Bill Ward quit the group, replaced by Vinny Appice.

Mob Rules was released in 1981, and another live album, Live Evil, was recorded during the subsequent world tour.  Things began to fall apart during the mixing of the live album, and Dio left in 1982, taking Appice with him.   

Iommi and Butler were left to audition new live singers, and Ian Gillan was hired in December.  Bill Ward had sobered up and rejoined the group for the album Born Again.  Despite being ripped by critics, the album did reach #4 in the U.K.  But Ward was unable to tour and quit again.  Former ELO drummer Bev Bevan was brought in for a world tour and Black Sabbath headlined the 1983 Reading Festival.

Following the completion of the tour, Gillan left to rejoin Deep Purple, who had decided to reform.  Bevan left at the same time.  Unhappy with an ever-changing lineup, Butler too left Sabbath, leaving Iommi as the sole original member.  

In 1984, Iommi recorded his first solo album, Seventh Star but because of issues with the record company, it was released as a Black Sabbath album.  Meanwhile, the original Black Sabbath agreed to reunite for one appearance at the Live Aid concert on July 13, 1985--it was the time that the original members had performed on stage since 1978.  

A new lineup that featured singer Glenn Hughes set out to tour, but four days before the first show, Hughes and production manager John Downing got into a fight that damaged Hughes' orbital bone and left him unable to sing.  Vocalist Ray Gillen was brought in to replace him, but nearly half of the shows were canceled due to poor ticket sales.

Black Sabbath began working on a new album, but it was a disaster from the beginning.  Bassist Bob Daisley was brought in and wrote all of the lyrics, but left to join Gary Moore's band before the album was completed.  Two producers came and went.  Gillen abruptly left the group to form Blue Murder with elite guitarist John Sykes.  Bevan was brought in again to help with percussion, but when Sabbath agreed to do shows in South Africa during the apartheid era, Bevan refused to play and was replaced by Terry Chimes.

After a year in production, The Eternal Idol was released in 1987, completely ignored by reviewers.  The album was the least successful of any released by Black Sabbath, and the group was dropped from Warner Brothers.  They were able to get a contract with smaller I.R.S. Records, and rebounded slightly with Headless Cross in 1989.  Elite guitarist Brian May came in to do a solo on "When Death Calls".  Drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Neil Murray were added to the group.

A tour of the U.S. began in May but was cancelled after just eight shows due to poor ticket sales.  TYR in 1990 became the first Sabbath album to fail to make the Billboard 200, and once again a tour was canceled because of poor ticket sales.

Dio and Butler expressed interest in rejoining Black Sabbath and Iommi dismissed vocalist Tony Martin and bassist Neil Murray.  Those three along with Powell on drums began working on a new album, but Powell suffered a broken hip while horse riding.  Appice replaced him, reunited the Sabbath lineup on Mob Rules.  Writing tensions between Dio and Iommi resumed, and the album took a year and a million dollars to produce.

In 1992, Iommi performed with the remaining members of Queen and other guest artists at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.  Dehumanizer was released in 1992, the band's biggest success in ten years, peaking at #44.  Osbourne invited Sabbath to open for his solo band but Dio, having too much pride to do that, quit the group.  Iommi, Butler, and Ward did join Osbourne on stage for the first time since Live Aid.

Black Sabbath recorded two albums with Tony Martin before the original lineup reunited in 1997.  In 2011, the original members announced that they were reunited for a new album, a performance at the Download Festival in 2012 and a world tour.

In 2000, Iommi released another solo album, Iommi, and another, The 1996 DEP Sessions in 2004.  In 2005, Iommi combined with vocalist Glenn Hughes and Kenny Aronoff, drummer for John Mellencamp, for the album Fused.

In 2006, Iommi, Vinny Appice, Geezer Butler and Ronnie James Dio formed the group Heaven & Hell and toured in 2007.  The group's show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City was released as a live CD and DVD.  Heaven & Hell joined Judas Priest, Motorhead and Testament on the Metal Masters Tour in 2008 and released their only studio album, The Devil You Know, in 2009.  In 2010, Heaven & Hell performed for the final time at the High Voltage Festival in London.

Black Sabbath are regarded as one of the most influential heavy metal bands.  Acts such as Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Guns N' Roses, Megadeth, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Foo Fighters, Godsmack, Alice in Chains, Anthrax and Slipknot attribute Sabbath as an influence.  The album Paranoid is thought of as "the birth of heavy metal". 

Black Sabbath has sold 15 million albums in the United States and 70 million worldwide.  They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, with presenter James Hetfield saying that "Tony Iommi is the king of the heavy riff."  Black Sabbath's music paved the way for the subgenres thrash, sludge and doom metal.

Early in 2012, Iommi was diagnosed with the early stages of lymphoma.  

Tony combines blues-influenced guitar solos and minor-key guitar riffs with a revolutionary high-gain, highly distorted tone.  The deep sound was necessary because of the accident, and Tony said his extreme volume was necessary because Black Sabbath became "fed up with people talking over us while we were playing".  

Iommi played Jaydee Custom SG's beginning with the Heaven and Hell album and soon, it became one of Tony's main guitars.  The guitar has a 24-fret neck with custom cross inlays and five control knobs.  Iommi began playing a 1965 Gibson SG special ("Monkey") after his white Fender Stratocaster failed during recording of Black Sabbath's self-titled album.

A Gibson Custom Shop SG was built to Tony's specifications in 1997.  It is one of two prototypes for the Limited Edition Iommi Special SG.  Iommi also plays an Epiphone P94 Iommi SG, a Gibson SG Standard with two extra frets, as Iommi became the first guitarist to have a signature pickup designed and built by Gibson, a BC Rich Ironbird, a Gibson Barney Kessel and an Epiphone Riviera 12 string.

Iommi uses the Laney GH 100 TI Tony Iommi Signature amplifiers.  He began his career using Laney Supergroup heads, then switched to Marshall, using the 9005 Power Amplifers, the 9001 Preams, 4x 12" speaker cabinets, 2554 Silver Jubilee Combo, the 2558 Silver Jubilee Combo and Paul Reed Smith modded JCM800 head beginning in the mid-1980's.  Iommi has also used the Mesa Boogie Mark series heads, Laney Klipp, Laney 4x12 cabinets and Engl Powerball Amplifiers.

Iommi uses a Korg Rackmount Delay SDD1000, a Corus pedal and Octave Divider from Boss, the Tycobrahe Wah Pedal and Octavia, the Korg DL8000R multi-tap delay, the Peavey Addverb III, the Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster and the Drawmer LX22 Compressor.

In 2004, Guitar World ranked Iommi #1 on its list of "The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists of All-Time".  In November 2008, Iommi earned a star on the Birmingham Walk of Stars.

Iommi is fast and a great riff producer.  His solos aren't as melodic as some guitarists ahead of him.  But he does have a lot of experience and was there in the beginning of heavy metal.  Tony ranks #14 for the Rock Era*...

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