Sabbath back in accord again
Polishing off a cup of wonton soup, singer Ozzy Osbourne is relating how paparazzi mobbed him as he left high- end organic grocer Bristol Farms.
‘‘They were all over the car,’’ music’s Prince of Darkness laments. ‘‘ It’s worse when you try to see doctors in Beverly Hills and you have to sneak down alleys . . .’’
Bassist Geezer Butler interrupts. ‘‘Did you get me any English peas?’’
The long-haired pair, clad in black, park on a sofa at the Sunset Marquis to chat about the reunion of Black Sabbath, founded in 1969 with chums Tony Iommi and Bill Ward in England’s industrial Birmingham. New album 13, the first studio effort with Osbourne since 1978’s Never Say Die!, arrived last week. A tour, launched in New Zealand in April, resumes with United States’ dates in July.
Once they get past discussing a new Richard Pryor documentary and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra (‘‘Fast-forward through the sex scenes,’’ Osbourne advises), the two take on the fraught topic of Sabbath’s rocky road to reconciliation. They’re all smiles.
‘‘It’s like getting together with old friends,’’ says Butler, 63. ‘‘ We’re not taking each other for granted.’’
Osbourne, 64, chimes in. ‘‘It takes a while to switch off being Ozzy. I’ve been on my own for 35 years and it took me three or four gigs to become un-Ozzy and be a member of Black Sabbath again. Now it’s one unit. It’s great, a different feeling entirely. It’s the chemistry of these guys around me that makes it happen. The shoe fits.’’
A lack of material and drive, plus the explosive success of MTV reality series The Osbournes, derailed a 2001 reunion attempt. In 2011, the reassembled band revealed plans for an album and tour, temporarily foiled when drummer Bill Ward bowed out in early 2012 over contractual disagreements.
Producer Rick Rubin’s proposal to hire former Cream drummer Ginger Baker was instantly nixed.
‘‘Did you see the documentary?’’ says Osbourne, referring to Beware of Mr Baker, a blunt account of the exiled drummer’s drug addiction, bankruptcies and volatile nature ( it opens with Baker striking the director on the nose with a metal cane).
‘‘He’s crazier than me. I don’t think Mr Baker would have taken the job. He’s not our biggest fan. It would have been interesting for a few days.’’
Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave was hired, despite a shaky start.
‘‘It didn’t work the first few days and we all panicked,’’ Butler says. ‘‘Rick helped him along and we jammed some of the old stuff first. Brad was great. He wore his old original Black Sabbath T- shirt once.’’
Rubin envisioned an early Sabbath reboot for the eight-track 13, recorded at his Shangri- La studio in Malibu.
‘‘He kept referring to the first album, and he’d ask us questions about songs like Planet Caravan,’’ Osbourne says. ‘‘He was adamant in saying, ‘I don’t want you to do a heavy metal album’. We started as a jazz-blues band and he wanted a feel of the blues.’’
Rubin pushed the band to stretch and demanded multiple takes but didn’t dictate a template.
‘‘He didn’t try to change what we were doing,’’ Butler says. ‘‘It was good having someone we trust to keep us focused. It had to be daunting for him to work with us. We think we know more than anybody else.’’
Iommi arrived at the studio with loads of ideas and CDs full of guitar riffs, the cornerstone of Sabbath classics.
‘‘We had plenty of ammunition,’’ says Iommi, 65, reached by phone in London. ‘‘Rick brought us back to our roots and the vibe of the early stuff. ’’
Recording was a democratic, collaborative joy, in contrast to past stints when Osbourne was AWOL until late in the process.
‘‘He’s been really good,’’ Iommi says.