A conversation amongst pals Jeb and drum lord Mr Bill Ward
Jeb: Recently, you have admitted there is a whole library of Sabbath material that has never come out.
Bill: That is true.
Jeb: Are we talking finished songs?
Bill: The tapes were made in early 2001 before we went on tour. We were in England and we just recorded a bunch of stuff. We rehearse in Wales, which we have done for over 30 years. We wrote a whole record. We have loads and loads of riffs. I have 60 cassette tapes right here in my house and we have everything else on file back in Great Briton. Some of the tracks are finished with lyrics.
Jeb: You are sitting on a goldmine.
Bill: I know. I wish we could record an album. Things have just stopped. I never push on it. I don’t know how each -- all of us try to be respectful of where each of us are at. It is that kind of a deal.
Jeb: You can tell me if I am off base but I would guess it would all be up to Ozzy at this point.
Bill: I don’t think that is off base at all. A lot of it would depend on Ozzy wanting to do it. I think all of us want to be okay with doing it as well. We would all have to believe it was the right thing to do. I have reservations about it. There is some scrutiny in there. I can’t quote Tony and Geezer but I think they would have to consider it very carefully.
Jeb: Would you be interested in playing with Black Sabbath with a vocalist other than Ozzy?
Bill: No, I could not do that. I couldn’t do it in the past and that is one of the reasons why I left. I can’t do it without Oz. It just does not feel right.
Jeb: Does it ever get frustrating that Sabbath is not out there?
Bill: It is frustrating. On the last tour we did, we all worked so hard. I became frustrated and a little bit angry and disappointed at the end of the touring period because the band was sounding so hot. It made no sense to me to stop at the last gig. My chops were tight with Geezer and Tony. I was just learning what I had forgotten! I felt that I could go on for years but we had to stop and pull the plug. That is where commercialism comes in over musicism. However, we still sounded great and we were having a blast and I just wanted to go on. We could have gone around the world. Those were just my expectations and I could understand things from a business point of view but it was kind of sad.
Jeb: Tell me what Aston is and what is like there.
Bill: Aston is in the North side of Birmingham. Birmingham is on par with Pittsburg or Detroit. It is full of industry. They make cars, guns, bullets and all kinds of metal stuff. It is a really big industrial place. During the Second World War, the German’s knew what was going on in Aston so it was blitzed. Growing up in Aston, there were a lot of buildings that were blown up but not demolished. When I was growing up, I would walk out of my door and there were all these green fields for two or three blocks that were filled with these structures that were left over from the war. It was all I knew growing up so I thought it was fantastic. It was a very rough and ready area. People from Aston were very strong. They would place a high value on how their homes looked. The front doors of their houses were immaculately polished. On any given Saturday night, however, any Astonion worth his salt would turn around and smack the crap out of you. It was pretty bad, really.
One of the tracks on Beyond Aston is called “The Dark Half Hour.” In order to be in a gang when we were kids, one of the initiations was to walk down this sewer. It was absolutely terrifying as a youngster. It was about a half an hour long. I was initiated into a gang after I had finished walking through there. The river runs through it very swiftly as well. It was pretty fucking stupid stuff. It was black down there.
Jeb: Did you think that you were going to leave Aston or did you think you would stay around and work in the factories?
Bill: We were all destined to go to the factories. The guiding light for me was Elvis Presley. My brother is four years older than me so he was the main influence in my life when I was a youngster. I got to hear all these Cds--- Listen to me. Not Cds, 45’s. I listed to Little Richard and Elvis and everyone else. I was also very into my mother and fathers music which was American Big Band music. This music was played in some combination everyday. When I heard “Jailhouse Rock” something connected with me. I connected to it like some sort of magnet. I knew I wanted to sing and play in a rock n’ roll band. I was already playing drums. I started playing drums when I was five years old. My mother played piano and my father sang so the drummer who lived on the corner would bring his kit over on the weekend and we would have a party. Everyone would get together on Saturday night and have a really good time. There were lots of kegs of booze. They were still celebrating the end of the war. There was a real closeness with families and friends because we had lost so many people. The next day everyone was either still drunk or hung-over so I would come downstairs early and start learning what drums were. That was really my instruction on the drums. By the time I was eight or nine years old, I was already defined within myself. I knew I was going to be a drummer.
Jeb: Tony was the first member of Sabbath you knew.
Bill: Tony and I came together out of different bands. We started playing together when we were 15. Tony is only a couple of months older than I. We started playing in different band and when we were 18 and we met Geezer and Oz.
Jeb: When did you play with Mythology?
Bill: I was 18. It would have been around 1967. In ‘68 we got with Tony and Geezer. The first band we ever played in that got the most work was a band I was in with some school friends. Tony came into that band and he was so good. I thought he would just stay for a day and then tell us we were all crap. He was one of the best players in Birmingham and he was only 16.
Jeb: Did you work in the factories?
Bill: I left school when I was 15 and I worked for exactly six months in a factory. I left at Christmas time and I got part time jobs and such. I kept the part time jobs till I could not do them anymore. Everybody got gigs back them. We played as many as three gigs a night. We would open up in one ballroom at 6:30 and then we would go open up another ballroom or club at 9:30. We did that all the time. In the end, I could not work anymore. I was just too tired. A lot of times we didn’t get any money for the gigs. Any money we did get we put into petrol for the van or we would buy guitar strings or drum sticks.
Jeb: What do you remember about the first gig you played with the Polka Tulk Blues Company?
Bill: The first gig I can remember playing with them was at the ballroom in Carlisle. There was a really bad fight after the gig but other than that it was great. It was a magical night. We were a six-piece when we went up but we were a four-piece when we came back. That night we became Black Sabbath. We had a slide guitar player and a saxophone. Over the weekend, we let them know that it was not working. It was 200 miles up and 200 miles back. At the time, they took the news well. They were like, “Fuck you” and moved on. Back then there were live bands everywhere.
Jeb: This is a cheap question that you have heard a million times but was the name Black Sabbath really taken off a movie poster?
Bill: It came from Geezer. We always considered him the cleverest one in the band. He saw the Boris Karloff movie and suggested that name. We were writing the song first. We wrote the song and then we decided that it would be a pretty good name for the band. Before that, we were called Earth. We found out there was another band called Earth so we had to change it.
Jeb: In 1969 Flower Power was still pretty big. Didn’t you think Black Sabbath might be the wrong name to choose? Maybe a little radical?
Bill: We were all in a band that we wanted to be in and it was a great way of releasing anger. I look back now and I realize that we were really angry kids. We gave no quarter to the audience. We didn’t care. We had an attitude of ‘who gives a fuck.’ There was a lot of defiance. It was nothing for us to interact with the audience with violence. The way that early punk is remembered was really going on in Black Sabbath -- especially in England. Ozzy would often end up in a fight right off the stage.
Jeb: Was it a reaction to the music?
Bill: It was definatly different. Hendrix and Cream were very masterful but we were different. The energy we had went onto the stage with us. I put all of my heart and soul into one gig. Everything in my life was put into one gig.
Jeb: It is a long way from “Jailhouse Rock.”
Jeb: Was it just piss and vinegar or did you know you were changing rock music forever?
Bill: We didn’t know that. John Lennon said that once that on the inside of the band he didn’t know what was really going on. I just knew I was in a really high energy rock band. It suited my character and my emotions just fine. I was the healthiest I have ever been. I could act out my frustrations and my anger. I think I had the best drumming job in the world. It is very physically demanding and you have to be physically fit. At the same time you can go absolutely completely berserk and there were no ramifications. The energy was just sensational. People reacted to it in all kinds of ways.
Jeb: Was Geezer really into Black Magic?
Bill: I don’t know because I don’t know what we all did behind closed doors. We started to have our own rooms when we started having hit records. Before that, we all stayed in the same room. We even slept in the same beds! We were always playing jokes on each other. Sometimes we would have deep philosophical conversations about the occult or religion. We had these conversations and we looked into these things.
Jeb: Any rituals?
Bill: No but lots of ghostly appearances. There is nothing where I am aware of where we sat down and chanted. Other people did. We had a lot of people visit us who chanted. They would visit us in our hotels and they would sit down and light candles and chant. That sort of thing went on all the time.
Jeb: Were you laughing or were you scared?
Bill: Sometimes we were scared but sometimes we were just like, “Oh no, not again.” We used to see it all the time from town to town. When you have seen it a few times it is not that exciting. Sometimes it was a bit scary. It didn’t take long to learn how to sniff out the more radical ones. They are very outspoken and very dangerous. They were quite likely to bring injury. To be honest with you, I am not knocking Jesus or anything but what I am going to say is a bit controversial. My biggest fear out of all my years of touring with Black Sabbath were the men and women who were connected with what we used to call Jesus Freaks. I found some of the people that represented Jesus to be far more radical than just about anybody else.
Jeb: I remember this group that used to stand in front of the arenas dragging a cross. You could not get through them without them getting in your face.
Bill: It got to be pretty hairy. The more radical groups were pretty frightening. You never knew what would happen. All kinds of strange things happened. In Sabbath’s life, death threats were not unusual. A lot of parents thought we were the anti-Christ. Marilyn Manson gets all of that now. I don’t know if you want to say that death threats became the norm. But they were not startling like, “Oh my God!” It was more like, “Hmm, okay.” We just took it in like we would take anything else in.
Jeb: Were there any close calls?
Bill: On a couple of occasions there were.
Jeb: What made Tony leave to join Jethro Tull?
Bill: We were starting to find out more about ourselves. We had some pretty good songs under our belt. We doing some good gigs and the band sounded great. Ian Anderson saw us and he had his eye on Tony. He invited Tony to come play on the gig they had with the Stones. Tony went down there for a few days and then he had enough and he came back. He let us know what he had discovered. He told us Tull worked really hard. He passed his enlightenment onto us. He got pretty straight with us and told us that we had to practice hard and work hard.
Bill: Oh no, they were looking at Tony as a permanent fixture. Tony was writing his own music and he had a sound with Sabbath. He went with Jethro Tull as it was a little bit of a temptation. We were a young band and we may never have gotten a break. Tony would be better at telling this story. We were all sad and we missed him but we wished him the best and we wanted him to go for it. Going for better opportunities was part of the music scene. These days I don’t subscribe to that point of view. Back then, being young, it was big deal.
Jeb: You must have been elated when he came back so soon.
Bill: We were happy as shit. He came back with a lot to teach us. He absorbed a lot in a very short time. He reported his findings very well.
Jeb: So Sabbath grew up.
Bill: We pulled harder. I have always thought that my best teachers in music are Ozzy, Tony and Geezer. The neat thing with Black Sabbath was that watching them grow made me work that much harder. Tony would play a blistering solo live and that would make me become better than I was the day before.
Jeb: Warner Brothers finally signed you.
Bill: We had a meeting with Joe Smith set up and they had already taken on the band. We found out that Warner Brothers was going to take us on in America. We were just focusing on Sabbath-mania. By 1969, we were a major breaking act in Britain. We went to California and we met Joe Smith and he liked us. We were signed.
Jeb: Within a year the first album was out.
Bill: It only took two days to make the first album. The second one took seven days. It was just ridiculous.
Jeb: Management must have loved your recording budget.
Bill: Oh man yeah.
Jeb: It is a little different than Beyond Aston.
Bill: It has only taken 11 more years. It just gets ridiculous. You get more finite and more sensitive when you are older.
Jeb: Was the song “The Warning” a remake?
Bill: Ansley Dunbar actually wrote that song. We bumped into Ansley on the road all the time back then.
Jeb: Do you have any idea who the girl is on the cover of the first album?
Bill: I don’t have a fucking clue. I don’t think anybody does. Ozzy probably does by now.
Jeb: Was it a publicity stunt to release the first album on Friday the 13th?
Bill: I don’t believe it was. We were all happy about it. Friday the 13th is one of our happy days. That day just feels good to me. I think it is because it is technically supposed to be bad luck but we just saw it the other way. We saw it as good luck. I don’t know where that all came from but we already thought it was a great day and it just so happened it came out on the same day. If we had a gig and there was thunder and lightening then you could bet we were going to kick ass. We would literally look outside and see what the weather was like. We would watch and go, “It is going to be a good night tonight.”
Jeb: What were the differences between the USA and the culture in England concerning how Black Sabbath was taken.
Bill: In Europe, the audience didn’t know how to take us at first but it didn’t take long for them to warm up to us. In America there was much more fear toward us. Unfortunately, there is what I have called an underbelly in America where one can be outrageous and that outrageousness can go into the inner sanctum of the American’s morals. Other countries don’t react like that. In America, it because a very loud thing. If one can be outrageous enough here then one can climb the ladder so to speak. I think it boils down to the fact that American’s love football so much! They like to see that in everything. They love the razzmatazz.
I am attracted to America for many reasons but one of the biggest is it’s razzmatazz. I love the chrome. A lot of times there is nothing behind the chrome but I still love the chrome. Sometimes I think there is a real vulnerability in American that I have never seen in any other country. It is like a blind side. I see it clearly everyday. I see it in my wife and in my daughter. I see it in the news and I see it in the government. There is just a naivety that is very sensitive. It is really a good thing. When 9/11 happened I was so fucking angry. I could see the gentle naivety in everyday Americans change. If you go blow something up somewhere else it is different. But to see it here, I felt that somebody had kicked a child. I felt somebody had kicked a child very, very badly.
Jeb: Growing up in Aston with the war torn building, you knew how shitty people could be but growing up here we have never seen these things first hand.
Bill: Keep in mind that in Great Britain everyone was brought up with terrorism. We have been at war with Ireland and the IRA for a long time. Terrorist acts are nothing knew in Great Briton. We have learned to live with shit like that.
Jeb: I wondered how you could say we are naïve because we are a strong and powerful country but you are correct in what you said and it is a very interesting perspective.
Bill: I was very angry. This is my country too as I live here. I just look at that and I realize how delicate it was here. How dare they do that. I didn’t mean that America was weak because everyone knows America can kick ass.
Jeb: When Sabbath was touring was the chrome a bit over the top?
Bill: In the 70’s we loved it here. There are a lot of things in America that don’t happen anywhere else in the world because it is such an extreme place. We would wonder if everyone was crazy here. The students tried to get into the campus and the riot squads would come out and everything. Things are either so left or right. There is no down the middle with these people. I have only seen these kinds of extremes in America. In England things are taken more calmly. America is the Wild West. I am right in the middle of it and I love it.
Jeb: You never got tired of all the Black Sabbath bashing?
Bill: We were trying to say this is what our band is and we defended ourselves from the beginning. We took an interest in our own artwork and the band photographs that were taken. We may not have done the best job in the world but we did the best we could. We went through the suffering of bad management. Once that was over, we basically tried to run our own affairs.
Jeb: I heard that your management company literally owned everything that was Black Sabbath.
Bill: It was terrible. It was a mess. So many bands back then just got taken to the cleaners. In the 80’sand 90’ some bands actually started making money.
Jeb: You had to come to your own realization that you were generating millions of dollars and you were not rich.
Bill: Sabbath was an incredibly naïve band and we trusted in our friendships. Once we understood that money had gone astray then we were out of there. It came to a head around Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. On the next album we were writing songs that pertained to our management like “The Writ.” It took a while for us to figure it all out.
Jeb: At what point along the way did the booze and the drugs get out of hand?
Bill: Speaking for myself, I crossed the line when we were trying to do what became Heaven & Hell. It started out as another album with all the original members. I crossed the line at that time. Ozzy was asked to leave. I could not curtail my drinking and using at that point. It was just ridiculous at that time. I have no knowledge of recording that album. I was completely and totally gone during that album. I have no memory of making the record. I listen to it and I know it is me drumming but I can’t remember anything.
Jeb: Just to clarify, Heaven & Hell was not a seven day recording process; it took a long time to get done.
Bill: It did. The only thing I can remember was that Tony would just nod at me. He was really gentle during that album. He would try to get me to where I was going. That is all I remember.
Jeb: It is a great album. I know you don’t care for it but the fans love it.
Bill: It was not a good time at all. I think what enhanced the blackouts during that time was the fact that my mother passed away. Also, Ozzy was not there. I was in grief over Ozzy even though I didn’t realize that I was missing him. He was my number one friend. Oz and me were close like brothers. We were broke out of the same mold.
Jeb: How did you pull yourself off the dope?
Bill: I didn’t really. I came off the road from the Heaven & Hell tour because my addictions were so strong at the time that the most important thing to me was getting high. It had reached such a point that I was just out of it all the time. I didn’t know what was going on. I was completely fucked up, period. Booze became the most important thing in my life. It was more important than my children, my wife and even myself. I went on a downward spiral in 1980. By the time 1983 came I had already been in several detoxes. It was getting worse and worse all the time. On January the 2nd or the 3rd 1984, I finally relinquished and went into a hospital; this was after my final suicide attempt. I could not stand the idea of being sober. I had over a year sober at the time of my suicide attempt but I couldn’t stand being sober so I decided to kill myself.
Bill: I started getting sober in 1981. I would go a month or two and then drink again and then do the same thing over and over. If you add it up then it would have been about a year. On January 22, 2004, I celebrated my 20th year without any drinking and dope.
Jeb: How does it feel?
Bill: It feels great but I have been feeling great for a long time. I do a lot of working with others and I get great benefits from that. I can talk about it.
Jeb: You would have been around 35 years old and you played in a famous rock band and you were loved by millions. How could you have even thought about killing yourself?
Bill: Booze had become the number one thing in my life. I had crossed the point. Booze and dope was the most important thing in my life and was even more important than my life. I had been in and out of places trying to be sober. I lost all hope. I had no hope whatsoever in staying sober. I never thought I would be sober. I also did not know that I suffered from uniqueness and I didn’t know that I suffered from self-pity. I had all this stuff buried inside of me. Once night after drinking and being full of self-pity, I decided that I could not stay sober and decided to kill myself. Being between the sober world and the drunk world is where I found nothing but a black void. I found that black void to be where I am most vulnerable. It is like there is nothing there. It is just black and it is fucking terrible.
Bill: I only tried two other suicide attempts and they were all after Heaven & Hell. My suicide attempts didn’t start till after I left the band.
Jeb: Wasn’t it difficult to say in the world of music and stay sober?
Bill: It was. I had done the 1983 Sabbath album Born Again with Ian Gillan. That was my first sober album. I am really proud of that album. I remember playing on it.
Jeb: The lyrics to Trashed fit.
Bill: I got the opportunity to see Ian Gillan at the time. Ian helped to keep me sober. I was just grateful that I didn’t have to go through what he was going through at the time. As much as I love him…
Jeb: Born Again was not as accepted by some Sabbath fans the way that Heaven & Hell was.
Bill: I thought it was a very good album. It was personally the most challenging album I ever did. That was in 1983. As soon as the album was finished, I wanted to reward myself. I also had anticipatory fear about touring. I didn’t tell anybody about it. I chose to drink at that time as a reword and because of the fear. I was asked to go back with Sabbath in 1984 but I already knew that it was not going to work for me. It did not work with me with Ronnie James Dio and it did not work with Ian Gillan -- even though I have a great relationship with both of those men. Something different happened. When I left in 1983, I was full of shame. In 1984, I did the rehearsals and I played pretty good but deep in my heart I knew it was the end for me. I got honest and I told everybody. I left the greatest band that I had ever been in and I left the greatest guys I had ever known. I had nowhere to live. I was living on somebody’s couch. That was my home. They used to take me to rehearsals and I would come back. It was just like walking off the cliff. I had no support at the time and I had a couch where I lived. Now, I am so proud of that decision. Tony and Geezer knew that was it. I knew that I wanted to move on.
Jeb: You got sober pre-Aerosmith.
Bill: I only knew a few people in the business who were sober. I wanted to go back to Sabbath because it felt safe and it felt like home. I knew I could play the songs and I knew I could earn money but I also knew that I had to take another road. I had to take a longer and harder road. I had to make sure that I took care of myself first.
Jeb: Did you put another band together?
Bill: In 1985, I played with some younger guys. I started writing songs. I was tempted so many times to pick up with the Sab’s but my allegiance to Oz was very strong. I made a decision to never be a part of Black Sabbath unless Ozzy was in the band. I never went back as much as I wanted to. It got very cold and very scary. Sometimes there was no income at all. I knew I would have to work my own way out of it. I started doing that by making music. I feel like I have been working my way out of whatever that place was for sometime now. It has been an incredible journey.
Bill: I went through a lot of pain. In 1983, I left in shame. In 1984, I left with my head up high. These guys -- Black Sabbath -- reformed several years ago and we did the Ozzfest. I have never read a single word that says we are not going to do that again. I feel like I am on permanent standby. I can still play pretty good for me. We went out and toured for a few years and I had an absolute blast and I was totally sober. In fact, right in the middle of the whole thing a lot of guys on the tour who were having problems started coming to me. I am the wise old man now!
Jeb: Will Sabbath tour again?
Bill: By no means has Sabbath broken up. If they have, nobody told me. I am still in a place where I want to go tour. I don’t have any fear anymore.