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Bill Ward: From Jazz to Black Sabbath, Part 1-2

By Published: October 23, 2005
So, I guess we were talking about the blues, when I first heard that and the effect that that had. I think that I can only just speak for myself but Tony, whom I've played with since I was 15, 16 years old, of course he loved jazz, very much so, and growing up one of his mentors was Django Reinhart. So, I guess there was this thing that me and him had between us which we liked to fool around sometimes with different jazz pieces. I think Tony is just such a great jazz musician except that in public we only see him when he plays real hard rock guitar, but in actuality he's a very virtuoso musician. Then, of course, Oz and Geezer, you know, came into the picture and so we were Earth. We all shared our different influences and stuff. And Oz, I think Oz had a really natural kind of blues voice. I really like Ozzy's voice a lot. I think he was really extremely well suited for that kind of sound. And Geezer was just great, period. He was just like great. Geezer was a rhythm guitarist. He wasn't even a bassist! [Laughter]

AAJ: Is that right?

BW: Yeah. He was just great so we had to have him because he was great in every possible way. So it was just like, "We gotta have this guy!" I'm not saying that Tony and I were in some kind of leadership or whatever. We weren't. It's just like we were all absolutely equal. But yeah, we were all impressed, I think, by the Blues Breakers album, by the blues players that used to come from the United States and play at the local blues clubs that we had in Birmingham at the time, and we all watched these guys play. We were all very much interested in what America had to offer from gospel to rhythm and blues to blues music or folk music, whatever it might be. There's just so much good stuff. I don't know, my drumming was...I was just a kid learning, really. I was just learning all the time and I was just devouring drummers and listening to music constantly so whatever it was that I was being influenced by I was pouring that back into Earth at the time and then into Black Sabbath.

AAJ: The early Black Sabbath material sounds really jazz influenced, especially the first two albums and, of course, the live material from that era like Walpurgis Night.

BW: Oh yeah. Yeah.

AAJ: How would you say the group's creative approach differed in the early days as compared to later albums?

BW: That's a tough question actually. I think it comes in several parts. The first three albums or four albums, for me at least, I felt like they came out of big jams because we literally would sit in a room and just jam and a song would come from that. Giving credit where credit is due, I think that Tony would jam a little bit more than everybody else [laughs], definitely work more on the arrangements and spend a lot more time with the song. Geezer spent more time as well, especially in the lyric area. But some of the songs—keep in mind that the band was playing every night, nearly; we were playing all over the world. It was really kind of a tight band to say the least.

So when we sat down and wrote something, sometimes it's almost like these things wrote themselves. Sometimes there were things that we would do and it was like we'd jam and go, "Well, what do we need to change if anything?" A song could come out inside half an hour or a song could come out inside a couple of days because that was just the nature of that. Sometimes when you have a tight band like that the band is going to just jam something out, and it's just like that happens when you're playing tight all the time with the same musicians because they know where the feel is and where to groove.

So a lot of that stuff came about like that intitially in, I'd say, the first three albums and then we slowed down from touring. We'd been on the road for like five years in the sense of 1968 through to '73. We'd been constantly gigging so it was time to maybe just back off just a little bit. (Laughs) We didn't back off a whole lot but we backed off a little bit and I think we put more thought to the songs. They were maybe less spontaneous. So as time went on things did change and as individuals we changed too.

Things became different or we'd like different things and I think that reflects in the music a lot in the later albums where it's not necessarily this tight band that's constantly touring. I think some of the things softened up, and what I mean is that the attitudes softened up. It's hard to be a hungry young man when you're not hungry anymore. We were very hungry young men when we wrote "Black Sabbath" and when we wrote "War Pigs."

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