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Black Sabbath's Bill Ward explains how he learned to play the drums

Bill Ward is a drumming legend, and there’s no doubt about it. Often overlooked in favour of his other classic era Black Sabbath bandmates, discourse frequently does a disservice to Ward by not truly heeding his genius. A brilliant drummer who augmented Sabbath’s ominous metal sound, without him, they were not the same, regardless of what purists say. 

Influenced by the sound of big bands and drumming virtuosos like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, Ward brought a tactile jazz-inspired nouse to Sabbath that afforded them the dynamic edge that many of their contemporaries and disciples tried and failed to imitate. 

His work behind the kit was nothing short of pioneering, and, alongside Osbourne, Iommi and Butler, he single-handedly helped to create the genre we all know today as heavy metal.

His drum solo on ‘Rat Salad‘ from 1970’s Paranoid is one of the best and consistently overlooked drum solos in the whole of rock history. Much like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Ward straddled many different genres, giving Sabbath an all-encompassing but unique sound.

Famously, Sabbath split up in 2017 after releasing their last album, 13 in 2013. Ward was not a part of the final chapter of the band. However, the recent discussions of his hope that the band will reunite once more to record new material has got us all excited that Sabbath’s classic lineup with have one last dance in the not too distant future. The 2016-17 ‘End Tour’ didn’t feel right without his presence, and even the other Sabbath members have echoed this sentiment. 

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Given that Ward has been so vocal on Black Sabbath as of late, this has led to many of us trawling through discourse to get a closer look at the man who held together all of Sabbath’s best work. Seemingly a very open gentleman, in a 2018 interview Music Radar, Ward revealed what his first drum kit was, even explaining just how he learnt his craft. 

Of his first drum kit, he said: “It was a Premier. It was a mahogany kit with 20″ bass drum and a four-inch wood-shell snare. I had a concert tom which was really tiny, maybe 9″x 8″. We couldn’t afford the floor tom so I just had the bass drum, snare and one tom. It was great, I did a lot of work with that kit.”

Ward explained: “That kit stayed with me until I got a Ludwig kit and that was quite a while later. I think I got that Premier kit when I was 15 and up until then, I had been borrowing drum kits. I played clubs with that kit until I was about 17.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Ward revealed that he is actually a self-taught musician. He said: “I was self-taught. I didn’t take any lessons. But I’ll tell you what, I was around a lot of drummers. Even when I was still at school we would go to the pubs and clubs in Birmingham and I would watch all of the drummers. I’d see Jim Capaldi with Deep Feeling and I would sit on the stage right next to Jim and watch him.”

Not only did Ward discuss in detail the timeline of his drum kits, displaying that for a time he had to make do with what he had, his discussion of how he learnt the drums is significant. As with many of our favourite musicians, the fact that he was self-taught is a necessary lesson for aspiring musicians. 

It shows that anyone can master a craft and that you do not have to necessarily follow the well-established path of having paid lessons to reach your artistic zenith, nor have the best or most expensive equipment. You just have to be totally immersed in it and study your idols closely. 

Watch Ward and Sabbath being interviewed at The Ivor Novello’s below.