Remembering when Black Sabbath spent more on cocaine while making ‘Vol. 4’ than on the album itself
Black Sabbath’s fourth album, Vol. 4, was a wild time for the band. Not only were they attempting to produce their own record for the first time, but they had also developed an expensive cocaine habit between them that would make Hunter S. Thompson blush.
Sabbath, who were recording the album in Los Angeles, got so caught up in the chokehold of cocaine during the studio sessions that they even wrote an ode to the white powder on the record entitled ‘Snowblind’. The band became so enamoured with the substance that they begged to have the record titled ‘Snowblind’ but, somewhat predictably, the record label didn’t budge and they had to settle for the less evocative ‘Vol. 4’.
Remembering the time, Ozzy Osbourne detailed the incident as part of his 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy, noting: “For me, Snowblind was one of Black Sabbath’s best-ever albums—although, the record company wouldn’t let us keep the title, ‘cos in those days cocaine was a big deal, and they didn’t’ want the hassle of a controversy.”
The band got so captivated by their coke sessions during recording that bassist Terence ‘Geezer’ Butler would admit years later that the making of the album cost the band around $60,000 to make in total. The eye-watering figure was sizeably less make than the band’s coke habit while recording it which, according to rumours, stood at a staggering $75,000 bill.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect about this whole period in the band’s history was that Sabbath were not actively ordering the drugs, they just kept on appearing and appearing. Osborne revealed in his autobiography how it was all a mystery to him where the cocaine kept flooding in from, writing: “Eventually, we started to wonder where the fuck all the coke was coming from. All we knew was that it arrived in the back of unmarked vans, packed inside cardboard boxes. In each box, there were about thirty vials—ten across, three deep—and each one had a screw-on top, sealed with wax.”
Speaking to Louderyears later about the album and the decadent nature of the recording process, Osborne clearly had zero regrets of the period: “That coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine. One sniff, and you were king of the universe.” Meanwhile, Tony Iommi also spoke about how much the group developed as an outfit whilst making Vol. 4, explaining: “We used to write in the day and jam at night. It was a great atmosphere. We had a fabulous time. In this ballroom there was a grand piano. I’d never played piano before. And I learnt to play and the first thing I wrote on it was Changes.”
The recording of Vol.4 could have been a complete disaster for Sabbath but somehow despite all the mayhem and chaos, they managed to make a masterpiece.