Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath helped usher in a brand new sound when the four lads from Birmingham tore up the rulebook on their self-titled debut album in 1970. The next few years saw them take their own brand of heavy metal around the world, whilst enjoying the debauched journey that came with it. But by the late 1970s, the band’s sparkle had started to diminish and one album from that era is a source of shame for their mercurial leader Osbourne.
In late 1977, tensions between the bandmates had become insurmountable. It peaked while Sabbath were in rehearsal for what was meant to be their next record. It all got too much for Osbourne who decided to dramatically walk out on the band just a few days before the band were set to enter the studio to work on their eighth album. Now suddenly they had to source a new frontman. Guitarist Tony Iommi decided to make the call to vocalist Dave Walker, a longtime friend of the band, who had previously worked with the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown and told him all about Osbourne’s abrupt departure.
Walker, at the time, was the lead singer in a group called Mistress but an opportunity to star in one of the biggest band’s on the planet was one that he simply couldn’t refuse. As soon as he spoke with Iommi, he immediately then booked himself on the next flight from California to the slightly less glamourous ‘Venice of the Midlands’, Birmingham, to rehearse with the Sabbath.
The new vocalist’s tenure would be short, to say the least, and he would only actually make one live appearance with the group which came on January 8th 1978, a time when Black Sabbath played an early version of ‘Junior’s Eyes’ on the BBC Television programme Look! Hear!. Walker would later recall that whilst on a boozy pub session in Birmingham he had bumped into his predecessor, Osbourne, and started to think that perhaps the former frontman of Black Sabbath wasn’t quite as finished with the group as Walker initially thought when he made the journey from California.
When Walker was in the band he tried to write a lot of lyrics during his brief spell but none were ever used. The other members of Sabbath routinely knocked back his attempts, almost as if they were waiting for Ozzy to return with his tail between his legs. They would be right. “The last Sabbath albums were just very depressing for me”, Osbourne later said on how his passion for making music with the group had vanished during this period of creative nullness. “I was doing it for the sake of what we could get out of the record company, just to get fat on beer and put a record out.”
When leaving the heavy metal forefathers, Osbourne initially set out to form a solo project featuring former Dirty Tricks members John Frazer-Binnie, Terry Horbury and Andy Bierne. They had some rehearsals in January 1978, but perhaps after seeing his old bandmates on TV without him led to Osbourne having a change of heart and rejoining Black Sabbath.
“Three days before we were due to go into the studio, Ozzy wanted to come back to the band,” Iommi later explained. “He wouldn’t sing any of the stuff we’d written with the other guy (Walker), so it made it very difficult. We went into the studio with basically no songs. We’d write in the morning so we could rehearse and record at night. It was so difficult, like a conveyor belt, because you couldn’t get time to reflect on stuff. ‘Is this right? Is this working properly?’ It was very difficult for me to come up with the ideas and putting them together that quick.”
With Ozzy back in the band, they then set sail to Toronto and spent five months at Sounds Interchange Studios creating what would become Never Say Die!, which it’s safe to say, is not the sound of a band firing on all cylinders and the very fact that it took so long to complete provides some indication into the struggle they were going through, creatively speaking. “It took quite a long time”, Iommi said before adding. “We were getting really drugged out, doing a lot of dope. We’d go down to the sessions and have to pack up because we were too stoned, we’d have to stop. Nobody could get anything right, we were all over the place, everybody’s playing a different thing. We’d go back and sleep it off, and try again the next day.”
Osbourne absolutely detested the record but after spending five months blowing money at a state of the art recording studio and spiralling drug addiction’s, Black Sabbath had no choice but to release what they could scrape together from the sessions. Ozzy even went as far as calling this called this “the worst piece of work that I’ve ever had anything to do with. I’m ashamed of that album. I think it’s disgusting.”
The singer would end up being fired from the group the following year, a decision was probably a good move all round as it was clear for all to see that he no longer felt the same energy for Black Sabbath as he did a decade previously. Ozzy would go on to assert himself on the throne as the Prince of Darkness and Sabbath would go down in history as one of the forefathers of rock.