Tony Iommi’s artistry is an impenetrable one. He is a multi-instrumentalist, a genius songwriter, guitar god, founding father of heavy metal with Black Sabbath and even a shrewd author. His complexity as an artist has saturated all of his work throughout his long and illustrious career and arguably reached its zenith in his candid 2011 memoir, Iron Man, a warm and revealing chronicle of his life.
Although aesthetically, you might take Iommi to be a man solely concerned with all things metal, that would be a very reductive viewpoint, particularly in this day and age. Like most titans of rock, he is actually a rather perceptive gentleman, and everything he does is calculated and considered. He is one of those rare figures you could listen to all day talking about any subject, and his extensive wisdom is admired.
It is fitting, then, that when Iommi has shared his thoughts over the past, we have listened. Given the length of his career, he has discussed a whole host of topics. Ranging from his favourite songs or singers to books and even religion, even if I don’t entirely agree with his takes, they’re an eye-opening source of thought. One thing is clear, though, that he is, above all else, a music lover.
This is no surprise. You’d be hard stretched to find any musician of any status who does not live and breathe the discipline. After all, can you imagine, say, Christopher Lee hating acting or Quentin Tarantino hating cinema? It just wouldn’t work. Like with any artistic craft, an unwritten rule states that you have to be totally and utterly devoted to it.
As he was there during rock’s most momentous era, the 1960s and ’70s, Iommi is brimming with stories and opinions regarding his contemporaries and the generation itself. In 2019, he offered up another brilliant take on that heady and pioneering time. He revealed to Metal Hammer what he thinks is the greatest guitar riff of all time.
Iommi believes the iconic 1972 single ‘Smoke on the Water’ by British hard rock legends Deep Purple is the pinnacle of guitar work. When asked “what’s the greatest riff of all time?” by the interviewer, Tony gave a typically balanced answer. He said: “There’s so many great riffs out there from the past, and up to date stuff. But you’ve got to have Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’. And, of course, there are a lot of Zeppelin songs. Jimmy Page has some great riffs.”
He’s got a point, too. Not the most technical riff of all time; it is undoubtedly one of the most instantly recognisable ever recorded. Sure, Jimmy Page also penned many of the best riffs ever put to wax, and many of them were a lot more technically incredible than his peers’, but were any of them as extensively well-known as Ritchie Blackmore’s work on Deep Purple’s biggest track?
We’ll let you decide for yourself.