Tony Iommi is the curator of some of the best heavy rock riffs of all time. Together with the times’ pulsating energy, Iommi’s guitar helped make Black Sabbath one of the most revered rock acts ever, introducing audiences worldwide to heavy metal as we know it today and blew their minds. However, Tony Iommi, the beating heart of Black Sabbath, was inspired by an old-school British band who would be one of the last-acts one would associate with the kings of heavy metal.
As the band’s primary songwriter, Tony Iommi was the brains behind the operation when it came to the dark artistry of Black Sabbath’s music. While Osbourne would write vocal melodies and bassist Geezer Butler would write lyrics, the band hung on Iommi’s sound. The process was sometimes a frustrating one for Iommi, who has spoken in the past about how he felt the pressure of continually creating new material: “If I didn’t come up with anything, nobody would do anything.”
Osbourne is on record praising Iommi’s influence, stating: “Black Sabbath never used to write a structured song. There’d be a long intro that would go into a jazz piece, then go all folky… and it worked. Tony Iommi—and I have said this a zillion times—should be up there with the greats. He can pick up a guitar, play a riff, and you say, ‘He’s gotta be out now, he can’t top that’. Then you come back, and I bet you a billion dollars, he’d come up with a riff that’d knock your fucking socks off.”
Iommi is undoubtedly one of the most instrumental figures in the world of heavy rock, and whilst his bandmate, Ozzy Osbourne, once proclaimed, “When I heard the Beatles. I knew what I wanted to do” — it was a much less critically celebrated group from the same era that got the guitarist’s blood pulsating.
“The Shadows were the only band that really appealed to me [in the early 60s],” Iommi surprisingly said about the Cliff Richard fronted group to Total Guitar. “There was rock ‘n’ roll but I liked the idea of an instrumental band and they had a real sort of demonic sound in some ways – ‘Frightened City’ and stuff like that had an eerie feeling to it. I really liked what they were doing and they had a nice guitar sound for what they did.
Adding: “So I really tried to get that and I did to a point. Bill [Ward] and myself, when we got together, we were playing Shadows songs in the early band we were in, with Cliff Richard stuff and rock’n’roll. We wanted this more raw, basic sound, so I got into playing blues and jazz. And from that it went into what we are playing now.”
It’s fair to say that if Iommi did attempt to replicate The Shadows’ vanilla sound with Black Sabbath as he claimed, he thankfully failed dramatically. Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin and co. made The Beatles look like Black Sabbath in comparison. They were the most clean-cut band in British music throughout the ’60s who never stepped out of line or didn’t obey the rules; they made rock ‘n’ roll music without possessing the attitude that makes the genre so great. The Shadows truly are the antithesis of what Iommi, Osbourne, Ward and Butler seemingly stood for. Perhaps there are no more significant polar opposite characters in the whole of music than Ozzy Osbourne and Cliff Richard. Still, Tony Iommi is perhaps the only man who appreciates both of them.