Tony Iommi isn’t just a multi-instrumentalist, talented songwriter, gifted guitarist, noted forefather of heavy metal and Black Sabbath’s lead guitarist; he is also an astute writer. It is something that has permeated all of his work throughout his career and crescendoed with his potent memoir Iron Man. Despite his persona, Uommi is careful and considered in almost everything he does; what the guitarist decides to give his attention to is always worth noting down.
Over the years, Iommi has been more than happy to share his favourite moments in music. Whether they’re his favourite songs or singers, often shown by his adoring covers, the Black Sabbath guitarist is, at heart, a music lover. Like all music lovers, he is always willing to lend his opinion to a piece of art. However, sometimes they’re more special than most.
Writing for Vinyl Writers, the unique project run by Saliha Enzenauer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s former production assistant, among many other accolades, we can get a unique insight into Iommi’s musical development as he shares the albums that “changed his life”. They’re records that may not seem particularly connected to the heavy thrash Iommi would inspire, but, like any great swell of generational music, it started with a more humble drop in the ocean.
“Two albums changed my life forever,” begins the Birmingham native, clearly noting the heavy weight of expectation on his entry. “About one I have spoken very often: the recordings of the French [Belgian] jazz musician Django Reinhardt,” a uniquely gifted performer from whom many of the classic rock heroes learned their skills. Reinhardt wasn’t just supremely talented, but he did it all with a “mutilated” hand which, considering Iommi had lost his fingertips in an industrial accident at 17, resonated with the young guitarist and “gave me the courage to continue my music career.”
However, it was another album that first sparked that fire in Iommi’s belly. “I already had the desire to play in a rock band and make music my life’s passion before that. It was born by The Shadows,” reveals the guitarist. While that line does feel befitting for the man who wrote some of the bleakest riffs around, he is, in fact, referencing a wildly influential instrumental band from London’s swinging sixties scene.
“The energy they unleashed in their tracks without vocals was transferred directly into me,” continues the guitarist. Though he admits one faux pas for the music aficionados out there, his only album was a “greatest hits” collection. “I just owned the Best-of-LP by them, bought from my pocket money, but in retrospect, that was no bad choice. Because if you could accuse The Shadows of anything, it was that their albums, like the album of the early ’60s, consisted of a few hits and a lot of filler material.”
This record, however, contained “my two favourite songs, ‘Apache’ and ‘Wonderful Land’ — plus a lot of other great stuff.” The big revelation comes shortly after when Iommi writes: “Without The Shadows and their guitarist Hank Marvin as an idol, my playing might have developed into a completely other direction, and Black Sabbath would not have been the band it became.”
If you need any reason to go and start listening to The Shadows, then you have it right there. The album that changed Tony Iommi’s life forever, The Shadows’ Greatest Hits.