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Music

Tony Iommi’s favourite guitarists of all time

Tony Iommi is one of the most accomplished guitarists of his generation. His scope is wide, his influence varied, and his style of guitar playing pivots between punk and prog, earmarking an entirely new genre altogether; heavy metal.

Every musician has their starting points, and even someone as gifted as Iommi has to begin somewhere. Black Sabbath arguably followed in the footsteps of two precocious musicians: Hank Marvin and Buddy Holly

Marvin was the lead guitarist in The Shadows, a band who toured with Cliff Richard but were more than capable of churning out a seductive instrumental. “The Shadows were the only band that really appealed to me [in the early 60s],” Iommi revealed in a rare moment of unbridled honesty. “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.”

He turned to Marvin to guide his playing, but Buddy Holly was another notable influence, as the American guitarist inspired members of The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Beatles, Holly also shaped the style of Iommi. “Me and Brian May both loved Hank,” Iommi conceded. “We’re not widdly diddlies. Brian and I have done a few things, played together on albums. We were in the studio together once and we started playing Shadows stuff. So it was mainly Hank, then Chuck Berry and a bit of Buddy Holly. I liked Clapton. I liked [Bluesbreakers singer]` John Mayall.”

Iommi did concede in the same interview that he didn’t think much of Cream at first, although he did grow to like them over time. That comment is a little curious because Black Sabbath bore a guitar sound that reminded many of the pillowing guitar riffs that made up Cream’s Disraeli Gears

Fittingly for a metal musician, he also greatly admired the fingerwork of one Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen toured with Black Sabbath during the 1970s, and Iommi remembered watching the American band with some envy. Although he admitted that he couldn’t emulate what Van Halen created, he remained friends with the musician. Tragically, Van Halen died in 2020. 

Although he hasn’t said that Django Reinhardt is an influence in so many words, Iommi has acknowledged that the gypsy-jazz player inspired him not to give up hope on the guitar after Iommi experienced an accident at work that took the top of his finger. It removed much of his fret mobility, so he was forced to change his approach to playing the guitar. He learned that Reinhardt had to overcome a similar disability in his life, and began detuning the guitar to create what would go on to become the signature sound of Black Sabbath. 

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Out of the six musicians Iommi admitted as influences, two of them are British: Marvin and Clapton. The other four grew up in the United States, which was typical of musicians Iommi’s age. British musicians spent a great deal of time listening to the blues records from across the seas and brought the music back to them in the 1960s, when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals demonstrated the chords and cadences that they had purloined from their personal vinyl. And out of the six guitarists Iommi mentioned, two of them were direct contemporaries. He was in the same age bracket as Clapton and Hendrix, and carried the flame into the 1970s, a decade Hendrix never got to witness. 

Iommi’s still standing, where Holly, Hendrix and Van Halen sadly aren’t. Time creeps up on all of us, whether we are rockstars or not. But Iommi has his fair share of admirers too, from Queen to Arctic Monkeys. He was the man who created the heavy-metal riff, and his place in Valhalla is undoubtedly secured. 

Iommi opened up a portal from which musicians could steer the direction of the band, placing emphasis on the music instead of the person singing it.

Tony Iommi’s favourite guitarists:

  • Hank Marvin
  • Buddy Holly
  • Chuck Berry
  • Eric Clapton
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eddie Van Halen