By Pat Prince
Black Sabbath has had several incarnations, and eight different drummers, over its 41 years. But most fans think of Bill Ward as the drummer who represents the band.
And “Paranoid” as the album that defines Sabbath so perfectly.
To mark the 40th anniversary of “Paranoid,” Eagle Rock Entertainment has released, through its “Classic Albums” series, a DVD documentary on the famous 1970 album that was originally going to be called “War Pigs.” It’s a peak inside a band that — at the time — was huddling together to survive, yet still created some of the most dynamically somber and provocative music ever recorded.
Bill Ward remembers “Paranoid” as the album that changed it all for Sabbath. It gave the band recognizable songs in “Iron Man,” and even gave Sabbath its few Beatles’ moments of screaming fans (mostly British teenyboppers) chasing unprepared musicians down the street.
Over the years, Bill Ward has become a genuine spokesman for the band, as well as the guy who keeps its natural beat. At 62, he is still willing and ready to summon up the energy for a full Sabbath tour, at any moment, almost matching the same enthusiasm he had during the “Paranoid” sessions.
Recently, Goldmine had a chance to speak with the legendary drummer, who is busy working in the studio on his latest solo album, a labor of love in its final stages (there is no release date as of yet).
What are your feelings about the way the “Paranoid” documentary DVD came out?
Bill Ward: I’m okay with it now. When I first saw it, I had some grumblings about the pace and the general production. I made my point of view heard to the producer and I got some feedback, and everything became amicable. Things got sorted out a little bit.
My biggest concern was that there was quite a long period of exchange between Tony (Iommi) and Geezer (Butler) without any other artist’s verbiage. And it was pointed out to me that that was what the show was about. And I said ‘I understand that, I’m quite a huge fan of the show. I think I’ve seen every band that’s appeared on there. I get that but I still think that it’s too long.’ Anyway, I was able to settle in and be okay with that, but that was the only rub that I had with the DVD.
But I like it because it is a little bit different. For me, I’ve never seen Black Sabbath given a slightly different look from a slightly different angle. I think in that sense, it’s quite fresh.
How do you feel about the album “Paranoid” getting this sort of reexamination?
Ward: I like that it’s being looked at again and that it’s been given some credit. I think it deserves some credit, in the sense that we were just playing it as who we were. We didn’t have a process of thinking the whole thing out. There wasn’t anything contrived about it. It was very much almost a phenomena of four guys playing together, being as one, being a band, a real band.
Did you realize how special the album was while creating it?
Ward: There were several things that I felt back then but I knew that we were into something different. I mean, I think we all did. We knew that we were tapping into something we enjoyed very much. But we knew that it was different. And we knew that it was fragile as well, in the sense that this might not last more than five minutes, you know. Because there were so many opponents in, for lack of better words, higher places that were out to get that album and not give it any time at all.
As with many Black Sabbath albums, there’s quite a lot of substance. In a way, it’s too bad that the album wasn’t called “War Pigs” as it was intended because it would have made an even greater statement.
Ward: Well, we wanted to call it that but nobody seemed to understand. I don’t blame them, you know. Vietnam, a lot of people were being killed there every day so … I can appreciate them not using the name, in that sense.
But it was quite an effective anti-war statement.
Ward: I think we made a good statement and we put a lot of force into it. When we still play it today … well, that last time Sabbath toured — which was about four years ago, as the original band — “War Pigs” was still a very traditional favorite for everyone. So it still stands. Unfortunately, it still stands in today’s dynamics as well with Iraq and all the different places where there’s so much trouble and death going on. That’s the downside of it but we made a good record and a good statement.
The fact that the music is still relevant today is a huge testament to the power of the songwriting on the album. A lot of bands don’t have that running power.
Ward: When we played these songs originally, like I said earlier, we didn’t know if it was going to last or not. It was actually quite fragile in many ways. But then Sabbath became generational. I guess that happens, where other bands become almost cultish. The life of Sabbath has been dependent upon others who have been influenced by Sabbath’s music, just by granddad telling grandson: ‘Hey, check this band out.” That’s been amazing that part. We started to notice that when the guys showing up now are 50, 60 years old, and the kids there as well are, like, 10 years old. It’s really neat, actually. It’s very nice to see all that. I’m quite pleased how it’s turned out to be influential with other musicians, too. To me, those are the things that are like silent gifts that you get when you get old. I hope that I received them with a modicum of humility and not big-headed about it.
Can you elaborate more on your use of the word “fragile”?
Ward: Back then, when we were making “Paranoid” — and when we made our first album — we were still very much a band and we were very tight. There was the band, then the road managers and then the other people who would drive us around and take care of us, you know. There was probably ten of us, ten people together, and in a lot of ways there was a lot of internalizing. You know, we took care of each other’s back and we looked after each other. We were really like one. I often referred to it as the Four Musketeers. It felt like that because there was so much coming from the outside. Between the media and tv and all the new audiences that we were were reaching, all the new countries that we were traveling in. There was still very much this newness to everything. And I guess a sense of mistrust. We come from a really really hard, tough area in Birmingham so we learned to grow up with one eye always open, so to speak, we weren’t stupid, in that sense we were pretty street smart.
Keeping that in mind, as we were passing through record companies or talking to lawyers or anything like that, we were much very private. We huddled down and discussed everything and what was going on. We had just come from a huge two-year of touring in Europe where we would share our food. We were quite penniless so when we were playing the Star-Club and going through the Reeperbahn and doing all the things in Denmark and Sweden and so on and so forth, when we were doing those gigs prior to 1970, we had to learn how to survive because we were basically living for food and playing for food and things like that. So that really does breed a tough veneer, if you like. So we had that for some time. That traveled with us into the new world and the new changes that we were going through, or were about to go through. And that’s what I meant by ‘fragile.’