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Black Sabbath's Bill Ward shares his 'Paranoid' experience

One of hard rock's most revered drummers takes a look back to the Paranoid album and tour.
 Bill Ward, 2010. Photo courtesy of Bill Ward.

Bill Ward, 2010. Photo courtesy of Bill Ward.

By Patrick 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.

 A younger Bill Ward in the studio

A younger Bill Ward in the studio

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?
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.
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.
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.
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"?
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.'


What were some of the personal stories behind the "Paranoid" tour?
At first, I think for all of us, it was fun because we did a lot of tours behind "Paranoid." I can remember the early reactions. And we went into a little bit of pop culture for a minute. I guess, we became famous, especially when the song "Paranoid" went to No. 2 in Great Britain and the album went to No. 1, suddenly we were in this Popdom kind of feel where we had all these screaming fans and all kinds of things like that going on. That, after awhile, wasn't necessarily the same. It kind of wore off, which was okay. We still had many many fans. All our lives we have had many many fans who are very enthusiastic, to say the least. But for awhile there we were enjoying driving up in our car and being mobbed. Or we had to be secretly taken into the theater where we playing. There was all that kind of stuff. It was a bit "Hard Day's Night," you know. Just for awhile, it was fun, but I didn't think I would have liked that for the rest of my life either. It went its own way. That came upon us really really quick.

But the tours were hot with all of us working very very hard. We were playing every day. Sometimes we were playing two shows a day. We'd do an early show and a late show. That amazes me. When I still look at that. .. when Sabbath plays, we play 150% of us, we put everything out there. It amazes me that we would put on this huge show and then put on another show a few hours later. I still look at that with some amazement, actually. I'm quite proud of that, that we were quite capable of doing that and making that work. So, there were lots of things that presented themselves on the tour as we made new friends very quickly.

Don't you think that some people came out to see the band back then just because they were curious?
I think we attracted a lot of people that had some serious issues with us, actually. Even in the same way that because we were in the charts, we got the chart people as well. But when they realized that we were going to do whatever we wanted to do, in the sense of music — especially by the third album — some of that Popdom dropped off a bit. We always pretty much played for ourselves. And we tried to be honest with ourselves about where we're at. And that's why I think we have had the fans that have stayed with us through the years.

There were a number — quite a lot, actually — of people that really didn't like our band at all. On occasion, those kind of things became quite dangerous. When we were doing our early tours of America, supporting "Paranoid," often we would have Christian groups, or people that love Jesus more than anything else on earth … they were quite extreme and some of them were quite dangerous. Very scary, to be honest.

If they only listened to the lyrics, they might have found things they'd never expect.
Yeah, If they only could have read the f**king lyrics maybe they might have learned something, I don't know. Or enjoyed it. Or they could have put their banners down. Everybody was carrying these big placards, as much as they do today. Some of the more extreme Christian groups, it's anything they can grab onto.

Well, there will always be extremists out there.
Ward: Yeah, it was extreme. And we were extreme as well. (laughs) Perfect match. But we did have to have security. We would have security quite often. In our first tours, we went into the Bible Belt in the South. When we traveled through North Florida, Mississippi, certain parts of Virginia, going through Tennessee, and down into Louisiana, all the the way down into Texas as far as Corpus Christi, we had a lot of people that were — including the local police officers — that gave us a very very cold reception. With the individuals, the mayors of each town, it caused a lot of trouble.

Don't you think that the dark and rumored Satanic image of the band was played up too much, and then, in turn, overblown by the media?
I think it was something that we continually tried to straighten out through interviews. But it was almost, like 'But this sells records' or 'This sells newspapers, so let's stay with this.' We were consistently, nearly daily, saying "No that's not what we are. No, that's not what we are representing.' and there are so many statements like that. We were trying to pull it back and say 'This is the truth of who we are.' We got so caught up into it that it took on an identity of its own, and it was thrown around like a huge beach ball across the world. Certain individuals, including the media and tv, would want to hype that or they'd want to declare that as something terrible. It was very controversial for a long time. It's something where we just went 'There's nothing we can do about it. We are powerless over this other dimension that has appeared and is attached to us.' So we just carried on doing what we do right up til today where you and I are talking about it right now. And I'm glad you have opened up the opportunity for me to have a little chat about it, at least.

Nowadays it wouldn't be considered so controversial. How times have changed.
It's not controversial at all now and I'm glad to be part of a number of bands that did go through the South, that did go through Australia, that did go into Canada and other countries, where primarily we were stopped by the authorities from going into the town to play. Now the doors have opened up.

Yeah. Canada back in the early '70s … man, to get into Canada was quite a trial. But I feel good that we were a part of a small band of guys who stayed true to themselves. But really created a lot of problems in the early '70s where the police were definitely uncomfortable with us being there and really didn't know how to handle us. Back then in 1970, it was the difference between a police officer in Louisiana and a New york cop. The cops in New York, we never had any problems with, that I'm aware of. We met a lot of them in the shows that we played. To them it was a show. You know, they got it. There were no big fights or possible scenes where one could easily be hurt or killed. Different vibe. In that sense, I'm glad to be part of those outfits that went through the deep South. And now the South is … man, it's totally different.

There seemed to be many rumors to fuel the fire back then. For instance, I can remember hearing about a rumor, claiming that upon entering the club to see Black Sabbath perform, the audience had to sign into a Satanic Bible. So there became this buzz of weird things happening at your shows.
It became like a phenomena onto itself. And it's still a shadow in our lives today. Because I know that all of us as individuals — not only Sabbath — still like to go to darker music. To this day, I'm still just as attracted to dark music than I was when I was a kid in 1969. Still the same.

Geezer Butler's lyrics were always very deep and aware.
Absolutely. I call him the Irish poet. His mother and father are from Ireland. He lives in England but he's basically Irish. But fantastic lyricist. Beautiful. I have to say at the same time, as we're talking about this, I have to give Ozzy his credits as well. Because, Ozzy, he can make one line or he can say one word and over the years I've traveled with him through so many trails and he'll say one word and it will explode and you can literally write a song around just one word of his. Or he'll say a sentence and it's like "Holy Shit, can I use that?' And you can literally write something around him. The way that he just pours that stuff out. That stuff from Ozzy comes out of him every single day. You have to learn and you have to know how to pick it up and how to place it down properly.

But, really, what was "Fairies Wear Boots" about?
That was both Ozzy and Geezer having fun, putting things together. It was a little bit of Germany. A little bit of scrapes that we had gotten into. A couple fights we had gotten into. I'm just focusing in on the song right now as we speak and I just went right back to 1968-1969 and it's a great example of where we were in 1969. I can actually smell the food on the Reeperbahn. (laughs). It's a great song about some of the experiences that happened to us. And it's filled with ... the best word I can come up with is magical content, where we go into this kind of mystical, smoking dope thing, all about where 1969 was. That's the best thing I can say about that.

Looking back, is there anything you would do different, concerning Black Sabbath?
I don't regret anything that we've gone through or I've gone through personally. I don't regret any of it. I wouldn't do it differently, including all the mistakes … everything. The first trigger instinct that came out when you asked that question was 'Yeah, I'd like to redo certain drum pieces.' (laughs) Not redo but work on the sound of certain drum things, back on those first two or three album in particular. Perhaps a better bass drum sound for "Iron Man," things like that. All musicians are like that.

Speaking of "Iron Man," do you think the song itself has become too commercialized, too mainstream?
For me, I had to kind of let go of any personal grip I might have had on it. It's like 'No, you can't do that. It's underground music and it has to stay true to itself and everything else.' And then life happens. The world opens up. The first indication, to me, that "Iron Man" belonged to everybody else was when I heard it being played by a local marching band on a football field. I went 'Oh My God, they're playing "Iron Man." To me, that's when it became public.

Then it would go too commercial and just get caught up in everything, you know. And it's actually nice these days. I'm not complaining at all because when it went to "Iron Man," the movie, it gives the song a new lease on life and it says to me 'This is still current.' So, in that sense, I'll take it as a compliment, you know. But a lot of my self-righteousness, like 'that's not organic, you can't do that.' has trimmed down a little bit over the years, towards the songs like "Iron Man" that have tended to become more commercial over the years, I don't fight as much as I used to, about it now.

And when we play these shows together, we always try to play some of the songs we haven't played in years but inevitably we end up coming up with a set that seems to be a little bit of everything for everybody.


What's next for Black Sabbath?
Well, everybody's off working, you know. I've been talking to Tony (Iommi) in recent months so … and I was with him and Glenn (Hughes) at the funeral for Ron (Ronnie James Dio). And I think Terry (Geezer) ... Terry is just trying to get past the death of Ronnie and where it's gonna go next. Then Ozzy's embarking on a huge tour. He's going out on the road for quite a considerable amount of time. But I speak to him all the time.

What do you think about Ozzy's new album, "Scream," by the way?
What I like about his new album, is I like where his voice is at. His voice is as clear as a bell. He's coming through. he has conviction. and he's very clear and he's very precise on everything. His voice is really commanding throughout all the tracks. I think it's very good myself

But as far as Sabbath, Black Sabbath, as the original band. I'm not aware of any plans or anything but at the same time, I know we're all conversing to each other. I'm not aware of any walls or bad vibes with anybody.

I always have the hope that if everything is okay and everything is amicable then we can tour again. I would love to do that, as long as everything's in order with me. I'd love to move ahead, not only tour but I'd love to make a new record as well, another Sabbath record. That, to me, would be the ultimate. But I would also love to do a longer tour. The last tour we did was nice, it lasted about three and a half months. But the thing is we were so settled in — and you got to get your joints back together and your muscles, all you have to do to get yourself really well-tuned — by the time we were half way between the last tour I felt really well-tuned and then in no time at all we had to stop, and I was just like 'Fuck!' Let's take this around the world, man. This is great.' We had to stop and that was a bit of a pisser. That was the only problem. It takes quite a while to take a 62-year old body and get it to be ready to play in Black Sabbath. And me and Ozzy, we are really physical onstage. so we really have to be in shape. And all the Reunion dates, as far as playing is concerned, had been beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, onstage it was just the best. I had a really good time. A really good time.

Black Sabbath at the end