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The Beatles to Metallica: Bill Ward reveals music that changed his life

Black Sabbath's founding drummer tells personal stories behind his eclectic inspirations.

Bill Ward has influenced a generation of drummers while keeping the beat for Black Sabbath on such notable albums as Paranoid.


But he’s no one-trick pony. He’s also a songwriter, vocalist, producer and arranger. He owns his own record company. He heads up the Bill Ward Band. He regularly hosts his own Internet radio show, “Rock 50.”

Ward doesn’t mind marching to the beat of, well, his own drummer, either. He’s not shy about his vegan diet, something he shares with fellow Sabbath alumnus Geezer Butler. On his Web site,, he lists “plant flowers” among his goals and desires.

So when we asked Ward to list the 10 albums that have rocked his world, we weren’t shocked that he opted to color outside of the lines of our stiff little format and instead talk about the artists and music in general that matter to him.


You might expect a future heavy-metal drummer to pick percussionists as the musicians who influenced him early on. But it was a pair of band leaders — one a keyboardist, the other a trombonist — who made a lasting mark on him.

“Count Basie, anything by Count Basie. Then I would have to go to Glenn Miller. Both Count Basie and Glenn Miller had a huge impact on me as a child.”


Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” was a biggie on Ward’s list, along with Little Richard’s work and “all the early American rock and roll.”

“The English bands that I started listening to right after we listened to all the American rock and roll, one of them was an instrumental band called The Shadows, and they had a huge impact on me, as well as The Ventures, had a huge impact. And then of course, The Beatles, and all the Liverpool sound.”


When we pressed Ward for a Fab Four favorite, we heard a familiar answer.

“I’d say Sgt. Pepper, but I love everything The Beatles ever did. It was just the first time for me that I’ve ever heard anything like that in my life, a pop band playing in a newness that I’d never felt before. And I had tremendous hope; I felt less depressed when I listened to it. I didn’t know you could do that with music.”


Ward’s got a soft spot for the blues, and lists John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters as his favorites. “My program plays all hard-core metal, but every once in a while, I’ll play some classic rock, and every once in a while, it’s more like an educational show, so I’ll get into some blues and try to spend a little bit of time talking historically about blues music.

“John Lee Hooker: I just liked his style and his pizzazz. He just sang love songs that were just really real, in the dirt, you know. And his style... I always felt Muddy Waters as a little bit serious, and John Lee Hooker was a little lighter on the hoof.”


“We went through Cream and Jimi Hendrix. They were huge.... Cream was beautiful. Jimi Hendrix? Anything Hendrix.”


Black Sabbath is no slouch in the heavy metal department, and plenty of artists today would point to Paranoid as an album that influenced them. But Ward had a different band on his list.

The Black Album with Metallica. That was a huge turning point.”


While Ward says he loves Pete Townshend and The Who — “pretty much everything The Who do” — Quadrophenia wasn’t on his short list.

“Of all the things, that was the one thing that I didn’t listen to that much,” Ward said. “We could never get it set up right in our house anyway. I’m always on the road so it’s like, ‘Have you got that set up yet, so we can hear it?’ ‘No, we’re working on it, though.’”


While Ward is a fan of “probably anything” in the Zeppelin catalog, Led Zeppelin I has the strongest memories for him.

“I love Jimmy (Page). He’s bloody great,” Ward said. “When I first heard their very first album, we had a bunch of songs as well, but we hadn’t recorded our first album, and then somebody brought over Led Zeppelin I and we listened to it, and I’m listening to it and going ‘Holy crap.’ “ You know, it sounded really professional and everything. I’d known (John) Bonham since I was 16 years old, and I’m listening to Bonham playing his chops, man, and I’m going, ‘Wow.’ I thought that that album was just completely out of sight. It was so good, and I love Jimmy’s (Page’s) chops. We just sat around going ‘Wow.’ We were in a different bag. We were working on ‘What is this that stands before me? ...’ and so we were in quite a different place, but that first album was just, like, holy crap, blew me away. Just a really very, very good album.”

“All of us — Tony (Iommi), myself, and the likes of Geezer (Butler) and Ozzy (Osbourne), you know, we all knew Bonham, and we all knew Robert Plant. We were all from basically the same area, so we bumped into them all the time. We’d see them every other day or something,” Ward recalled. “But I love John Paul (Jones), as well... What a bass player, man. He’s doing good stuff. He’s always been a brilliant bass player. He reminds me now of, unfortunately he passed away, John Entwistle. Entwistle’s bass playing is just f***ing phenomenal.”

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