The musicians who made Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath created such a singular, iconic sound that they drastically altered the landscape of heavy music. Touted as key influences by bands like Metallica, Judas Priest, and Slayer, the heavy, morose riffs that featured on their 1970 debut album have had a staggering influence on a whole host of musicians.

The band, formerly a blues rock outfit, each brought their own musical influences into the mix, too. Tony Iommi, the pioneer behind their most iconic guitar licks, has said he is indebted to guitarist Django Reinhardt. After Iommi’s infamous accident, the one that caused him to lose part of his fingers, he was convinced he’d never play guitar again. But as he wrote in his autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath, the jazz swing of Reinhardt’s guitar reinvigorated him.

His boss, in an effort to cheer him up, told Iommi that Reinhardt didn’t play with his fourth or fifth fingers because they had been burned in an accident. “I particularly related to him because he did the same thing,” Iommi revealed in a 1984 interview. “He only had two fingers. And that’s really what got me cracking on pushing myself to play.”

Bassist Geezer Butler’s influences are as unexpectedly diverse as Iommi’s, going as far as becoming great friends with his musical peer Frank Zappa. Butler was thankful to Zappa for praising the band in the press after critics had dismissed Sabbath’s unique sound.

“At the time, Frank Zappa was really well thought of critically,” explained Butler when he remembered Zappa’s encouraging words. “I thought he was joking! But he thought ‘Supernaut’ was the best riff he’d ever heard. A lot of critics went, ‘Well, if Zappa likes Black Sabbath, maybe we should give them another listen.’ So that turned some of the people.”

Zappa himself went on to describe Vol 4’s ‘Supernaut’ as “prototypical of a certain musical style” and was a big fan of the guitar lick that featured in the background of the track. While Butler was a fan of more progressive rock, much like Iommi, drummer Bill Ward was heavily influenced by jazz, with Count Basie and Glenn Miller both providing huge sources of inspiration.

Ward later told Goldmine that Count Basie and Glenn Miller had a “huge impact” on his childhood listening habits, which formed the bedrock of his hard-hitting drum style. Whereas, ever the outcast, Ozzy Osbourne’s key musical influences sound entirely incongruous to a metal pioneer.

Sam & Dave, one of the most famous R&B duos of the ‘60s, were a staple of soul music. While their dulcet tones and soft melodies weren’t a perfect fit for Sabbath, Osbourne has always been a huge fan of theirs and is described on Sabbath’s website as “a rabid fan of soul music in general”.

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