Geezer Butler – Heavy Metal Turns Fifty; The Birth of Black Sabbath

Referred to by Rolling Stone magazine as The Beatles of heavy metal, Black Sabbath are (to put it simply), ultimate pioneers, having recorded genre-defining album Paranoid in 1970, the same year as their self-titled record. Little would Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi and Bill Ward know the unmatched impact Paranoid would have on generations to come. If you’re reading this, it may have even changed your life forever. 

Fast forward a whopping fifty years, and Black Sabbath are celebrating the golden anniversary release of the (arguably) first-ever heavy metal album, with a major box set collectable available on Friday, October 9th via BMG.

The Birmingham band wrapped things up in their hometown on 4 February 2017 with the last ever Black Sabbath live show. However, with a special legacy, the iconic musicians will continue to relish in their many achievements after this date, and this one is no different. 

Basking in the incredible anniversary release, I had the honour of hearing from the extraordinary bassist, which not only gratified my most inner ‘Almost Famous / William Miller’ aspirations, but shone some light into Butler’s inner-world, from two remarkably different epochs – fifty years ago and today.

“This is the longest I have been home in fifty years,” the heavy metal bassist tells us, with a reference to the dichotomy of these two aforementioned timestamps. “My dogs and cats are loving it – not so much my wife,” he laughs at his (and the world’s) current homebound lifestyle. “Based here in Los Angeles, I have ventured out on some amazing road trips, mainly in Utah, my favourite state in the USA, but apart from that I’ve read [tonnes] of books, watched a lot of TV, eaten too much, and dabbled with various new basses – mainly five, six and even seven string basses.”

Of course since 1970, it’s easy to imagine the complications that arise within a globalised world requiring constant travel and touring in a band – despite the increased accessibility to do so. Now, more than ever, the seventy-one year old empathises with the music industry. 

“I’m not sure how the music world will recover from this virus – a lot of smaller bands and even bigger bands – and their crews, won’t recover from this.” The Paranoid mastermind is also concerned that “the marketplace for live shows will be overcrowded until things settle down” – an accurate reflection considering the yearn for shows, throughout all genres, across the whole world.

But this unprecedented time does give Geezer the opportunity to take a moment and breathe in the extent of this personal and musical milestone. 

“It’s a great achievement to still be relevant fifty years after we recorded our first two albums. We honestly thought we’d last a few years, then be forgotten about. Fifty years ago any form of popular music was seen as a passing fad – people even thought The Beatles would be forgotten about after they broke up, but nobody then [realised] how powerful the nostalgia effect would be.”

These humble words obviously hold very true in describing Black Sabbath’s second studio album. 

“Every generation, as they get older, wants to look back fondly on their younger years, and music is a great way of reviving those feelings they had in their younger days. There is no denying there was some incredible music back in the sixties and seventies, lots of various styles and ideas, that still sound relevant now, and with each generation there is still a demand for that music.”

Obviously this is not only applicable with these Englishmen, but also their peers who’ve left a legacy from that era, like Led Zeppelin and The Who

It’s amazing how the human condition is engineered such that we often only appreciate the beauty of a moment, after that very moment – or in some cases a long time later. “We really didn’t have a clue that our music would define a whole new musical genre,” the ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Electric Funeral’ songwriter understandably tells us.

“It wasn’t until the mid-eighties that musicians really started citing us as major influences.” Having only heard their own recordings via “reel-to-reel tape recorders” when they first started, Black Sabbath only first heard themselves “when recording the first album, as we couldn’t afford any means of recording ourselves.”

“When the first two albums were released, the critics hated them – they just did not get it, and because we were successful without any hype or press coverage, they seemed to take offense that we did it without their approval.”

Thinking about the content of Paranoid, besides its magnificent defining musical qualities, it was also the controversial lyrics that led the band to global recognition. Butler was also known to have contributed to some of the politically charged lyrics in tracks like ‘War Pigs’. in the midst of the Vietnam War. 

The metal founder earnestly describes what it felt like to be living through a war-torn landscape. “The Vietnam war was scaring the hell out of everyone – there was a real sense of it turning into World War III.” Considering who he’s telling this too, he elaborates, “Australia and New Zealand were dragged into it, and as we were allies in Britain, we fully expected to be dragged into it, and that gave me the inspiration for ‘War Pigs’.

This led to the self-titled track-two of the remarkable record. “I was having some depression issues at the time, some close family members had passed away suddenly, and I was almost starving on the road as I was vegetarian, and [it] was tough finding anything suitable to eat in those days, all which culminated in the ‘Paranoid’ lyrics.”

“‘Iron Man’ was based on Jesus Christ – a hero one minute, then an outcast the next; except Iron Man got revenge rather than forgive his enemies.”

The Super Deluxe Edition of Paranoid will feature quadraphonic mixes of the record. However, with a record that’s matured with age, there’s so much purity in the raw energy of the original mix, so this re-master gives fans something different to appreciate. 

“Most of the album was recorded on four and eight track machines, so not a lot of difference can be made re-mastering wise.” Butler assures us that it’ll rather “just bring out the highs and lows a bit more.” However, of more interest to lifelong Sabbath fans, there will also be “outtakes, instrumentals, and some live shows from around that era in the box set.”

In an era of Spotify streaming and a digital music accumulation, a bit of a retro and collector may really enjoy what this box set delivers. “There’s a lot of history in the box set, with tour booklets, a history booklet, heavier quality vinyl, and the ability to hear the album as we heard it for the first time, on vinyl.

“Nothing beats actually loading a vinyl record onto a record player and reading the sleeve notes while you listen to the album, and hearing it in its entirety and actually hearing and feeling the music as it was meant to be experienced.”

This is the reason why the bassist has more to celebrate this year than his fellow bandmates, with the vinyl re-issues of his three eclectic solo albums. In the late nineties and early noughties, Geezer Butler had less to do with Sabbath (besides their live Reunion album in 1997), and had more of a focus on a string of solo albums, released under different monikers; Plastic Planet (as g//z/r) in 1995, Black Science (as geezer) in 1997, and Ohmwork (as GZR) in 2005. 

“They are completely different to anything I did with Sabbath – a lot more humour in the lyrics, [and] more industrial sounding on some tracks,” the war-driven lyricist mentions. Among his favourite tracks are “’Mysterons’ and ‘Among The Cybermen’, both about TV shows from the 60s, and ‘Number 5’, about growing up in Aston.”

Due to a conflict with original record companies who released Geezer’s solo pieces (about the rights of the albums), these vinyls have never been released up until now. 

“My wife and manager Gloria mentioned it to BMG and they very kindly went ahead and sorted it out for me, and at last they will be coming out as Geezer Butler albums, rather than g//z/r, geezer, and Geezer, which caused confusion in the past.”

On the notion of what’s next for the dear friend of Ozzy and Tony, it’s a bit of a mixture for the high achiever. 

“I’m currently putting together a book about growing up in Aston, Birmingham and how Sabbath came about… but I’m really enjoying semi-retirement and not having to do anything or be anywhere, especially after being away from home for most of the last fifty years.”

Interview by Ricky Aarons @rickysaul90

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Pre-order Black Sabbath‘s Paranoid box set here

Black Sabbath 50th box set

Black Sabbath Paranoid Super Deluxe 5-LP Boxed Set tracklisting

LP 1: Original Album

Side A

War Pigs / Luke’s Wall
Planet Caravan
Iron Man

Side B

Electric Funeral
Hand Of Doom
Rat Salad
Jack The Stripper / Fairies Wear Boots

LP 2: Quadradisc Mix in Stereo (WS4 1887) 1974

Side C

War Pigs / Luke’s Wall
Planet Caravan
Iron Man

Side D

Electric Funeral
Hand Of Doom
Rat Salad
Jack The Stripper / Fairies Wear Boots”

LP 3: Live in Montreux 1970 (Part One)

Side E

Behind The Wall Of Sleep

Side F

Iron Man
War Pigs

LP 4: Live in Montreux 1970 (Part Two) / Live in Brussels 1970 (Part One)

Side G

Fairies Wear Boots
Hand Of Doom

Side H

Hand Of Doom
Rat Salad
Iron Man

LP 5: Live in Brussels 1970 (Part Two)

Side J

Black Sabbath

Side K

Behind The Wall Of Sleep
War Pigs
Fairies Wear Boots

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About Ricky Aarons (771 Articles)
Co-editor at Wall of Sound and self-acclaimed deathcore connoisseur. My purpose is to expose you to the best emerging breakdowns and gutturals that this planet has to offer.

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