At this year’s Whitley Bay Film Festival, legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi spoke about his relationship with Eddie Van Halen, while also touching on the band’s Ian Gillan days and more. You can check out a part of the conversation below.
That was it like touring with Van Halen [in 1978]?
“It was really great and I had really good time. They were with us for eight months.
“I struck up a really great relationship with Eddie and I still stay in touch with him and I see him when I’m in LA. If he’s here, he’ll come and see me.
“Brilliant, great guitar player and somebody who’s done a lot for music.”
What happens when you meet Eddie Van Halen? Do you have a chat or do you show guitars to each other?
“I couldn’t do what he does. He’s very technical, he does all the tapping. But one time he came over and we got to play together. He wanted to play…
“He said, ‘We used to play ‘Into the Void.” And we started playing ‘Into the Void.’ And I said ‘No, you’re playing it wrong.’ [Laughs]
“And he said, ‘I’ve been playing it like this all these years. And, of course, I showed him how to play it. I didn’t ask him how he played any of his because I wouldn’t be able to do it. [Laughs]”
“You know, these relationships we struck up from those tours lasted all these years. He’s one of my best friends. And Brian May, of course. So it was great touring together.
“And basically they were new on the block, and they learned a lot from us. On the side of the stage every night, watching what to get the crowd going, drum solos and all that.
“Towards the end of the tour, they were basically doing exactly the same as us. They were doing the guitar solos, then the drum solos. And one night I said to Eddie, ‘Hey Eddie, are you gonna play a couple of tracks off our new album tomorrow?’ [Laughs]
“And I took him in my room and I said, ‘You can’t be doing the same sort of thing on the same show. When you do your own shows, do it.’ And we’ve been friends ever since then.”
Eddie and Tony talked about this tour back in 2010 during an interview with Guitar World. You can check out a part of the conversation below.
Ed, I understand that in the very early days of Van Halen you originally wanted to call the band Rat Salad.
Eddie: “Yeah, that’s right. We played just about every Black Sabbath song. I used to sing lead on every Black Sabbath song we did – things like ‘Into the Void,’ ‘Paranoid,’ and ‘Lord of This World.’ When we toured with Black Sabbath in 1978, they scared the sh*t out of us. I’ll tell you a funny story that I’ll never forget.
“I walked up to Tony and began to ask him, ‘Second song on side two of ‘Master of Reality’…’ Tony looked at me and went, ‘What the f*ck, mate?’ By that time Black Sabbath had several records out, but we had only one album out so I knew where every track on our first record was. A few years later somebody asked me a question in the same way, and I was going, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.’
“The first thing that popped in my head was that incident with Tony! At first I thought it was odd that he couldn’t remember what was on his records, and then it happened to me.”
Black Sabbath and Van Halen toured together for eight months in 1978. What effect did you have on each other?
Eddie: “To me, Tony is the master of riffs. That’s what I loved. I’m not knocking Ozzy or his singing, but listen to ‘Into the Void.’
“That riff is some bada*s sh*t. It was beyond surf music and jazz. It was beyond anything else I had ever heard. It was so f*ckin’ heavy. I put it right up there with [sings the four-note intro to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony]. Listen to the main riff, where he chugs on the low E string. It hits you like a brick wall.”
Tony, what did you think of Van Halen?
Tony: “From the very first minute I heard them I knew straight away that they were something special. The way that Ed plays is very different. He came up with a style that’s been imitated a million times. And they had great songs. Often after the shows we would get together in my room and chat about guitars. We’d ramble on for about 10 hours before we’d go to bed.”
Eddie: “Or not. [Laughs]”
Tony: “That’s right! [Laughs] I really enjoyed that tour. Brian May is the only other guitar player I’ve ever associated with, and we’ve never been on tour together.”
Eddie: “I was just telling Matt [Bruck] this morning that out of all the people I’ve ever met – all the celebrities and rock and roll stars – I f*ckin’ love this guy. He’s the sweetest, most humble, down to earth, normal guy. He has no attitude, and look at what this guy has done!
“I could name a handful of people who I still respect but no longer look up to. After I met them I was like, ‘F*ck you! You’re no better than I am as a person.’ So many people are a bunch of pompous f*ckin’ pricks. What makes them think their sh*t doesn’t stink? Tony is still like a brother even after all these years.”
What kept you going after parting ways with Ozzy in 1979?
“Believing in it, really. I’ve always believed in the band. And the fact is… People go, ‘Why did you get rid of so-and-so?’ And the reason is – if somebody leaves, what do you do? You can’t say, ‘You can’t leave.’ Somebody has had enough. You have to change them. Or if they’re not working, you have to change them, bring somebody else in.
“And yeah, there was a lot shuffling around at one point. I had a drummer from The Clash at one point, Terry Chimes.
“And even the Ian Gillan thing [1982-1984 era, which spawned 1983’s ‘Born Again’ album], we weren’t gonna call ourselves Black Sabbath when he had him.”
What were you gonna call yourself?
“The Idiots. We just got together and decided to play together. More or less a supergroup thing. And it didn’t sort of work that way, it had to be as a Sabbath album.
“So Ian came in and had to sing Sabbath stuff. We had Bev Bevan [on drums] purely because Bill [Ward] started drinking and had to go back to rehab. So I asked Bev – Bev’s been a friend for 50 years – ‘Do you wanna come play with us a bit?’
“And he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m powerful enough to do it.’ I said, ‘Come and have a go anyway.’ He came and we thought it was gonna be a temporary thing, that Bill will sort things out. So we ended up doing a world tour with Bev and Ian.”
Is it true that Robert Plant asked you if he should join Jimmy Page in what became Led Zeppelin?
“Yeah, it was him and Bonham. And they said, ‘We’ve been asked to hook up with this guy Jimmy Page and play with him. We don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ I said, ‘Give it a go.'”