Tony Iommi

Heaven and Hell: This Mob Still Rules!
Toni Iommi

Toni Iommi photo: Rick Gould.

There is an undeniable power generated when certain musicians join forces. That is most definitely the case with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice, and Ronnie James Dio, who originally connected in Black Sabbath following frontman Ozzy Osbourne’s departure in 1979. Since their reunion tour in 2007, this lineup has donned the name Heaven And Hell, and when they unite, the chemistry is overwhelming.

Guitarist Tony Iommi affirms that while the purpose of the quartet’s reunion was to write and record a few bonus tracks for Black Sabbath: The Dio Years, the sessions went so well they decided to stage the brief reunion tour, and after getting to know each other again as both musicians and friends, none of the members could deny that the bond was too strong to resist.

Iommi was enthusiastic when tellingVintage Guitar how things from a one-off project into a committed band with a mew album, The Devil You Know, and the world tour to support it. Let’s allow “The Godfather” to explain…

This started as a “Let’s see what happens” experiment that proved gratifying, first for the band, and then for fans. When did the group decide to continue to work together?
During the last tour in Japan, while out for a meal one night. We had a few drinks, then a few more… then I said, “We should do an album.” And everybody agreed. We had some great fun playing together, and as we were coming to the end of the tour, we wanted to keep it going. So we decided to have a crack at another new album, and we really enjoyed it!

Were any of the songs left over from the new material written for The Dio Years?
No, we started over. I came home from the tour, put some riffs down and came up with new ideas. We made our own CDs of ideas and riffs – everybody put something down. I sat in the studio at my house with the engineer, and he taped as I played. I was enthusiastic and came up with quite a bit of stuff, then Ronnie came here. I played him one of my tracks and he liked it, so he put a rough vocal on it. Then we met with Geezer and Vinny, and spent six weeks at Ronnie’s studio. We went through the ideas everyone brought, built up a list song by song, and put down six tracks in six weeks. Then we had a break to do the Metal Masters tour with Judas Priest and Testament, which was really good, then started working on the album again. I put some more ideas down and went back to Ronnie’s for another six weeks. Basically, we had the album then.

Heaven and Hell: Vinny Appice, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler

Heaven and Hell: Vinny Appice, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler. Photo: Chapman Baehler/courtesy of Rhino Entertainment.

While writing songs, were you completing them one at a time, or working on several at once?
At Ronnie’s, we worked on one song at a time. But a lot of the ideas that took off were from some I brought that were half-done, anyway. And Ronnie brought one that was finished. So it was good, really, because we had loads of music, plenty of stuff to select from. And we’ve got loads left – which is unusual!

After recording demos, did you rehearse the material as a band before recording the final studio tracks?
Oh, absolutely. Once we had all the tracks written, we went to Ronnie’s house and got them right during a mad week of rehearsals, then came to England and recorded the album at Rockfield Studios, in Wales – the same studio we used on Dehumanizer, so the guys were familiar with it. We wanted a studio where we could stay and be on top of it, instead of having to go back and forth between hotel and studio. It’s nice to be together and really be part of it. For some reason, there are not many residential studios around now, so going to Wales worked out well. It was really a good experience.

Did you record parts in different studios? Many bands find that one studio may be ideal for recording drums, while another is great for guitars, and a different studio is best equipped for tracking vocals.
Well, that’s true, but we put nearly everything down at Rockfield. We played it all live, which is another great thing. That’s why we rehearsed. But I did do some of the guitars at home and some in Los Angeles, when we went there for the mix. But the majority of it was done at Rockfield.

So, the basics were recorded as a live band?
Absolutely, and it was great to do it that way. It keeps you on edge and everything. And to be honest, we didn’t do many takes. We’d have the track done within a couple of turns – three at the most – which was really good.

The album has a very cohesive sound and feel.
Sometimes when you do them on computer, “moving” a verse or chorus, instead of performing it that way, it sounds unnatural. But when you listen to the album, you can hear tempos fluctuate because we’re playing them live. And I think it makes a big difference.

Black Sabbath in 1980: Vinny Appice, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio

Black Sabbath in 1980: Vinny Appice, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio. Photo courtesy of Rhino Entertainment.

Were the tracks recorded on tape or captured digitally? Many musicians prefer to record on analog equipment before transferring everything to digital.
That’s right, they do. But we did them on the computer.

How long did it take to record?
Not that long, because we’d rehearsed well. So it was a matter of going in and playing. We were at Rockfield for a couple of weeks – maybe two and a half. The main thing is the preparation, which we hadn’t done that much of in the past. So when we got to Rockfield, it was much like going onstage.

You mentioned material left over. Any complete songs?
No. The stuff left over is riffs and song parts. Geezer has a few riffs, Ronnie has some, and I’ve got God knows how many. There’s definitely enough to make another album.

So there’s nothing leftover that was completed to be used as bonus material?
We didn’t actually do a bonus track this time. I tend to find that bonus tracks disappear and you never bloody hear them! I remember doing some with Glenn Hughes when we did the Iommi album. We’d done three bonus tracks and I don’t remember if I’d ever heard them anywhere! They’re absolutely gone! One was a really good track. So I get a bit put off with bonus tracks because they tend to just disappear.

Sometimes the bonus tracks are included on versions of the album that are sold only through certain retailers or in particular countries.
Yes, it seems we always do a bonus track for the Japanese market. But this time, we had a camera crew there while we did a couple tracks, so we might use that video as some kind of extra thing.

That would be a cool bonus. It’s interesting to see how the process works.
You’ll see us wearing sweaters because it was bloody freezing! We picked the wrong time of the year to record in England.

Your guitar tone sounds a bit thicker on the album. Did you use a different rig?
Yes. I tried different heads and used some Engl stuff.

Toni iommi

Photo: Rick Gould.

What was your setup?
Just an Engl Powerball 100-watt head and an Engl 4×12, which I think had Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. I plugged straight in. The Powerball has a lot of variation for getting different sounds, which is great for the studio. It really worked well. Live, it didn’t quite have that same thing as my Laneys, but it was very good for the studio. I did use the Laneys on a couple of things, too, but I can’t remember which tracks.

Did you have different setups for rhythm and lead parts?
No, I used the Engl on all the chord stuff. I may have used a Laney on one of the chord backing tracks. But it was mainly Engl. And at home, when I recorded a couple solos, I used the Engl, as well. It was different, because I usually use Laneys.

Was the Laney one of your signature models?
It is, and that’s what I use all the time onstage.

Do your Laney 4×12 cabs have Celestion Vintage 30s?

What effects did you use?
I didn’t use any, actually, apart from the wah – the old Tychobrahe Parapedal on one track, and the Dunlop Crybaby a bit more.

Which of your guitars were used?
I mainly used the old Jaydee – the one that’s looking pretty old these days. I also used a Gibson Iommi model SG. So I just had the two. Mainly, I used the old Jaydee for the tracks, but I might have done an overdub with the Gibson. I used the Jaydee on most of the solos, as well.

Which guitars did you use to record acoustic parts we hear on a few songs?
I had a Taylor 914CE steel-string and a Taylor NS34CE nylon-string. The nylon-string is on the end of “Rock And Roll Angel.” They were really nice. I’ve got a Taylor at home, but I did those parts in Los Angeles, so Taylor sent them down. I ended up bringing a couple back because they’re really good.

Were acoustic parts recorded with a mic, DI, or a combination?
The guitars do have built-in electronics, but I also used a mic. So we had the two sounds.

Toni Iommi

Photo: Chapman Baehler/courtesy of Rhino Entertainment.

How did making this record compare to working on the new tracks on The Dio Years compilation?
It was totally different. For the tracks on The Dio Years, we basically put the ideas down first – Ronnie and myself – then Geezer played on them afterward. But Ronnie and I did most of that stuff, and we’d done the writing and recording at my house.

What did you enjoy most about making The Devil You Know?
I think the fact it went so smoothly, dare I say! You never know what’s going to happen when you do these things. I thought I’d go to L.A. for the six weeks, which usually turns into three months. But it didn’t! We finished on time, and were very creative. Everybody was bouncing off each other and we got on really well. It was nice to see Geezer really enjoying it, as well. We had a good vibe.

We had a laugh, playing jokes on each other. I really got one over on Vinny. He had his hair drier on the side of the drum kit, and every time we’d do a track, he’d start drying his bloody hair – all the time, without fail! Then one day, his drier broke, so he asked (guitar technician) Mike Clement to have a look at it. I went to the workshop with a load of talcum powder and put it in the drier, then we put it back on the side of the kit. I completely forgot about it, but after we did another track, Vinny went to dry his hair, and ended up covered in talcum powder, head to toe! The stuff was everywhere! I think I put too much in, but it was such a laugh! I got some great pictures of him absolutely covered in talcum.

Was there anything you found particularly challenging about the writing or recording?
It wasn’t a challenge to do the writing. The challenge was in the studio, when we were playing live, trying to get it right in one take. If somebody made a mistake, we’d have to do it again. But it wasn’t a challenge, really.

Everybody got along well in the process?
Yes. On a personal level, we get on quite well now. We’ve learned after all these years that we really have to understand each other and give each other space. So it’s all good and works well, where years ago, somebody might have said something and somebody else might have taken offense and jumped off the handle. But now we don’t do that. We’re more respectful of each other and we get on with it.

Heaven and Hell

Since it went so well, musically and personally, will there be another tour?
No, we’ve broken up (laughs)!

You had such a good time, you didn’t want to ruin it?
Yes, we decided to quit while we’re ahead!
Actually, we’ll be in L.A. to rehearse, then we’ll do a week of interviews and whatever else for promotion. After that, we start the tour in Columbia. I’ve been to all the other places in South America, but never Columbia. So that will be different. Then we do Chile, Argentina, Sao Paulo, and Rio, and then we’ll come back and have a week off before we do five weeks in Europe, playing festivals. After that, I think we’re talking about playing in North America for August. If everything doesn’t go belly up, it should be good. I’m really looking forward to getting on the road again!

I think we’ll keep going until the end of the year. After that, who knows?

Is touring with Heaven And Hell much different from touring with Black Sabbath?
It really is. We’ve been able to play a lot more, so that’s been good, and I’m looking forward to this tour. The only issue I’ve got is a problem with my hand. On the last tour, I damaged the cartilage in the thumb of my fretting hand, so it’s been bloody painful and I’ve been getting shots to inject gel between the joints to stop them from rubbing against each other. It’s called proto therapy. Apparently, they use it a lot on knees, so I’m probably the guinea pig for hands.

Are there any plans to work with Ozzy in the near future?
There’s nothing on the table right now, but I talk to Ozzy a lot – once a week. It’s always casual conversation; “How’s it going?” and “How are you?” One day we might do it, but I don’t know when. We take it stage by stage and we’re all enjoying what we’re doing now. I think he’s doing an album of his own, and he’s busy doing his TV thing.

Have you continued doing your “Black Sunday” satellite/internet radio show?
Since we’ve been busy doing the album – writing, recording, mixing, press, and everything – I haven’t had time to focus on another 13 weeks of radio. They want me to do one, and I’d love to do it when I get time because I really did enjoy it. I’d definitely like to continue once I have time.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s August 2009 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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