“I’m at peace with myself and Black Sabbath”: the world according to Bill Ward

Bill Ward
(Image credit: Chris Walter/WireImage)

The man behind the kit for some of metal’s most influential and formative records, Bill Ward’s tenure with Black Sabbath saw the birth of heavy metal as a genre and the band’s ascension into globe-conquering superstars. A battle with alcoholism in the 1980s gave way to a more holistic lifestyle that has kept him going in the decades since, returning to Sabbath for spells in the 90s and 2000s whilst also branching out into a solo career. Not short of a few pearls of wisdom, we spoke to the heavy metal icon to find the path to enlightenment…

Metal Hammer line break

Don't take yourself so fucking seriously

“It helps to travel through life with a modicum of humility, keeping your feet on the ground. In my youth I was a lot more serious, but as you travel through all these different phases you realise the simple things are a lot more enjoyable than trying to figure out how it all works. The time I spend with my grandkids these days is more important than any finger pointing I might have done in my 20s, 30s or even 40s.”

Becoming great means learning as much as you can

“I was brought up by at least 200 drummers, but I always credit Gene Krupa – I love his sloppiness and brilliance. As a child I listened to Buddy Rich too, Louie Bellson, Elvin Jones; I listened to a lot of guys and I was brought up on jazz, English pop music like Brian Bennett with The Shadows… my god! I remember hearing [Little Richard drummer] Charles Connor on Good Golly Miss Molly and being completely blown away. You can’t believe the balls on that record.”

The right band can change anything

The Beatles released Love Me Do around 1962 and then soon after Birmingham had Johnny Neal and The Starliners; real rock’n’rollers influenced by the music of the 50s. It was the wave of Liverpool bands that came along that kicked everybody’s ass and all the big cities had to adapt and make their own scene. When we finished Black Sabbath rehearsals at the Aston community centre, I had feelings inside telling me a few things; I knew we were different and what we’d made would cause a few problems, but also earn us great affection and I’m so fucking proud of that.”

You only grow by taking risks

“I love what we did in Black Sabbath. We took risks – we dared to move away from our slamming stuff and play acoustic parts. We might then follow that with Symptom Of The Universe but back then we were always stretching further.”

Technical Ecstasy might have been Black Sabbath's bravest record

“Everybody was growing – sometimes sideways, but we did what we had to do. Technical Ecstasy was a great album because we didn’t insist on being what we had been on the first three albums. We hadn’t stopped touring and still continued to make records – we put everything we had at the time into whatever record we worked on. I thought The Gypsy was incredible and Back Street Kids had some fantastic groove to it too.”

The more you share, the more in-tune you are with other people

“Black Sabbath were so tight, we’d have the same dreams. It happens when you’re in a room transferring things to each other musically all day, so we’d end up having similar dreams. One of the dreams we had was being visited by a priest, or a spectre and I just saw that as a guardian angel.”

Black Sabbath were everything to me

“One of my biggest regrets was I sold a beautiful house, because we needed to raise money to pay for the album Heaven And Hell. Getting a big house and farm after growing up in Aston felt like a big deal. But the band came before everything else and we needed money at that point to move on to the next thing.”

Never forget your roots

“The first thing I learned growing up was watch your back! I’m from fucking Aston man, it was beautiful but you could bump into some rough characters, and I did. Everybody learned either how to scrap or run really fast. I love everything about the Aston I knew – I’ve not been back since 2016, but we’d planned to visit in November to do Armistice with my family.”

Stand up for yourself and listen to your truth

“I learned this one from hard knocks. I had to listen to myself more, as opposed to having knee-jerk responses of ‘Yes’, ‘OK’ and ‘No problem.’ I had to find out what I thought I could do before I said yes and what felt right inside – that’s been more important over the last 25 years in my decision making.”

Be quick to recognise love, be respectful for all that existed before you arrived

“It’s taken me a long time to learn how to love, particularly the love of my fellow man and woman, but I think I do better these days in being able to pay attention. With animals it’s a no-brainer – I became vegan in 1986 and detest any violence against animals. I don’t want to be in disharmony, or live in anger and fear of the world we’ve been given.”

Always be accountable and practice honesty

“I have an attitude of gratitude so far as being able to play in a great band and having done so since I was 14. I used to do weddings and sit-ins as early as 10, so I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m enormously grateful for that. I just showed up and tried to do the right thing.”

Life sometimes gives us a second chance

“In 1984 I had lost everything - I didn’t even have a pair of pants. I was wearing somebody else’s! I crawled out of an alley after heavy alcohol abuse and realised I was killing myself. It became about rebuilding myself and strengthening my body. A couple years later I stopped eating meat, period. There was a lot of hard work to be done, but one of the best things that ever happened for me was getting to do the [Black Sabbath] Reunion album [in 1998]. I thought that part of my life was gone and I was really sad about it, so getting to come back in and kick some ass really took care of that.”

After everything, I still love my Black Sabbath bandmates

“I love the you-know-what out of those guys. I’ve come through the angry bits that happened in 2012 and arrived in a place of being at peace with myself and with them. I’m glad we did what we did and often go down memory lane with the early work we did in Copenhagen and the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. I love those guys and all the imperfections that go with that. It’s a great feeling, having come as far as we have and I’m happy just being able to write or talk to them if I want to.”

Getting old ain't for wimps

“What I’ve learned growing up is that you should enjoy everything you can do. I’m serious about that – stuff like going to the bathroom properly, being able to walk if you can – enjoy that as much as you possibly can because there might come a point as you get older that things start to change. Doing anything after 65 or 70, everything becomes tougher. When something happens it can be depressing, so in those times you need courage to look after yourself, patience with yourself and for those who have faith, finding that to help them as well. You need those tools for later life.”

Your outlook on life becomes diminished if you're not taking care of yourself

“I used to be an avid walker, but sadly since 2019 I started getting neuropathy and that slowed my walking. I’ve been finding other ways to stretch and stay strong, using things like a Bodyblade and medicine balls to exercise. You can’t become sedentary.”

Enjoy art in all forms - recognise the suffering and hard work that goes into making it

“Art is such an elemental force in our lives that it’s easy to take it for granted. I fucking loved my old radio show and would love to do it again some day. I went out of my way to find and break bands, like Today Is The Day and Disbelief. I always keep an eye out for whatever my favourite musicians are doing too, like Dave Lombardo or Gene Hoglan.”

Heavy metal is going to Mars

“So long as these guys keep kicking the crap out of everyone, we’re going to be just fucking fine man. Heavy metal is being reinvented all the time and we’ve got great musicians. One of the things I find outstanding is the bass players and drummers in heavy metal – I can’t believe how these guys play now.”

Published in Metal Hammer #356

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.