The first few years of Black Sabbath’s existence had been a whirlwind, but by 1972 it was rapidly becoming a blizzard. When it came to recording their fourth album, Vol. 4, the band decamped to LA, where sunshine and cocaine were in plentiful supply. Ozzy, Tony, Bill and Geezer explain how they made the impossible happen...
Tony Iommi: We lived in a beautiful house in Bel Air. It had a ballroom and bar leading out to the garden. We rehearsed in the bar. We never thought that all the sound was going out across the valley.
Geezer Butler: Half the budget went on the coke and the other half went to seeing how long we could stay in the studio.
Tony Iommi: We had coke flown in especially. You’d peel the wax off and there were these phials of coke. And bloody hell, it was great, the cocaine in those days. We’d sit up all night, gassing.
Ozzy Osbourne: That coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine. One sniff, and you were king of the universe.
Tony Iommi: We used to write in the day and jam at night. It was a great atmosphere. We had a fabulous time. In this ballroom there was a grand piano. I’d never played piano before. And I learnt to play and the first thing I wrote on it was Changes.
Ozzy Osbourne: Tony just sat down at the piano and came up with this beautiful riff. I hummed a melody over the top, and Geezer wrote these heartbreaking lyrics about the break-up Bill was going through with his wife.
Tony Iommi: One day I took my guitar off and put it on the stand, and as I put it down it went, BOING! And I can’t think for the life of me why we ended up taking our clothes off, but that’s how we recorded FX, prancing around, naked, banging the guitar. We were stoned, of course.
Bill Ward: I hated the song Cornucopia. There were patterns that were just horrible. I nailed it in the end, but I got the cold shoulder from everybody. I felt like I’d blown it, I was about to get fired.
Tony Iommi: Vol.4 was such a complete change, we felt we had jumped an album, really. It didn’t follow suit, because we had tried to go too far. We had reached the limit as far as we wanted to go.
James Hetfield (Metallica): I discovered Black Sabbath by digging through my older brother’s record collection. I couldn’t believe it. It was like, “Whoa! Heavy as shit.” Sabbath was everything that the Sixties weren’t. Their music was so cool because it was completely anti-hippie.
The drugs may have seemed like fun at the time, but they were causing problems. During a gig at the Hollywood Bowl on the Vol. 4 US tour, Iommi collapsed and the rest of the tour was cancelled.
Ozzy Osbourne: Tony had been doing coke literally for days – we all had, but Tony had gone over the edge. He walked off stage and collapsed.
Geezer Butler: It was really touch-and-go whether he’d survive or not because he was totally depleted. So we had to cancel the rest of the tour and we actually took time off for the first time since the band started. We got away from each other.
Sabbath’s heavy workload, combined with their spiralling drug use, were convenient distractions for the band’s management, who bought out of the remainder of the band’s recording contract in order to exert more control over the band.
Tony Iommi: When it came to money, we were always fobbed off. Up to that point, anything we wanted, we’d get it. If I wanted a new Rolls-Royce, I’d phone up the office and say, “I’ve seen this car.” And it would arrive the next day. We were kept quiet. And in the meantime, we were kept working.