“Ozzy had been to school with Tony and they hated each other.” Geezer Butler on the fractious early days of Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath circa 1970
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Before Black Sabbath were Black Sabbath, they were Earth, and before that, Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler were in a band together called Rare Breed without their future bandmates. Speaking to Metal Hammer, the bassist once recounted how Ozzy and Tony Iommi refused to work together. Looking back to their formation, Butler said it wasn’t Osbourne’s primal howl that originally attracted him to the singer – he was the fact he owned some essential equipment. “I saw this advert, ‘Ozzy Zig wants a Gig’ with the magic words: ‘has own PA’,” Butler recounted. “It didn’t matter what he sounded like. It had his address and I went down there, and the next day Tony [Iommi] and Bill Ward went round.”

But despite everything appearing to be in place for the quartet to start a band, conquer the world, change the shape of rock music, etc, this scenario played out just like those old Grolsch ads: 'schtop! It’sh not ready yet!' The problem was that Ozzy and Tony couldn’t stand the sight of one another. “Ozzy had been to school with Tony, and they hated each other,” Butler said. “Tony had bullied him at school, so it was me one day, Tony the next day, so Ozzy decided he’d go with me because he didn’t want to play with Tony. That’s how we started.”

Ozzy and Butler formed Rare Breed instead, but their new musical venture was brief. “We did two shows together in Rare Breed,” Butler continued. “Then I got fired from work and wanted to go into music full time, so we went round to Tony’s house to see if he knew any drummers. Bill was there at Tony’s house. He said, ‘I’ll join the band if Tony does’ and there we went, first as Earth, then as Sabbath.”

The lesson here, then, is to try and put any lingering resentment of people you didn’t like at school behind you, because you just don’t know which of your old playground enemies might be the one to help you change the face of music. Luckily, in the case of Black Sabbath, bridges were built, and the rest is history. 

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer for The Guardian, Variety and Classic Rock, and co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former editors of Q magazine Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. Niall has written for NME, X-Ray Magazine and XFM Online and interviewed some of music’s biggest stars, including Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, St Vincent, The 1975, Depeche Mode, Radiohead and many more.