Black Sabbath feared being upstaged on home turf by their support band Van Halen in 1978, to the point where Tony Iommi issued a ‘friendly’ warning to Eddie Van Halen telling his fellow guitarist not to disrespect his elders.
After releasing their self-titled debut album in February 1978, Van Halen undertook their first European tour in May ’78, hooking up with their Warners Bros. label mates Black Sabbath on the Birmingham band’s tenth anniversary Never Say Die! tour, which hit the UK on May 16, beginning at Sheffield City Hall. With Sabbath in a weakened state due to inter-personal conflicts and escalating substance abuse issues, the effervescent young Californian quartet stole the show on more than one night of the tour, a situation which didn’t escape Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi’s attention, as noted in the forthcoming Eddie Van Halen biography, Eruption.
“Van Halen went down incredibly well,” Geezer Butler tells author (and Classic Rock/Metal Hammer contributor) Paul Brannigan. “The only thing that pissed me off was that at the beginning of the tour they seemed like a really raw band, but as the tour went on, they were sorta ripping us off. Eddie’s guitar solos were getting longer, David Lee Roth was copying everything that Ozzy would do, and the bass player [Michael Anthony] even started using a wah pedal, at a time when I was the only bass player that had ever used a wah pedal. By the time we went onstage, people were like, ‘Oh, I’ve already seen all this.’ It was like we were our own tribute act.”
“They were all really good blokes,” Butler adds, “so we weren’t really that bothered about it, but Tony had to have a few words with Eddie, in a ‘Behave yourself’ kind of way.”
“I didn’t know very much about Van Halen at all,” admits guitarist Iommi, “but when I first heard them it was like, ‘Bloody hell!’ They were so energetic, such great players, and they had good songs. We were just like, ‘Wow, blimey, these are really good!’”
“They watched us almost every night from the side of the stage,’ the guitarist says ‘and obviously they’d pick things up from us, seeing what worked, and what got the crowd going. But it was just a bit awkward when we’d come onstage and it felt like we were just doing what they were doing. One night I said to Eddie, ‘Hey, Eddie, are you gonna play a couple of tracks off our new album tomorrow?’” [Laughs]
A long-time Sabbath fan, who’d had performed Sabbath songs in his pre-Van Halen bands Genesis (not to be confused with the English progressive rock act) and Mammoth, Eddie Van Halen was mortified at the idea that he might have offended his heroes, but he and Iommi soon became firm friends, as Eruption reveals.
“Eddie had obviously listened to other guitarists growing up, but he’d come up with his own thing and he was just a fabulous guitar player,” Tony Iommi tells Paul Brannigan. “Most nights he’d come around to my room or I’d go to his room and we’d do a bit of coke and talk all night. He became a really good friend and I really respected him as a player. I’m really glad we had them with us, because it led me to make a friend for life.”