Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford has opened up on the famous moment he ended up fronting Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992, in an exclusive new interview with Metal Hammer. Taking place at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California, that November, the shows were put together as support slots for original Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, who was wrapping up his first attempt at a final tour with a big trek titled, fittingly, No More Tours.
Sabbath's involvement in the shows were designed to include a reunion with Ozzy for a few songs, but there was strong resistance from then-Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio, who resented the idea of playing second fiddle to the Prince Of Darkness after he had so successfully blazed his own trail with the Brummie legends.
Ultimately, Dio would refuse to play the shows - leading to Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi picking up the phone and calling a fellow Brummie legend for a favour.
“Sabbath had Ronnie [James Dio] in at the time," explains Halford today. "Sharon wanted to bring Ozzy on stage with Sabbath at the Costa Mesa arena, which is like the O2 with the roof off, sits about 20000 people. We’d just come off-stage at some other show and the phone rings and it's Tony [Iommi], he asks if I can help – ‘Sharon wants Ozzy to come in and do some work with us in a few days time and Ronnie isn’t very pleased. He doesn’t want to do it, so we talked with him and he’s asked if you wouldn’t mind stepping in and helping us out?’. ‘Well… yeah’. Brummies, you know – whatever you need. He sent me the setlist and I got all my albums out and started listening to them, not that I had to listen to them anyway because it’s always in my head."
A longtime admirer of the band, Halford decided to take the opportunity to lightly nudge Iommi to change-up Sabbath's setlist, grasping the chance to make an already special event even more unique.
"He calls me back a couple days later and I’m like, ‘Tony, would you consider doing a couple of songs you might not have done for a while?’ and he’s up for it," Halford says. "So we got so do stuff like NIB and closed with Forever, because there were a few tracks that hadn’t seen the light of day in a good while. On the way to California, I rented a little studio for us in Phoenix, came in and everybody was already set up. We ran through the set once and then it was off to California. I’d gone to do one show, but it ended up being two. Not that I minded – we’re mates, and mates help each other out."
As it turns out, Halford being the 'new guy' in the band didn't stop his new Sabbath bandmates having a little fun with him - quite the opposite, in fact.
"There’s another thing that mates do to each other as well – Tony and Geezer [Butler] are notorious pranksters," Halford reveals. "We’re getting ready to go on and they say ‘are you nervous Rob?’ and I’m like, you’ve got to be. So I’m there, with all my gear on, looking like Pinhead from Hellraiser and I walk down to the backstage with Tony and as we get to the curtain, I realise he’s vanished. So I’m there, calling his name, ‘Tony? Tony?’ and he’s disappeared.
"I think ‘he must have gone out’, so I thought I’d better get out there too. I slowly walk out by myself and the crowd starts roaring, and I'm looking around, there's nobody on-stage. So I’m thinking ‘I’ve walked out, I can’t just walk back off’ and having this dilemma, then a few seconds later Tony and Geezer come walking out, falling about the place laughing. They’re always pulling stunts – you’ve really got to watch them. Afterwards, I asked ‘did you do that to me?’ and Geezer goes ‘you’ll never know…’ But what a brilliant show. If you look on YouTube, you can actually find a fan-shot performance. So there you go - flash forward a few decades I stood in for Ozzy again when his voice gave out. It’s a Brummy thing – we help each other out.”
While the show with Halford has gone down in heavy metal history, it'd prove to be a last straw of sorts for Dio, who would exit the Sabbath fold by the end of the year, eventually reuniting with Iommi, Butler and Vinnie Appice under the banner Heaven & Hell in 2006.
Read more from our exclusive interview with Rob Halford in the next issue of Metal Hammer.