Photo credit: Ross Halfin

“Black Sabbath is unfinished” – Ozzy Osbourne would play one more concert with Bill Ward

Author Benedetta Baldin - 17.5.2024

Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Morrison — the longtime rhythm guitarist in Billy Idol’s band and former bassist for The Cult — have released the latest episode of their new Internet TV show, “The Madhouse Chronicles.” During the chat, the legendary Black Sabbath singer reflected on the making of the band’s final album, “13.” Released in 2013, it was Sabbath’s first LP in 35 years to feature Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler, produced by Rick Rubin.

Rick Rubin, I had met him a long time ago, before he did the album. And he would say, ‘Listen, if you ever get back together again, you’ve gotta let me produce the album.’ … And when we reformed to do that [1997] tour, we recorded the live album, [1998’s] ‘Reunion’. He actually walks into the studio and he goes — we’d had two [studio] bonus tracks [that were included on the album] — he says, ‘I like that track, but I don’t like that track,’ and fucking walked out. And then, as time went on, [Ozzy’s wife and manager] Sharon goes to me, ‘Rick Rubin wants you to do an album with him. The only criticism I have about the album — not criticism; the thing we all found hard to do, none of us had that much input. So it was kind of like going straight back to the beginning when we had Rodger Bain and we didn’t know about double tracking and all that. If you have a producer, you don’t produce it yourself. Because Tony would basically produce all the albums after a certain time. He must have had to swallow his pride and all that. One of the tracks was a fucking jam. [They would] just say, ‘Just fucking play and get warmed up before.’ And it was recorded. And it ended up on the fucking album.

But Bill Ward was not on “13”, nor at the last show Black Sabbath ever played in Birmingham.

I can’t remember why Bill didn’t do it [“13”]. I’ve gotta be truthful. It wasn’t really Black Sabbath because Bill wasn’t there. I mean, if you had Ginger Baker playing with The Beatles, it wouldn’t be The Beatles. I was sad that Bill wasn’t there [in Birmingham]. I mean, I mean, Tommy [Clufetos], my drummer [for his solo band], did a great job, but he ain’t Bill Ward.

These could be reasons as to why Osbourne is not completely satisfied with Black Sabbath‘s arc.

Because it wasn’t Black Sabbath That finished it. It’s unfinished. If they wanted to do one more gig with Bill, I would jump at the chance. Do you know what would be cool? If we went to a club or something unannounced and we just got up and did it. We started up in a club.

He’s also concerned about their latest release being “13”.

Not really, because, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really get a charge from the album. Although Rick Rubin is a good friend of mine, I wasn’t really… I was just singing. It was like stepping back in time, but it wasn’t a glorious period. Though Geezer did a lot of lyric writing for me, which he’s very, very good at. It wasn’t an earth-shattering experience for me.

Nevertheless, Osbourne is totally done with Black Sabbath.

I would like to say it’s completely done. I think it’s time. The only thing I really regret, to be honest, is that Bill Ward didn’t play on the [’13’] album. It wasn’t really a Black Sabbath album. I’m not saying that one day we might not all go in a room and come up with the perfect Black Sabbath album. But I’ll say, [’13’] wasn’t recorded the way Black Sabbath recorded records. We’d gone right back past the point where we took charge, back to when someone else had full control of our recording. Which we never did from ‘Vol. 4’ onwards.

Osbourne wasn’t the only one with concerns about “13”.

Some of [the ’13’ album] I liked, some of it I didn’t like particularly. It was a weird experience, especially with being told to forget that you’re a heavy metal band. That was the first thing [Rick] said to us. He played us our very first album, and he said, ‘Cast your mind back to then when there was no such thing as heavy metal or anything like that, and pretend it’s the follow-up album to that,’ which is a ridiculous thing to think. Geezer Butler

I still don’t know what he [Rubin] did. It’s, like, ‘Yeah, that’s good.’ ‘No, don’t do that.’ And you go, ‘Why?’ [And he’d say], ‘Just don’t do it.’ I think Ozzy one day went nuts ’cause he’d done, like, 10 different vocals, and Rick kept saying, ‘Yeah, that’s great, but do another one.’ And Ozzy was, like, ‘If it’s great, why am I doing another one?’ He just lost it. And that’s the way it was. Tony wasn’t happy with some of the stuff he was trying to make him play. He was making Tony get 1968 amps — as if that’s gonna make it sound like back in 1968. It’s mad. But it’s good for publicity and it’s good for the record company. If you’ve got Rick Rubin involved, then it must be good, kind of thing. Eddie Trunk

However, in the past, Butler expressed satisfaction while working with Rubin.

It’s great with Rick Rubin in charge. He’s got a great track record and he comes up with some great ideas. Some work, some don’t, but it’s worth trying.

Iommi commented 11 years ago:

It was fine once we got used to him. We didn’t know how he was going to work, because through the writing period, we didn’t see a lot of him. He’d say, ‘Phone me up when you’ve got an idea and I’ll come down.’ So we’d have a track together and phone him up or e-mail him, and then he’d come down and say, ‘Yeah, I like this part, but I don’t like that part’ or ‘I like everything,’ whatever it may be, and then he’d go. He was only there perhaps ten or 15 minutes at the most. We didn’t know how he was going to approach recording. It was all a bit of a mystery to us… It’s sort of left to the last minute, and then he throws it at you. He just pushes that much more, and that’s difficult for a band like us. We’ve been around so long, it’s hard to accept criticism from somebody we’ve never worked with. But we did, and it was good. It was really good. We might be working on a track, and he’d go, ‘Oh no, it doesn’t feel right. Try it again and try extending that part.’ So we’d do it and then we’d be thinking to ourselves that it may be too long, but we’d do it anyway. And then he’d go, ‘That doesn’t feel right. Let’s try another one.’ And then he’d say, ‘Okay I think we’ve got it, but do you want to just try another one?’ So we would try another one, and he’d say, ‘Okay, let’s leave it now.’ So we never knew exactly which one he was going to pick.

And in 2021 he added:

Yeah, I learned how to lie on the couch with a mic in my hand and say ‘Next!’ … It was just different, the way he works. He wanted to find the original Sabbath sound. He said, ‘Have you got your original amps?’ I said, ‘Rick, that was 50 years ago. Do you have any amps from 50 years ago? … I don’t have them, they’ve blown up. They’re gone long ago. I’ve got my own amps now.’ He said, ‘No, we need the old stuff.’ So, I get to the studio, and there are 20 different bloody amps there. He goes, ‘They’re vintage amps.’ I said, ‘That doesn’t mean they sound good; they’re just old.’ He went, ‘Well, let’s try them.’ I tried them, and I didn’t like any of them. So it was a bit of a backwards and forwards till he got used to me, and I got used to him, really. But we did it, and the album was very basic. I’d done a lot of the songs from the last album in my studio at home. I thought the sound was better, to be honest. But there was more stuff involved; I put more instruments on it. He just wanted it very bare and very basic, which you know, was good.

In the same year, Ward was asked if he could do another album with the group.

I would love to do a studio album with Sabbath, with all the original members. I’m just saying that — I’m just floating that out there. But I’m not done. So, the other three might be done, and I respect that, but no, I’m not done. I think as long as we all exist [laughs] and we’re still breathing in air, I think we have every possibility of making some great music together.

Unfortunately, he was not in shape to take action.

Bill Ward has got the most physically demanding job of the lot of us, ’cause he’s the timekeeper. I don’t think personally he had the chops to pull it off, you know. The saddest thing is that he needed to own up to that, and we could have worked around it, whether we had a drummer on the side with him or something. Ozzy Osbourne