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Tony Iommi Recalls Pranking Bill Ward, Offers Thoughts on Black Sabbath’s Farewell Tour

Black Sabbath Tony Iommi
Mary Ouellette, SheWillShootYou.com

Life on the road can get pretty boring, even in today’s world where access to information and entertainment is instant. Dial back the clock to the ’70s and trying to save yourself from the perils of boredom on tour can seem almost futile. This is where the seed for pranks typically gets planted, but Black Sabbath axeman Tony Iommi was a prankster by a different nature, messing around with his old drummer Bill Ward more than just on the road.

Iommi’s pranking résumé is one of legend and one story that must be near the top is the time he painted Ward gold. “We were staying at John DuPont’s house in Los Angeles, the bloke who owned DuPont paint products,” Iommi began telling the Guardian. “We found all this paint in the garage and were all pissed, so thought it would be fun to paint Bill gold from head to toe.” Seemingly innocent albeit a bit harsh, things turned ugly quick. “He started having convulsions,” continued Iommi. “The ambulance people gave us a right bollocking: ‘You idiots! You could have killed him.’ They gave him adrenalin and we had to use paint stripper to get it off. He looked like a beetroot by the end.”

Painting Ward as the target of another prank, the guitarist turned to a familiar favorite: setting humans on fire. “It was our party piece,” he mused, “which always worked until the last time we did it.” Producer Martin Birch (Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules) was apprehensive about working with the group due to their dabbling in Satanism, so the Sabbath duo decided to scare him.

Iommi detailed the event, stating, “Bill says – in front of Martin – ‘Are you going to set fire to me then, Tony?’ I tipped rubbing alcohol over him. Normally it just burned off but this time it soaked into his clothes, so when I lit it he went up like a bomb. He was rolling on the floor, shouting and screaming. I thought it was part of the joke, so I poured more stuff on him. Martin couldn’t believe it. We had to get an ambulance for Bill. He’d got third-degree burns. I felt bloody awful. We still play jokes on each other. Not quite as severe as that. I learned my lesson.”

Prior to the laughter, the icon was serious and somber, openly talking about his lymphoma battle and Black Sabbath’s farewell run. “I’m OK at the moment, dare I say it. It’s stage three lymphoma, so it could come back at any time,” Iommi said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re stopping touring. It’s not the playing — it’s the long flights and arriving at a hotel at 4AM. That’s not good for me because it affects the blood cells. But I love playing with the band, and it’s sad to think this is the last tour.”

Revealing a specific moment that struck him, Iommi said, “It particularly hit me in Australia. I thought: ‘Blimey. This is it. We’re never going back.’ It’s very emotional. But it doesn’t mean we won’t play together any more, we’re just stopping touring. Well, I’m not doing any more. They [Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler] might be (laughs).”

Black Sabbath will return stateside for the second North American leg of “The End” tour, picking back up in August. A full list of stops can be found at our 2016 Guide to Rock + Metal Tours.

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