What is your musical background? From what I’ve read, bass was not your first choice of instrument, not even the second.
I studied classical piano when I was a child from age eight to thirteen, and I followed that, from age thirteen till about seventeen, playing classical trombone. It was a big mistake to give up playing and learning the piano, but I was never terribly interested at that time, and I wasn’t very interested in the trombone either. The teaching wasn’t very good and it wasn’t very stimulating to me. I was interested in being a drummer from about the age of eleven, and I had a little set of drums that I shared with my brother. I played a little bit in a school rock band later on, when I was sixteen/seventeen sort of age, playing Doors and Paul Butterfield Blues Band songs and that kind of thing. Somebody at school somehow converted a guitar into a bass, and I got ahold of this when I was seventeen. I immediately took to it and became interested in moving away from the drums and onto the bass. I made a bass in the woodwork class at school, and I rather sneakily took a lot of parts from the guitar that I ‘borrowed’, the one that had been converted into a bass, and put them on my homemade bass, which is what I practiced on for the next couple of years until I got my first proper bass, which was a Fender Mustang.
You studied at graphic design college; what made you change your mind and become a musician instead?
Well, I was interested in design; before that I’d been interested in being an architect and I was into graphics. But throughout the period of studying at the London College of Printing, I realised first of all that I wasn’t terribly dedicated to it, that I wasn’t terribly talented either, not compared to some of my fellow students. My interest in the bass just took over when I moved to London to go to college in 1968 at age eighteen. So all through the next four or five years, I was going to see hundreds of bands, maybe two or three a week, including Black Sabbath when they were still called Earth at the Marquee Club, and Led Zeppelin at the Marquee when they were still called the New Yardbirds and hundreds and hundreds of others: Cream’s farewell concert, Jimi Hendrix at the Royal Albert Hall and the Isle of Wight Festival, etc, etc, etc. So I was much more obsessed with going to see bands and planning to become a bass player than I was being a designer.
Tell us about your first steps as a musician?
Throughout that period, late ‘60s into the early ‘70s, I was playing along with albums and my big influences were Jack Bruce from Cream and Tim Bogert from Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Beck Bogert & Appice, and also the bass player from the Jeff Beck Group called Clive Chaman, who actually helped me a lot and recommended me for jobs; I stood in for him with Cozy Powell’s band Hammer at certain times, and that led on to me joining Whitesnake eventually because Bernie Marsden was in Hammer. I was listening to all sorts of different kinds of music, ranging from Mountain through to Earth Wind & Fire and had lots of different influences compared to your typical heavy rock bass player. Much more jazz and funk and lots of different stuff, but then I didn’t have much experience of playing live on stage with bands, in fact, very little. So I had to learn that pretty quickly when I actually became professional. What happened was that I met a keyboard player at a party called Alan Gowen, and I joined his little jazz-fusion group called Gilgamesh in 1973. We just rehearsed at his place, and then did a few little club or pub gigs, doing very complicated instrumental music, very jazz-rock – quite difficult music, and not totally what I wanted to do. Then Clive Chaman had played on an album by a Hendrix-type guitarist under the name of Junior Hanson (later on he changed his name to Junior Marvin and joined Bob Marley and the Wailers). So I left Gilgamesh and took over as Hanson’s full-time bass player. We went to the States at the end of 1973, and recorded an album called Magic Dragon in LA in the same studio that Stevie Wonder was working in. We did a small US club tour a couple of months later, then the band fell apart. I came back to England, by which time Cozy Powell was having success with his hit singles Dance With The Devil, Man In Black and Na Na Na and he put a band together to tour which was Frank Aiello on vocals, Bernie Marsden on guitar, Clive Chaman on bass and Don Airey on keyboards.
What happened was that Clive would go off and do other things, particularly playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club for a week with the singer Linda Lewis, and I would stand in for Clive on whatever shows Cozy’s band were doing which was mostly clubs. Later on, I stood in again for Clive in early 1975 on the RAK Records tour called RAK Rocks Britain where we supported Suzi Quatro.
The reason that Cozy Powell’s Hammer didn’t really have any more success was mostly to do with the fact that the record company just saw him as a pop act, and they just didn’t have the means or the ideas to get a proper rock band going, so it all kind of fizzled out. I think the band had plans to do something, but they had no source of funding apart from the record company. I think the record company just lost interest when the band never recorded any tracks for an album. It was just the three singles and three B-sides and then a couple of other things that we did for BBC Radio sessions. I play on some of those tracks that they recorded for the BBC but it’s difficult to separate which ones I did and which ones Clive Chaman did.
The band fell apart really and Cozy didn’t join Rainbow for perhaps another year after that. He was busy racing cars, and just doing other things and at that point, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to play music anymore, until the thing came along with Ritchie Blackmore I think Cozy got pretty tired of trying to be successful under his own steam.
After the split of Hammer, you joined Colosseum II to be fired about a year later in the summer of ’76.
We had a five piece lineup, Gary Moore, Don Airey, Jon Hiseman, and singer Mike Starrs. At the end of a long European tour, I was complaining about certain things to somebody from the record company, and I think this didn’t go down very well. Also perhaps they didn’t think that Mike Starrs was a suitable frontman or the sound of his voice wasn’t right or something. But anyway we were both fired. It was the very hot summer of ’76. We had done one album, Strange New Flesh for Bronze Records who we were signed to. They wanted Colosseum II, with their new bass player John Mole, to do some demos for them, so they recorded those demos, then Bronze dropped the whole band anyway. So you could say that myself and Mike might as well have stayed with them. Anyway, it wasn’t to be and they went on to MCA Records and did quite well for the next few years.
After that I joined National Health, which was the coming together of some of the members of Gilgamesh -Alan Gowen, and I think, to start off with, the guitarist Phil Lee as well – and a couple of members of Hatfield and the North, keyboard player Dave Stewart and guitarist Phil Miller. There were various lineup changes and they had done a tour before I was around, on which Bill Bruford came in and guested on drums. They asked him again to do some dates in the autumn of 76, soon after I joined, and it was great fun to have him in the band. Then Pip Pyle, the drummer from Hatfield and the North, joined. There were a lot of changes, but it was all mostly from the same pool of ‘Canterbury Sound’ musicians who were doing a very English kind of progressive jazz rock. So I did an album with them and we toured occasionally, because it was a very uncommercial thing that we were doing and the whole jazz-fusion thing was dying by then. Earlier on in the ‘70s, bands like Weather Report and Return To Forever were very successful, but it was a fad that passed. And to be honest, although National Health was interesting music, it didn’t satisfy me in terms of my like liking for blues, funk and harder rock. They were determined to be uncommercial and complicated and in my opinion the attitude was: simple music isn’t good. In that period, I was not making nearly enough money to live on from National Health, so I was either collecting unemployment benefit or working in a Virgin Records shop, stacking the records in the shelves and things like that. So when the opportunity came along to join Whitesnake, it just made more sense both financially and musically. It was my connection with Bernie Marsden that created that opportunity.
Whitesnake was really co-founded by Micky Moody and David Coverdale following David’s two solo albums, White Snake and Northwinds, which Micky and David collaborated on. After recording Northwinds they decided to get a band together. Bernie had been in Babe Ruth after Cozy Powell’s Hammer and then joined Jon Lord and Ian Paice from Deep Purple in Paice Ashton Lord with Tony Ashton leading that band, and that lasted about a year and then fell apart. And by that time in the early autumn of ’77 Micky and David were starting up Whitesnake and Bernie joined up with them. They had a bass player, Chris Stewart, who was playing with Frankie Miller, but one afternoon in early December 1977 Bernie called me up and said, come along and help us audition a drummer. So I did that and we got on very well. A couple of weeks later, he called me up again saying, Chris Stewart has decided to stay with Frankie Miller, do you want to come and audition again? So myself and drummer Dave Dowle, who I’d played together with various times before that, ended up being the rhythm section. Bernie, myself and Dave Dowle were well into the jazz-rock kind of thing and there are a lot of those influences on the Trouble album by Whitesnake. It was all rather fast and furious and very ‘busy’ playing, and it took a couple of albums for the sound of Whitesnake to settle down and become much more solid and much more beefy and powerful. Unfortunately, Dave Dowle’s style didn’t really suit perfectly; it was a little bit light and not just not as powerful as the band required.
What was it like playing with Jon Lord and Ian Paice after the Canterbury scene?
Well, it was more back to my roots really, playing with the people who had lots of different influences, like Ian Paice’s jazz influences and funk influences, and the better people you play with, the better you play. National Health’s music wasn’t really my kind of thing deep down; I was able to play it but in fact, other people like the guy who replaced me, John Greaves, was much more naturally right for National Health than I was. I was probably too aggressive and not intellectual enough in my playing. So Whitesnake was quite a very natural thing for me, more so than Deep Purple would have been. Because Bernie and Micky and David were so much from the blues boom era of the late ‘60s just like me; we’d all been influenced by the same John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Cream-type albums, that it was very natural for us to play together. And the fact of Jon and Ian coming into the band just brought their talent into the basic structure that already existed, which is often that of a blues-rock band, sort of like Bad Company, let’s say, instead of a hard rock band like Deep Purple. So in some ways, Jon didn’t have as much chance to shine with Whitesnake as he would in Deep Purple and Ian tended to play more groove drumming with Whitesnake rather than flashy, heavy rock drumming, but they both really enjoyed it, at least for the time that they were with the band. I mean, it was a really fun band to be with personally but also musically; it was very enjoyable for everybody.
Would you mind telling me the writing and recording procedure in Whitesnake? Was it teamwork or was each song composed beforehand?
Generally speaking, the song would start from either Micky or Bernie, and they would come in with a very bare structure, and David would jam along on top. It might be composed in a very rough sort of way, before the band started playing on it, but quite often somebody would just start playing a riff or a chord sequence, and we’d all join in and we’d all put our bits on it. So, with most songs, if you wanted to really analyse what happened, we probably should have all had writing credits on nearly every song. But that’s not the way it works. There were occasional songs where David would write the majority of the whole thing; for example with Don’t Break My Heart Again, he sat down at the organ, and kept on playing the basic chord thing over and over and over again and trying out various vocal things on top. So that is mostly his song really, and but other times, it was a collaboration, but mostly starting from the guitarists, then David, then the rest of us. But always the finished vocals and the finished lyrics probably wouldn’t even be done until we’d finished recording all the backing tracks in the studio, then David would take a cassette of the tracks and work on the lyrics and then record his finished vocal parts after that.
In 1982, before releasing Saints An’ Sinners, Whitesnake split.
Well, it’s very complicated. Micky decided to leave in early ’82, after we’d finished recording Saints An’ Sinners, possibly not with the finished vocals, though I think David may have redone them all anyway. So Micky was no longer in the band. We had been signed with John Coletta, who was one of Deep Purple’s managers previously, and he basically controlled the management, the record company and the publishing, which is now illegal. Basically, we suspected, and David was pretty certain, that the money that we should have been getting wasn’t coming to us and it was going elsewhere, and that there was no real way of checking it. So he wanted to get rid of the management, and go off on his own. At the same time, he wasn’t very happy with Saints An’ Sinners, and how the attitude of most of the band had changed during ’81. Because we were successful by then, people were kind of lazy during the recording of Saints An’ Sinners. We’d always had a good time, but it was almost like, well, let’s have some fun, let’s not bother recording. I think David, by that time, felt that the songwriting was getting a bit stale with between him and Micky or him and Bernie, and wanted to work with Mel Galley from Trapeze. At the same time as making changes in the management, et cetera, he was going to make changes in the band but he was undecided as to exactly what the new lineup was going to be. Basically, he didn’t want to work with Bernie any more. We were pretty sure that he wanted to have Cozy Powell in the band, because he thought that Ian had had some confidence problems during the making of Saints An’ Sinners, and his playing wasn’t nearly as good as it had been. He was playing safe and having trouble doing quite simple things; something happened with his general mental state where he wasn’t happy anymore. By that time, David was thinking, well, maybe I should get somebody more powerful and hard-hitting. At the same time, John Kalodner from Geffen Records was starting to get very interested. I think along with, or via Peter Mensch, who was managing Def Leppard, it was put to David, look, if you get a new young band and then write some more American-style songs, you could be enormously successful in the US. David resisted this for quite a long time and then finally gave in and really started pursuing America. But it took a couple of years for that to really take hold because he’s very conservative in lots of ways.
So basically, Cozy Powell was in, Ian was out. I did Gary Moore’s Corridors of Power album with Ian, and later Gary asked both of us to be in his band. This was in the summer of ’82, and at that point David still isn’t sure whether I should be in Whitesnake or not. He said to me, Oh, I’m not sure if you’re the right guy to play with Cozy Powell, which seems pretty ridiculous looking back on it now. David was a big fan of Colin Hodgkinson’s bass playing in that very twangy/playing with a pick style, which is very different to how I play, and he wanted to go for that sound as distinct from how the typical sound of Whitesnake had been up to that point. So Mel Galley was in and Micky Moody rejoined in about September ’82. At first when Ian was out of Whitesnake, Jon being his best friend said, “Oh, well that’s it, I’m out too”, but then David persuaded him to come back in, so the lineup that toured with Saints An’ Sinners was a kind of hybrid/mixture lineup. The impression that you get when you look at the Saints An’ Sinners album sleeve is that it probably is recorded with Colin Hodgkinson and Mel Galley and Cozy in the band, but of course it isn’t. Mel sang some backing vocals, that’s about it.
After you left Whitesnake you created a new band with guitarist John Sykes and singer John Sloman called Badlands.
This was throughout spring and summer of 1982 really. Through Whitesnake being on EMI I got an A&R guy called Hugh Stanley-Clarke interested in John Sloman and myself and John Sykes. We did a couple of gigs around that time, and they offered us some time to make demos, but it all dragged on and on. In the meantime, I was playing with Gary Moore, and then Gary asked John Sloman to join his band for a few months. Eventually, John Sloman did get a deal with EMI and recorded his album a couple of years later, but it took so long to happen. John Sykes went off and joined Thin Lizzy very soon after we were playing together; he didn’t last long in Badlands. And that took a lot of energy out of the whole situation, unfortunately, and when myself and John Sloman were playing with Gary Moore in order to survive really, it meant that John Sloman’s Badlands was put on the back-burner. Though I recorded quite a lot of demos over a period of about a year with John, and I always thought they were great songs, there was just something missing in terms of being a commercial Rock Band situation, or it just something not quite simple enough for record companies to latch on to.
Gary, by that time was very much a hard rock guitarist rather than doing jazz-rock-fusion; he’d been in Thin Lizzy and had had his own solo thing. He definitely wanted Ian Paice to join him; Gary had supported Whitesnake in 1980 with his band G-Force, and he could see what a good rhythm section we were, but certainly Ian was the main selling point for him rather than me, particularly in Japan. It meant that any band with Ian Paice in would get lots of interest in Japan. So that was the version of the band for the Corridors of Power album, then going on the road Gary wasn’t sure about his own singing and he wanted to get a lead singer in, so through me John Sloman got that job. Don was much more linked with Gary because he’d been in Colosseum II with him for a long, long time, and he was a very obvious person to get in the band. There was no thought of reuniting Colosseum II, because it hadn’t been terribly successful, and by that point, nobody, Gary, Don or myself, was really interested in playing instrumental jazz fusion. It was dead by then.
In late ’83 Colin Hodgkinson left Whitesnake and you were back in the band to re-record the latest album for the US market. How were you asked to come back?
I went to see Whitesnake in the summer of ’83 when they headlined Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington, and I was talking to the tour manager at the time after the show, when we all went out drinking. He said to me “How committed are you to Gary Moore?”, which was an indication that they weren’t very happy with Colin Hodgkinson, and I heard stories afterwards that he’d not really fitted in socially with the guys; he would stay in his room by himself, and musically it didn’t quite work out the way people thought. Cozy was such a heavy drummer, and Colin was really a kind of bluesy, jazzy bass player and didn’t have that type of big sound that they needed, I don’t think. I think Mel Galley was very keen for me to come back into the band and he had a lot to do with persuading David that they should get me back in. So a couple of months later, after John Sykes had joined, replacing Micky who left the band the second time soon after Donington, they asked me to come back in as well. Geffen Records weren’t happy with the mix of Slide It In that had been done for the UK and Europe; they wanted to remix it and it just happened that therefore, because myself and John Sykes were available to redo stuff, we had the chance to re-record all of the bass parts and some guitar parts – mostly just rhythm guitar parts, John Sykes didn’t really play much lead guitar on the American version of Slide It In so even if Micky’s name is not on the record, he actually plays a couple of solos on the record and Slow An’ Easy obviously is all Micky’s song really.
Cozy left Whitesnake in ’85, and recording the 1987 album followed. Why were John, Cozy’s replacement Aynsley Dunbar and you replaced by Vivian Campbell, Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo?
A lot of the problems in late ’84 into ’85 were to do with the fact that David, and to some extent John Sykes, didn’t want it to be an equal band. John definitely wanted equal money to David and he didn’t really care very much about the rest of us. David didn’t think it should be equally split, and the same thing with the writing. It certainly wasn’t going to be democratic anymore, and it was a power struggle between David and John. Cozy basically left because he was offered a percentage of the record royalties etc which he thought was insulting, though in fact he would have made quite a lot of money if he’d stayed on and been part of the ’87 album. And it took a long, long time to find a drummer to do the album. It took nine months to find Aynsley Dunbar and we were auditioning loads of people in LA. We recorded the backing tracks up in Vancouver, over a period of about two months in the autumn of ’85. However, after that John and David then took another year to re-record guitar parts, add more guitar parts, re-record vocals about three times; David seemingly had lots of medical problems, though I don’t know how many problems with his voice were actually physical problems or whether there were mental problems. But certainly it went on and on and on and on. So during most of ’86 the only people working on the record were John and David. On the 1st of April 1986, both myself and Aynsley Dunbar stopped being paid because the album was costing so much money and so apparently there was no money left for wages. So we were told. At that point, Aynsley decided he wasn’t a member of the band anymore. Whereas in my case, I still felt that I was in the band, and I was still talking to David and John. In fact, in October and November ’86, I took the opportunity when John was doing guitar parts in London to redo bass parts on a few of the songs. And not long after, what happened was that John Sykes was very unhappy because David was trying to sideline him and not including John in the mixing of the record, plus John was very angry that Adrian Vandenberg had replaced the guitar solo on Here I Go Again. So John actually flew to LA and turned up at the studio, they had an enormous row, and John left, so that left me and David as the only members of Whitesnake. I’m in London, he’s in LA, we’re still talking, and there are no problems between us. But I think at that point, Geffen Records start saying, OK, you’ve got to get a band together in order to do the first video, which was for Still Of The Night. So David assembled a band including Tommy Aldridge who he’d basically snubbed the year before when we were looking for a drummer. He would have been a very good drummer for Whitesnake on the 1987 record, but because he was John Sykes’s choice, since that was his favourite drummer, David decided to be very unpleasant and rude to him. So it was quite funny that 18 months later, he got him into Whitesnake as a member. So he got ahold of people to do the video, which I guess was Rudy, Tommy, Vivian, and Adrian Vandenberg. Adrian had been pestering David, “Oh we must work together, we must work together”, and David was quite keen to do that. So when you look at the video, at least certainly at the time, you can’t really tell who is in the video, whether it’s me or whether it’s somebody else, whether it’s Adrian or whether it’s John Sykes, because at that point, it wasn’t the band. It was just some guys in the video, but it became the band. They went off on tour and made enormous amounts of money, which would have been nice to have had if I was still included, and they got loads of platinum albums given to them which they shouldn’t have done, since they didn’t play in the record, etc, etc.
You participated in ‘All Star Bands’ Gog Magog, Phenomena & Forcefield.
I don’t think Gog Magog was much good at all. These were really just recording projects that you go in and you play on a session one afternoon and that’s it. It’s not a proper band. The Gog Magog thing was Jonathan King’s project where he had this idea of putting together a supergroup and he couldn’t get any of the really famous guys that he wanted, like Cozy Powell and John Entwistle et cetera, so he ended up with people who had been previously members of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and stuff. Nobody was much of a writer or a singer, and it wasn’t terribly good. Phenomena and Forcefield were very much controlled by, in the case of Phenomena, Tom Galley, the brother of Mel Galley and in Forcefield’s case by Ray Fenwick, previously from the Gillan band. You’re just there to just play the bass parts, and it wasn’t a band. When something is just a recording project, unless it sells incredibly well, it’s far too expensive to think of putting a tour together. I’m sure they’ve sold okay but there wasn’t really enough interest for there to be a band and a tour.
During the Forcefield II sessions you worked with Tony Martin & Cozy Powell.
I was doing Forcefield through Cozy; I might have known Tony Martin slightly or heard of him through Bernie Marsden who knew about him. I’m not sure if Cozy was a member of Black Sabbath yet, but when their album Eternal Idol came out, somebody connected with the management said to me, “What would you think about playing with Black Sabbath?”, and I listened to Eternal Idol and l didn’t think it was what I wanted to do at that particular point. Perhaps if I’d known that Cozy was going to be involved, I might have thought differently about it. But he didn’t call me up and it just wasn’t anything serious. Nobody was calling me up saying “Do you want to become a member of Black Sabbath?” Or “Do you want to come and play with us?” It was just, “If they were looking for somebody, what do you think?”. So at that time, I said no, but if I’d said yes, I would have ended up on Headless Cross. But anyway, who knows?
Then came Vow Wow.
What happened there was that they moved to England to try and crack the British market, and they got an English manager. He suggested me as somebody to play on their first UK album. I don’t know what the connection was as I didn’t know them or the manager. They called me up out of the blue because their Japanese bass player didn’t enjoy London and felt homesick for Tokyo or whatever. When they asked me to play on the album, I wasn’t asked to join the band, and I was resisting joining the band because at that time, I’d got together with Mel Galley and Bernie Marsden in a band called MGM. We were working together a bit, though that never got beyond just playing a few clubs and the occasional festival in ’87, but during that period, I was playing with Vow Wow and MGM at the same time, and sometimes it caused clashes with dates and things. Quite amusingly I played the Reading Festival with Vow Wow on one afternoon and then the next afternoon with MGM. This was when people used to throw mud and bottles and things at the band. So I had to endure two performances like that instead of one like most people, that’s quite unusual. So as far as Vow Wow went, I quite enjoyed being with them, but it wasn’t very stimulating. As far as bass playing goes, the way that they wrote songs didn’t allow me very much freedom as a bass player. I had to write lyrics for them, which was very difficult because the singer would sing nonsense vocals and I had to fit words to those nonsense words, which is a really unusual way of doing it and not easy to do at all. So I decided I’d had enough in early ’89. I’d already left them at the time the Sabbath thing came along.
When did you join Sabbath exactly? Were you really offered the job when bumping into Cozy Powell doing an autograph session in late April 89?
At that point, I’d been with Vow Wow for about two years, though I wasn’t really a permanent member. At that moment in time, I had some money from the royalties of Whitesnake 1987 album, so I was free to do whatever I wanted, and I was thinking that it was time to move on from Vow Wow. It just happened that I was at a rock club in London, at the Hippodrome and purely by chance Black Sabbath were doing a personal appearance there to announce Headless Cross. Because Cozy was there and I knew Cozy very well, we got talking and I met the other guys and got on very well with Tony Iommi. And I think Geoff Nicholls, maybe. I’m not sure – I can’t remember exactly who was there. But Cozy said they’d been trying to find a bass player and why didn’t you come along and do an audition? So I wasn’t offered the job right then, I had to go up to Birmingham and play with them and then I was offered the job. And so we started rehearsing, and a month or two later went to the States for the first tour.
Was there any particular reason why the live video filmed at the Olympic Hall in Moscow was never released?
Well, I think, strictly speaking, it’s called the Olimpiskiy Hall. And the reason was that basically, the Russians, or the Soviets, I guess, at that time, basically stole the tapes, stole the videotapes, after we’d finished recording the two shows. And we never saw them again. So it was a bit of an illegal move, as you can imagine, but there was nothing we could do about it. When we tried to go to the recording truck at the end of the day, there were security guards and army people stopping any from anyone from going in, and they just removed the videotapes, and that was that. So it was a real waste of time. I’ve seen clips of it on YouTube. And it’s a real shame that they didn’t release it, or that we didn’t get the chance to release it in 1990, but it’s kind of typical of the bad luck that Black Sabbath often had.
The two shows recorded at the Olympic Hall were on the same day, which was Saturday 25th of November 1989. We did a show at 2:15 in the afternoon with about 8,000 people there, and then another one at 8:15 in the evening. Probably the same amount of people, maybe 10,000, I’m not sure. An interesting note in the afternoon show; because they had to change the reels of tape we had to play a song that wasn’t going to be recorded. So we actually did the Shadows’ instrumental Apache because Tony Iommi and myself and Cozy were big fans of the Shadows when we were starting off in the late 50s, early 60s.
From what I’ve gathered, the recording of Tyr started in February 1990. How long did the recording take?
Well, it was a few months. We started in Rockfield Studios in Wales for maybe a week or 10 days. And then a lot of overdubbing was done at a smaller studio, Woodcray near Reading in Berkshire. The recording was spread over maybe three months, but not certainly not working every day.
What happened at the end of 1990 exactly? Were you fired or just not asked to come back?
Well, what often happens with Black Sabbath is that things go mysteriously quiet. And you’d learn that when you don’t hear from the management or from Tony Iommi for a few weeks, that means something’s going on that you’re not supposed to know about. Geezer Butler had joined us at Hammersmith Odeon when we played there in 1990 and played on the song Black Sabbath with the band. And it seemed like it was a very likely thing that he was going to come back into the band. So I wasn’t very surprised and I started to hear rumours that it was going to be Ronnie James Dio returning as well. So I called up the management and said, ‘What’s going on?”. And they got back to me and said, Yes, well, actually Geezer’s gonna come back into the band. Tony Iommi doesn’t like confrontation with people, though he certainly will eventually get into confrontation; if you make him very angry, he’ll suddenly have you up against the wall. But he doesn’t like giving his friends bad news. It’s happened many times to do with Tony Martin or myself that people just haven’t told him or me what’s going on, and you have to kind of read between the lines. So Tony Iommi tends to hope that the management will do the nasty work for him.
Had you been told about the plan of getting Geezer Butler and Ronnie James Dio back in the band or did it come out of the blue?
It kind of came out of the blue. There may have been some secret rehearsals, but I’ve no idea. I think they probably had to see whether things were going to work out before announcing it to the world. But the whole reason behind it is because IRS, Black Sabbath’s record label, really hadn’t managed to make the band a success again in America in 1989/90. So Tony was very frustrated about that and wanted to get a much better deal with a bigger record label. And of course Warner Brothers were interested but I think they probably said, look, you’ve got to get a more classic version of the band together. And certainly Ozzy, at that time wasn’t interested at all. There was big friction between Ozzy and Sharon and Black Sabbath. And, as you know, it took a few more years to resolve that kind of thing.
Tony Martin in November ’92 was asked to come back with Black Sabbath, but he couldn’t because he didn’t have a work visa, leading to Rob Halford performing Sabbath instead. I wondered how true the story was, as this would have meant the cancellation of the Hammer tour?
Well, obviously, if Tony was going to sing with Sabbath, even if it was just for a couple of shows at Costa Mesa, that would be much more important than playing little clubs with Cozy Powell’s Hammer. Hammer did very, very few gigs with that lineup at the time. It wasn’t a proper big touring band or anything like that. It was very, very small time situation. Tony was asked to do the Costa Mesa shows but I think it was much more to do with the fact that when they realised that Rob Halford would do it, that somebody as well known as him was a much better person in terms of recognition, instead of Tony, who wasn’t well known in the States. There may be some truth about the visa. I don’t think so personally. I think it’s much more to do with Rob Halford being more of a name.
According to what I’ve read, you joined Black Sabbath along with Cozy again in October ’94.
We started writing and rehearsing in Wales in October/November ’94. The dates of recording for the Forbidden album for the backing tracks, i.e. myself and Cozy, were the 5th to the 9th of December 1994. Very, very short, much too short, obviously. For another week after that, I guess they were doing some vocals and guitars and then there were further overdub sessions done in London and in LA into early ’95. So most of the album would be done by the end of January ’95, but I think Tony Iommi was still working on guitars after Tony Martin had finished doing all the vocal parts. So it’s possible that the recording actually went into February or so, and the mixing followed after that.
Who came up with the idea of inviting Ice-T on Forbidden? Was he the one who introduced the band to Ernie C or was it the other way round?
It was to do with the management really wanting the Sabbath to be contemporary for the mid ‘90s and the sort of rap-metal kind of thing that was going on at the time. Ice-T had met Tony Iommi and was a fan of Sabbath obviously, and the original idea was for him to produce or co-produce, but he couldn’t do it or wouldn’t do it, and he probably suggested Ernie C. I wish we’d had a proper producer doing that album.
Was all work stopped after the Forbidden tour or was there some new material on the way?
Tony Iommi always has thousands of riffs, and in between tours and albums, he’s at home writing new riffs and putting them down. When we come to make an album, he gets out his storehouse of riffs and picks out some new ones and maybe picks out riffs from his collection that he’s recorded over the years, and constructs new songs from them, or he works right from scratch, making up new riffs there and then. When we’re on tour, Tony likes to jam a lot, which caused problems between him and Cozy because Cozy didn’t want to jam whereas Bobby Rondinelli really did on the Cross Purposes tour. We would be jamming at soundcheck but not writing material. When the Forbidden album was finished, that was it as far as recording with that version of the band. And then after the Forbidden tour, where yet again there was really no success in the way that Tony Iommi wanted, then of course it was inevitable that the original lineup would get back together again.
I have a letter from Tony Martin in June 1996 seemingly still officially part of Black Sabbath at that point.
I mean, I’ve no idea about that. At the beginning of ’96, myself and Cozy were already working with Peter Green in Splinter Group. So I would be very surprised if Tony Martin was still imagining that he was part of Sabbath because I kind of thought that the Ozzy/Geezer reunion was happening all the way through 1996 before they went off to do touring, but I mean, you know more about that than I do. There were kind of rumours going around and Cozy had heard something that the original lineup of Sabbath was going to get back together again, so that was it for our line up, though he’d been replaced by Bobby Rondinelli in the summer of ’95.
Apart from the shelved Moscow video, were there any plans to record a live album?
Well, they recorded a show at Hammersmith Odeon. The B-side of something from Headless Cross was a live track that I played on, I think a live version of Paranoid. There were no other official recordings that I’m aware of and it’s a kind of a shame. The trouble was that there really wasn’t enough interest from the fans in that version of the band, or from the record company. If the record company said, “Oh, we’ve got everybody wanting a live album, we’ve got to go and make one”, then we would have done it. But it was more that the record company gave us enough money to just about make a record and then put out enough copies to cover their costs. And then they’d say, “Oh, well that’ll do, that’s enough”. And they weren’t really interested in trying to explore every avenue of promoting the band or backing up the band, the way a bigger record label probably would have done.
When you and Cozy joined Black Sabbath, was it an awkward period?
Well, the atmosphere in Sabbath was good in 1989, because Cozy was very committed to making Sabbath a success again. They were with a new record label and the bringing of myself in, adding to the strength of the lineup at that time made it obvious to people that this was a step up from how Sabbath had been for about four or five years. But we didn’t have much luck in the States, mostly due to the record company, not having any clout there. There was a lot of talk of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne trying to sabotage any success that Black Sabbath might have around that time. I don’t know how true that is, but there were stories of people putting cancelled notices over our posters, so that people thought that we weren’t going to be playing in a particular town. However we were very happy with the band’s success, particularly in Germany, and various other countries. We were doing quite well, although obviously it wasn’t on a huge scale. If that lineup had continued, then maybe it would have built up and built up. But of course, it wasn’t really happening quickly enough for Tony Iommi in particular,
Tell me more about the November & December ’89 tour in Russia.
We did huge great halls, one hall in Moscow and one in Leningrad, and we did about 10 shows in each place, and sometimes we played two shows a day. Particularly in Moscow, I’m not sure if we did in Leningrad. It was incredibly cold and the food was very bad. Even though the whole Eastern Bloc thing was coming to an end, it was still very traditionally Soviet in the way that people behaved. For example, in the Olympic Hall in Moscow, the audience was spread around the outside, and the whole of the floor of the arena was empty, except for about 10 rows of comfortable chairs, right in front of the stage, which was for the special Communist Party people and the important VIPs. So it was really strange atmosphere to play to because you could hear the audience way off in the distance, then you could see the few people at the front looking really bored or with their fingers in their ears and not enjoying it at all. In Leningrad, it was different; the audience was right up against the stage and we realised then that the Russian audiences were actually completely wild and crazy. They were throwing metal crosses onstage and behaving really very dangerously. They used to go completely nuts, which is good, but they went a bit over the top. The Russian audiences are very emotional and very dramatic and excitable. It was quite a fun time, but we were very glad to get back home after that. We were there for about three weeks and that was definitely a long time.
In early 1990 Black Sabbath recorded the Tyr album.
It was recorded or written in the typical way where Tony Iommi and sometimes Geoff Nicholls would sit in Tony’s house, and they would record riffs and go through Tony’s collection of thousands of riffs that he would have on tape. He would bring them to rehearsals, and then we would work them up into songs. Then Tony Martin would write lyrics and think of melody lines, and the band would work very quickly to make an actual song out of what had started off as being a riff. The album was being co-produced by Tony and Cozy and it was very much their album, like Headless Cross had been and I was very much just the bass player. It wasn’t a terribly democratic situation and I felt under pressure to get things done very quickly. The mix on the album is very much weighted towards the drums and the bass is pretty quiet, whereas if you listen to ‘70s Sabbath albums, the bass is very loud, and that’s more how I felt it should have been. So I was never totally happy with Tyr. There are some good songs on it, but because they’d gone so heavily towards the devil and evil and all kinds of lyrics like that on Headless Cross, we were trying to get away from that. So we went to the Norse legend thing that Tony Martin came up with; all these ideas for Valhalla, et cetera, and perhaps we went too far in that direction, because some of the fans couldn’t quite get it.
Tony Martin and yourself left again in late 1995.
Although that lineup was getting quite popular in Europe etc it wasn’t successful in the States and it wasn’t bringing in huge income. We were probably struggling financially, although it might have seemed to be successful. It’s so expensive to run a band. Quite apart from the money side of it, Tony Iommi wanted to be in a band that was really popular and well known in America like he had been. Once you’ve been up there at the top level of touring and multi platinum album sales, you don’t really want to come back down and just sell a few thousand records. It’s not satisfying; you want to play to as many people as possible. It would be frustrating if you do a really good album and then people say “Oh, I didn’t know you had an album out. I’ve never heard it. Oh, are you still playing?”. The ignorance about Sabbath was enormous in America. I can understand that they wanted to try and get a previous more successful lineup together, and I have to say that judging by how the fans were, to them the original Sabbath was really the only one. If they were a bit more open-minded, then they liked the Ronnie James Dio version of the band. But the vast majority of Sabbath bands weren’t interested in Sabbath unless it was Ozzy, Geezer and Bill Ward. So you’re banging your head against the wall to try and capture a big audience with anybody else other than those original guys in the band.
Let’s talk about the Brian May Band.
I’d met Brian a couple of times and actually played on a track on his solo album Back To The Light back in the late ‘80s though I think they redid the bass on it. I knew him a little and really we got on very well, but he mainly was a big friend of Tony Iommi and had been for a long, long time. He was a huge fan of Sabbath and he really liked the Headless Cross and Tyr lineup. That was his favourite rhythm section – myself and Cozy – in terms of a rock band. So it was very obvious for him when we became available that when he was putting a band together, he would start with us. Together with Spike Edney who’d been keyboard player as a backing musician with Queen, that was the basis of the band. So it was a kind of a natural thing from Brian being a huge fan of Sabbath really, at the end of 92.
With Cozy Powell’s Hammer, was Tony Martin the original singer?
At that point, Tony Martin was doing his recording his solo album, which I also played on. Cozy had known a singer called Peter Oliver, and worked with him a little bit way back in the 70s, then asked him to sing with Hammer, but we did one show and it really didn’t work out. He just wasn’t convincing as a frontman; he just had been too much of a straight pop singer in the ‘70s and it just wasn’t right. Although Cozy and Tony Martin might not have been best friends, there were so few good singers around in Britain that it was an obvious person to ask to join. Guitarist Mario Parga had come in because Don Airey was originally involved in the band, before I came along even, because Don had a lot to do with recording Cozy’s solo album of that time, The Drums Are Back. The songs that we were doing from Cozy’s album very much featured Don to start off with, and then he left. He had recommended Mario to us and we were playing the songs from the different bands that we’d been part of. When Tony Martin became involved, it became more like his backing band than had originally been the case. But once again, there was no money behind the band, there was no management, there was no record company, it just couldn’t keep going. All of us needed a proper working situation to be part of; we could afford to do a few club dates, but without real business structure behind you, then it’s not going to happen.
1992/1993: touring with Brian May.
We were touring with Brian May in South America at the end of 1992. In October 1991 we had played at the Guitar Legends concert in Seville that Brian May was overseeing. There were various combinations of different people but myself and Cozy were part of that. Throughout most of 1993 we were supporting Guns N’ Roses. The end of ’93 was the finish of Brian May’s initial period of touring. In 1994 I didn’t really do much until the autumn when Tony Iommi called up and said “How would you like to come back?” At that time Bobby Rondinelli had been in the band after Vinny Appice had replaced Cozy in the Ronnie Dio situation in ’91, and Tony Iommi had been very happy with Bobby. But I think he thought that if he got me back in, it might be better to get Cozy back in as well. The whole situation was different from 1989 though; Cozy wasn’t the co-leader with Tony anymore, and the kind of songs he wanted the band to do seemed a little bit dated, kind of ‘80s sounding. There were just various things that weren’t the same anymore and Cozy wasn’t very happy in the band. The situation with the recording of Forbidden really didn’t help either; he just felt that it was not what Sabbath should be about.
Was it a complicated time for Black Sabbath?
Well, the band was able to tour in various parts of the world, but it didn’t really mean much to go and play a couple of shows in Korea or Singapore. It’s nice to go there; we had to play things that we wouldn’t normally do because they would know Sabbath for some ballad or other and we’d have to learn it which was very unusual. The success of the band in America wasn’t big enough for anybody to be really happy, but Cozy was not content in that situation; he thought that a lot of the gigs that we were playing were too small, what he would call Mickey Mouse. Black Sabbath should be playing in 10,000 seat arena, but instead we’re playing a 1000 seater club. It just didn’t seem right, and in a sense I could agree with him. So there was friction within the band in 1995, and eventually Cozy left, but frankly, Tony would probably have asked him to leave because they just weren’t getting on by then and he didn’t feel that Cozy was committed enough to the band or enjoying it properly enough.
The Forbidden album seems to be the fans’ least favourite.
Some of us, and particularly the management, were keen for Sabbath to be more current. Sabbath was being named by all the grunge bands as being their huge influence, and suddenly Sabbath was kind of fashionable again, but it was the ’70s Sabbath, certainly not the Headless Cross-era Sabbath, that people were listening to. The thought was we can’t really go back to the ‘70s, but let’s try and do something really up to date and try and do something in a different way. The sound of the record would be different, and it was an experiment that just didn’t work. The idea might have worked with a different producer, but the combination of trying to record in a particular way and have a particular kind of sound didn’t really work as well as it was supposed to do. To some extent, the songs weren’t particularly classic, compared to a lot of the ones from the ‘70s, but you had a situation where Cozy wasn’t terribly happy when we were writing the songs. Tony Martin worked very hard to take the typical type of riffs and make them into songs, but then we were sabotaged by the speed of the recording and the sound that was produced by Ernie C; it just was very disappointing.
After the Forbidden tour, did the band cease activity?
At the end of the Forbidden tour, it was obvious that from the silence that the reformation of the original Sabbath lineup was going to go ahead, but it took a long time to put it together. You have to remember that, in the Sabbath situation, we would get paid a sum of money just for playing on the album, and paid another sum of money for a tour. In between, you didn’t get paid anything, and there were no royalties coming in at all. Once you had the money for doing a Forbidden tour, let’s say, in the autumn of ’95; once that’s finished, unless they call you up and say “Okay, we’re gonna go and record another album”, you have to assume that the band has stopped for the moment. Unless somebody tells you otherwise, because they’re not paying you, you’re a free agent. We heard enough rumours that there was a plan to get the original lineup back together again, and of course the management were going to be participating in that, so it was good news for them. I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t a big letdown to me; it was just like the previous time.
Your impressions of Cozy Powell.
I worked with Cozy a lot, but I wouldn’t say that I was his best friend or anything like that. We were quite different people; he was very much an action men who loved taking risks and driving fast and doing fairly wild and crazy things. But at the same time, he loved the peace and quiet of the countryside, and getting away from the city. Maybe even not listening to music at all for weeks on end. He was very interested in sports, and I wasn’t, though we had a lot of the same tastes in music. We got on well, but when we weren’t working together, I wasn’t calling him up all the time. We had different lives – he had his social scene out where he lived in the countryside, and I was in London with my friends. He was very supportive to Brian May and very good at what in England we call ‘geeing-up’ Brian, which is to bring him out of a state of depression and making him feel more confident about things. Cozy was a really charismatic sort of guy and obviously very committed to being as powerful a drummer as he could be, but also wanting to be very much part of the leadership of whatever band he was in at the time. He wasn’t really content to sit in the background and not say anything; he wanted to be involved. He particularly didn’t want to be in any situation which he thought was amateurish or stupid. So he would certainly speak up if he thought that the management was behaving badly or that we were being asked to do stupid things. As a person, he was very friendly and good fun to be around; all the people who worked with him really miss him a lot, not just the playing but as a person as well.
Why haven’t Cozy, Don Airey, yourself and maybe a couple of other people thought of creating a band together?
Because none of us are really songwriters or singers; singer songwriters are the people who drive a band along. We’re all very strong backing musicians if you like; we’re very good as part of a cooperative thing. Still, I think there has to be one or two people who have the creative force and who come up with the material. All of us have worked in situations where we’re working with fantastic frontman singers, very charismatic people like David Coverdale, Ozzy Osbourne, et cetera, that can give the whole direction to something. Cozy Powell’s solo albums did have that function of bringing together the people that he’d worked with or wanted to play with, and playing the kind of music he wanted to play, but in fact, it wasn’t really commercial enough for anybody to say “Okay, I’ll put lots of money into you”. Good musicians aren’t enough to make a real band.