Black Sabbath left things on their own terms when they retired in 2017, and in their wake lays an impeccable legacy full of relentless innovation. There are many reasons that helped them become the forefathers of metal, but, according to bassist Geezer Butler, it was mainly down to their secret weapon: Tony Iommi.
Ozzy Osbourne naturally springs to mind when one thinks of Sabbath, and while his aura played a deciding role in the triumphs they achieved, if it wasn’t for the foundations put in place by Iommi, then the whole operation would have sunk. He was the mastermind behind every maverick move the group made, and for Butler, he remains the greatest to ever pick up the guitar.
Not only was Iommi the lead guitarist that instigated the riffs which Sabbath would build around, and the group’s chief songwriter, but he also played a vital role as a peacekeeper. Without him, there would have been no Black Sabbath. Even when things became chaotic, and they had an open-door policy on band members, Iommi made sure that against all the odds, somehow everything stayed in check.
Butler solely holds fond memories about his days spent working alongside Iommi. He has the utmost respect for him, not just on a human level, but the bassist also believes he is a guitarist of unmatched ability to whom he partially owes his career.
“It was always magical playing with Tony,” he reflected in an interview with Classic Rock. “We never had to discuss anything; it just seemed to happen. He never once doubted me, and if I felt unsure of something, he would always encourage me and trust that I’d make the right choice myself. To me, he’s the greatest guitarist ever.”
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In another interview with For Bass Players Only, Butler reiterated his point regarding the importance of Iommi and name-checked him as the reason why Sabbath’s music continues to endure. “I think it’s because Tony’s riffs were absolutely amazing, and I think every guitar player tried to play ‘Iron Man’ or ‘War Pigs’ or ‘Paranoid.’ I’ve had so many people over the years come up to me to say, ‘The first thing I ever learned on guitar was ‘Iron Man’.’
“It’s not mind-boggling science or anything, the stuff we were doing. The first three albums were, like, live in the studio,” he continued. “It’s just raw. Because it’s so live-sounding, it doesn’t date. And the subject matter was a lot different to what everyone else was writing. So we had our own integrity kind of thing.”
Whether Iommi is the greatest guitarist of all time is subjective, but Butler does make a convincing albeit biased case. He’s a name that seldom appears during debates on this topic, and his greatness is underappreciated despite everything he has achieved.
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