That Time Ronnie James Dio Saved Black Sabbath’s Bacon
We’re back with more Halloween heavy metal fun, as I Penguin Pete my way through Decibel Magazine’s Precious Metal – 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. In this book, Decibel magazine arranged interviews with the band about the making of landmark metal albums all over the scene; I was mentioning it last time I wrote about Entombed.
But let’s switch to classic metal this time, in fact one of the founding albums of the genre. We are of course talking about Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell (1980), and how remarkable it is that the album came out sounding so good while switching leading men mid-album. The book leads with the Black Sabbath interview which was conducted in 2008, hence being one of the final interviews Ronnie James Dio ever did. That makes it even later than this Toazted interview about the reunited band named after the album in 2007!:
Stick around for more of those links, my precious cosmic blueberries! I’ve been saving up a few of them for this.
Black Sabbath Fired Ozzy Osbourne
In the late 1970s, Ozzy Osbourne had… a thing. His substance abuse was legendary, but at this point it began to affect his work. He is still so famous for his substance abuse, in fact, that he verily was the subject of a DNA test to explain how he’s survived this long while partying his ass off. I know this sounds like another rock star urban legend, but that really happened, and the Discover article is rather well-researched for a change. Briefly, he has several mutated genes which cause his liver to metabolize drugs differently from the rest of us - blah blah blah. When it comes to drugs, Ozzy has Deadpool superpowers.
If you had Deadpool superpowers, you’d lose all party inhibitions too. Ozzy basically lived on booze and coke, and while his superpowers protected him from an overdose, it certainly didn’t stop him from being a huge pain to everyone around him. But this was 1980, and Black Sabbath, the band, with a contract saying they owed an album to Warner Brothers. As Tommy Iommi tells it in the Decibel interview, Warner was calling up every day to check how the album was going, and Iommi would assure them every day it was fine. But things were the opposite of fine, with Ozzy just too doped up and carefree to work. Geezer Butler sums it up as “None of us were happy about Ozzy going,” but they knew it needed to be done.
This story is famous enough that I needn’t reiterate the outcome: Ozzy went solo, cleaned up his act (but never stayed on the wagon completely), and has owned up himself that, more or less, getting fired from Black Sabbath was just the ass-kick he needed (albeit grudgingly). Few of us are granted such an easy redemption arc.
BUT! Black Sabbath needed a lead man in the worst way now, and they pretty much called up Ronnie James Dio out of desperation. Can a band eight albums deep in their career, all gold albums mind yah, switch captains mid-ship and still stay afloat?
“Children of the Sea” Was Written in Minutes
Ronnie James Dio relates in the interview that he just rolled up to the house, rang the doorbell, and minutes later the band members, sans Ozzy (Dio didn’t even learn of Ozzy’s firing until later) were showing him a song they were working on. Tony, Geezer, and Bill played a few licks for Dio, who responded “give me a few minutes, I think I can knock something out.” And that’s just about how fast “Children of the Sea” was composed.
The second track on the Heaven and Hell album, “Children of the Sea” has to be one of the most enigmatic. Just look at the attempts to interpret it (and please think of signing up to add your own)! The song seems to carry some kind of environmental parable, but it also seems to be describing the lost colony of Atlantis. Many a rock song is based on fantasy themes from literature, even to the point that fans made up a nickname for this sub-genre, “heavy mithril” to describe metal bands with fantasy-themed lyrics. But in the case of “Children of the Sea,” it seems like a mish-mosh of anything from Harlan Ellison to H.P. Lovecraft.
Knowing it was only written in a few minutes is the best interpretation we have of the song. Hey, it’s a boss tune!
It’s like Dio relates above in that video clip, work ethic is important. Geezer Butler relates that working with Dio was exactly what the band needed – someone with enthusiasm. Contrary to the rock star stereotype, which Ozzy played up to the hilt (and all the Black Sabbath members were admittedly living out loud), Ronnie James Dio was a hard-working family man who was up at 8 AM with coffee in hand, ready to crank out a song.
Bonus Dio Capers…
The Toazted interview of “Heaven and Hell” wasn’t about the album, but the new (at the time) band formed by Dio and other Sabbath members for a mini-reunion tour lasting a few years in the aughts. Touchingly named in tribute to their definitive break-out collaboration.
Wanna hear Dio outline his philosophy applied to religious beliefs? Here’s his Banger interview in 2004…
And for a final spooky Halloween trivia bit, here’s Dio claiming that his former bandmate Richie Blackmore is a vampire.
...Richie didn’t seem too miffed about that, but naturally they were old friends:
Have yourself a very metal Halloween, folks! \m/ \m/