Interview With Tony Iommi of Heaven & Hell: Knowing The Devil

Having worked with so many different people, so many musicians and singers, do you adapt your playing style at all, or is it just riffs and then the song comes together?

Usually it’s just riffs, depending on who you’re working with. Certainly with Ronnie I know what the style is going to be and we work together to make the song and all come up with a riff and that’s initially how it starts. Whoever comes up with a riff that we all like and then we’ll make it into a song. Ronnie’ll start singing on a riff and then we’ll look for another section to fit and it sort of builds up that way and all the ideas are thrown in to help.

Comparing someone like Ronnie to Glenn Hughes and working with different kinds of singers, does that affect what you’re feeling to write?

I think it’s a matter of the way of writing, because each singer has different ways. Glenn may hear something or Ronnie may hear something that another singer probably wouldn’t on a particular riff. Some of the songs when I was working with Glenn before, there was a couple of things he picked that I wouldn’t have thought he’d sing on that he did. It’s good because it sends you to another way of writing. They may hear something over a certain riff that you wouldn’t think they would and you sort of go, ‘Oh, that’s good, that’s interesting.’ Each one has their own different ways.

Tony Iommi (Chapman Baehler)Speaking of Ronnie, something occurred to me listening to the song ‘Rock And Roll Angel.’ When a song is all put together and Ronnie comes back with the lyrics and it says, ‘Caravan To Superman’ and all that kind of stuff, do you ever just ask him what the hell he’s talking about?

(Laughs) Yeah. He usually comes along and says, ‘I’ve got this idea,’ and he explains it. He’s usually quite good. He has a way of explaining what he’s singing about. We do leave that to Ronnie. I certainly don’t get involved in doing lyrics, that’s for sure. I’m quite content doing all the riffs and the rest of the stuff.

A lot of guitarists give into that temptation, and you never really have.

No, not really. I could get involved with melody lines, but I don’t really get involved with the lyrics. Certainly in the old stuff, when we’d done the Ozzy stuff, he used to follow the riff a lot, ‘Iron Man’ and certain other songs he followed the riff. He sang the same as the riff. But as far as any kind of lyrical thing, I don’t get involved.

Maybe it just doesn’t matter at this point, but in terms of dealing with expectations, there’s the myth of Tony Iommi and there’s the guy who needs to sit there and write these riffs and go on tour. Are you conscious of what people expect from you and the band when you’re writing?

Well yes. They expect something of a high level, and I do myself. I try and do the best I can at that time and I wouldn’t expect any less. You have to go out and try and do the best you can, hoping that people are going to like it. You do have expectations to keep up with.

Is how something might be received a factor when you’re writing and arranging the songs?

No, how the writing is, is we agree we all have to like it. We have to feel it. You don’t think, ‘Oh, are people going to like this?’ You don’t really think like that because you have to write how you feel and you have to like it. You have to do it from your feelings. If I started writing for other people, I’d probably be doing pop stuff. Years ago, people’d say, ‘You shouldn’t be playing this stuff, you should be playing more commercial stuff.’ If I listened to them, god knows what I’d be playing. I have my own mind of what I want it to sound like.