Monday, January 23, 2012

Tony Iommi With T. J. Lammers - Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath

Tony Iommi With T. J. Lammers
Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath
Da Capo Press/Perseus Books Group

Black Sabbath’s story has been dissected and discussed many times over the years, by numerous writers and historians, both through articles and novels. But despite everything written, the story behind the rise of the Birmingham (U.K.) based act hasn’t yet been penned from the perspective of those who were actually a part of the group itself in memoir form. That was until recently, when vocalist Ozzy Osbourne released his own take on all things Black Sabbath and solo career wise with his autobiography ‘I Am Ozzy’ (Which was released in 2010, and co-penned by Chris Ayres). While the book was a solid read, it was a little thin in places, and came across disappointing in regards to the Black Sabbath history. So when guitarist Tony Iommi announced his own plans to put his story down in literary form, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book and submerse myself in the true history behind one of the metal scene’s undisputed founding and most influential groups.
Years in the making, and aided by Dutch music journalist/critic T.J. Lammers, Iommi has finally unveiled his book ‘Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath’. And the end result? Well while the book is a worthy effort, it left me wanting more – and not in the way I had hoped for.
Naturally enough, Iommi starts the long story with his childhood and his tough upbringing both at home and at school. Not much has been said about Iommi’s childhood years, and the early chapters of the book are really insightful. Of course, the story behind Iommi’s accident that threatened his dream of being a guitarist is given plenty of pages here in the book. But what’s really interesting is the story that goes beyond the accident, in which Iommi explains how much his technique changes (From modifying his guitar strings down to the way he plays the strings themselves) and how he’s had to experiment with prosthetics over the years.
From here, Iommi runs through the history of his earlier groups, and the eventual formation of Earth (Who would later be known as Black Sabbath). Iommi doesn’t get bogged down with too much detail, so the story generally moves quite quickly. But what it may lack in minor details, it makes up in straight-forwardness and humour. Iommi is a really funny storyteller, and there’s plenty of laugh out loud moments in the early chapters (And throughout the remainder of the book for that matter!).
It’s around the story of the band making their self-titled debut (Not before Iommi attempted to find a real job, and joined Jethro Tull for the briefest of periods) that the story really starts to pick up pace, and loses something with its absence of detail. Sure, Iommi packs the chapters of the original line-up with plenty of funny stories and a guide as to the events that took place in chronological order, but there’s a lot of details behind the actual making of the albums (Not to mention the stories behind the songs themselves) that is sadly absent for the diehard fan that wants to really get the full story.
Outside of the story of Black Sabbath and their music, Iommi goes into great detail behind the fame and fortune the band enjoyed as part of the original line-up, and the difficulties in keeping the band together with the influx of drugs that goes with the said success. The stories behind the making of ‘Technical Ecstasy’ (1976) and ‘Never Say Die!’ (1978), and Ozzy’s eventual parting ways with the band provides the book with some fascinating chapters, and coupled with what Iommi was going through on a personal level, it’s understandable why the albums are so different sounding to the band’s early efforts.
Plenty has been documented about the late Ronnie James Dio’s tenure with the band, but Iommi still manages to keep the chapters amusing and informative (The chapter entitled ‘Ignition’ is absolute gold!), as too is Iommi’s take on what eventually led  the end of Dio’s time with the group.
Some of the best stories are unsurprisingly around the time of ‘Born Again’ (1983), when Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan took on the role as front man. Tales of excessive drinking, getting trashed, miniature Stonehenge stage sets and the use of bongos during live performances are just some of the more over the top stories contained within.
It’s around here, a little over the halfway mark that the Black Sabbath story gets a little darker and confusing, and where Iommi’s book gets really interesting. The succession of vocalists that took on the front man role (Glenn Hughes, the late Ray Gillan and Tony Martin) is explained in a forthright manner, and sheds a whole new light on Black Sabbath’s lost years, for those who have always wanted to know the real story behind the continual line-up changes.
Ever present is Iommi’s personal story, where tales of financial troubles (Both personally and band wise), girlfriends, family and drugs flesh out the Black Sabbath story, and help paint a portrait of where Iommi was at in the late ‘80’s, and how he did everything to keep the band afloat against all odds.
Towards the tail end of the book, Iommi touches upon the Tony Martin era of the band without going into too much detail, but does concede that the return of Dio (For 1992’s ‘Dehumanizer’) was a great idea at the time, but counterproductive given that the line-up was short lived, and that the band’s final album ‘Forbidden’ (1995) was nothing short of crap.
As expected, the remainder of the book is filled with Iommi’s more recent happenings, including marriage (To Maria Sjöholm, of DRAIN S.T.H.), surgery on his wrist, collaborations with Glenn Hughes, Gillan and Dio, the untimely death of Dio and the possibility of a Black Sabbath reunion with  all four original members (Which has since been confirmed as going ahead).
Iommi has many stories to tell within ‘Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath’, and all of them are a riveting read. My only real concern is that while I really enjoyed the book, it was a little light on in terms of details when it came to talking about the music.
Diehard fans will get something out of this book, but not anywhere as much as casual fans will, which means that while it is an enjoyable (Not to mention easy as well) read, just don’t go expecting this to be the definitive word on all things Black Sabbath.

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© Justin Donnelly