Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi Receives Gibson Les Paul Award
"Many thanks to Q Magazine and to Gibson," commented Iommi. "I have a long history with the guitar-maker." To commemorate the event, Gibson compiled some thoughts about why Iommi is so deserving of this special honor.
He invented a new genre of music: Sure, the phrase "heavy metal" had been invoked before (check out the lyrics to "Born to Be Wild"), but it was Iommi's minor pentatonic riffs, combined with "doom-and-gloom" imagery, that truly gave birth to the genre. "Every time I'm questioned about this, it's been confusing for me," Iommi told Gibson.com, in 2008. "It's just something that came out of me that was totally different because it was like doomy and the riffs were a bit frightening. And you know, it was something that I felt. It's really a mystical thing."
He's met-and conquered-adversity: Dating back to when he severed the tips of two fretting fingers, in a pre-Black Sabbath accident, Iommi has always persevered in the face of potential setbacks. Early on, in 1974, he explained how he adapted in the wake of the injury, with the help of thimbles as prosthetics. "I had to start all over again, which was kind of a drag," he said. "It involved a lot of determination and a lot of hard work and practice. I had to adopt a totally different way of playing. I mean, it's much easier when the flesh is there as it should be. Instead of, say, pulling a note, I have to sort of push it up to get a vibrato."
He's a riff maestro: From "Iron Man" to "Paranoid," from "War Pigs" to "Children of the Grave," Black Sabbath's songs have been powered primarily by riffs that, today, are etched into the fabric of classic metal. With characteristic humility, Iommi tends to downplay that singular gift. "[Drummer] Bill Ward may have played something and I just reacted to it," he told Gibson.com, explaining the origins of the riff for "Iron Man." "But I'm not sure, I really don't know. Without Bill and Ozzy that song would have never happened. I think it came at rehearsal. It was one of those occasions where I said, 'I've got a riff, I'll come up with something.' Then I just built it, worked on it from that. A lot of that stuff came fairly quickly; it just sort of happened."
His influence is pervasive: The likes of Judas Priest, Megadeth, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer-even Nirvana-would be unthinkable were it not for the pioneering impact of Iommi's work. Mastodon's Brent Hinds spoke for many when he wrote these words for Rolling Stone: "I remember the first time I heard Black Sabbath. My older brother got their album, Master of Reality, from a kid who lived next door. The music just struck me like lightning. Tony is a metal pioneer, but there's a real finesse to his playing; it's not all that fast. His phrasing has such a classic vibe, and I draw a lot of inspiration from Tony's trilling. I truly enter the Iommi-sphere every time I put a guitar on."
He's always taken the high road: Rock and rollers tend to be notorious back-biters. But … sift through the voluminous interviews Iommi has done through the years, and you'll be hard-pressed to find unkind words about anyone, including bandmates, former bandmates and peers. In 2008, Guitar World asked Iommi to recall his initial reaction to Ozzy Osbourne's first solo album, Blizzard of Oz. "It was good," he said. "I loved Randy [Rhoad's] playing. I didn't rush out right away to buy Ozzy's album because I was into what we were doing at the time. But I was pleased for Ozzy. It was the spark that got him going, and it was exactly what he needed." Later, in 2013, Iommi was asked about drummer Bill Ward's refusal to rejoin the band, purportedly over money issues. "It would've been nice to have had Bill involved," Iommi told Mercury News. "But we waited long enough for Bill, and what can we do? We can't make him do it. It was his decision. It was sad." Read more here.
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