EXCLUSIVE: A cornerstone of the very foundation of Heavy Metal, Geezer Butler's contribution to music cannot be overstated. With an unmistakable rumble that underpinned Black Sabbath's doomy dirge, the man born Terence Butler was also the band's key lyricist, penning countless classics, from 'War Pigs', to 'Paranoid', to 'Children of the Grave' and beyond. Away from the Brummie legends however, Geezer has made three albums with nephew Pedro Howse - now reissued under his own name. We caught up with the hand of doom for a chat about all things GZR, working with Ozzy Osbourne's solo band, and the final years of Black Sabbath. Nativity in black; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Geezer, your solo catalogue is finally getting a welcome re-release; you must be proud to see these albums becoming available again; have you listened back to them?
I listened to the white labels of the vinyls, but haven’t yet got the actual retail versions, so can’t really comment.
The direction you took with these differs significantly from your original solo outing in 1984 [demos of the songs ‘Computer God’ and ‘Outworld’ can be found on YouTube]; why is this?
I wanted to go a lot heavier with ‘Plastic Planet’ as I had a lot of anger in me, and I was lucky enough to be able to express my anger and disillusionment through my music. It was the perfect way to exorcise my demons at that time.
The Geezer / G//Z/R albums are the heaviest of your career, and contemporary of the time they were released; was this a conscious decision, and were you being influenced by the music of the time?
I was influenced, among other things, on ‘Plastic Plant’, by my nephew Pedro [Peter ‘Pedro’ Howse, guitarist on all three Geezer Butler albums], who had a thrash band I used to go and see called Crazy Angel. They were extremely heavy, and when I started writing with him, my music became heavier and I was able to get my riffs and ideas over to him without much explaining to do. He knew exactly what I wanted, so we had a great working relationship.
Did you think, at the time that the sound might open up to a younger audience that were into the likes of the big metal band of the time; Fear Factory / Sepultura / Marilyn Manson etc?
I really wasn’t thinking about who the albums appealed to; I had no agenda other than to follow my heart and write music that gave me pleasure, and not for money or the legacy I had to live up to. I enjoyed the freedom of doing exactly, near enough, what I wanted, and have fun doing it.
Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell provided the vocals on ‘Plastic Planet’; why did Burt get the gig, and what was it like working with him?
Well, first of all, he was great to work with and have a laugh with, and I liked his approach with Fear Factory. He really got into what we were doing. I had tried other singers, but Burt totally got what the music was about and the direction it was taking.
Click here for our 2020 interview with Burton C. Bell where he discusses the making of 'Plastic Planet'.
‘Drive Boy Shooting’, from ‘Plastic Planet’ is one of the most underrated metal songs of the 90s; tell me about that one.
At the time there was a surge of drive by shootings in the USA; just kids driving around randomly shooting people, without any consequence, and it was seemingly ignored by the authorities. It was sad to see these children killing each other just for kicks, and it being accepted as just another way of life in the USA.
You decided to go with another singer - Clark Brown - for 1997’s ‘Black Science’, however the rest of the team from ‘Plastic Planet’ was retained; why was Burton not asked back for another stint?
He was busy with Fear Factory, who were touring and recording their own stuff.
‘Give Up the Ghost’, from ‘Plastic Planet’ is allegedly about your feelings towards Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath at the time; is this true, and was that because of the post-Dehumanizer, Cross Purposes era?
No, it was about my disillusionment with Sabbath at the time. It was about leaving Sabbath behind and starting fresh with my life without Sabbath. It was a big decision, but I needed the freedom leaving Sabbath would give me. The original lyrics were probably three times longer than what was on the album, but Burt had to edit them down to suit his singing.
Speaking of Sabbath’s ‘Dehumanizer’, your deep friendship with Ronnie James Dio was very evident; is it true that the seeds of that reunion in 1992 came from you going to a Dio gig and getting up to jam?
Yes, I was in Indianapolis at the time and Dio were playing at the local arena. I hadn’t seen Ronnie for years – we had an on-again, off-again friendship – and I decided to go along and see him. I ended up on stage jamming on ‘Neon Knights’ and we got on great, leading to the reunion on ‘Dehumanizer’.
There are some incredible songs on that album – I, After All, TV Crimes, Time Machine – do you think it’s overlooked in the band’s discography?
Yes, I think it’s quite underrated, but as long as we’re happy with it, that’s the whole point of reuniting.
You didn’t have much involvement with Sabbath outside of your initial stint up until 1983, but what can you tell me about working on the 'Cross Purposes' album in 1993 with the Tony Martin era; was your heart in it?
Yes, I enjoyed that album, as I wrote quite a bit of it, however, towards the end of the tour, I had lost interest in that particular line-up. I thought Tony Martin had a great voice and did a great job on the album. One of the highlights was when Eddie Van Halen came down to the rehearsal place and jammed with us and helped write one of the songs. I’ve no idea what happened to the tape, but that was great seeing and jamming with Eddie again [Van Halen toured with Black Sabbath in 1980]. I can’t believe he’s no longer with us.
How was it ‘changing sides’ and joining Ozzy’s solo band in 1988? What was that ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ period like; the Moscow Peace Festival footage is fantastic!
It was nice working with Ozzy again, but I was drunk most of the time, so don’t recall much of it. The Moscow Peace Festival was amazing while we were at the stadium, but the hotel was horrendous. We had brought a truck load of British food and bog roll with us, as there wasn’t much food, and no bog roll at all to be had in the Communist Soviet Russia. Being a lifelong vegetarian / vegan, there wasn’t anything at the hotel I could eat, so I used to bring food back with me. One night, I placed my sandwich on the floor as there was no table, got up to get a book to read, and when I looked, the sandwich was black with cockroaches! It was definitely a great advert for capitalism!
How did you enjoy the final Black Sabbath tour?
I had a great time on the final tour, especially knowing it was the end. I seemed to put a lot of extra effort in, knowing that people wouldn’t see us again. I would have liked to do more dates, but Tony’s cancer treatment meant we had to shorten the tour.
You returned to the stage with Deadland Ritual last year; how did you enjoy those dates, and post-COVID, might we see a final date from Black Sabbath at your beloved Aston Villa’s Villa Park to close out the band’s career?
I enjoyed the Deadland Ritual mini-tour, but it was strange not headlining the festivals and playing small clubs. We had an album worth of songs to record, then COVID struck, which put an end to recording, so I’m not sure if Deadland Ritual will ever carry on. There will definitely be no more Sabbath – it’s done.
Finally, what have you been doing during lockdown? Since Ozzy has done a book, as has Tony Iommi, as a writer and keen fan or literature, surely the Geezer Butler autobiography could be in the works?
Yes, I am compiling lists for my memoirs. I’ll be locking myself away in January to finally put all the pieces together and finally finish the book. Meanwhile, I’ve read about thirty books over the past six months. I love reading. I’ve also watched tonnes of TV, been on road trips around the USA, and experimented with various bases, guitars and effects. I’ve enjoyed being at home with my wife and animals, and seeing my grandkids every week. So, hopefully next year will be COVID-free, and very productive!
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Check out Black Sabbath Super Deluxe Editions and vinyl at Townsend Music.
Geezer Butler's reissued ‘Plastic Planet’ ‘Ohmwork’ and ‘Black Science’ are available now.