Tony and Eddie tour the world in Black Sabbath & Van Halen, 1978! Photo by Ross Halfin.
Any short-list of the greatest riff-makers of all-time would be incomplete without Tony Iommi’s name inscribed in bold letters. Beginning with Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album, Iommi ushered in a dark, sludgy sound that through the years has impacted bands as varied as Nirvana and Metallica. To commemorate his birthday—Iommi turns 69 today (2/19/17)—we’re featuring a conversation he and his good friend Edward Van Halen had a few years ago. This was from Guitar World’s, 30th Anniversary 2010 issue. Two legends praising each other!
GUITAR WORLD: Ed, I understand that in the very early days of Van Halen you originally wanted to call the band Rat Salad.
VAN HALEN Yeah, that’s right. We played just about every Black Sabbath song. I used to sing lead on every Black Sabbath song we did—things like “Into the Void,” “Paranoid,” and “Lord of This World.” When we toured with Black Sabbath in 1978, they scared the shit out of us. I’ll tell you a funny story that I’ll never forget.
I walked up to Tony and began to ask him, “Second song on side two of Master of Reality…” Tony looked at me and went, “What the fuck, mate?” By that time Black Sabbath had several records out, but we had only one album out so I knew where every track on our first record was. A few years later somebody asked me a question in the same way, and I was going, Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
The first thing that popped in my head was that incident with Tony! At first I thought it was odd that he couldn’t remember what was on his records, and then it happened to me.
Black Sabbath and Van Halen toured together for eight months in 1978. What effect did you have on each other?
VAN HALEN To me, Tony is the master of riffs. That’s what I loved. I’m not knocking Ozzy or his singing, but listen to “Into the Void.” That riff is some badass shit. It was beyond surf music and jazz. It was beyond anything else I had ever heard. It was so fuckin’ heavy. I put it right up there with [sings the four-note intro to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony]. Listen to the main riff, where he chugs on the low E string. It hits you like a brick wall.
Tony, what did you think of Van Halen?
IOMMI From the very first minute I heard them I knew straight away that they were something special. The way that Ed plays is very different. He came up with a style that’s been imitated a million times. And they had great songs. Often after the shows we would get together in my room and chat about guitars. We’d ramble on for about 10 hours before we’d go to bed.
VAN HALEN Or not. [laughs]
IOMMI That’s right! [laughs] I really enjoyed that tour. Brian May is the only other guitar player I’ve ever associated with, and we’ve never been on tour together.
VAN HALEN I was just telling Matt [Bruck] this morning that out of all the people I’ve ever met—all the celebrities and rock and roll stars—I fuckin’ love this guy. He’s the sweetest, most humble, down to earth, normal guy. He has no attitude, and look at what this guy has done! I could name a handful of people who I still respect but no longer look up to. After I met them I was like, Fuck you! You’re no better than I am as a person. So many people are a bunch of pompous fuckin’ pricks. What makes them think their shit doesn’t stink? Tony is still like a brother even after all these years.
We found two more quotes from Tony, about Eddie:
“Eddie Van Halen was probably the most influential. He’s the one who set the trend of tapping. Eddie is the one who really made the mark.” Tony Iommi, (from Guitar Player magazine)
Eddie is a truly great player, writer, and above all, an innovator in everything he does. I’m proud to say that he is one of my very dear friends. —Tony Iommi (from Van Halen: A Visual History, 1978-1984, by Neil Zlozower)
Here’s one more tidbit relating to Tony and Eddie. In the video clip below, That Metal Show co-host Jim Florentine raises a long standing metal legend–namely, that, on the 1978 Never Say Die tour, opening act Van Halen blew headliners Black Sabbath clear off the stage. Tony gives his answer, joined by funnyman Don Jamieson.