Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has no problem organizing his priorities. So when Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne called him early this year and told him they wanted Black Sabbath to headline the 2005 Ozzfest, he postponed plans to tour with his own band, Iommi, in order to head back to the stage with Sabbath.
However, by committing so resolutely to Sabbath, Iommi has been unable to support the recent release of his second solo album, Fused, a granite-solid slab that sounds more like a groove-saturated cross between Deep Purple and Audioslave than anything by Sabbath.
Fittingly enough, Iommi was joined on the record by ex-Deep Purple singer/bassist Glenn Hughes (who sang with Sabbath in the '80s), session drummer extraordinaire Kenny Aronoff and bassist/keyboardist Bob Marlette, who also produced the disc and co-wrote all of the songs. Now that Ozzfest is done, Iommi and his bandmates plan to hit the rehearsal studio, then tour to support Fused.
"I'm really looking forward to playing onstage with these guys," Iommi said on a down day from Ozzfest. "Kenny and Glenn have lots of enthusiasm and they certainly push me when we're all playing together, which is great."
Incidentally, if you had asked Iommi two years ago what he hoped to be doing in 2005, he'd have said he wanted to be promoting a new Black Sabbath album, not a new Iommi disc. At the time, Sabbath were in the studio in Wales working on new material. But progress was slow, and by the time the bandmembers went their separate ways, they had ideas for about only six songs — ideas that have been gathering dust since then. At present, Black Sabbath have no plans to return to the studio to record those or any other songs.
"I've waited around a long time to do a Sabbath album, and it's getting frustrating," Iommi said. "I'm getting bored with the idea of waiting around any longer and I've got a lot of music to put out and I just want to do it. I wanted to go and really work on being in a band. So basically, that motivated me into making an album with Glenn and Kenny. It's a great band and a great outlet."
Iommi and Marlette started writing songs for Fused more than a year ago at Iommi's studio in Warwickshire, England. Then, when Hughes and the guitarist got together to finish up the nearly decade-old recordings that were released last year on The DEP Sessions: 1996, the onetime Sabbath bandmates decided to pen some new tunes as well. "I just played Glenn some riffs and we started making things up right away," Iommi recalled. "It was amazing — I'd come up with a part and by the time it was ready, he'd have two or three different melodies for it. Then I played him a couple of the tracks I did with Bob and he really liked them, so we worked with those, too."
Next, Iommi and Hughes called in Aronoff and Marlette and recorded Fused in about six weeks late last winter, mostly at studios in Wales and London. Instead of laying down the guitar, bass and keyboard tracks separately and then doing overdubs and vocals, the musicians rehearsed the songs thoroughly, then recorded them with everyone playing at the same time.
"We wanted it to have the same feel as a band playing live," Iommi said. "It all fell into place very quickly, almost too quickly. It was so simple. I'd love to do another album with these guys because they're all so good to work with. With Black Sabbath, we take a really long time over rehearsals and pulling ideas together. And we tend to rehearse for two or three hours and then that's it. But with Glenn and Kenny, we'll be in there playing for a full six hours and we'll want to keep going."
Even though he's eager to start touring for Fused, Iommi said it was no sacrifice to postpone those plans for Ozzfest. Ozzy recently announced that this summer was the last Ozzfest he will headline, although he may play occasional shows in the future (see "Ozzy Retires As Ozzfest Headliner: 'It's Time For Me To Move On' "). "We really get into it," he said. "I go for walks with [drummer] Bill [Ward] and we talk about the band and the shows and our lives. It's a good vibe. The only unfortunate thing is when we have to cancel shows, which is really disappointing. Ozzy's had a problem with his throat recently. He had to fly back to see a specialist in Los Angeles and he was as upset as anybody. But it's one of things you can't do anything about. If his voice goes, it goes. What can you do?"