Black Sabbath's Bill Ward

Today is the 50th birthday of Bill Ward, famous for being the drummer

during the heyday of Black Sabbath, one of the definitive heavy-metal

bands. Ward was born in Birmingham, England, and began playing drums as

a child. A teen-age Ward met guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Terry

"Geezer" Butler while they were all in school in industrial Birmingham.

In 1968, they met singer Ozzy Osbourne and formed Earth, a pop-rock,

jazz-blues group. The following year, they began playing hard

metal-rock and changed their name to Black Sabbath. After their eponymous

debut album reached the U.K. top 10, the band became, along with Deep

Purple and Led Zeppelin, one of the most popular of the early heavy-metal

outfits. While the fans loved them, the critics often derided them for their bone-

crushing, gloomy, plodding music, and the band received virtually no radio

airplay. Despite these obstacles, the title song from Black Sabbath's second

album, Paranoid, became their only hit single ever, and the band was on

its way to million-selling status.

The band's dark lyrics (mostly about the occult, drugs and insanity) and

stage show earned them the label of Satanists, which the band played around

with -- though denied -- throughout its early career. The image was

fostered by Osbourne's public antics, including biting off the head of a

bat and seeing "The Exorcist" numerous times. Sabbath's next three

albums, 1971's Masters of Reality, 1972's Volume 4 and

1973's Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath, were menacing, effective metal

with no apologies, albums that cemented their reputation in the genre. But

Osbourne left the band after 1978's Never Say Die to be

succeeded by numerous singers, including Ronnie James Dio, and Black

Sabbath were

never the same again. Ward quit in 1980 only to rejoin a different

Sabbath lineup in 1983. His return was short-lived, and although Ward

attempted another reunion with his Sabbath bandmates in 1994, he

concentrated on his own Bill Ward Band. In late 1997, the original

Sabbath lineup, including Ward and Osbourne, reunited for two concerts

in Birmingham, England. Stories of a lasting reunion remain only

rumors. Ward's band recently released the album When The Bough

Breaks on Cleopatra Records. Whatever their fate, Black Sabbath

enjoyed tremendous popularity among young record-buyers in the '70s and

'80s and were a big influence on later practitioners of metal such as

Soundgarden and Metallica.

Other birthdays: Johnnie Taylor, 60; Ian McCulloch (Echo and the

Bunnymen/Electrafixion), 39 ... Tammy Wynette, 1942-1998.