Black Sabbath's Bill Ward

Bill Ward is the founding drummer of Black Sabbath, one of the earliest and most definitive of heavy metal bands.

Ward was born in Birmingham, England, and began playing drums as a child. A teenage Ward met guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler while they were 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 UK 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 group 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 group'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, Masters of Reality (1971), Volume 4 (1972) and Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath (1973), were menacing, effective metal with no apologies, albums that cemented their reputation in the genre. But Osbourne left the band after Never Say Die (1978), 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 for a few years.

The original members of Black Sabbath released the Reunion LP, featuring tracks such as "War Pigs" (RealAudio excerpt), in 1998, and toured together for the first time in decades last year.

The group was a big influence on later practitioners of metal such as Soundgarden and Metallica.

Other birthdays Friday: Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen), 41, and Steve Stevens, 40.