By Brian Ives
Today marks the beginning of the end for Black Sabbath. In a few hours, the legendary heavy metal band kick off their final tour at the Centurylink Centre in Omaha, Nebraska.
Of course, frontman Ozzy Osbourne‘s first retirement came back in the ’90s, so it’s understandable that fans may be skeptical when he says “last tour.” But Ozzy was in his 40’s back then; now Osbourne and bandmates Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are in their late 60’s, which actually is retirement age. And for years, Iommi has been fighting lymphoma, and the tour needs to be routed around his therapy.
As Butler tells Radio.com, “We keep getting asked if this is really the last tour, and yes, it really is. Because we’re up there in age, we can’t go on forever. We’re still good at what we do and that’s the way to finish it.”
And after the band scored their first #1 album with their last release, 2013’s 13, they felt it would be best to go out on a high note. As Ozzy told Radio.com, “The reason why we didn’t do another album is if it didn’t go to #1… we didn’t want to end on a lesser note. We just left it as it was. We were all on the same page with it.”
“It wasn’t a tough decision,” Butler says. “But it was a natural decision. We all thought about doing one more tour when we were coming to the end of the 13 tour, because the older you get, the harder it gets. The easy part is when you’re going on stage playing to the crowd. But the hard part is the traveling and waking up with aches and pains. We wanted to go out at the top rather than dragging it out until nobody was interested anymore. So, after having a #1 album, we thought, ‘It’s not gonna get any better than this.'”
There was, of course, some temptation to try and repeat the success of 13. “We thought about doing another album but it took three years to do the last album, if it took another three years we’d all be in our 70s.” Butler laughs darkly. “That’s if we all live that long!”
For this tour, they’re planning on ditching some of the newer songs to bring back some classics. “We’re going back to do almost all of the Paranoid album, apart from ‘Planet Caravan,'” he says, explaining that “We could do it, but it wouldn’t work live, it would sound weird during a Sabbath set. It works on an album, but it isn’t great live. There’s a couple of other songs that we haven’t done for a long time.”
Like, which songs? “‘After Forever’ and a few others,” Ozzy reveals. “People have written in and asked us for other songs. The one thing about having a lot of records, is not everybody likes the same songs. If we did what everybody suggested we do in the set, we’d be there for f—ing three weeks!”
One big question on the minds of Sabbath fans: how is Tony Iommi doing? Butler says, “He’s doing really well, he’s really looked after himself. That’s why the tour is structured in six week increments: six weeks on, six weeks off. Because he has to have his checkups every six weeks. His cancer is in remission and hopefully it will stay that way. He’s living exactly by the doctor’s orders.”
Ozzy adds, “If I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I’d be like, ‘That’s it, I’m done!’ But he just deals with it. When we were working on 13, we went to his place in England, and I remember saying to him, ‘Tony, if it gets to be too much, just say so.’ And he’d say, ‘I’d rather have something to do than to just sit around thinking about it.’ Which is probably the right thing, isn’t it?”
Another question on the minds of fans pertains to the absence of founding drummer Bill Ward. Ward wasn’t a part of their last tour (Tommy Cluefetos, from Ozzy’s solo band, has been Sabbath’s touring drummer), and he didn’t play on 13 (which featured Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave). Ozzy insinuated in a 2013 interview with British magazine Mojo that part of the problem was that Ward may not have been in good enough shape to do a Sabbath tour. “We all had to ask, ‘Can he do an hour-and-a-half, two-hour gig?’” He revealed that when the band rehearsed with Ward, the drummer had Post-It notes all over his kit to help him remember his parts. “He didn’t come clean and say, ‘I can’t cut this gig but can we work something out, guys, where I’ll come on but with another drummer backing me up?’ His pride was hurt and I get it. The guy will always be a dear, dear friend and a brother to me, but you either s*** or get off the pot.”
But with this being the last tour, is there any shot at a resolution with Ward? Perhaps he could join them for a few songs at their final concert September 16 in Phoenix? “It’s been mentioned to him,” Butler confirms. “But he doesn’t want to do it. He wants to do the whole tour or nothing. We’d love him to come on at the very last gig and be part of the whole thing, but he didn’t want to do that. And I understand: I wouldn’t want to be asked to come out just for the last gig. It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is.”
Ozzy adds, “If he’s there, he’s welcome [to play]. But I don’t really want to talk too much about Bill Ward! Because every time I do, he starts getting pissed off at me! Things are quiet between us right now, you know?”
Butler: “It’s a shame that Bill won’t be a part of it, but whatever happened, happened. It’s great that at least the three of us can end it on a high note and be friends together.” But he adds, “I still get on with Bill, I saw him last year at some award show. We got on great, we had a laugh together. It’s not personal, as Bill would say, it’s business.”
Both Ozzy and Butler say that they don’t plan on retiring, and both have vague plans for what they’ll do after the last Sabbath show. “I’d like to do another GZR album, to be honest,” Butler says, referring to the side project he recorded with between 1995 and 2005. “I’ve got so much stuff written.” However, he hasn’t even thought about what musicians or vocalists he’d work with. “I’ve never planned the future, because when you do, it never works out. I remember saying to someone once that I’d never play in Sabbath again, and the next day Ozzy calls me up and asks me if I’d do Sabbath again. I’ve learned not to plan ahead.”
Osbourne will continue with his solo career; he says he thinks he’ll stick with his most recent solo band, which features Cluefetos, guitarist Gus G. and bassist Blasko. “But it’s too early to say. I’ve been writing, I’ve got a few songs right now.” Any chance of a reunion with his longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde? “It’s a possibility, I’m not saying no or yes, it’s up to him as well. I haven’t really spoken to him about it. We contact each other all the time. We’ve never fallen out. And he’s f—ing crazier than me!”
When told that Wylde still refers to Ozzy as “The Boss,” he laughs: “He doesn’t answer to anybody! It’s just his way of calling me an old fart, I suppose.”
He’s also excited about an upcoming History Channel show (the title and dates have yet to be announced) that will see him traveling around the world with his son Jack. “We just got back from Cuba, we did a lot of stuff in the Badlands and other places around America. It’s been really interesting!”
Ozzy Osbourne (@OzzyOsbourne) January 11, 2016
While he surely has earned his retirement—financially, and artistically—Osbourne says he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his days at home. “I’m not stopping! If I stop, I’ll die!”
For a full list of tour dates, go to Black Sabbath’s official website.