British honour to Tony Iommi

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Tony Iommi: The Epiphone interview


It's no exaggeration that Tony Iommi changed the sound of rock and roll guitar in 1970 when Black Sabbath released their debut album. Sabbath's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography describes the band's pursuit of what were then unusual themes for rock--"war, social chaos, the supernatural, the afterlife, and the timeless conflict between good and evil. The group was a product of the late Sixties. It was a time when youthful idealism had begun to ebb amid the war in Vietnam, the influx of hard drugs, clashes with authority figures, and the bruising realities of working-class life (low wages, grim labor) that lay ahead for many of them."

The sound of 70s rock--in fact the transition from rock and roll to just Rock (with a capitol "R")-- can largely be credited to Iommi, who is known by fans and writers around the world as the Godfather of Heavy Metal. Take a moment to check out the power that Iommi brought to Sabbath from the very beginning in their live performance of "War Pigs." There was nothing like it in 1970 and today--45 years on--it's still thrilling to hear. Iommi's instantly memorable riffs, his gutsy tone, and equally gutsy life (in his youth he lost the fingertips on his right hand in a sheet metal factory accident and is a cancer survivor) have inspired every major guitarist of the last 40 years. It's hard to imagine AC/DC, KISS, Ozzy, or FM radio without him.

This spring, Tony appeared at the Epiphone booth at Musikmesse to preview his stunning new Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Tony Iommi Signature SG featuring Gibson USA Tony Iommi humbuckers. And when news of his appearance got out, fans waited hours just to get a glimpse of the man who for many is the definitive rock guitarist. Epiphone spoke with Tony about his love of SGs, designing his new Epiphone, and appreciating Black Sabbath.

- Thanks for speaking with us, Tony. You've helped design and customize guitars before. What did you want to do differently with your new Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Tony Iommi Signature SG?

- I wanted a top quality guitar that I would be able to use on stage and that everybody that buys one would have exactly the same as I use. I believe that the quality of my newest Epiphone is top notch. And it should certainly not be looked on as a cheap quality guitar because it is not.

- You've had a long relationship with Epiphone and Gibson. How did that start?

- I first started using the Gibson SG in 1968 when we recorded our first album, Black Sabbath. Before that I always used a Stratocaster. When we started to record our first album, I recorded one track, "Wicked World," with the Fender and then the pickup went faulty so my spare guitar - which I had never used before and had just recently bought - was the SG. After recording the whole of the rest of the album with the Gibson SG, I never went back to the Fender again. I stuck with the Gibson SG from then on. That became our trademark sound. My relationship with Epiphone came through Gibson when I was asked to do an Epiphone Tony Iommi SG.

- In the late 60s when you first started shopping for guitars in Birmingham, did you have many options?

- In the late 60s, for me - being left-handed and living in the UK - there were hardly any options at all (to) finding and buying a good left-handed guitar. That's why in the mid-60s I was lucky to find one of the few left handed guitars that I had seen.

- Black Sabbath is planning another album and tour. Do you enjoy being in the studio? What's that environment like for Black Sabbath?

- Recording the album 13 I really enjoyed. It was great being with all the guys and it all clicked into place. I had already written a lot of ideas before we hit the studio. It's been a different experience from album to album. Our first albums were done very quickly and live, and as time went on, we became more experimental and we spent more time in the studio trying different ideas. All in all, I enjoy being in the studio.

- When you're on the road with Sabbath now, what do you notice has changed for the group?

- We really appreciate each other's personalities and musicianship. We have a great respect for each other that was built over many years. We're all very appreciative and lucky to be in a position to be able to play together.

- Do you think in this age where people are texting - speaking in short hand and not face-to-face - that Black Sabbath would have formed had you all had mobile phones and social media in the late 60s?

- Probably not. Music was about meeting people and getting to know their personalities, getting the connection and right vibe.

- Is it still easy to write for Black Sabbath or do you have to put yourself in a frame of mind to write for the band?

- No. I come up with riffs all the time when I'm at home or on the road. I'm lucky to be able to do it naturally. It's what I do. These days I'm lucky to still be able to play.

- Are you surprised the band has endured so long?

- No, not really. We did create something that was unique at the time. And still to this day we've got a very strong fanbase, sell out gigs, and still are very honoured to be at the top of our tree.

- What kind of guitars do you like to play when you're away from your SGs?

- I've got a wide variety of guitars at home. Mostly in the house I tend to play my acoustics and in the studio I play one of my many Gibsons or Epiphones. I don't listen to music for inspiration - my inspiration comes from within., 6 July 2015


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