Geezer Butler: The Hellbound Interview

By Sean Palmerston

Arguably the most influential metal band of all time, Black Sabbath remains every bit as vitally important as they ever were. 2010 marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of their first two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, and to help celebrate this incredible anniversary the folks over at Eagle Vision have just released a superb new episode in their ongoing Classic Albums series, this one dealing directly with the Paranoid album. The DVD/blu-ray disc is an absolute must-see for diehard fans of the band as well as the casual Sabbath fan. Especially exciting is the personal, up close footage with the band members playing portions of these songs in the studio, as well as a few sneak peaks that the watcher gets into the rough mixes of the songs, which contains different lyrics than what ended up on the actual album.

A few weeks after the release of Classic Albums: Paranoid  Hellbound.ca was offered an interview with Geezer Butler to speak about it. I was told I would only have fifteen minutes with Geezer about it, which meant the pressure was on to try and discuss everything as succinctly as possible. I could’ve talked talked to him all day; our conversation follows below.

Hellbound: Hi Geezer, how are you doing? It’s a pleasure to speak to you today. Do they have a bunch of these lined up for you this afternoon?

Geezer: Hi Sean, things are good. This is only the third one today, so it’s not too bad [laughs].

Ah, okay, well I won’t keep you too long today then. I just wanted to ask you about the new Classic Albums DVD that’s just been released for Paranoid. It’s a great documentary about what is, of course, a monumental album. I’m just wondering how does something like this come together – do they approach the band or the record label to do it?

Geezer: I think it was that they approached the record company and then because of the 40th anniversary coming up of the release of the album, they then approached us about doing it. And so we all agreed to do it.

How did the new interview segments get filmed? Did they do it all over separate intervals over the past few years? Do you remember exactly when you did it?

Geezer: I think I did mine about twelve months ago. The did all of us one by one. They did Tony at his house in England, Ozzy at his house, I don’t know where they did Bill – at his studio or something – and then I did mine at Capitol Records.

So the bass rig that you are playing through in the show and the bonus materials, is that something that you brought in there or did they hire something for you?

Geezer: Yeah, that was just a straight Ampeg rig that was hired in. That was one of my basses that I regularly use live though.

As a longtime fan, it was pretty exciting to see you play the different riffs and melodies so close at hand. It is something that so very few of us ever get to see that direct.

Geezer: It was weird doing, because had forgotten what I did half the time [laughs], and it makes you a little nervous being filmed so up close.

When you look back at your recording career and all the albums you have been a part of, is Paranoid the album you would pick as the classic Black Sabbath album?

Geezer: I suppose it is but I always liked the first album. Paranoid was the first album that was 100% written by the band. The first album had “Warning” which was written by somebody else on it. So yeah, Paranoid was the first completely written by us and it is probably still the biggest album that we did.

I think the last number that I saw was four million sold in the USA.

Geezer: Yeah, and I think that it has done well over that now too.

Does it surprise you looking back now some 40 years later of Paranoid’s longevity? Could you have ever imagined when writing and recording those songs of their importance?

Geezer: No, not at all. We all thought that we’d be able to do this for two or three years and then go get proper jobs. I mean, that is what bands did back then. You know, I’d go and see lots of bands and think that they were good and then they wouldn’t get a record deal and so you would never hear of them again. Or you’d see a band and they’d get a one-record deal and they wouldn’t sell anything so you’d never hear of them again.

That is what we thought would happen with Black Sabbath. We were lucky to do a second album, we were hoping that it would do well and then eventually we’d disappear. Nobody ever dreamt that any band would last this long, still being popular some forty years later.

Is there a song off Paranoid that resonates as the most important song?

Geezer: For me, probably “War Pigs”. The lyrics will always stand up.

That was one thing I wanted to as you about. Those lyrics are as important today as they were the day you wrote them.

Geezer: Absolutely. The one thing that human kind always seems to have is war. They never learn.

So how are you keeping yourself busy these days, Geezer?

Geezer: Um, I’m not [laughs]. Well, actually we just did the Ronnie James Dio tribute concert in London at the High Voltage festival - me, Tony and Vinnie with a couple of singers, Glenn Hughes and Jorn Lande, and I just got back from England after doing that.

How was the decision made to bring Glenn back to sing those songs and why was Jorn picked?

Geezer: Well, Glenn because he was Ronnie’s best friend and Glenn was Ronnie’s favourite singer. He sang at his funeral and his memorial. He was first choice for us and he had asked us to do it as well. He had wanted to be there for Ronnie. And Jorn, Tony I think had done a couple songs with him for his own album and really loved the way he sang. He is a big Ronnie fan anyway so it was sort of a natural thing to get him in.

I wanted to say my condolences to you. I know that you had grown very close with Ronnie again during the past few years.

Geezer: Yeah, you know it is still hard to believe really. We are all still recovering from it.

That must have been a really emotional set at the High Voltage Festival.

Geezer: It was, because it was obviously the last Heaven And Hell set ever and it was hard going on without Ronnie being there.

Is there any chance that the set was filmed for those of us not lucky enough to make it to High Voltage? Will any of that peformance ever be released?

Geezer: I have no idea, to be honest, and I haven’t even thought about that.

I am sure it was probably the last thing that would have been on your mind.

Geezer: I know it was filmed for the big screens at the gig but I am not sure if it was recorded or if the cameras were just there for the screens.

One thing I wanted to ask you about: some of the archive footage used in the Classic Albums DVD includes footage shot in Paris in 1970 for the BBC Rock Of The 70s series. Do you know if there is ever a chance of that footage being released commercially for the fans?

Geezer: I don’t think so. I mean I don’t even know how much of it is left. It was actually something that we did for French TV. You know, I don’t even remember doing it; it wasn’t until I saw that film that I even remembered doing it. I remember going to Paris, I just don’t remember us getting filmed.

 There must be so many things like that which have happened over the past forty years that it gets hard to remember specific things. What do you think of the chances are of Black Sabbath ever playing again with Ozzy?

Geezer: I don’t know. You know it would be nice to finish the whole thing off with one last tour I suppose. We’re all getting a bit old now, so time is running out. It would be nice – I wouldn’t say no!

Thanks very much for your time, thanks for all of the great music over the years and best of luck in the future.

Geezer: Thank you very much Sean and the same to you and your family too.

Classic Albums: Paranoid is out now on Eagle Vision.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.