Original drummer Bill Ward says he’d like to put recent contract squabbles behind him and rejoin Black Sabbath, but guitarist Tony Iommi — the only member to play in every one of the band’s many incarnations — says that’s unlikely.
Their on-going dispute exploded into the headlines just as Black Sabbath began working on its first album of material with its original lineup since the late 1970s. A series of highly anticipated live dates was already in the works, as well.
Ward insisted that he could not participate because he had not been presented with a “signable contract.” He later revealed, in a series of online postings, that the issue related to alleged demands from Sharon Osbourne, wife and manager of original lead singer Ozzy Osbourne. Fans responded by starting a Facebook page devoted to lobbying for Ward.
Black Sabbath continued forward without him, however, making celebrated appearances in May in Birmingham, England, the band’s hometown; in June at the Download Festival; and then in August at Lollapalooza in the U.S. Ward was replaced on those dates by Tommy Clufetos from Osbourne’s solo band.
This troubled reunion project, which was to find Ward, Iommi, Osbourne and Geezer Butler in the studio for the first time since 1978’s Never Say Die, had already been slowed by the devastating news that Iommi has cancer. Composing sessions were moved from Los Angeles to the UK, so the guitarist could undergo treatment.
Now, with Iommi on the mend and significant progress being made in the new Black Sabbath recording sessions, Ward says he’d like to return to the fold.
The drummer, as part of a multi-part online series called On the Road: Black Sabbath and the Birth of Heavy Metal, says: “There have been some very uncomfortable situations in the last six months. We’ll see how that works out. … I’ll always play – that’s my life. If there’s some longevity with Black Sabbath, then I’d like to be a part of it.”
Not so fast, replies Iommi. “We’ll always have a heart for Bill,” the guitarist said during an appearance at the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund event on Wednesday, “but I think it’s gone past that now. It’s gone on so long that I don’t see it happening at the moment.”
Black Sabbath has moved forward with a planned reunion album in Ward’s absence, completing some six tracks so far, according to Iommi. Singer Ozzy Osbourne had said previously that as many as 12 songs already had completed guitar parts, but Iommi confirmed that he’s still completing work on several of them.
Sabbath is working on the as-yet-untitled project with producer Rick Rubin, whom Iommi described as a “vibe merchant.”
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