‘They were always energetic and that was good for me': Tony Iommi on Black Sabbath’s legacy of drummers

The news that Brad Wilk will be sitting in the drum chair for Black Sabbath’s forthcoming reunion album had us taking a look back at the huge shoes he’ll be filling. We start, of course, with Bill Ward. But there are other memorable names, too.

Wilk, of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame, follows Vinny Appice (Dio, Rick Derringer), Eric Singer (Kiss), Bev Bevan (The Move, the Electric Light Orchestra), Cozy Powell (Rainbow, Emerson Lake and Powell) and Terry Chimes (the Clash), among others. It’s not exactly like Spinal Tap, but they’ve had their share.

We turned to Iommi’s recent autobiography Iron Man for comments on each of them, as the guitarist helps put the finishing touches on Sabbath’s new record, which features Ozzy Osbourne on vocals for the first time since the late 1970s.

Ward, of course, was Black Sabbath’s founding drummer — having played on each of the Osbourne-era albums from 1970’s Black Sabbath through to Never Say Die in 1978, then on successor Ronnie James Dio’s Sabbath debut, Heaven and Hell in 1980. Ward returned for Born Again, which featured Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame, and had regularly performed with Black Sabbath since 1997 until a contract dispute derailed things for the new album.

“He was good,” Iommi says of Ward, “but he had his own style, he created his own thing. Very unorthodox. Bill wouldn’t play a straightforward beat, he always put some little bits in, like a percussionist. He would hear these symphonies in his head and try to play like he had eight hands.”

Appice, whose old brother is Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge, joined for the second Dio album, Mob Rules and then again for 1992’s Dehumanizer. Appice was a member of Dio’s solo group, and was in the Sabbath off-shoot band Heaven and Hell which featured Iommi, Dio and Geezer Butler.

“Vinny’s drumming brought something else to the music,” Iommi writes in his autobiography. “It made it tighter, it made it more precise, probably even more mainstream. Less playful (than Bill Ward), but more precise.”

Bevan replaced Ward on the tour in support of Born Again, at a moment’s notice, and also added percussion to Eternal Idol in 1987. “He said to me, ‘I don’t know whether I can play it,'” Iommi remembers in the run up to the tour with Bevan. “I said, ‘Come and have a go.’ We rehearsed, he got used to the songs and he played better and better as it went on.”

Singer, meanwhile, was the principal drummer on both The Eternal Idol and its predecessor Seventh Star, in 1986. He later played drums on a Paul Stanley solo tour, before joining Kiss after the tragic death of Eric Carr.

When Kiss’ original lineup reunited in the late 1990s, Singer toured with Alice Cooper and Brian May of Queen before returning to the fold. He has appeared on Kiss’ two most recent studio efforts, including the new album Monster.

“Eric had this eighties hairstyle which made him look a little bit like a woman, and so we started calling him Shirley,” Iommi says. “He is a good drummer and he has done well for himself, playing with Alice Cooper and Kiss and the like. When we had Eric and (bass player) Dave (Spitz) in the band, they were a great little team. They loved to play, and would try stuff all through the night. They were always energetic and that was good for me as well.”

Chimes, the Clash’s original drummer, was a member of Black Sabbath for just a few months — but that was long enough to appear in the music video for “The Shining” from 1987’s The Eternal Idol. He also sat in on tour for a few shows in South Africa.

The late Powell, who has since died in a car accident, appeared on three Sabbath albums between 1988 and 1995, including Headless Cross, TYR and Forbidden. “I had all these ideas,” Iommi says of Powell in his autobiography. “Cozy would tap along and come up with ideas as well … it worked really well. We felt inspired. We were coming up with stuff and we were really pleased with it.”

Other Black Sabbath drummers have included Bobby Rondinelli (1994’s Cross Purposes), Mike Bordin (1997 tour), Tommy Clufetos (2012 tour) and now Wilk, who is also appearing as part of Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players. He and Grohl performed last Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, and are set to appear again on Januar 31 at the Hollywood Palladium.

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