‘It made me invent a new way of playing’: How Django Reinhardt inspired Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi

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The manager of the sheet-metal factory where Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi lost the tips of two fingers helped him regain his passion for the guitar — by playing an album from the gypsy jazzer Django Reinhardt.

Iommi, whose new reunion project with founding frontman Ozzy Osbourne has become Black Sabbath’s first-ever U.S. charttopper, was injured at age 17 on the final day of his stint at the plant. In the attached BBC video, Iommi says doctors told him he’d never make music again.

“I went to the hospital, and they said: ‘You might as well give up,’ basically,” Iommi remembers. “The manager of the firm who I worked for brought me a record around of Django Reinhardt and he said: ‘Can I play you this record?,’ and I said: ‘No, no, I’m not interested.’ I didn’t feel exactly up for it.”

But Reinhardt had suffered a similar fate, having lost the use of two fingers — also as a teenager, also on his left hand — in a fire. The plant manager told the young Iommi how Reinhardt eventually taught himself to play again, employing a unique soloing technique.

“He said: ‘Well, this guy plays with two fingers.’ And that really inspired me to do it,” says Iommi, who’d eventually begin experimenting with prosthetic tips — making the initial version out of metal. “I tried different materials, and then at the end of the day, I came up with a leather that would grip the string. It was very primitive, but it worked.”

As with Reinhardt, overcoming the physical hardship eventually led to a style that was completely Iommi’s own — one that continues through to Black Sabbath’s celebrated current release, 13. “It made me invent a new way of playing,” Iommi says, “because I had to make these caps for my fingers.”

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