Gary James' Interview With Bill Ward of
Black Sabbath

From 1968 to 1985, Bill Ward was the drummer for Black Sabbath, one of the most popular bands in all of rock history. During that time, Sabbath recorded eleven albums, all of which went gold (three went platinum). In their day, Black Sabbath was known as the band that defined the term "Heavy Metal" and Ward himself was voted the best drummer in rock for three consecutive years. In 1985, Bill Ward left Sabbath because of "bitter experiences both in and out of the band." We talked with Bill Ward about his life recently, and all that's happened to him.

Q - When you left Sabbath in 1985, what did you do with yourself all day?

A - In '84, that's when I finally got sober and I've been sober since then. The Sabbath that I wanted to be a part of was with Ozzy, Tony and Geezer. I didn't want to be a part of what I now consider to be Tony's Black Sabbath. I don't even recognize Tony's band as Black Sabbath. I recognize it as Tony's band. I left in mid 1984 and I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I thought, I wanted to see what I might be capable of doing other than playing drums in Black Sabbath.

Q - How do you write songs?

A - I usually play a keyboard and I don't play very good keyboards to tell you the truth. I'll pick one note that I like, and I've found that I can come up with ideas from that melodies, bass lines. As a matter of fact, I probably wrote seventy per cent of the bass work on the album I released last year. ("Ward One: Along the Way" - 1990). So, I can come up with that off of just one, two, or three notes.

Q - Back in 1975, you had an oxygen tank by your drums. What was that all about?

A - Over the years, I had some medical tests run on me and the energy I used up in a performance. It worked out that I ran the equivalent of 15-20 miles per night. Also, the lights that I was under were nearly 115-120 degrees. When you have to do that every night, I found that one of the things that helped me was to take a couple blasts of oxygen. That helped me to keep my lungs clear and do the job.

Q - In Chris Welch's book about Black Sabbath, he claimed that at one time all the members of the group suffered nervous breakdowns. Is that true?

A - No, not that I'm aware of. I know Chris and I read part of the book. I don't want to be critical of Chris' work, but, in one sense to me, it was outside looking in. I guess the observations were what people see. And, what people saw was quite a long way from what was really going on.

Q - Geezer Butler (Sabbath's bass player) told the press in 1977, "We're all alcoholics." Any truth to that?

A - Well, I can only speak for myself on this one, because I feel uncomfortable speaking on behalf of the others, but, there's definite truth in the fact that I am without question an alcoholic. I'd add to that, that I haven't had a drop of alcohol in seven years, but I'm still an alcoholic.

Q - You and the Beatles both share something in common, the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. What kind of place was that to play?

A - The Star Club was dark, gloomy. There were no facilities for the band. The band was basically the least unimportant people there. When we were playing there, most of the people didn't take an interest in the band. However, it was an excellent training camp. We would play eight shows a night. It was an ideal place to write. We could basically test it out onstage.

Q - What king of music were you playing?

A - We were playing cover tunes in the sense of blues things "Stormy Monday", real standard 12 bar blues things. But, that was like the mask. What was really going on was "Iron Man" and Black Sabbath and the things that were to be heard on the album a little further up along the line. We were playing that kind of music, and a lot of the time, most people were turned off. We were too loud. People weren't connecting at all. This was 1968.

Q - John Boham's death really shook you up. Why?

A - I felt close to him. I had known him since I was 15-16 years old. John and I had played on and off together all the way through the early years of our apprentices, through the Zeppelin and Sabbath years. I can remember saying to my wife at the time, when John died, "I'm gonna be next." I have a better understanding of myself now, having been free from alcohol and drugs so many years.

Q - What "bitter experiences" did you go through?

A - One of the things I first went through began in 1980, when Ronnie James Dio joined the band. What I failed to do was to be honest with myself. I went through a real sense of loss behind Oz leaving and I didn't acknowledge that - how hurt I felt. And, when Ron joined, the band changed. I guess I felt left out, which had absolutely nothing to do with Ronnie. Ronnie was doing his thing in the band. I just felt real lost and lonely.

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