Gary James' Interview With Black Sabbath's
You know him as the bassist for Black Sabbath. In 1995, Geezer Butler had his own band and a new CD to prove it. Teaming up with Fear Factory's lead singer Burton C. Bell, Geezer's collaborative effort yielded "Plastic Planet".
We spoke with Geezer about his band and his new release and his days with Black Sabbath.
Q - How is it that you and Ozzy ended up touring together again?
A - Well, we've been friends for years now. I went down to see him last year and he was playing me the demos for his new album. At the time I just started writing my solo album. I couldn't find a singer anywhere and Ozzy just asked me if I'd play bass on his album. I said O. and it just went from there.
Q - You've just returned from a South American Tour. Is there a big audience for Metal down there?
A - Oh yeah, massive. It's like we were doing these big soccer stadiums, 60,000 people. They're just nuts for it down there.
Q - Why TVT Records?
A - 'Cause my wife manages a couple of bands. She'd gone 'round all the labels with her two bands and the only label that the bands really liked was TVT. They really liked their attitude. So when I did my CD, they were one of the labels that she took it to. I really liked their attitude. They put the music first. They don't try to change any of the music. They've just got some really good ideas and they're really enthusiastic.
Q - Isn't this the label that put out some classic rock CD's?
A - I'm not really sure. They may have done. Their claim to fame is the Nine Inch Nails stuff.
Q - Before you put together your own group, you listened to a lot of the newer groups coming up, didn't you?
A - Yeah. I've always kept aware of what's happening musically.
Q - Did you hear anything that inspired you?
A - Well, I was glad to see there were bands putting out heavy stuff again. The first time I tried to do a solo album, I was told that the stuff I was doing was too heavy. All the record companies I went to were asking me to do more commercial stuff like Bon Jovi and all that, which I just don't do. So, I sort of shelved it. But now that there are a lot of heavy bands around. I just thought now would be the time to do it.
Q - Your music is inspired by what's going on in the world today?
A - The lyrics are, yeah.
Q - What specifically inspires you to write the lyrics?
A - It's just my way of venting my feelings. I know what's happening in the world. I've got kids. I'm much more aware than ever about looking at what's going on. There's just different things that start something off. I did one track called "The Invisible" from when I was in New York doing Ozzy's album. I was walkin' 'round and there was a lot of homeless people about and nobody seems to see them. Some people just step over them. It's like they weren't there. I thought they may as well be invisible, and that like sparked the idea to call the song that, which is about people who have secrets, you know like battered housewives and just all different people you don't hear about, or people who are ashamed to talk about it or people that other people pretend aren't there. I just called that song "The Invisible". But, there's other subjects like "Detective 27" which is about somebody who thinks he's Batman. (Laughs)
Q - As crazy as it may seem, that sounds believable.
A - (Laughs) It's just about different people and different things that are going on in the world. It's just about everything around me really.
Q - Besides playing bass, can you sing?
A - No.
Q - That's too bad. I was gonna ask why you didn't hire a bassist and front the band yourself.
A - (laughs) I would never have gotten a record contact then. You don't want to listen to my singing. I was definitely born to play bass.
Q - Is it great to be Geezer Butler? Do you wake up everyday and remind yourself that you were in Black Sabbath, a band that sold millions of records; was on the cover of music magazines, big and small; toured the world; and now you have a group of your own that's doing well?
A - Oh, yeah. I know I'm one of the luckiest people on Earth. It's a great feeling. I thank God everyday for it, especially when I see what other people have to go through. It really is a good feeling.
Q - Black Sabbath performed at the Star Club in Germany, where the Beatles got their start. You'd play, what, eight hours a night, six to seven days a week?
A - Yeah. We'd start about 3 in the afternoon and go on until about 11 at night.
Q - You must've had a lot of material to do that.
A - No. We used to do one number for about half an hour. But, there's where we wrote the first two albums, because we had to jam so much. We came out with all the material for the first two albums.
Q - When people came to that club, were they looking to have a beer, watch the band, or pick somebody up?
A - It was more like a pick-up place. It was like the Red Light district in Hamburg. 'Cause it was Hamburg, there were all like sailors comin' in. There were lots of prostitutes hangin' about. Drug dealers. Criminals. We used to have gun fights and everything in there. It was really mental.
Q - You're lucky you made it out of there in one piece.
A - (Laughs) I don't think they even noticed we were there. We were left on our own. It was almost like paid rehearsals. We were able to do anything. We literally wrote two albums worth of material. I got a lot of inspiration for the lyrics and stuff from that.
Q - How were your living accommodations?
A - We had to stay in this hotel that had been burned down and there was like no floor in it. We put the beds around this hole in the floor. The smell was unbelievable. They only just had a fire. You could still smell the burnt, smoldering wood. It was awful.
Q - How long did you put up with that?
A - I think about 2 weeks we were there that particular time. But we used to go back, sometimes it would be for 3 days. Other times it would be for a week. Sometimes 2 weeks.
Q - This upcoming tour of yours, will you be headlining or opening for someone?
A - No. I'll be doing the Ozzy tour. I'm playing bass with Ozzy. Fear Factory are toing to support us. We're going to try and put some club dates in for the Gzr Band. We got one coming up in New York at the Limelight.
Q - You always wrote the lyrics for the songs in Sabbath. Does that still hold true for your own band as well?
A - Oh, yeah, right. I write all the lyrics for that.
Q - Who writes the music?
A - Me and the guitarist.
Q - Do you play guitar as well?
A - Yeah, I can play guitar. Some of the songs are just like bass riffs and they're just transposed onto guitar. But, it's just bass and guitar really that I write on.
Q - Does the writing come easy?
A - Oh yeah. We are doing like 3 (songs) a day.
Q - That's pretty good.
A - Oh yeah, it was incredible, especially after being in Sabbath. It used to take six months to write something in that band. But, I had songs built up in me. They just sort of flowed out of me for over a 3 month period.
Q - I recall seeing you and Sabbath at the Syracuse War Memorial in December of 1975 with Kiss as the opening act.
A - Oh yeah, I remember that.
Q - I don't know if you realized it, but on that particular night, Kiss was out to blow Sabbath off the stage.
A - I know, and they did as well. (Laughs)
Q - You said it, not me.
A - I remember that well.
Q - Why would an established act such as Black Sabbath risk being upstaged by such a hungry, ambitious, driven act as Kiss?
A - Well, we had Yes supporting us at one time. Even the Eagles supported us.
Q - That must've been a strange show.
A - Well, in those days you used to have a variation. Alice Cooper supported us. Van Halen. They were all great bands. I think that's why the tours were so successful. You were always guaranteed two great bands. When I saw Jimi Hendrix in England, he opened up for Engelbert Humperdinck. (Laughs) That was in 1968. The 60's and early 70's they used to do that sort of show.
Q - You must've met quite a few of the 60's rock legends. Did you meet Hendrix, Morrison or Joplin?
A - No. They were a bit before even my time. I used to know John Bonham really well, from Led Zeppelin. In fact he was Tony Iommi's best man at his wedding. I knew the guys from Uriah Heep that died, the singer and the bass player.
Q - Do you still like playing "Iron Man" on stage 25 years later, or does it get boring for you?
A - Oh, I like playing it in the Ozzy show. I've been playing it with all these different singers with like the fake version of Black Sabbath. But now that I'm back with Ozzy again, it sounds great, him singing it. He's the only guy who can sing it properly. It's brilliant.
Q - If the original Black Sabbath was ever to reunite, you guys could clean up. There are a lot of kids out there who are hungry for the real thing and missed you the first time around.
A - Yeah, but it could never happen. Number one. it could only be for the money, and two, the egos would be so bad, it would last for about two weeks. We just can't work together.
Q - That's too bad. It's unfortunate. But, life goes on.
A - Yeah. I'd rather be happy. (Laughs)
Q - And I hope you saved your money.
A - (Laughs) Well, put it like this, I don't need money that bad to have to reform Sabbath. (Laughs)
Q - I can see your point. It wouldn't be the same thing.
A - Not with us. I think that's why the band lasted, because it was so raw and from the heart and soul and everything, that music. That's why it's lasted so long. It's why all the new bands are citing us as their major influence. To have to go on and do it purely for the money, we just couldn't do that.
Q - Where did you get the name "Geezer"?
A - It comes from when I was a little kid at school, like when I was about eight years old. I used to call everybody Geezer.
Q - Why did you do that?
A - It was just a slang term for a man. You know, like in America you say guy. In England, the term for that is either bloke or geezer. It's just a slang term meaning man or boy. I used to call everbody else geezer and then eventually everybody started calling me geezer.
Q - Usually the word "old" proceeds geezer.
A - Yeah. Which it's probably more suitable now.
Q - I'm not gonna say that.
A - (laughs)
Q - Isn't Rock 'n' Roll supposed to keep you young?
A - It keeps you young in mind, not your body.
Q - Do you work out?
A - No. Every time I work out, I pull something.
Q - You don't sit around the house smoking and drinking, do you?
A - No. I don't drink or smoke. I'm too busy playing music to even think about anything like that.