"Eddie was doing these extended solos so Tony had to have a word with him about that": Geezer Butler remembers the ups and downs of Black Sabbath being upstaged by Van Halen, and his hopes for a final farewell show with Bill Ward

Eddie Van Halen on stage performing. Photograph, 1978
(Image credit: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

By the time Black Sabbath began their Never Say Die UK tour on 16 May 1978 in Sheffield, the wheels were perhaps starting to come off the Ozzy-era of the band. And it didn't help that their support band was starting to get more attention than them. But looking back now, Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler can see Van Halen's presence on the tour as more of a double-edged sword.

"They were great – I really liked them", Geezer tells Brave Words in a new interview promoting his autobiography, Into The Void: From Birth To Black Sabbath-And Beyond. "They did one of my favourite all-time Kinks songs You Really Got Me, so I immediately really liked them from the cover of that and that was one of their first hits singles. But as the tour went on, cracks started to appear between the upcoming LA rockers and the established Birmingham godfathers of heavy.

"David Lee Roth became like an Ozzy clone, and it was really upsetting Ozzy at the time," explains Geezer. "Whatever Ozzy did one night, David Lee Roth would say the same thing the next night, and it was upsetting Ozzy." There was also tension between Tony Iommi and Eddie Van Halen on the guitar side. 

Van Halen - Interview 1978 London - YouTube Van Halen - Interview 1978 London - YouTube
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"Eddie was doing these extended solos, so Tony had to have word about that," adds the bassist. The two would later become close friends, but Geezer also saw distinct advantages to Van Halen's presence on the tour. 

Warner Brothers were like, 'You're old hat and Van Halen are the future'

"But it was good because they brought in this whole younger audience for us and they actually brought in some women and girls [laughs] that we'd never really had at our gigs. But what pissed us off was Warner Brothers completely concentrated on Van Halen and it was almost like we were the support band," says Geezer. "Warner Brothers were like, 'You're old hat and Van Halen are the future'. They did everything for Van Halen and nothing for us – no promotion for us whatsoever. But [Van Halen] were great guys and a great band [and there were] long-lasting friendships – especially Tony and Eddie." 

Van Halen: DEFINITIVE IPSWICH (UK, May 28, 1978) - SOUNDBOARD - 2018 REMASTER - A+ - YouTube Van Halen: DEFINITIVE IPSWICH (UK, May 28, 1978) - SOUNDBOARD - 2018 REMASTER - A+ - YouTube
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Sabbath's time would roll around again with Ozzy, and their last reunion even birthed a new studio album in the shape of 13. The 2013 Rick Rubin-produced album saw a back-to-basics approach with Sabbath seemingly going back to their roots, but it's becoming clear that some of the band were not satisfied with the results. 

He certainly wouldn't work with me ever again, or Tony

"When we did the 13 album that took forever," reflects Geezer. "And some of it was great, and some of it not so good. It just didn't have the same feeling as the old '70s albums or even Heaven & Hell… I think the longer you take over something, it becomes forced in the end and you lose the initial rawness and feel of the music."

Neither the bassist or bandmate Iommi believe they would repeat the experience of working with Rubin again.

"Nope," he laughs. "He certainly wouldn't work with me ever again, or Tony. Tony was incredibly disappointed with him. In fact Tony took some of the master tapes and redid them."

Ozzy Osbourne himself lamented to Stereogum in 2022 when asked if he felt good about the record being their final creative statement. “Not really, because, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really get a charge from the album," the singer said. "Although [producer] Rick Rubin is a good friend of mine, I wasn’t really… I was just singing.

“It was like stepping back in time, but it wasn’t a glorious period," he continued. "Though Geezer did a lot of lyric writing for me, which he’s very, very good at. It wasn’t an earth-shattering experience for me." Ozzy also suggested in the same interview that he didn't regard 13 a true Black Sabbath album because original drummer Bill Ward didn't play on it – Rage Against The Machine sticksman Brad Wilk performed session duties for the record. 

On that note, Geezer admits he still doesn't know why Bill Ward was fired from the band after they'd started working on 13 "I still haven't got an answer from anybody [as to] who fired him and why," he tells Brave Words. "I mean there's been rumours about his health and that kind of thing but I was listening to stuff that we were doing with Bill on that 13 album and I love it – it really does sound like the old Sabbath, the first three albums, the drumming on it and I love that kind of thing."

Ozzy's been texting me about doing one final show and that's it

Ward later turned down the band's offer to play with the band on "two or three songs" when they toured and felt they "couldn't risk it" when it came to possible health issues once the world tour was underway. But perhaps there's a chance to put things right to some extent… 

"Ozzy's been texting me about doing one final show and that's it, with Bill," Geezer reveals. "But it's just not gonna happen… but then I always said the original Black Sabbath wouldn't get back together and then the next day the next Ozzy called me up said, "[We need] to get the band back together!' You say these things and hopefully if a miracle happens it would be great to do it but it's up to everybody's health and how they feel about it."

Geezer's perspective is clear on the matter though

"I'd love it to happen to do a final [show] even if it's just one song with all four of us with Bill on the drums. It certainly couldn't be a tour, it could only be one or two shows and three or four songs I suppose. But that would be it, it wouldn't be a tour or anything like that."

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.