“I couldn't afford a set of strings, so I'd play the same strings for about six months... and then boil them, so all the crap would come off them, and they'd sound almost new again”: Geezer Butler on Sabbath’s cash-strapped early days

Geezer Butler
(Image credit: Future)

Geezer Butler has been talking about his band’s formative years to Matt Pinfield.

In an interview on Pinfield’s New And Approved, the Black Sabbath bassist, who published his memoir Into The Void last year, revealed that in their early days the band were so impoverished that they had to boil his bass strings to clean them because he couldn’t afford to buy new ones.

"In those days, I couldn't afford a set of strings, so I'd play the same strings for about six months until they were completely worn out. And then, what we used to do is boil all our strings, so all the crap would come off them, and they'd sound almost new again. And that was the way we did it because we couldn't afford to buy new strings."

It was during this period of penury when the band were still called Earth that Tony Iommi was poached by Jethro Tull after the two bands played a gig together. “Ian Anderson came out into the audience and he was transfixed by Tony. And we thought ‘what’s all this about’. At the end of the gig Ian asked Tony to come outside and asked him to join.”

Butler suggests that this was a pivotal moment in Sabbath’s development. “It was the best thing that happened to us because he went down to London, rehearsed with them for a week and said ‘I’m not going to do this. Ian’s trying to tell me what to play and only I know how I’m going to play’. He came back and said ‘Look, to be like Jethro Tull we’ve got to write our own music and take everything really seriously from now on.’”

The band’s first album was recorded in cramped circumstances, on a shoestring as Butler recalls in the interview: "We had two days in the studio because you only had £500 to make the album, which is like $700. And so, the only way we could do it is just to play live. 

"It was recorded straight away as a live album on day one. And then, the next day, we did some vocal overdubs, and Tony did some guitar overdubs, fixed a few things, and that was it.”

“We'd never been in the studio before, so we didn't know [much about studio work]. The way we played it at that particular moment was the way it was recorded, and that was the way the album was put out."

Into The Void gained positive reviews when it was initially published last year. It’s recently joined the other Sabbath memoirs – Tony Iommi’s Iron Man and Ozzy’s Memoirs Of A Madman - in paperback.

Will Simpson
News and features writer

Will Simpson is a freelance music expert whose work has appeared in Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Guitarist and Total Guitar magazine. He is the author of 'Freedom Through Football: Inside Britain's Most Intrepid Sports Club' and his second book 'An American Cricket Odyssey' is due out in 2025