Tony Iommi admits that, yes, sometimes he got carried away playing guitar solos – but Ronnie James Dio was his enabler

Black Sabbath live in California, 1982, with Tony Iommi on guitar and Ronnie James Dio fronting the band
(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Black Sabbath have just released a newly restored 40th anniversary edition of their first ever live album, Live Evil, the centrepiece of which is a triumphant performance of Heaven And Hell that closes out with Tony Iommi leaving footprints all over his wah pedal, and scorch marks on the first three rows as he cuts loose on a guitar solo.

Iommi might be a man who will forever be defined as metal guitar’s original riff lord, but this freatkout is a reminder that Iommi could cut heads with the best of them, and that the Ronnie James Dio era gave us some of Sabbath’s strongest moments as the band rebounded from the the departure of Ozzy Osbourne.

Iommi was a guest on Eddie Trunk’s Siriux XM radio show recently and was reflecting upon the era, and was asked if he was conscious of the shifts in guitar that were under way. This was the dawn of the ‘80s. Eddie Van Halen had already changed rock guitar, jimmying open Pandora’s Box with all-new techniques that inspired an arms race for six-string oneupmanship. 

Since the ‘70s, I’d always played a solo. I mean, yes, I got carried away a bit too long sometimes

California was a hot-bed of innovation in guitar gear, and the practice of playing it, but Iommi told Trunk he was already in his zone, explaining that he had made his bones in the ‘70s, and as such he had been overplaying long before anyone else showed him how. 

“Since the ‘70s, I’d always played a solo. I mean, yes, I got carried away a bit too long sometimes,” he said. “Listening back to things, you think, ’Bloody hell! That was a bit over the top. Too long.’ But you just sort of get taken over with it, and it doesn’t seem as long as it is. And we had done it from the ‘70s. It was the thing. Everybody done guitar solos and drum solos in the ‘70s. That was what we did, and just never changed. We went on and on and on, and always done that.”

With the late, great Ronnie James Dio on the mic, Black Sabbath had a new energy, and Iommi had a willing accomplice. When it came to guitar solos, Iommi says Dio was an enabler. The story had always been that there were creative tensions by the time Live Evil was recorded and released, that Dio was exerting too much control. But Iommi spoke fondly of that time, telling Trunk that Dio’s presence allowed them to be play around with the set and the arrangements. And yes, to play more solos.

“We’d come off and I would say to Ronnie – and not just for the sake of it – ‘Oh, you sounded great!’ And he said the same. We would all encourage each other, and that was a major part of it, to push each other,” said Iommi. “Ronnie, he’d sort of say, ‘Play a longer solo. Play this.’ It was good to hear that instead of, ‘Oh, don’t play a solo!’ It was good to be encouraged that way, and we would do that with each other.”

Live Evil included the extended version of Heaven And Hell, with Iommi’s solo, and the band reprised the track during The Sign Of The Southern Cross. It wasn’t just Dio’s presence that had changed Sabbath’s sound. 

Bill Ward was gone, replaced by a coltish Vinny Appice whose raw power drove the band on. “He was just perfect for that lineup,” said Iommi. Appice duly took his share of the spotlight in a thumping solo during War Pigs. Dio was all in for mixing up the set.

“It was really good with Ron. It would encourage us to try different things, which was really good, and we would be able to do that,” said Iommi. “We would actually be able to pull songs out of the hat and do them. Ronnie was capable of doing all that catalogue, and that was a great thing. 

“And we could fiddle around with them and put a bit of another song in, teasers coming in and out, a bit of thought into the stage set. And Ronnie was always involved in it and it was really a good band, a tight band. We got really tight.”

Black Sabbath’s Live Evil 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition is out now via Rhino/Warner. If you are in the US or Canada you can follow Eddie Trunk’s show at SiriusXM, or catch the full interview with Tony Iommi above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.