Tony Iommi interview part two: 'Paranoid', jazz and bassists

Tony iommi interview

Tony iommi interview

Image: © Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis

In the second instalment of our online Tony Iommi interview, the metal legend talks about the simplistic beauty of 'Paranoid', how bass players haven't really progressed since the 60s, and why jazz and blues are his go-to genres.

Interview: David West

Master Of Puppets

Are there any guitarists or musicians around nowadays who have captured your ear?

"Musicians have gotten very good. There are a lot of great drummers out there. Bass players I've found a little stagnant, they haven't developed that much. They don't stand out like the Jack Bruce's of the day, the players who could REALLY play. Bass players don't do a lot and that's no disrespect to them, they're doing what they feel is right for their music, but drummers have certainly improved over the years and guitar players too."

Do you discover new talent from watching bands who support you on tour?

"There are some really good bands around, but on tour I don't really get time to go out and watch them. Before I go onstage I have to do a lot of fiddling about because of my thimbles [Iommi wears them over his injured finger tips]. I have to make sure they are right and rub them down. I also have to play for longer to loosen up because of all the problems I've had with my hand stiffening. I don't have the luxury of going out and listening to bands for an hour, so I'd sooner go out and see somebody when I'm not on tour. I went to see Metallica a few times, I like them."

All that jazz

Does new music influence your playing or writing in any way?

"I suppose there must be things you pick up but I couldn't tell you where from. I tend to play what I think. There are albums I'd like to listen to but I don't tend to get around to doing it. I don't listen to other guitar players that much. There are some great guitar players around, there really are, but again being a great player you've also got to be a great writer. However great you are, you're only as good as your song is. Some people tend to overplay in songs. That's my opinion. When they sound good they probably try to show off a bit."

To coincide with your cover of TG this month (TG210 on sale 24 December - 20 January), we have tabbed 'Planet Caravan'. What can you tell us about that song?

"'Planet Caravan' was about playing something different. It was one of those songs that, when we were in the rehearsal room, I just start playing it and thought, 'this is nice.' I never thought that it might be too far 'on the other side' for Sabbath to do. If we liked something that was a bit different, we just played it. That attitude gave me an opportunity to play a couple of jazzy things that weren't planned. I do like the blues and jazzy stuff, which you can hear on 'Planet Caravan'. I think any guitar player likes to play that sort of stuff, and I suppose the blues and jazz have influenced my playing more than most, so I try to get some of those flavoured licks in without even thinking about it."

Der! Der! Der! Da-na-na-na, da-na-na-na!

'Paranoid' is arguably your most famous guitar riff. Legend tells it that the song was a very late addition to the album?

"In those days, you didn't have tape recorders. You had to play riffs, keep playing them and remember them. We were recording the album ['Paranoid', 1970] and the label suddenly said, 'You don't have enough songs!' We didn't know what to do and they asked us to come up with another song. Within a few minutes I came up with the riff to 'Paranoid', played it to the other guys and they liked it, so off we went. That's how simple 'Paranoid' was - we wrote and recorded it in a day."

Yet that simple song went on to become one of your biggest hits…

"Yes it did. We really didn't want a hit single with 'Paranoid' because in them days, to have a hit single was selling out. We didn't want a hit single and we didn't expect it to be a single. We just did it as a filler track. Most of the tracks on the album were quite long and a lot of people probably wouldn't have played them because they were too long, so 'Paranoid' was an ideal track to release, being short and up-tempo. It just took off. We were as shocked as anybody when that got in the charts. We thought, 'Bloody hell, there's all this stuff here we're trying to do musically and then something as simple as 'Paranoid' gets in the charts and everybody remembers it!'"

Total Guitar issue 210 (originally on sale 24 December - 20 January) featured Tony Iommi on the cover and contained 11-pages of Iommi coverage, including an in-depth interview and a complete tab of 'Planet Caravan'.

Matthew Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar,, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.