Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler

By Keith CarmanWithout bassist Geezer Butler (born Terence Michael Joseph Butler), there would be no such thing as heavy metal. Not only is he one-fourth of the genre's most pivotal band Black Sabbath, but with an inimitable style that is bold and powerful without being ostentatious or false, he is responsible for a musical legacy that turned a once-ignored instrument into something pretty fucking cool. To wit: it was Butler's work on early Black Sabbath efforts such as their eponymous debut, 1970 classic Paranoid and well, the ensuing 40-something years with Sabbath (omitting those abominable mid-'80s albums where even he quit the band), offshoot Heaven And Hell and solo venture G/Z/R that shaped the eventual scene his bands have become synonymous with.

In a vein similar to the Who's John Entwistle, Butler refused to let his instrument be buried in simplicity. He brought bass guitar out of the shadows and into the spotlight as a featured instrument unto itself. Matching a liberally percussive attack with bluesy swagger, sharp highs, echoing bottoms and endless fretwork without overtaking the song or losing his connection with the beat, Butler doesn't hold down rhythms so much as throttle them while never shaking his absurdly calm demeanour. Essentially, were it not for Butler noodling endlessly during "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" or twiddling with wah pedals on the opening quarter of "N.I.B.," we'd have no Cliff Burton, no "Anastasia/Pulling Teeth" and therefore no Metallica. Nor would we have Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer or any of the other thousands of metal-tinged bands with bassist stepping to the forefront and making us realize that bass guitars are just as virile and flexible as the wildest of six-string shredders.

However, mere months after the loss of long-time friend/band mate Ronnie James Dio to stomach cancer, Butler is uncertain as to what the future holds for Black Sabbath or Heaven And Hell. Taking a moment to discuss his fate as well as the 40th anniversary of landmark effort Paranoid (released on September 18, 1970, the day Jimi Hendrix was pronounced dead), Butler is hopeful for the future yet still coming to terms with the past.

Is there any real status update on Black Sabbath/Heaven And Hell at present?
Not really. We're all just on hold since Ronnie passed away. We did a tribute concert for his cancer fund a bit ago and that's about it. We're just wondering what to do next.

Condolences to everyone involved. It was a pretty big shock to metal.
Yeah, everything was going so well and then that happened.

Were you in the band braced for it at all? It seemed as if he was going to pull through and then all of a sudden...
It was one of those things when he was responding really well to treatment and everyone was feeling positive again. The tour was going ahead again and Ronnie felt up for it; was looking forward to the tour. About six weeks before that, it came back with a vengeance and hit him really hard.

It doesn't seem that people realize how you've not just lost a band mate but a friend as well.
Absolutely. It's really difficult because it's obviously never happened to us before. It's difficult to know what to, especially at our age. We're not sure. Do we start all over again? We're just gonna see how it goes. That's the thing. He's a very close friend of mine as well as someone I work with. It's a big part of my life gone.

Do you really feel like you'd have to start over again?
Well, getting a singer in and that kind of thing; the right person. It'll sort itself out eventually, I suppose.

Is there a silver lining?
Not at the moment.

Let's get away from this because I can't imagine how hard it is to discuss. This Classic Albums: Paranoid DVD (Eagle Rock Entertainment) was insightful even after years of everyone scrutinizing every aspect. How was it to talk about something that far back?
It was incredibly hard to remember 40 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago, really. Because the album was done so fast and we were on tour anyway, it didn't really stick out in anybody's memory that well. We had five days in the studio, we went in and to us it was just like another gig. We played live in the studio practically ― minimum overdubs. With only five days, it really was just a gig.

A gig that's been resounding for four decades.
I'm glad we didn't know that at the time or else we'd never have finished it.
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Article Published In Sep 10 Issue