Ozzy on Black Sabbath: ‘This really is the end’

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Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath perform at the United Center in Chicago. The band brings its final tour to the Tacoma Dome on Saturday. Armando L. Sanchez Chicago Tribune.
Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath perform at the United Center in Chicago. The band brings its final tour to the Tacoma Dome on Saturday. Armando L. Sanchez Chicago Tribune

The way Ozzy Osbourne put it, his wife Sharon Osbourne might have the final say on whether Black Sabbath is really calling it quits after finishing its 2016 tour, which the band has firmly named The End.

“(We’re) not going to come back together in three years when we all run out of cash,” the metal godfather insisted, then pondered the distinct possibility of actually going broke: “(I) certainly will if my wife won’t stop shopping.”

The Ozzman was trying to be funny, of course. Otherwise there was no irony or subtlety in a recent teleconference interview with U.S. journalists when it came to answering the most obvious question surrounding this tour: Is this really “the end” for arguably the most legendary and vital band in heavy metal?

Saturday’s concert at the Tacoma Dome concert is the eighth stop on Black Sabbath’s 2016 tour, which runs through September. Osbourne will be joined by original Sabbath members guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler.

In the interview, Butler said bluntly, “It’s definitely the end. We’re all getting up there in age and while we’re still at the top of our profession, both musically and aesthetically, we wanted to go out on the top and we feel that this is the right time to do it.”

“I think it’s run its course,” Osbourne said. “Black Sabbath (has) been up and down. And it’s good that we’ve come back together at the end, more or less, to finish on a high note.”

Of course, the band isn’t entirely put back together. Which brought us to the second obvious question surrounding the tour: Why isn’t drummer Bill Ward performing?

The influential, co-founding band member has been an outcast from the group since 2013, when the other members recorded the first Ozzy-helmed Black Sabbath studio album in 35 years, “13,” with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk filling in. On this tour, Ward’s shoes will be filled by Tommy Clufetos, who drummed on Osbourne’s most recent solo tours.

Osbourne outright dodged the query.

“Next question, please,” he said. “Any time I say anything more about Bill Ward, I get another 5,000 complaints.”

In prior interviews, Osbourne said Ward can no longer endure the physical demands of drumming for an entire Black Sabbath concert. Ward has strongly refuted the claims and says Sharon Osbourne, who is Ozzy’s longtime manager, presented the drummer with an “unsignable” contract that did not give him a fair share of the band’s income.

The closest Osbourne came to addressing the matter further was modest hype for Clufetos: “He’s doing a good job of filling in. Everybody seems to like him.”

‘IT WAS REALLY UGLY’

The squabble with Ward is the latest in a long history of infighting within Black Sabbath, which formed in 1968 amid grim economic times in the band’s industrial hometown of Birmingham, England.

As Osbourne recalled of the band’s origins, “It was really ugly.

“People back then were writing about peace stuff and hippies and all that stuff, (but) it was false and ugly. They’re all living on a fantasy. So we decided a different approach and the reality of what is going down in this world.”

Things later got ugly between Osbourne and his bandmates. They fired him for erratic, drunken behavior in 1978, eight years after the group broke out with the title track of its second album, “Paranoid,” and another of metal’s most iconic tracks, “Iron Man.” Ward came and went in the ’80s while the band enlisted a rotating cast of singers, including Rainbow’s Ronnie James Dio and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan.

All four original Sabbath members finally got back together to great response in 1997, when they recorded the live album “Reunion.” More tours followed, but the band was sidelined in 2012 when Iommi was found to have lymphoma.

Osbourne was forthcoming when asked about his original bandmate’s health.

“As far as we know, he’s doing great,” the singer said. “I went to have dinner with him about two or three weeks ago and he sounds great. He looks great. He’s ready to go.”

‘GLAD WE’RE STILL ALIVE’

The deaths of Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister and David Bowie came up as Osbourne and Butler discussed calling it quits. They wanted to say goodbye while they are physically able to pull off a strong show.

“I realized on the ‘13’ tour that we couldn’t do it for much longer,” Butler said. “So the natural thing to do is to all agree on one last tour, which we often would feel the same way.”

“Up to this time, we all got control of everything, you know, because of our wild lifestyle,” said Osbourne. “I’m glad we survived these times, that we’re all still alive.”

They repeatedly brought up the idea of “ending on a high note,” which mainly referred to the “13” album. The final Sabbath studio record, for which megaproducer Rick Rubin lovingly returned the band to its heyday-era sound, wound up being the band’s only album to top the U.S. charts and its first Grammy Award winner.

Four unreleased tracks from the sessions with Rubin and live versions of four of the “13” tracks will be for sale as a mini-LP at shows on the farewell tour.

Despite all of the new material, Osbourne said, “We decided not to do so many new songs after the last album, because what people really wanted is the old classics. It takes them back down memory lane.”

In this case, the singer is fine with living in the past.

“Black Sabbath has been through the mill over the years,” he said. “To come back and be friends with my buddies who I started up with all those years ago, it’s a closure for me.

“I’m glad we ended up having more or less whatever has gone on between us over the years. We’ve got rid of all that. And we are friends again. So it’s good that, at the end of my days on this planet, I can say, ‘Well, we ended OK,’ you know.”

Three of them did, anyway.

BLACK SABBATH: THE END

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors will open at 6 p.m.

Where: Tacoma Dome, 2727 S. G St., Tacoma.

Tickets: $35-$150. Some sections are sold out. Available at ticketmaster.com.

Of note: Lead singer Ozzy Osbourne has been battling an extreme case of sinusitis, leading Black Sabbath to postpone three tour stops in Canada, including Wednesday’s scheduled show in Vancouver. For announcements on Saturday’s show at the Tacoma Dome, check thetacomadome.org.

Chris Riemenschbeider Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Dusty Fields

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