Jesse Leach’s Check Your Head: The Power Of The Riff Compels You!
I was sitting in my living room last week having a few beers with my wife, just hanging out and playing a mix of music as we often do. Black Sabbath came up on the mix and I was just taken back as I haven’t listened to them in a while. It was one of those moments where you get so excited you want to punch something and sing at the top of your lungs! Being in the company of my lovely wife in our quiet little apartment, it seemed like it was not the place or the time, so I began writing this so I wouldn’t forget to pay respects to a band that will forever hold a place in my musical soul. Below is my small tribute to a great band.
Black Sabbath…what an amazing, pioneering band! Hands down, they will always be one of my favorite true metal bands. How many bands would simply not exist because of them? Let’s not forget — as a vocalist — to mention Ozzy and Dio; two great vocalists (which is more than some bands could ever claim about just one). The massive sound of the riffs, the thundering bass and groovy drums…these guys were just in a completely different headspace than anyone at the time of their inception.
I actually discovered them because I first heard Faith no More’s cover of “War Pigs” back when The Real Thing came out. Being a semi-sheltered child of a minister, Ozzy was not allowed in my “father’s house” when I was younger (thankfully, Dad has loosened up quite a bit in his older age) so Faith No More became my gateway band when I was 13. Also I have to add that, years later, I found out this was the band my mother — as a young woman — stole her father’s van and snuck out to go see them play! Take that, “No Ozzy in my house”-Dad-from-1989…ha ha.
I went out and bought the cassette tape Paranoid back in 1991. I had bought the cassette for the song “War Pigs” but I remember the first time I heard the song “Paranoid” I must have pressed rewind and play on the cassette a dozen times that day. I was just being floored at the sound of the vocals and guitar. I was familiar with what “punk” was and I thought (at the time) this song was it! Then, as I took time to let the tape play, all of the songs grew on me and I remember thinking that this band was like the evil Beatles or something (as the Beatles were ingrained in me from a very young age by my father). I just had no frame of reference but I was hooked.
Black Sabbath became my little secret. I would put on my Walkman (for the kids, this is a device that plays cassette tapes…kind of like an iPod but a great deal bigger and more awkward and you could only listen to ONE ALBUM at a time! Crazy, right?!? And you could go skateboarding for hours with just this one tape playing over and over). I needed more and I wanted to understand where this band, this sound came from; mind you, this was before the internet was a household regular and again, I was a bit sheltered from some things as a child. So, I saved up my allowance and skated to the nearest record store and upon the advice of the guy behind the counter, purchased Black Sabbath Vol. 4 for $5.99 and proceeded to play it until it was warped.
Admittedly, I never bothered to go too much further into Black Sabbath as shortly after getting into them, I discovered Minor Threat — a life-changing moment that caused me to put aside anything that was not hardcore or punk for a few years of my life (thus steering me away from all metal until about 1995 or so, when I became less of a hardcore snob).
However, it wasn’t until around 2004 when I was about a year or so into writing, recording and playing shows with my rock band Seemless that my appreciation for Black Sabbath was taken to a new level. Derek Kerswill, the drummer (ex-Unearth) made me a mix CD with “Snowblind,” “Supernaut” and “Hole in the Sky” that re-ignited my love for them; it returned stronger than before. I grew my hair out and wore more ‘70s-style clothes; I was just smitten. (See here and here for proof of visual and musical influence). I also started listening to bands that were influenced by them…anything that had that Sabbath vibe; for a while, I was obsessed. Then, one day on tour, the guitar player Jeff Fultz played me his favorite Sabbath stuff off of Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules — the Dio-era Sabbath. I had never really listened to Dio (writing him off as cheesy in my punk and hardcore days) and here was this completely different sound. I had a whole new appreciation for Black Sabbath and Dio, for that matter (God rest his soul).
So in closing, I have to say I will always be a Black Sabbath fan. The sound and the voices have played a crucial role in shaping me as a musician. You can argue what classic rock band is more influential, and you can speculate who were more inventive or pioneering, but you cannot take away the vibe, the sound and the legacy that Black Sabbath was and is. Without Black Sabbath, metal music and metal culture would be completely different. Just what Tony Iommi alone did for guitars with the detuning of his strings and the massive riffs! He influenced so many guitarists the world over! I, for one, would not be half the musician I am without their influence, so much so I thought is was important to pay my respects in writing. I leave with with one of my all time favorite Black Sabbath songs: “Fairies Wear Boots.”
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