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Tony Iommi
450px-Heaven and Hell 33
Iommi playing his signature guitar with Heaven & Hell live
Birth Name Frank Anthony Iommi
Born 19 February 1948
Instrument Guitar, Piano

Frank Anthony "Tony" Iommi (born 19 February 1948, in Aston, Birmingham, England) is an English guitarist and songwriter best known as the founding member of pioneering heavy metal band Black Sabbath, and the sole constant band member through multiple personnel changes.

Iommi is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential guitarists in rock music: according to critic Greg Prato, "Iommi is one of only two guitarists (the other being Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page) that can take full credit for pioneering the mammoth riffs of heavy metal." In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Iommi #86 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Career

Early History

The son of Italian immigrants, Tony Iommi picked up the guitar as a teenager, after being inspired by the likes of Hank Marvin and The Shadows. He plays guitar left-handed. In an industrial accident at the age of 17 on his last day of work in a sheet metal factory, he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand. Iommi considered abandoning music, but his boss (who knew of Iommi's "night job" as a pub band guitar player) encouraged him to reconsider by playing a record by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who earned wide acclaim despite limited use of his fretting hand following an injury.

After attempting to learn to play right-handed , Iommi strung his guitars with extra-light strings (using banjo strings, which were a lighter gauge than even the lightest guitar-strings of the time) and wore plastic covers over the two damaged fingers. He fashioned the latter himself, by melting plastic liquid-soap bottles into a ball and then using a soldering iron to make holes into this ball, putting his fingers in while the plastic was still soft enough to be shaped. He then trimmed and sanded away the excess plastic to leave himself with two thimbles, which he then covered with leather, to provide better grip on the strings. Subsequent tips have been custom-made.

Pre-Black Sabbath

Iommi had played in several blues/rock bands, the earliest of which was The Rockin' Chevrolets between 1964 and 1965. The band had regular bookings and when they were offered work in Germany, Iommi decided to leave his factory job to take up the opportunity. Between 1966 and 1967 Iommi played in a band named The Rest. This was the first time Iommi played with old school friend and future Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.

From January 1968 till July 1968, Iommi was guitarist in Mythology, with Ward joining a month later in Mid February. In May 1968, police raided the group's practice flat and found cannabis resin, which resulted in a £15 fine and a two-year conditional discharge for Iommi, Ward, Smith and Marshall. Mythology split up after a gig in Silloth on 13 July, 1968.

In August 1968, at the same time as the breakup of Mythology, a band called Rare Breed also broke up. Rare Breed vocalist John "Ozzy" Osbourne and rhythm guitarist Terry "Geezer" Butler joined with Iommi and Ward from Mythology and also slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan "Aker" Clarke. The six-piece band, now with Butler as bassist, were named the Polka Tulk Blues Company. After just two gigs (the last of which was at the Banklands Youth Club in Workington), Phillips and Clarke were dismissed from the band, which soon after shortened its name to Polka Tulk.

Earth and Jethro Tull

Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne renamed their band in September 1968 to Earth. They carried on under this moniker until December 1968 when Iommi briefly departed to play in Jethro Tull. However after only one performance (an appearance on "The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus" in which the band mimed "A Song For Jeffrey", whilst Ian Anderson sang live), Iommi was back with Earth once more.

Tony Iommi on his working-relation with Jethro Tull vocalist Ian Anderson:

I learned quite a lot from him, I must say. I learned that you have got to work at it. You have to rehearse. When I came back and I got the band (Earth) back together, I made sure that everybody was up early in the morning and rehearsing. I used to go and pick them up. I was the only one at the time that could drive. I used to have to drive the bloody van and get them up at quarter of nine every morning; which was, believe me, early for us then. I said to them, "This is how we have got to do it because this is how Jethro Tull did it." They had a schedule and they knew that they were going to work from this time till that time. I tried that with our band and we got into doing it. It worked. Instead of just strolling in at any hour, it made it more like we were saying, "Let’s do it!"

Black Sabbath

In August 1969, following the confusion with another group named Earth (who had minor success in England), the group renamed themselves Black Sabbath. His aforementioned factory accident impacted the Black Sabbath sound later on, as Iommi detuned his guitar from E to C# (3 half-steps down), in order to ease the tension on his fingers. As a result, Sabbath were among the first bands to detune and resulted in the technique being a mainstay of heavy metal music. The first two Black Sabbath albums are actually in E tuning, however, as Iommi didn't start tuning down to C# until 1971's Master of Reality. Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler also tuned his instrument down to match Iommi's. It may be argued that Tony Iommi was a pioneer of heavy metal riffing, due to his guitar playing on now famous tracks such as "Paranoid", "War Pigs", "Iron Man", and "Into the Void". Iommi combined blues-like guitar solos and dark, minor-key riffing with a revolutionary high-gain, heavily distorted tone with his use of a modified treble-boosting effect-pedal and a Gibson SG, as well as plugging his guitar into his amp's bass socket.

Rob Halford, vocalist for Judas Priest, when filling in for Ozzy Osbourne during an August 2004 concert in Philadelphia, introduced Tony Iommi to the audience as "The man who invented the heavy metal riff".

By the mid 1970s, incessant drug usage, managerial problems and constant touring had taken its toll on the band, and Ozzy Osbourne was fired in 1979 by Iommi. Osbourne was replaced with Ronnie James Dio, the vocalist for Rainbow (a band formed by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore). With Dio, Black Sabbath produced Heaven and Hell, prior to replacing Bill Ward with Vinny Appice. With Iommi and Geezer Butler the only original members, this line-up produced The Mob Rules. During the '80s and '90s Iommi rebuilt the band with many lineup changes with vocalists including Ian Gillan (formerly of Deep Purple), Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin and Ray Gillen. After Ian Gillan departed the band in 1984, Iommi recorded his first solo album, entitled Seventh Star. The album featured Glenn Hughes (formerly of Deep Purple) on vocals, but due to label pressures, it was billed as a release by "Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi."

In 1992, Iommi appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, playing four songs with the remaining members of Queen and other guest artists. Also, in the following year Iommi teamed up with fellow Black Country band Diamond Head and co-wrote the song Starcrossed (Lovers in the Night) for their 1993 Death and Progress album. At Ozzy's 'farewell' concert at Costa Mesa in 1992, Ronnie James Dio refused to perform and abruptly left the band. As a result, Rob Halford (vocalist for Judas Priest) was recruited to perform as the vocalist for two gigs (Halford also sang at one of the dates on the 2004 Ozzfest tour, when Ozzy couldn't perform due to bronchitis). The show concluded with Ozzy bringing out the other members of the original Black Sabbath line-up (following the end of Osbourne's solo set) for a 4-song reunion.

Black Sabbath went on to record 2 further albums with another of their previous vocalists Tony Martin before the original line-up reunited as a touring band in 1997 (although Bill Ward was not present for the first two reunion tours, the second being due to a heart attack. Ward was replaced by Vinny Appice.)

In 2013, Black Sabbath released the album "13" after a decade long absence with only Ozzy, Tony and Geezer on the album with Brad Wilk being a guest drummer. Ward couldn't be on the album due to contractal issues and an fight between him and Ozzy.

As of now, the band is going on a successful tour entitled "The End".

Solo Career

In 2000, Iommi finally released his first legitimate solo album, titled Iommi. The album featured several guest vocalists that included Ian Astbury, Henry Rollins, Serj Tankian, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Phil Anselmo, Peter Steele and Ozzy Osbourne. In late 2004, Iommi's second solo album was released, entitled The 1996 DEP Sessions. This album was originally recorded in 1996, but was never officially released. However, a copy with a drum track by Dave Holland was available as a bootleg called Eighth Star. Glenn Hughes performed vocals on the album, and he furthered his collaboration with Hughes with the release of his third solo album, Fused. Released on 12 July 2005, John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff completed the trio on the album.

Heaven and Hell

In October 2006 it was reported that Iommi would tour with Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and Ronnie James Dio again, but under the moniker Heaven and Hell. Later it was announced that Ward had decided not to participate and Vinny Appice was hired as his replacement.Rhino Records released "The Dio Years" (under the 'Black Sabbath' moniker) album on 3 April 2007. The album showcased older tracks with Dio and also included three brand new songs recorded with Dio and Vinny Appice.

The band started an American tour in April 2007 with Megadeth and Down as opening acts. The tour finished in November in England with the prospect of an album to follow in 2008. During this period the band's show at the New York Radio City Music Hall was released as both a DVD and CD with a vinyl release expected in the UK in 2008. During the summer of 2008, the band embarked on the Metal Masters Tour along with Judas Priest, Motörhead and Testament. The band's first studio album, The Devil You Know, will be relased on April 28, 2009.

In November 2008, Iommi had a star revealed on the Birmingham Walk of Stars.

Equipment

Guitars

  • Jaydee Custom S.G.

Built in Birmingham by luthier John Diggins sometime between 1975 and 1978, the guitar was first used for overdubs on the 'Heaven and Hell' album and later became one of Iommi's main guitars. The guitar is equipped with a 24 fret neck with custom cross inlays, five control knobs (however, only three are functional) and a highly distressed finish.

  • Gibson SG aka "Monkey"

A 1965 Gibson SG Special in red finish fitted with a Gibson P-90 pickup in the bridge postion and a custom-wound John Birch P-90 style single coil in the neck position. The guitar became Iommi's main instrument after his white Stratocaster's neck pickup broke during the recording of Black Sabbath's self-titled album.

  • Gibson Custom Shop SG

The guitar was built by the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville after Iommi's specifications and finished in 1997. The guitar is one of two made as prototypes for the Gibson Custom Shop Limited Edition Iommi Special SG. The guitar features a neck with 24 frets and four control knobs, of which only two are active (much like his old Jaydee Custom guitar).

  • Epiphone P94 Iommi SG

A stock Epiphone SG signature model in black finish fitted with P-94 pickups which is a version of the Gibson P-90 pickup designed to fit into existing humbucker housings.

  • Gibson SG Standard

A regular left-handed version of the SG fitted with two extra frets to give Iommi the full two octaves which he prefers. The guitar is equipped with his signature pickup. Iommi was the first guitarist to have a signature pickup designed and built by Gibson

  • Fender Stratocaster

Iommi played a Fender Stratocaster that was spraypainted white by Iommi and his father during the early days with Black Sabbath. However, the pickup malfunctioned during the recording of their first album so Iommi quickly turned to his backup Gibson SG to finish the record. Currently Iommi owns two Stratocasters, one of which has been modified with his signature pickup in the bridge position.

  • Gibson Barney Kessel

A rare left-handed version of the jazz guitarist Barney Kessel artist model, built sometime in the first half of the 1960s.

  • Epiphone Riviera 12 string

Originally a regular right-handed version in red finish that was converted by Epiphone to a left-handed version to fit Iommi.

  • LaBella custom gauge strings
  • Shure Wireless systems

Effects

  • Tycobrahe Wah Pedal
  • Korg Rackmount Delay Model SDD1000
  • Boss chorus pedal
  • Korg DL8000R multi-tap delay
  • Peavey Addverb III
  • Boss Octave Divider
  • Drawmer LX22 Compressor

Amplifiers

  • Laney GH 100 TI Tony Iommi Signature amplifiers

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