Please don't accuse us of navel-gazing, even when we're guilty as charged. Sometimes we just like to look back and reminisce about the good times, in a series we call CREEMAINS. So sue us! We present this latest installment in honor of our Lord and Savior Ozzy Osbourne’s 75th birthday. Veteran rock journalist and former CREEMer Sylvie Simmons tells us the story behind her March 1986 interview with Ozzy before a purported Sabbath reunion.
This wasn’t my first interview with Ozzy; there were many, before and after. But like they say, you always remember your first. Mine was in 1978—eight years before this CREEM Metal article—when the U.K. rock weekly Sounds sent me on the road with Black Sabbath.
I hadn’t written for Sounds for very long. I hadn’t written for anyone for very long. I was a kid intent on becoming a rock journalist, to which end I got a cheap one-way flight from London to L.A in 1977 and set about interviewing any musician who came through town. But at that point I’d never traveled with a band on tour. In retrospect maybe it was the magazine’s version of those ancient Spartans who left their babies on a mountain, keeping only those tough enough to survive.
My assignment for Sounds included interviewing Tony Iommi and Ozzy, preferably together. Only Tony wasn’t talking to Ozzy. This was Black Sabbath’s infamous 10th-anniversary tour—the one that ended with the band throwing Ozzy out.
As you might imagine, the mood for that 1978 conversation with Ozzy was dark. It was after the Fresno show in the hotel’s piano bar, where a trio was playing Barry Manilow covers, and Ozzy, in a black leather jacket, was slumped in a booth, washing down Courvoisier shots with beer. In a despondent voice he told me he’d taken so many pills he rattled when he walked. Pills for anxiety, pills to keep going.
“I sold my soul for this game,” he said, and it sounded like he meant it. This was a very different Ozzy from the upbeat, amusing, exuberant Ozzy I’d talk with in 1986 for CREEM. Over the years I’d see both Ozzys, sometimes in the same interview.
“I sold my soul for this game,” he said, and it sounded like he meant it.
The reason for the CREEM interview was a purported Black Sabbath reunion. It’s strange that the subject would even come up given the treatment he got from his old bandmates. Not to mention that he’d been much happier as a band leader and making more money with his solo career. But it’s a rare time I’ve spoken to Ozzy when the ghost of Sabbath wasn’t hovering somewhere nearby.
I remember how totally broken he was when the band replaced him with Ronnie James Dio. When I spoke with him in 1979, the first interview he gave after the breakup, he described how he locked himself in a hotel room for three months for a ghoulish one-man party, convinced his career was over and that he’d never perform again. The only people he opened the door to were pizza deliverers and coke dealers. He wouldn’t even let the maid in.
Finally Sabbath’s manager Don Arden, who had signed Ozzy to a solo deal, sent his daughter Sharon to the hotel to see what was going on. Sharon not only took care of Ozzy, she became his wife and manager and went on to make him a household name. It was Sharon whom Geezer Butler’s wife called to persuade Ozzy to reunite with Sabbath for that one-off performance at Live Aid, the fund-raising event for the victims of Ethiopia’s famine.
The most moving part of this conversation for me was Ozzy trying to explain how existentially important performing was for him. When I reminded him he’d told me he would quit at 40—then only three years away—he said he’d been depressed when he said it. But even when he wasn’t depressed there was always a lurking anxiety about touring that lasted right up to the moment he stood in front of the crowd on stage. Drugs and drink made it easier to handle; Sharon had a lot of work on her hands when it came to that. But she also kept him working, knowing he wouldn’t have survived if he’d given up and just stayed home.
I smiled at the part where he predicted being a rock star at 60: ‘“There’s never been a 60-year-old rock star,” he muses into the deep bubbles of the Perrier. “Maybe I’ll be the first.”’ I probably thought the same thing about being a rock journalist! When Ozzy reached that milestone in 2008, he just kept going. In his 69th year he toured with Black Sabbath; Ozzy and Tony had made up and recorded a chart-topping album. Turning 70 didn’t stop Ozzy either. He made two new solo albums and would have continued to tour—solo or with Sabbath—had it not been for an onslaught of serious health problems.
But in 2022, in an arena in his hometown, Birmingham, there he was, just weeks after surgery, making a surprise appearance with Tony at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. In the middle of the stage, bouncing on the spot, Ozzy sang “Paranoid,” an enormous grin on his face, and the audience adored him.