Black Sabbath, 1970
On this day 44-years ago, Black Sabbath played their first-ever show on US soil. However, as the subject of this post insinuates, the actual location of the gig is some debate, depending on the sources you choose to believe.
Black Sabbath, London 1970
Riding (quite literally) high on the huge successes of their first two albums, Black Sabbath (released on February 18th, 1970), and Paranoid (released on September 18th, 1970), both Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne historically credit the location of their first US show in their respective autobiographies as legendary Manhattan club, Ungano’s. In Iommi’s 2012 autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath Iommi recalls showing up to Ungano’s and was horrified at what a “shithole” the club was. Their roadie plugged their Euro gear into Ungano’s US only-sockets and subsequently blew the clubs fuses. After a short unplanned pre-show intermission, the power was back on and Black Sabbath’s first gig was history. Or was it?
Black Sabbath jamming at Esby Gymnasium at Glassboro State College?
Other sources claim that the band’s first gig took place at Glassboro State College (now known as Rowan University) in New Jersey. And the story is quite similar to Iommi’s. Claims made by rock promoter Rick Green, the brother of Stu Green who with his brother ran Midnight Sun an influential music promotion company that started out in Pennsylvania in early 70’s, has been quoted as calling himself the “promoter” of Black Sabbath’s “first US gig” at Glassboro. On the surface, it’s not hard to believe. The Greens booked everyone from Lou Reed and Alice Cooper to the Patti Smith Group at the historic Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, not far from Glassboro State.
In an interview that Rick did in 1992 with The Philadelphia Daily News, he spoke about the gig in strangely similar detail to Iommi’s recalling that Sabbath blew out the power at Tower after plugging in their amps into incompatible sockets. This caused the gig to be rescheduled until the end of Sabbath’s inaugural tour. Hmmm. So what about Glassboro? Was it real, or was it just a bad memory? Here’s another version of the Glassboro story according to an article from The Seth Man, a journalist who writes over at Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage. The post also cites Rick Green’s Daily News interview as a source, but includes more detail:
The band’s (Black Sabbath’s) passage through customs at Kennedy Airport in New York proved to be “a day-long trauma that left the group tired and humiliated,” causing them to be three and a half hours late for the gig. Finally appearing onstage at 1:00 in the morning, the power to their sound system cut out during the first song. It was fixed within a few minutes, but once they recommenced they caused a second power outage that not only knocked out their sound system but the power to the gymnasium, the campus and “...most of the power in the neighborhood. The street lights were out and there was darkness.” Appropriately enough, the date was Mischief Night: exactly half a year away from Walpurgisnacht on October 30th.
Black Sabbath perhaps snapped during the Esby show
As I mentioned earlier there are many resources, some trustworthy, that credit Glassboro as Sabbath’s first American gig that include British author Garry Sharpe-Young (specifically in the book, “Metal: The Definitive Guide”) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s timeline on Sabbath. I’ve even read accounts that seem legit that tell the tale of a young Ozzy Osbourne, who was allegedly so distraught during the Glassboro gig that he wandered off into a messy pile of tears in corner of Glassboro’s Esby Gymnasium (where the mythological gig was held), while shouting “I hate America and I want to go home!”. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that said article spelled Ozzy’s name “Ozzie”, and also notes that Ozzy was 20 at the time, when he was actually 22. I’m probably nitpicking but for what it’s worth, I’d like to present another piece of this very weird puzzle. Below is a strange show poster for the Glassboro show supposedly created by promoter Rick Green’s little sister. The poster went to auction at Christie’s in 2007. The auction items bio states a bit of maybe-history noting that after the power went out during the first song, Sabbath wasn’t able to continue and the show was made up later at neighboring Montclair State University.
Black Sabbath show poster for Glassboro State College. Christies auction 2007.
So what to believe? In my mind, it’s hard to conceive that Tony Iommi’s recollection of Sabbath’s first gig would be incorrect. I mean, he was there, man. And despite the fact that it’s nothing short of a miracle that Ozzy remembers anything from those early days (although in his book “I Am Ozzy” which I’m currently reading, he remembers a lot), the fact that he corroborates Iommi’s heavy metal history lesson just adds credibility to the show taking place at Ungano’s. So let’s put an end to this folklore once and for all. In the pages of the the Fall 1998 issue of Rowan Magazine the University historians took a look back at the many famous visitors they have hosted through the years such as Blondie, Elton John and Jane Fonda. The publication, that the University publishes itself, makes no mention of Black Sabbath. So there you have it. Black Sabbath’s first live US show PROBABLY took place in a small, skuzzy club in Manhattan on October 30th, 1970, not some upper-crust college in New Jersey that was more accustomed to the stylings of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The END (or is it?).