Black Sabbath clearly thinking about doing all kinds of illegal stuff.
“I wonder what jail I’ll wake up in tomorrow?”
—Black Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne musing about what might happen after one of his routine drug and alcohol induced blackouts back in the day.
If you could only use one word to describe what it’s like to be a part of the world of rock and roll it is this one: dangerous. First of all, the job isn’t really built for longevity, and it’s well known that many notable icons punched out of their mortal time clocks before they reached the age of 28 (aka, the 27 Club). There are the non-stop parties involving two good old heathen vices—sex and drugs, which at some point catches up with you in one way or another. Another job hazard of this (apparently) illustrious gig includes the occasional skirmish—or worse—with law enforcement. Let’s face it. If you’re in a successful touring rock band and you don’t already have a mugshot in your photo album, just wait. It’ll probably happen. And this leads me to the following breakdown highlighting the many crimes committed by the members of the greatest heavy metal band in history, Black Sabbath. And since Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s rap sheet is the longest, let’s start with him, shall we?
Though Ozzy’s bad behavior is infamous, he was apparently never arrested while he was with Sabbath, despite the fact that he was prone to relieving himself in places other than a toilet and was stark-raving drunk most days. Prior to joining the band, Ozzy held several strange jobs including working in a factory that produced car horns, a funeral home, and even a slaughterhouse. Since Ozzy and a straight job didn’t really get along, he turned to burglary to make a living. This landed the great and powerful Ozz in Winson Green prison for six weeks for petty theft after his father refused to pay his bail. While behind bars, Ozzy gave himself his famous “OZZY” knuckle tattoo using a sewing needle and graphite polish, as well as getting the two adorable smiley faces that adorn his kneecaps.
Ozzy being Ozzy in the 1970s.
While Sabbath’s antics are about as epic as they come, Ozz would completely run amok once he was kicked out of the band in 1979. His arrest record would grow to include public urination and intoxication after he took a piss close enough to the beloved historical landmark the Alamo in 1982 (wearing a dress no less) that he was banned from entering San Antonio for a decade. This was also the same year that Ozzy famously bit the head off of a live bat on stage in Iowa. In 1984 Ozzy was once again arrested for public intoxication and was sent off to the drunk tank after being found completely inebriated traipsing up and down the streets of Memphis’ Beale Street entertainment district. In 1989 he was charged with the attempted murder of his wife Sharon Osbourne whom he tried to strangle with his bare hands while completely blotto on whatever he could snort, pop or swill. Let’s also not forget that before Ozzy’s wife Sharon took over as his manager during his solo career, it was her father Don Arden (known not-so-affectionately as the Al Capone of pop managers), who called the shots. Arden was quite literally one of the most feared members of the music scene in England and once hung rival manager Robert Stigwood (Cream and the Bee Gees) by his feet from his office window over a dispute involving the Small Faces. Damn.
When it comes to Tony Iommi and breaking the law we start back In 1968 when the buzz-killing police raided Iommi’s home in Birmingham and found *gasp* marijuana residue for which the guitarist received the British equivalent of probation for two years. In 1973 he nearly lost his life to an overdose, technically a crime in itself, at a Sabbath show at the Hollywood Bowl. And that was after helping his bandmates snort $75K worth of blow in 1972. In 1983 he blew up a bunch of prized carp belonging to businessman and airline mogul Richard Branson while the band was recording Born Again at Branson’s studio in Oxfordshire. Then he trashed drummer Bill Ward’s car at a go-cart track and let it burn after it caught fire. Iommi has a long history of getting his kicks by blowing stuff up which he thankfully documented in his 2011 book Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath.
Geezer Butler’s 2015 mugshot and Ozzy’s from 1984.
Now let’s move on from Tony “Carp-Killer” Iommi to Sabbath bassist and extreme soccer enthusiast Geezer Butler. If you were not already aware, Geezer is a long-time animal activist and vegan which is about as tree-huggy as a metalhead can get, right? Though the popular belief is that people, in general, mellow out with age, that old adage doesn’t always apply to everybody, especially musicians. Which is definitely the case when it comes to the very metal Mr. Butler. Let me preface this story by noting that Sabbath’s history of not digging on skinheads and Nazis goes way back to the start of the band and Butler has stated that he was routinely hassled by skinheads at soccer matches because of his long hair. Butler also recalls the time that he and Tony Iommi (armed with a fucking microphone stand no less) went at it with a bunch of skins who had shown up to a gig the band was playing at Weston-super-Mare, England. That run-in would become the basis for Sabbath’s 1970s jam “Fairies Wear Boots.” Though the event didn’t end up with either Iommi or Geezer getting arrested, an incident involving a drunk Nazi and Butler did 45 years later.
In 2015 Butler traveled to Death Valley to “get away from things.” One evening he decided to stop in at the bar at his hotel for a nightcap. There, according to Butler, he was served the “strongest beer” he had ever had in his life. Geezer’s presence didn’t go unnoticed that night and soon a patron Butler described as “some drunken Nazi bloke” started hurling racially charged, hateful words centered around Jewish people at the bassist. Drunken-Nazi-bloke’s verbal tirade didn’t sit well with Butler, whose wife just so happens to be Jewish, so he punched the guy in the face. Although I don’t condone the use of violence, punching Nazis is pretty much always the right thing to do, and the brawl got Geezer arrested and charged with several crimes, namely, misdemeanor assault, public intoxication, and vandalism at the age of 66.
So what about Sabbath’s timekeeper Bill Ward? Well, Ward seems to be the only member of the original lineup of Sabbath that has not had an altercation with law enforcement during his lifetime (at least that I am aware of). But I’m still holding out hope that he may be a law-breaking late-bloomer much like his pal Geezer.
Live footage of the band performing “Fairies Wear Boots” in Paris,1970.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Black Sabbath’s cover of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ from 1970 is a lyrical massacre
Blackout! The mysterious story behind Black Sabbath’s first US gig
Did Black Sabbath lift the opening riff from ‘Paranoid’?
The curious case of Black Sabbath guitar god Tony Iommi and his very 70s sweater collection
On this day in 1970, Black Sabbath invented heavy metal