Black Sabbath's Tony 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. Born on February 19, 1948, in Birmingham, England, Iommi picked up the guitar after being inspired by the likes of Hank Marvin & the Shadows as a teenager. By 1967, Iommi had played with several blues-based rock bands, and formed a group (Earth) with three old acquaintances from his school days -- bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler, drummer Bill Ward, and signer John "Ozzy" Osbourne. But Iommi's musical career was nearly derailed prematurely when he suffered a horrible accident at a sheet metal factory, when a machine sliced off the tips of the fingers on his right hand. Depressed and figuring that his guitar playing days were behind him, a friend turned him onto gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (who lost use of two fingers in a Gypsy caravan campfire accident), inspiring Iommi to give the six-string another go, with soft plastic tips attached to the ends of his fingers. Shortly thereafter, Iommi received a tempting offer to join Jethro Tull's band in 1968, which he reluctantly accepted. After only a single performance with Tull (playing the track "Song for Jeffrey" on the Rolling Stones' never-aired TV special "Rock & Roll Circus"), Iommi split from Tull to return back to his pals in Earth.
With another band already playing around England by the name of Earth, Iommi & co. were forced to change their name, taking "Black Sabbath" from the classic horror movie. With the name switch came a change in musical direction -- the band would explore dark lyrical subjects, while the music would be repetitive, plodding, and H-E-A-V-Y. In the process, Sabbath created the blueprint for heavy metal with such incredibly influential, all-time classic releases as their 1969 self-titled debut, 1971's Paranoid and Master of Reality, 1972's Vol. 4, and 1973's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, becoming one of the world's top hard rock bands in the process. Iommi's guitar playing propelled such metal standards as "Black Sabbath," "N.I.B.," "Paranoid," "Iron Man," "War Pigs," "Into the Void," and "Children of the Grave," which boast some of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history. But by the mid- to late '70s, constant touring and drug abuse began to fracture the band, resulting in several uninspired albums and Osbourne's exit by 1979, which led to a revolving door of singers coming and going over the years (with sometimes Iommi being the only original member remaining).
After keeping the Sabbath name alive with several inspired non-Osbourne releases (1980's Heaven & Hell, 1981's The Mob Rules), and more than a few missteps, the original Sabbath lineup reunited for several highly successful tours in the late '90s, making new Sabbath fans out of a whole legion of people too young to have caught the band in their '70s heyday. And although a few Sabbath albums from the '80s and '90s could have arguably been considered Tony Iommi solo albums (1986's Seventh Star was labeled a Sabbath album at the last moment by Warner Bros.), he issued his first true solo release in the form of 2000's Iommi. The ten-track disc featured many of rock's top names lending their vocal talents (Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Phil Anselmo, and even Osbourne, among others), receiving favorable reviews upon release. While Sabbath's 1999 world tour was supposed to be their swan song, the group announced to the delight of their fans that they would be headlining the 2001 edition of Ozzfest. ~ Greg Prato