April 2, 1982: Ozzy Vs. Black Sabbath in Boston

Ozzy Osbourne Announces 'No More Tours 2' Final World Tour at Press Conference at his Los Angeles Home on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Live Nation)

On April 2, 1982, Ozzy Osbourne reached the Boston Garden for a show nobody thought would ever happen.  With the death of his chief collaborator, Randy Rhoads, two weeks earlier in a plane crash, it was widely assumed Ozzy's career would go down in flames as well.  In a well-publicized feud with his fellow bandmates in Black Sabbath, now fronted by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy had fought back, his first two solo albums becoming huge Platinum successes, but the pressure on the singer at this point was enormous.

In this, a chapter from my most-recent book "Decibel Diaries: A Journey Through Rock in 50 Concerts," Ozzy's triumph as well as one by his arch-rival Black Sabbath, which played the Boston Garden just under a month earlier, is explored.  This was the most difficult moment of Ozzy Osbourne's career and I was lucky to have been at both shows and interviewed Sabbath for the now-defunct "Boston Rock" magazine. 

By the way, I'll be reading from the book at Canton Public Library this Wednesday, April 4th at 7 pm and the 9 Wallis nightclub in Beverly on Friday, April 6th at 7 pm.  Come on out to talk Rock!

Decibel Diaries: A Journey Through Rock in 50 Concerts

Chapter 28: Sabbath vs. Ozzy

Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne

Boston Garden, March 4, 1982, and April 2, 1982

Ronnie James Dio regarded me from the couch, considering the question I had just asked.  In that brief moment I couldn’t help but be amazed that a man of his size (five feet, four inches) possessed a profound, operatic-level voice that could thrill an entire stadium audience. Considered one of the most powerful and expressive singers in hard rock, his manner in person was conversely soft-spoken and respectful, yet with a commanding presence.  Two of his bandmates in the current version of Black Sabbath, original bassist Tony “Geezer’ Butler and recently-added drummer Vinnie Appice, skulked about, picking at an inviting room service array of breakfast pasties, juice and coffee. 

It was March, 1982 and I’d been sent by Boston Rock magazine to interview anyone in the band who wanted to talk and, impressively, three showed up.  My query was deliberately loaded: “You don’t view Black Sabbath as over the hill?”  Dio, though, didn’t take the bait, finally responding with a grin, “Everyone hates Sabbath, but the fans sell out the shows all over the world!”  “So you’re going to be out on tour for…”  “Forever!” Appice shot back, cracking us all up. 

That Black Sabbath still sold out arenas was nothing short of remarkable, especially since the rock and roll hangman had fit his noose tightly around the band’s neck at least three years earlier.  As a kid, I’d discovered Sabbath on the second album Paranoid, then embraced the earlier debut and snatched up each new release the moment it came out:  Masters of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage.  By 1975, however, the group’s commercial peak had been realized as substance and alcohol abuse by all four members gutted their creative core while the advent of punk and a younger metal scene sidelined fans’ attention. 

At that point, after a career that literally defined ‘heavy-metal,’ with headline-status at colossal rock festivals and a string of million-selling albums behind them, the members of Black Sabbath somersaulted into the show-biz purgatory reserved for those who had fought their way to the top, then squandered everything away.  The death-defying booze-fueled hijinks of lead singer Ozzy Osbourne outstripped that of the others, leading to a toxic madness that dashed any efforts to return the band to fighting form. 

I asked the three members of Sabbath, “What happened?  It must have been incredibly messy.”  As the designated veteran, Geezer took a break from his coffee roll to explain.  “It came to a head over a period of years.  [We] were in L.A. trying to start [a new] LP.  Ozzy was supposed to be with us writing the record, yunno?  Then one day he crawled in the door, brainless as usual, and remained that way for about a month.  We said to him that we couldn’t go on like this anymore – go forth and multiply!” 

Equally candid in his autobiography, I Am Ozzy, the singer wrote, “Firing me for being fucked up was hypocritical bullshit.  We were all fucked up.  If you’re stoned and I’m stoned, and you’re telling me that I’m fired because I’m stoned, how can that fucking be?  Because I’m slightly more stoned than you?” After the split, no one had given any odds for either party’s survival, but here it was in 1982 and both Black Sabbath and Ozzy were on tour, and in fact, headlining sold-out Boston Garden shows just over a month apart.   

Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath performs at Ozzfest 2016 at San Manuel Amphitheater on September 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for ABA)

“Ozzy has been slagging Black Sabbath left and right recently,” I continued, “In Rolling Stone, he said you should all eat shit and die.”  Dio smiled; he’d heard that one before, I guessed.  “I’m sure he has all sorts of great quotes; I wonder who’s writing them for him,” the singer replied.   After the notorious divorce, Black Sabbath recovered first, adding Dio, who had recently departed Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  The results were nothing less than fantastic; a healing breach that restored the band’s spirit and led to an extraordinary revival of Black Sabbath’s fortunes.  The 1980 album Heaven and Hell ascended to Platinum success and the group toured for a year to support it.  All the while, venomous rhetoric spewed from Osbourne, who decried the new Sabbath as an imitation, questioning whether his former bandmates even had the right to use the name. 

Two years later, the poisonous atmosphere hadn’t dissipated one bit as the band released its new album The Mob Rules and headed back out on the road.  Meanwhile, to a certain extent, Dio’s assessment rang true:  Osbourne’s earliest efforts post-Sabbath had been braggadocio.  But, confounding the doomsayers who circled ever closer, the singer recovered with a fine group of musicians and a strong batch of songs on his first solo album released just five months after Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell.  It hadn’t been easy; after an uphill battle to be taken seriously in the U.K., Osbourne fought with his L.A.-based record label just to release the debut in America.  It was in a contentious gathering with those executives that he had infamously bitten the head off a dove he intended to release as a symbol of peace.  Now that was a memorable board meeting!  

I reached over to grab a croissant and refill my coffee as Dio continued, “The band doesn’t have the problem of a lead singer who can’t sing anymore – I mean, he’d lose his voice after saying hello to the audience at the beginning of the show!  [The band] was always doing their job, and Ozzy didn’t much give a damn about doing anything.  He just tried to generate publicity with his I’m-the-fool-of-the-world image…and he’s done a good job of continuing that image, as far as I’m concerned.”  Dio glanced over at the others with a grin, done sticking pins in the Ozzy voodoo doll, for now.  I got the signal from the attending record company rep that my time was up, so I thanked the three, stuck some grapes in my pocket and left.

That night at the Boston Garden, in front of the assembled multitude (whose flaming torches had been confiscated at the door), Dio’s pride in this resuscitated version of Black Sabbath was not unfounded.  The band took stage and blasted with maximum thrust into “Neon Knights,” for all intents and purposes a straight rock and roll song with Tony Iommi’s doom-laden guitar tapestries and Dio’s unearthly shrieks adding the funereal elements of another Sabbath thriller.  After that track from Heaven and Hell, the band sensibly staked out its birthright by travelling all the way back to the first album for a version of “N.I.B.,” the new lead singer claiming the song as his own, pumping his hands in the ‘devil’s horns’ sign that he’d popularize.  Tight and to the point, Black Sabbath played its biggest hits from the first two albums; “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” “Black Sabbath” and “Paranoid;” ignoring anything else from the catalogue except for the two releases featuring Dio.  

With the crowd in sweaty hysterics by the end of the set, the rejuvenated lineup rewarded the hall with a dark jewel of an encore: “Children of the Grave” from the third album Masters of Reality.  By then, I’d had enough; my neck ached from trying to keep up with the beat and my shirt hung soaked and limp.  An overpowering presence of heat and body odor lifted out of the crowd, a mass of figures ideal to act as Hollywood extras piling out into the night on their way to assail Dr. Frankenstein’s castle.  And I guess that’s what you should feel like after a tremendous Black Sabbath concert!

But, as it turned out, I hadn’t seen nothing yet, and it wasn’t necessarily because Osbourne and his band played better than Black Sabbath, because they didn’t.  And it wasn’t because the buzzed-out Prince of Darkness had surprisingly managed to keep pace musically on his debut Blizzard of Oz and a fine sophomore album entitled Diary of a Madman.  The multi-Platinum success of both had been largely due to a creative spark between Osbourne and his young, virtuoso guitarist Randy Rhoads, whose comparison to another young player named Eddie Van Halen was not misplaced.  No, the reason the manic solo singer’s danse macabre at the Boston Garden matched the best his former band could offer was the sheer, all-too-real melodrama that unfolded during the four weeks in between the two shows. 

The mother of Randy Rhoads, Delores Rhoads, along with rockers (L-R) Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, Sharon Osbourne and Rudy Sarzo attend the ceremony in which former guitarist Randy Rhoads was honored posthumously and inducted into the Hollywood Rockwalk on March 18, 2004 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Osbourne’s solo group had hit the road to much critical success, Rhoads lifting the grungy heavy-metal affairs into a hallowed space respected by even staunch skeptics.  But just over two weeks after Sabbath quit Boston, Ozzy found himself outside Orlando, awake in a terrible nightmare of pointless tragedy.  His brilliant 25-year old virtuoso guitarist perished in a bizarre airplane accident, the astonishing details of which have been detailed and reviewed as one of rock’s most hapless and avoidable moments.  You know the story: a shady, coked-out private pilot convinced the rising star and the band’s hairdresser into a small plane and proceeded to conduct low dive-bombing runs on Osbourne’s tour bus parked in front of a two-story house.  Asleep in the bus, Ozzy awoke to a terrific thud as one of the aircraft’s wings clipped the vehicle and the plane cartwheeled into the house, exploding and killing all three aboard. Why had Randy Rhoads even gotten aboard; Osbourne asked; “He hated flying.”  Fate had intervened cruelly and lives had been irrevocably altered; the tour ground to a halt. 

Within hours, though, convinced that his best recourse would be to continue as a tribute to Rhoads, the singer scurried to find a substitute.  Bernie Torme stepped in temporarily, cramming for his parts in time for the tour to resume in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on April Fool’s Day (ironically enough).  By all reports, that show went well, but meanwhile in Boston, animal rights activists fomented more drama for Ozzy. The dove-beheading from two years earlier, the famous gnawing of a very-much alive bat someone had thrown onstage in Des Moines in January and some unspecific rumors about animals being killed during his concerts led to the cancellation of the Boston Garden gig.  

That Ozzy had believed the unlucky bat tossed at him to be made of rubber didn’t amount to much of a defense, but the other abuse allegations were easily disproved (with apologies to the dove) and the license reinstated on the day of the show, April 2nd.  Amazingly, the crazy train of mayhem had made it to the Garden.  With all the debacles of the past month, the embattled and outrageous, substance-abused singer didn’t even need to perform at a D-level to dazzle the sold-out crowd.  But the metal ringmaster did, indeed, deliver beyond expectations in front of a band that musically matched Black Sabbath, even without the gigantic scope of Randy Rhoads’ talent.

Osbourne front-loaded his performance with nine solo tracks before mining Black Sabbath gold on “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid.”  And who cared if the barrel-chested, pasty white figure ambling about almost comically onstage sometimes appeared lost; you had to love him for constantly acting as the metal cheerleader by clapping his hands, leading an army of fist-pumps and shouting out his trademark, “I love you awwwwwl!”  I left this show even sweatier and more disgusting then I had after the Black Sabbath concert: an accurate measure of its success.  

With all the chaos and confusion of this, perhaps the worst month of Osbourne’s life, he couldn’t have been thinking much about his former band mates or some personal competition with Ronnie James Dio; he was thinking about survival itself.  Maybe that’s why the show was so good; Ozzy played it like it could have been his last.  But it wasn’t, so I promptly got a ticket for the gig in Providence four days later.  The running verbal battle between Sabbath and Ozzy in ’82 while each performed at a peak to outdo their rival became models of, and a catalyst for, an 80’s metal scene about to encircle the world with ear-splitting volume.  Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Guns n’ Roses, Ratt and a thousand others gleefully turned it up to ’11’ and decades later, the glorious noise is still deafening millions.  “I love you awwwwwl!”    

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