BLACK SABBATH guitarist Tony Iommi said in a new interview that the band’s current farewell tour, which will end in February 2017, is truly its last because he is not physically capable of doing it any longer. Speaking with wrestler and FOZZY singer Chris Jericho for the “Talk Is Jericho” podcast (listen to audio here), Iommi explained: “I don’t wanna stop playing. Just for me, it’s the touring now. There’s gotta be a day when you’ve gotta go, ‘Look, we’ve done it for fifty years now’ — it’s almost fifty years — it’s time to re-look at it again now.”
Iommi, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012 and was treated all through SABBATH‘s extensive 2013 world tour, admitted that he initially had some doubts about whether he would ever be able to perform again. He said: “It was difficult, ’cause we actually wrote [BLACK SABBATH‘s comeback] album [’13’] and recorded through that as well. I thought at that point, ‘Well, this is it. I’m not gonna be around this time next year.’ That’s really what I thought. And I thought, ‘Let’s get it done.’ And everybody really pulled, and I think they all sort of felt a bit like that.
“We worked [on some of the recordings] at my house, at the studio, because I was having treatment, [and] I had to stay; I couldn’t fly [so] I had to stay in England. So everybody came and we worked at my house and put the stuff together.
“In between writing, I’d gotten treatments, and I had to go every day for radiotherapy. So it was quite a lot of stuff. I’d lost a lot of weight, and it was awful, really. But they just carried on as normal. ‘Go on and have a lie down, if you feel like it. We’ll carry on,’ or, ‘Well do it tomorrow.’ They tried to all [be] understanding. And we managed to do it. And then I was still going for a different treatment while we were touring — every six weeks, I’d have to go for another treatment. So we’d done the tour. We worked it out around then. I had to have that for a year. So we worked it out in blocks. When I’d come back [home], I had the treatment, and I had to wait to feel better to go out on the road again. But it sort of worked.”
Looking back, Iommi believes that his illness affected the sound of the “13” album. “I think it made the music a bit more intense as well, because feeling that… ‘Oh, God, this could possibly be the last time we do an album and play. Or maybe not even be on a tour,'” he said. “So it was very emotional for everybody, I think, at that time, ’cause nobody knew what was… Well, we never know anyway, but it was just that feeling… And then, of course, when we went to record the album, and [producer] Rick Rubin wanted to do it in his studio in L.A., I had to come over, and we did the same again — we’d record for a bit, and I’d have to go back to England, have a treatment, wait there for a month and then come back to carry on recording. We had to work around it.”
SABBATH will bring its storied career to a close in the band’s native England, with seven shows booked there in January and February. The last two, on February 2 and February 4, will take place in SABBATH‘s hometown of Birmingham and will likely be their final shows.
“It feels almost… I don’t think it’s sunk in on some cases, and in other places, it has,” Iommi said about SABBATH‘s final go-around. “When we did Australia early on, it was, like, ‘This is the last time I’m gonna be here as this band.’ And it sort of sunk in then. And it’s getting to be like that now, because this will be the last time [we’re playing these places] on this tour. But, yeah, to know that this is sort of the final thing, it’s a bit weird, really. And we’re not making a big thing of it on the night; we [will just] play and come off. But I think eventually, as it gets closer, it’s suddenly gonna go, ‘Bang.'”
Asked what he plans to do after SABBATH has played its final show, Iommi said: “I’m wondering, because it’s gonna be such a weird thing, because BLACK SABBATH‘s always been my life, ever since Day One, and everything’s fell by the wayside to BLACK SABBATH — all the marriages and everything — over the band, basically — because I’m always out working and always doing this, always in the studio. So it’s gonna be pretty weird that last show. I don’t even know how anybody’s gonna feel. It’s gonna be strange. And after that, who knows? ‘Cause I’ve been asked this: ‘What are you gonna do after this?’ Well, I don’t know. [Laughs] As long as it’s not world touring, I’m all right. It’s just the traveling that gets me now. Since I was ill, it really does affect me now.
Iommi reiterated that he still has the desire to play music, but he simply cannot risk his health by subjecting himself to the physical rigors of the road and long weeks away from home. “Shows here and there are fine,” he explained. “It’s just the constant ‘You’ve gotta be here for a month, and there for six weeks,’ and we’ve done it for that long now. It was only when I got ill, that’s when I stated getting vulnerable. Before that, I could do anything. But it just showed me when I was diagnosed, I suddenly felt deflated and lost a lot of confidence. And they’re going, ‘You shouldn’t be flying, really.’ And, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that.’ So that’s what brought that about — the end of this, really, because the constant touring does eventually get to you.”
Pressed on whether he would ever consider playing a one-off show with SABBATH again, such as at U.K.’s Download festival, Iommi said: “I wouldn’t write that off, if one day that came about. That’s possible. Or even doing an album, ’cause then, again, you’re in one place. But I don’t know if that would happen.”
The original lineup of SABBATH came together in 1969 with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums. That lineup recorded and toured through 1978, and periodically reformed through the ’90s and 2000s for live work.
They regrouped again in late 2011 for a new album and tour, although Ward dropped out after just a few months. The remaining trio issued the “13” album in 2013.