Tony Iommi: Music's Other Man In Black Proves His Heavy Mettle

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath By Toni Iommi with T.J. Lammers Da Capo Press, 416 pp., $26.

Imagine this passage being read in your best "Behind the Music" narration:

It was in the center of a dirty, grimy sheet-metal factory in Birmingham, England, when a 17-year-old guitar player let out a bloodcurdling scream. A horrible machine accident had sheared off the tips of two fingers on his right hand - his playing hand! And, of all ironies, on his last day of work before he planned to quit.

But the plucky player persevered, fashioning his own fake fingertips so he could continue hitting chords - albeit also forced to de-tune his axe strings, giving the instrument a much heavier, deeper sound. He took it to his new band with a dark-sounding moniker. And thus, HEAVY METAL WAS BORN!

Well, not quite. While it's impossible to point to any one person as having "invented" any style of music, the accident that happened to Tony Iommi certainly led to forging the blueprint for the sound of Black Sabbath, and thus heavy metal itself.

Written in short, easily digestible chapters, Iommi's autobiography is full of revelations and observations of his career, including:

• The band wore crosses not as an ironic statement, but to protect them from evil. Their first ones were fashioned by a member's father.

• Sabbath's biggest chart hit, "Paranoid," took about four minutes to write.

• Iommi's first bachelor party included only one other guest: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Hellraising ensues.

• The "Stonehenge" concert set in This is Spinal Tap? It was based on real Sabbath props - except Sabbath's Stonehenge was much larger than anticipated when the builders mistook measurements in centimeters for inches.

• While renting the house of Richard Branson, the band set off some unused concert pyro - killing off most of the rare fish in the entrepreneur's lake.

• Iommi auditioned a then-unknown singer to front a later version of Sabbath and considered hiring him. His name? Michael Bolton.

There are also plenty of stories of hotel trashings, religious protests and controversies, Iommi's coke-and-booze binges, the sometimes dangerous practical jokes played on Bill Ward, including Iommi's penchant for lighting the drummer's beard on fire.

And, of course, his ups and downs with various Sabbath lead singers, including Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, and Glenn Hughes.

Iron Man is a good read, although - like his stage presence - Iommi is fairly stoic in his narrative style. The reader gets factual details, but not many emotional ones. It's what Iommi did, but not always what he felt or thought, that takes precedence.

As to the newly-rampant speculation that the original Fearsome Foursome of Iommi, Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward will get back together for a farewell album and tour, the author sheds no light on the situation.

Then again, what would you expect from music's other Man in Black?

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