Even if you are just a casual fan of rock music, then Tony Iommi needs no introduction at all. The man practically invented heavy metal and continues to be one of the most influential musicians in the history of the art form. The tale of how he pioneered the sound of heavy guitar music has been told ad infinitum over the past four decades, but to read it in his own words, in graphic detail (and it does get quite graphic!) has been something millions of people, fans and musicians alike, have longed to do. That dream has finally been realized with the long awaited publication of the guitarist’s autobiography, 'Iron Man: My Journey through Heave & Hell with Black Sabbath' (co-written by T. J. Lammers). The lengthy wait, simply stated, was worth it. Of course, that story is included in Iommi’s memoir, but amazingly enough, it’s just one of a veritable cornucopia of enthralling yarns related by the co-founding member of metal’s most important band, Black Sabbath. From horrific injuries to life-threatening practical jokes to sleazy managers to dealing with Ozzy Osbourne’s shenanigans, Iommi’s life has had – and still has! – more ups and downs than Black Sabbath’s had lineup changes.
Just the story of the formation of Sabbath is fascinating. So many events transpired that should’ve kept the legend from ever being born. The factory accident that cost the teenaged Iommi the tips of two fingers on the hand he used on his guitar’s fretboard is gruesomely documented here in blood-drenched detail. He wasn’t even planning to be at the factory that afternoon because it was his last day on the job! Lesser people would’ve hung up their six string, but not Iommi. To be fair though, he just might’ve had his boss not given him an album by guitarist Django Reinhardt, who had sustained a similar crippling hand injury. Iommi vividly explains how he overcame his disability, from inventing plastic and leather thimbles to cover his sensitive stumps to using banjo strings (which were lighter than standard guitar strings of the time)to downtuning his instrument unlike anyone before him ever did – and all of this while he was still technically a child!
As if that wasn’t enough, the guitarist was initially opposed to Osbourne joining the fledgling band because he knew him from school and disliked him. Even after the band finally came to be, Iommi abruptly quit after accepting an invitation to join the already established Jethro Tull. Due to frontman Ian Anderson’s dictatorial leadership style, however, Iommi’s tenure in the prog-rock band ended up being very short and he soon returned to Sabbath.
From this point on in the narrative, 'Iron Man' is a Black Sabbath completist’s dream: Iommi discusses every single album in the band’s catalog, as well as his three solo albums. Not only that, he mentions each individual musician who was ever in the band, and there are a lot of them. Even the guys who were never official band members, such as Dave Walker and David Donato get a shout out. Besides his guitar mastery, Iommi was also blessed with an encyclopedic memory as well.
Because he goes into such minute detail, there’s an overflowing treasure trove of obscure information contained within these pages, a lot of which should be revelations even to the most hardcore fans. From the naked jam session that resulted in the instrumental “FX” to the meaning behind the peculiarly named track “Fluff” to which song is the only one to feature backing vocals by Iommi, every reader will learn a lot about the British doom masters. Iommi also definitively answers questions that Sabbath fans have been pondering for ages: just who sang on the 1971 track “Solitude” and was the notorious televangelist Jeff Fenholt really a member of Sabbath during the 1980s? Finally, there is closure to both questions, along with many, many more. No stone is left unturned; everything from the gig in South Africa in the late 1980s to Iommi’s arrest and brief incarceration after an ex-wife accused him of skipping out on paying child support… it’s all discussed. And yes, he even mentions the riot that erupted at the Polaris Amphitheater here in Columbus back in 1997, when Ozzy lost his voice and didn’t show up for the gig. Heck, he even explains why he’s had a mustache for most of his life!
He drops some real bombs along the way too. How many people knew that someone, presumably a Satanist, tried to murder him – with a dagger! – on stage during an early Sabbath gig? Or that Robert Plant and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin jammed with Sabbath in the studio during the recording of 1973's 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath'? Iommi says the following about that jam session: “I don’t know if any tapes exist of that.” Well, he should look, because he could make a mint off of those! Iommi does claim to possess a tape of a demo of “Children of the Sea” with Ozzy on vocals, before he was fired from Sabbath. Again, this needs to be made available to the fans!
This book is a very easy recommendation. As far as rock star autobiographies go, this is one of the best ever published. It rivals Mötley Crüe’s 'The Dirt' and even Ozzy’s 'I Am Ozzy.' The latter tome is a perfect companion to Iommi’s, by the way. The only legitimate complaint anyone could make about the book is that Iommi sometimes glosses over stories that rabid fans would want to hear in explicit detail. The reality is that it’s just not feasible to condense that much vibrant history into one book, but still, at 369 pages, this is still an invaluable and crucial reference for all things Black Sabbath.