Black Sabbath Originally Planned to Include Saxophone + Slide Guitar Players
Black Sabbath's initial aim was to include a saxophone player and a slide guitar player in their lineup, making the outfit a six-piece band, as lead guitarist Tony Iommi recalled on a new episode of rock writer Jon Wiederhorn's Backstaged: The Devil in Metal podcast.
In fact, the group rehearsed in this configuration before taking the Black Sabbath name. As hardcore fans likely know, back when Iommi, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward first came together in 1968 as the Polka Tulk Blues Band (later shortened to Polka Tulk, then changed to Earth), the band featured saxophonist Alan "Aker" Clarke and slide guitar player Jimmy Phillips. According to Iommi, when the act ultimately chose to strip down to the core four — a move that precipitated the final name change — a faux breakup was required to shed the extra musicians.
Listen to the interview near the bottom of this post.
"It didn't seem to be going anywhere at first," Iommi recalls of the band's early practices. (Hear it around the 19:30 mark.) "It became a six-piece band where we had a sax player and another guitar player, a slide guitar player. And it was an horrendous row, to be honest. We sort of wondered what we were doing."
Still, the rocker adds, the group "carried on with it, and then we decided we didn't need a sax player and a slide player. So the only way we felt comfortable about sort of removing them was to say we're gonna break up, we're not gonna carry on. So that's what we did, and then we broke up for a week or whatever, and then we got back together just the four of us. … It was just a playground when it was the six of us — everybody was trying to do a solo at the same time."
Funnily enough, Black Sabbath's brief dalliance with the sax would come full circle on their 1978 studio effort, Never Say Die!, the closing chapter on the act's first Osbourne era. A brassy saxophone solo brightens up the album's instrumental deep cut, "Breakout."
New episodes of The Devil in Metal, produced by Diversion Podcasts, drop every Friday.