BILL WARD Talks About Influences, BLACK SABBATH's Early Days

All About Jazz ecently conducted an interview with BLACK SABBATH drummer Bill Ward. A few excerpts from the chat follow:

All About Jazz: Who were some of your early influences as a musician?

Bill Ward: "Childhood, all me influences were, say, between the time that I can remember, which would have been about three years old to the time that I was about five or six years old, all the music that I ever heard was jazz and it was American jazz, and it was big-band jazz, to be more defined. Because of the time, it being in the fifties when I first heard Presley, of course I was just totally gone at that point. I was just absolutely trapped or gathered up, if you like, by rock and roll. But before that, what I consider to be traditional rock and roll would have been the INK SPOTS and the PLATTERS.

"All of those bands I was extremely fond of listening to and they were very influential in my life. So, those were the combinations and I have always been attracted to the big swing bands throughout my life up to this very day. I'm 57 years old now, so I guess that's 54 years of listening to pretty much American swing, particularly big band swing. I like jazz in all the ways that it is played. I think I am probably attracted to it because of the drummers that played in those big swing bands at the time. So those were my very early influences."

All About Jazz: At what age did you start playing?

Bill Ward: "I think I might have been about four, four or five, because my mother told me that they thought there was something wrong with me because I continually kept tapping on furniture. They thought I had something which, in Birmingham where I was born — or actually I was born in Aston which is in Birmingham — they said that I had Saint Vitus's Dance, and Saint Vitus's Dance is a common term in the midlands for somebody who can't sit still. So, apparently I was listless and discontent like I am now. [Laughs] But I couldn't stop tapping all the time, you know. I just was attracted to just wanting to make noise on different things.

"So, I guess, I would say I was probably about four, four years old at that time. Because I remember when I was a child, about five or six years old, my mother and father would have parties every weekend, on every Saturday. My mom played a little bit of piano and then the man who lived on the street corner, no more than a two minute walk from our house, he had his traps, as they were called then. He brought his traps over because he set them up on a Saturday night and when everybody was sleeping the booze off on the Sunday mornings I would come downstairs and then I would look at his drums and, of course, as a child I explored the entire drum kit and eventually found myself trying to play them or trying to find out what these things were.

"I thought that was incredibly exciting to discover a drum kit in the living room, or in our front room, as they were called then. It was a parlor where you never went in during the week. It was just a special room where we kept fruit and a piano. [Laughter] Christ."

All About Jazz: How would you say [BLACK SABBATH's] creative approach differed in the early days as compared to later albums?

Bill Ward: "That's a tough question actually. I think it comes in several parts. The first three albums or four albums, for me at least, I felt like they came out of big jams because we literally would sit in a room and just jam and a song would come from that. Giving credit where credit is due, I think that Tony [Iommi, guitar] would jam a little bit more than everybody else [Laughs], definitely work more on the arrangements and spend a lot more time with the song. Geezer [Butler] spent more time as well, especially in the lyric area. But some of the songs — keep in mind that the band was playing every night, nearly; we were playing all over the world. It was really kind of a tight band to say the least.

"So when we sat down and wrote something, sometimes it's almost like these things wrote themselves. Sometimes there were things that we would do and it was like we'd jam and go, 'Well, what do we need to change if anything?' A song could come out inside half an hour or a song could come out inside a couple of days because that was just the nature of that. Sometimes when you have a tight band like that the band is going to just jam something out, and it's just like that happens when you're playing tight all the time with the same musicians because they know where the feel is and where to groove.

"So a lot of that stuff came about like that intitially in, I'd say, the first three albums and then we slowed down from touring. We'd been on the road for like five years in the sense of 1968 through to '73. We'd been constantly gigging so it was time to maybe just back off just a little bit. (Laughs) We didn't back off a whole lot but we backed off a little bit and I think we put more thought to the songs. They were maybe less spontaneous. So as time went on things did change and as individuals we changed too.

"Things became different or we'd like different things and I think that reflects in the music a lot in the later albums where it's not necessarily this tight band that's constantly touring. I think some of the things softened up, and what I mean that is that the attitudes softened up. It's hard to be a hungry young man when you're not hungry anymore. We were very hungry young men when we wrote 'Black Sabbath' and when we wrote 'War Pigs'.

"But to try to still give that image that we're hungry and angry when really things were turning out to be quite palatial for us, it was like, 'Well, what are we hungry about? There's a lot of nice things going on in our lives.' But at the same time there were a lot of things that were still, outside of our own personal comforts — well, I'll just speak for myself because I keep talking about the band and I don't want to go there with this — but, yeah, I went through a phase where it was I'm looking around going, 'Well my life seems to be pretty good.' The things that I had value in at the time, see, I valued money, property, and prestige at that time.

"So when I started getting some of that stuff I thought my life was in order. I didn't know I was a train wreck, man. I didn't know I was heading to hell. I didn't know about all that. I couldn't see anything. I didn't know that around the bend I was going to run into the brick wall. But at the time it made sense. I think the later albums, for me, I don't feel like I was as aggressive. I think there is a softening that comes. Yeah, I felt like, as a younger man — when I was 19, 20, or 21 years old — I felt like there had been some change come about inside me."

Read the entire interview at AllAboutJazz.com.

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