When discussing the origins of most musical styles or genres, it’s virtually impossible to attribute their existence to any single band or artist. With heavy metal, though, you’ll get pretty close if you lay the blame at the door of Birmingham’s iconic masters of doom, Black Sabbath. The man responsible for naming the band, writing most of the lyrics and injecting some groove into the mayhem for the majority of Sabbath’s 40 years-and-counting tenure is Terence ‘Geezer’ Butler.
Butler met future Sabbath singer John ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne at school, and the pair hooked up with guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward in the blues quartet Earth (formerly Polka Tulk). In 1969, after discovering another band already using the name, they became Black Sabbath, based on a song Butler had written after reading a book by occult writer Dennis Wheatley. Their self-titled first album, released in February 1970, was recorded and mixed in two days, reaching number eight in the UK and selling over a million copies during its year-long tenure on the US charts. Their second, and probably most iconic album, Paranoid, followed eight months later, reaching number one in the UK and breaking into the top 10 in the US, where it shifted over four million copies.
We’re focusing on these albums here, although the original line-up recorded six more before first Osbourne was fired in 1979 and before Ward’s alcohol problems led to him being replaced a year later. After 17 years of line-up changes, the original four reunited in 1997, recording a double live album, Reunion, with the single Iron Man winning Sabbath their first Grammy in 2000. Sabbath continues to operate as a live band to this day.
Prior to Sabbath, Butler played rhythm guitar – but then he saw Jack Bruce with Cream. ‘As soon as I saw him, it changed me. I didn’t even know what bass players did until I saw Cream. I saw Jack Bruce and said, “that’s what I want to do in life.” He was definitely the main influence.’ Like Bruce, his wandering, constantly evolving lines are informed by the blues but Butler opted for a low-slung Fender Precision, played mainly fingerstyle. On Black Sabbath he employs distortion like Bruce, but Butler was the first bassist to use a wah-wah pedal (N.I.B. and opening bass solo) and his playing and attitude is quite simply a massive influence on the development of heavy metal bass and the genre itself.