Black Sabbath's Tales of Drugs and Debauchery [Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi Interview, Part 1]
Rock stars. We love them for the music they make and we marvel at the way they manage to create great art while playing Dr. Moreau with their own central nervous systems. In the 1970s, no band played harder on or off the stage than Black Sabbath. I got to meet Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi on assignment for High Times while they were doing press for their first reunion tour in 1998. What follows is the hilarious unpublished transcript of our interview.
I was a little nervous meeting the two. For this auspicious occasion, I brought along Bobby Black, High Times’ resident metalhead. We met at the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel where the band were staying and downed a few beers for courage before being granted an audience with the dark lords of rock ‘n’ roll. Their publicist warned us not to ask Ozzy any questions about pissing on the Alamo or biting the heads off of birds or bats. We told her not to worry. All we wanted to talk about was drugs. [Special thanks to Dennis Kleiman, denniskleiman.com for use of his photos]
Chris Simunek: Do you guys still smoke?
Ozzy Osbourne: No. Cigarettes. Why, you got any?
Chris: Oh yeah. You think I’m going to come to this interview not packing? I’ve got a reputation to uphold. First, I have to ask about “Sweet Leaf.” It’s like Handel’s Messiah for stoners. How did that song come about?
Ozzy: Well what do you think? We used to smoke pounds of the shit, man. We used to buy it by the fucking sack full. We used to be so fucked up all the time. We used to wake up in the morning, start the day with a spliff, and go to bed with it. In England it was more hash than pot. But pot, I started to get very paranoid with it, you know.
Chris: To coin a phrase.
Ozzy: I started getting the heebeegeebees. But it was a connection of all kinds of other chemicals. Booze. Coke.
Chris: Do you see a difference between pot and other chemicals?
Ozzy: Absolutely. With this for instance, tobacco, I couldn’t smoke as many joints a day as I can with this fucking stuff. So legalize pot. I’m all for the legalization of pot. Just decriminalize it. It’s not processed, it’s just grown in the fucking ground, you pick it and smoke it. [holds up cigarette] This is fucking processed. Fuck, with that stuff, they could get us out of the national debt. I’m pretty openly… I don’t smoke it myself, but if anybody wants to smoke it, fine. When I was smoking it and someone said to me it’s wrong to do it, I’d tell ‘em to fuck off. I got busted for it. We all did. Geezer did, didn’t he?
Tony Iommi: Yeah.
Chris: That brings us to another question. What was it like for Black Sabbath to go through customs in the seventies?
Ozzy: Very scary.
Chris: Did you ever have to drop trou?
Ozzy: Oh yeah. I remember one time we went from Detroit to Canada through the tunnel. And you remember them pipes you could get with the fish pump? You got like a fish tank pump and you got all these wires and you put the pot in and you just suck on the pipe. I left the fucking pipe and the guy went, “Oh yeah”—big rubber gloves, the whole nine yards. It’s not very pleasant. For fucking smoking pot, man. At the Canadian border we have gotten even worse, man.
Chris: They got me a couple times. They found acid on me, if you can imagine. That’s how dumb I am.
Ozzy: They busted you for the acid?
Tony: What happened?
Chris: I had it in the pages of a Bible…
Ozzy: [cracking up] Good move!
Chris: I had it in a little plastic baggie in one of those cool old King James Bibles. This little impudent customs officer was like, “Can we search your car?” And I’m like, “If you gotta.” Next thing I know, he’s going through all the books and he goes, “We have here six hits of acid, are there any other narcotics in the car?” And I was just like, I am the dumbest drug smuggler that ever walked earth.
Tony: What did they do?
Chris: It was a $200 fine. We paid it on Mastercard. I learned my lesson, though.
Tony: They did that with us, didn’t they?
Ozzy: Fuck, they said, when we went through, because we’re English, we left American immigration and we couldn’t get into Canada. We were fucking shit-scared, man. I was always one of these guys, “Do I have a gram somewhere? Have I done all the drugs?” I’ve gone through my bags and I empty them again and I go through them again and fucking fiddle my pack. I was probably the worst smuggler in the fucking world. If I’ve got nothing, I would always feel like I’ve got something, you know.
[There’s a cut in the tape, when it resumes, Ozzy is talking about Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.]
Ozzy: Bill, Bill… we all got fucked up but me and Bill fucking went a bit further and Bill wound up in a psychiatric fucking place. And Bill’s anti-drug, anti-drink, anti-everything now. And he doesn’t mince his fucking words either, you know. I could take it or leave it. If a dude’s smoking, I ain’t got a problem with that.
[There’s a knock on the door]
Ozzy: Now that you’re here everybody’s coming into the fucking room.
Chris: Yeah, right? Just fill out a menu there and we’ll have somebody come back with it.
Chris: You guys in the seventies had a rep for taking the most amount of time to record records…
Ozzy: We were fucked up!
Chris: What record took the longest and why?
Tony: Oh, I don’t know.
Ozzy: As the years got on…
Tony: It got longer, didn’t it?
Ozzy: We went to Canada one time it was for, um…
Tony: Never Say Die.
Ozzy: Never Say Die. It took for-fucking-ever. We’ve got this guy coming around giving us bags of cocaine every fucking Wednesday and we would be like…
Tony: Oh yeah. We never got very far with that. In the old days the albums were quick and then they just…
Chris: Well, you’d think with coke, you’d do the album quick, right?
Ozzy: No, you’d do it, but you’d forget what you were doing.
Tony: And you couldn’t talk…
Ozzy: You couldn’t turn the fucking machine on. We couldn’t figure out the tape machine. I mean, we’d turn like “pause” on instead of “play” or “record.” We’re playing for fucking twenty-four hours in a room…
Tony: We all had our little bags.
Ozzy: “Play that round! Just chop us another line out! Get another can of beer from the freezer! Roll another joint!” We used to smoke blocks of hash. I mean, fucking, we used to buy hash by the weight, you know. A pound. A pound of hash.
Tony: And coke. We used to buy these sealed bottles of coke. Government…
Ozzy: Government-sealed. I’ll tell you about one day. We rented this house in Bel Air. We used to have these fucking packages, it would come in big bottles with a spoon on it and it was covered with this seal of wax. This coke was the best coke that I’ve ever had. And there’s all these weird [sounds like Ozzy says “fandy junder punts,” but who knows?] and all these fucking weird people were hanging around this house. So I’m lying around the pool one day. I met this guy, I said, “Do you want to do some coke?” He goes, “No, no, no.” I’m whacking this stuff up my nose, it’s a straight up sunny day, and this guy’s sitting there with a fucking, one of them reflectors, getting a sun tan. I say, “What do you do?” He says, “I work for the government.” “Uh… what-what do you do with the government?” He said, “I work for the drug squad.” I’m thinking, yes, you’re a fucking joke, and then he showed me his badge. I fucking flipped. I was fucking yyyyyyyy. Flames were coming out of my fingers, man. I panicked and my heart rate went like 900 beats. He says, “Ah, you’re alright, don’t worry about it. I’m the guy getting the coke.”
Chris: In interviews you’ve told tons of stories about embarrassing things that you’ve done while you were wasted and whatnot. I’m wondering if you have a story about what another rock star did when he was wasted. [pause] Instead of talking about the Alamo again.
Tony: Oh yeah, let’s talk about that [laughs hard]. I’ve got plenty of stories on Bill.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Ozzy: I mean… when you’re with a bunch of guys, your friends, you don’t sit there and go, “that’s stupid,” because you’re just being as stupid as the other motherfucker. If you’re sitting there and you’re straight, everybody’s fucking crazy, so you join in, you know.
Chris: Egg each other on.
Ozzy: You do the stupidest fucking things. When we were in Toronto one time we had this inflatable doll from a sex shop and I filled it full of helium and flew it in the damn Yonge Street and it went into a fight path. The fucking plane, can you imagine these people in a 747? Fucking great. We did the fucking stupidest fucking things. One thing about the cocaine though, it used to isolate you and you used to stay in your room paranoid as fuck. Paranoia… you buy a bag of white powder and paranoia soon follows you.
Chris: I think, Bobby, you’ve been there.
Ozzy: Looking out the window to hear voices. I was convinced they had that eyehole on the door for me. I had a circle around my eye. They were like, “What’s wrong with your eye?” I was like, “What do you mean?”
Tony: You see shadows under the doors always moving…
Chris: There’s always like the… “I think I’m having a heart attack…”
Ozzy: Yeah, and how many times do you lay in bed going, “God, please let me have some sleep. I promise you I’ll never do it again.” And when you hear them birds go in the morning going swesweswe you want to get a fucking machine gun and shoot every bird in sight. [Ozzy would famously have his revenge against the bird population.] And when the day breaks the next day is horrible.
Chris: But you do it again anyway.
Ozzy: And what do you do when you go to sleep, you wake up and you go sniff… “Please!” Like a fiend, you know. I remember one time I got some coke in Texas. I’ve gotta do it. I was just about to get on a plane and we’re all in the airport and I’ve got like a matchbox and I had a little spoon and I’m in this john and I’m sitting down there. I’ve got this spoon in the matchbox, and I look under the door and see these fucking cop’s boots. He’s taking a piss. There was only one shit toilet. And he’s going like this, around. [Ozzy is on his feet, giving a full reenactment.] I’m thinking, how the fuck am I going to get out of this? I sat on one leg. I’ve got to flush the toilet, and as I’m making the noise of the flush, I’ve got to sniff the coke at the same time. My foot was going down the fucking toilet and everything. I sniffed it and when I got out he was one of them really evil bastard cops, like, “I’ll kill your ass…”
Chris: “Will you please get out of the car?”
Ozzy: No, “Sir! Will you please get out of the car?”
Chris: “Keep your hands where I can see them!” I met that guy.
Unknown: Why don’t you tell them about the time in California, when Sharon was driving, when you had the cocaine in your sock.
Ozzy: Which time was that?
Unknown: When you were pulled over.
Chris: Was that one of those epidermal patches or something?
Ozzy: No. I’d bought… remember [name redacted]?
Ozzy: I bought a bunch of cocaine off of him and Sharon’s fucking driving this Mercedes down the 405, two o’clock in the morning, 110 miles an hour. I’ve got two grams of coke down my sock. I’m wired to the fucking… we’re driving down the freeway and this cop comes driving by and he goes, “PULL OVER!” and then the lights pick up. “PULL OVER, ASSHOLE!” [laughs] I say, “Sharon, what the fuck should I...?” She said, “I don’t know.” I looked at her, fucking 120 miles an hour, she puts the breaks on. I think, I’ll just be cool. I’m a little shaky. This cop goes, “Madam, would you get out of the car?” So she gets out of the car. I think, I’ll just have a cigarette and act cool. So, I wind the window down and the guy pokes me with the fucking nightstick and suddenly these two grams become a four-pound weight in my sock. He pokes me and says, “Put that damn thing out.” Oh yeah. Those things turned into fucking bricks in my socks. I shit myself. I tell you, you think they can see through your sock. I start doing this, trying to push it further down my sock. “What are you doing with your foot?” “Oh, my ankles are itching.”
Chris: Do you get more paranoid in the States than in England?
Ozzy: I just get—when I do cocaine, I’m like Mr. Paranoia. I’m fucking scared shitless. But I still would do it.
Chris: Nevada’s a bad state. Jersey. There are certain states that if I go in…
Ozzy: The last time I did cocaine was in Nevada.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Ozzy: I was in Vegas. And people were just coming up to me and giving me it and I thought, fuck to all this. I just threw it all away and went home. That was the last time I ever did coke. It was eleven years ago.
Chris: Why is it that so many rock stars crack up, whether it be on drugs or just going nuts? Isn’t it supposed to be the best job in the world?
Ozzy: What other job can you imagine that the more fucked up you turn up, the better people think you’re going to be? You’ve got people thinking, oh, “Tony’s stoned,” or “Ozzy’s stoned,” or “Bill’s stoned, it’s gonna be good fun tonight.” But then after a period of time, too much of everything, anything, you pay a price, you know. If you play now, you pay later, and I don’t give a fucking what it is.
Chris: Is it rough to be sober these days?
Ozzy: It sucks but at the same time I know I’ve actually fucked myself over even worse. I don’t like being sober. But I don’t want to wake up… if you chopped up some lines I’d go, “Yeah, I’ll go for it!” By twelve o’clock I’d be hanging off the fucking building screaming with a bottle of vodka in my hand, you know. I can’t stop. Once I start, I can’t fucking… I gotta go all the way, you know. I’d go to where I’d come home with a black eye tomorrow and my wife would be going, “You’re doing that fucking shit.” [slaps his hand]
Bobby Black: So what do you do now to fill the gap?
Ozzy: Play with my dick. When I can find it.
For more of the Wisdom of Ozz, check part two.