It’s amazing to think that the members of Heaven & Hell — singer Ronnie James Dio, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice — have each been in the music business for at least 35 years. And it’s also impressive to think that for a group who have actually only spent seven of the last 30 years together that they have created a stronger impact than far longer running bands and kept fans coming back for more. Sure, they were the second incarnation of Black Sabbath, but there are never guarantees that any famous group that changes its lead singer will prosper. This roster blossomed and thrived together, even if for short periods, and became a big part of heavy metal history.
On Wednesday, the day after Heaven & Hell’s blistering set at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, hundreds of reverent fans waited outside of Sam Ash Music on West 48th Street in New York to meet the quartet and get albums and photos signed. One of them, Phillip Baker — known as the “Rock N Roll Painter” to many — conjured up an impressive black and white portrait of the group (pictured at left) while waiting in line. He later got it autographed by all of the band members.
I grew up during the Eighties, so I expected to see fans ranging in age from mid-thirties to mid-fifties waiting in the long line winding down the street. But what surprised me was the number of young fans — many teenagers, and one of them literally five years of age — anxious to meet these metal icons. Inside the store Dio lifted up the tiny tot and gave him a big hug. Hopefully that kid will remember that when he’s all grown up and an adult headbanger. It was also refreshing to hear one teenage fan respectfully call Geezer by his proper first name, Terence.
Events like this make me further appreciate the position I am in as a journalist. I often get thirty minutes to an hour to chat with my subjects. Most fans get to meet them for a minute. This time I was in the position of being a fan. I was able to quickly say hello to the four H&H members just prior to fans entering the store, and it was a chance to get something special signed and snap a photo for posterity. I actually have connected with the members of Heaven and Hell on numerous occasions over the last decade. I have interviewed Iommi twice in person (for Ink 19 and Metal Edge) and twice on the phone, and I conducted an interview with Dio over dinner ten years ago. I also chatted extensively with all of them last year for my liner notes to the reissued Mob Rules (included in the Rules of Hell box set) and for a Goldmine magazine cover story. I finally got Mob Rules signed yesterday.
Public meet and greets with classic metal bands are rare these days, and Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice tried to sign as much as they could within the 100-minute span that they had. Butler’s nephew Pedro Howse, who plays guitar for his uncle in GZR, stood nearby during the proceedings. (Pedro tells me a new GZR album may be in the works.) Beyond the current tour, Iommi will be keeping busy in a new way. Many fans know that four Black Sabbath movies are being planned by reality TV producer Mike Fleiss, and that the guitarist will score them. Don’t fret, fear fans — I hear they’ll be serious horror films. They will not, however, be based on any Sabbath songs.
Overall, the event went well, the band was in good spirits and fans, many not even born when Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were released, got to connect with metal royalty. Here’s hoping that Heaven & Hell return to the New York area soon.