When the Seventh Star tour got started, it was by all accounts a mess. Glenn Hughes was fired after just five dates for reasons that are an article on their own.. In at the last second came (at that time) New Jersey bar band singer Ray Gillen to take over the rest of the Seventh Star tour. After that tour finished, the subject came to the next record, and probably the most forgotten and arguably the most confusing period in the band’s history. Out of the dark year of 1987 came several recording studios, a few record producers, a few vocalists, bassists.. you get the idea. But out of this chaos came one of the more solid albums to ever carry the Black Sabbath banner. That’s the story of this article. Some facts about how the music came to be birthed, some of my own recollections, and some input from various band members about it. I did this once before in 2006 for the 20th anniversary of Seventh Star, so I figured it was time again.
When the Seventh Star tour ended in early June of 1986, Tony Iommi was at a crossroads. His most recent output, meant to be a solo album was forced out the door as “Black Sabbath”, had a tour that changed singers, and by all accounts wasn’t that terribly great in terms of ticket sales and attention. So what do you do next? You do what any good musician does. You carry on. The band that existed at the end of the tour was:
Tony Iommi – Guitar
Ray Gillen – Vocals
Dave Spitz – Bass
Eric Singer – Drums
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards
At some point here, a decision had to be made as to what to call this project. While I’ve never seen much in the way of the decision making process, this did come out the door as “Black Sabbath”. Bob Daisley shed some light on that via this remark via email:
It was always going to be called Black Sabbath and the title “The Eternal Idol” was Patrick Meehan’s idea (the manager). It was established and agreed before the album was completed.
So it’s firmly Black Sabbath then. Onward we go. Since I don’t want to re-invent the wheel here, I’ll copy the personnel changes text over from my larger timeline page:
Before I get started on the mass confusion that is the recording of the Eternal Idol album, I’d like to thank Bob Daisley & Eric Singer for their help in this section. As you read it, you’ll definitely see why I needed help putting this together, as it’s terribly confusing, even having spoken to these guys who were there for parts of it. This section wouldn’t be what it it was without their assistance, so thanks guys. Several of the dates were confirmed to me on the telephone by either Singer or Daisley (mostly Daisley), so I’m pretty confident of the order of things here.
My Timeline of Events
In July/August of 1986, the band is doing demos for a new album – which would eventually become The Eternal Idol. From what I can gather, the producer of the album had some problems with Dave Spitz where he would either not turn up, or would always be on the phone with his girlfriend, basically it wasn’t working out, so he was asked to “rest” (or took the time off himself – I really cannot get a solid answer on this). Either way, from what I can gather, he wasn’t officially fired as such (which I believe is part of the reason he still retains a credit on the final Eternal Idol album even though he doesn’t play on it). A short while after that, Bob Daisley was asked by the album’s producer, Jeff Glixman if he’d be interested in working on the project, and he accepted. Work began in earnest on the recording of the album; all the basic tracks were laid down by this band during the month of September. Bob was actually only around for two weeks or so in the recording studio. He told me that he left for Air Studios in Monserrat (where the recording was done) on September 30th, and took off to go back home on October 11th. His total time with the band was about two months, as they worked on lyrics with Ray and whatnot, but he wasn’t in the band all that long, really according to him. Bob tells me that he was asked to join Black Sabbath formally during this period (as well as afterwards) after laying down the tracks for the album, but was committed to the Gary Moore band, and couldn’t join Sabbath. There’s two known versions of the album floating around in collector’s circles with this lineup. One was more advanced than the other (the earlier one doesn’t have all guitar solos on it). After speaking to Bob Daisley about the album, and having him give it a listen, he confirms that the version of Eternal Idol that is floating around with Ray Gillen on vocals is from this version of the band.
(Nov 86-Jan 87) After Bob left for good around November, there was no formal bassist in the band (even though Dave Spitz was formally not out). In fact, most of the next several months would have no bassist, as Bob had laid down the tracks already, and then left. From what I can gather, this period was most likely studio time as the band that existed at this point continued to work on the album.
(Jan-Mar 87) Eric has told me that he was no longer part of the band as of January 1987. He said that the Sabbath situation was just kind of falling apart, so he left. He took the time and auditioned for Gary Moore’s band and got that gig, playing with Gary Moore for awhile (later on, he formed Badlands with Ray Gillen (soon to be late of Black Sabbath) after having met Jake E. Lee, now ex of Ozzy’s band). In January, Sabbath goes to a different set of studios and does further work on the album, but without a formal drummer or bassist. As Eric had laid down his tracks already, the band really didn’t need a drummer as such, and my research says that during this time Sabbath didn’t actually have a drummer, either.
(Mar-Jul 87) Around March of 1987, Ray Gillen leaves the band (according to an interview), because he felt Sabbath wasn’t going anywhere, as well as his feeling that the band didn’t really have any future. It was a foolish opinion, if you ask me – but given the band had no formal bassist or drummer would explain that feeling, I guess. Of course, with an album not completed, and the lead vocalist gone, the vocals had to be redone, hence the appearance of Tony Martin. Actually, Tony Martin was considered for the position in 1986, but he was already in a band at the time (The Misha Calvin Band). As production stretched on into mid 1987, Sabbath was warming up to play some gigs in July, most of which were the Sun City gigs below. As such, they needed someone to play drums, so Tony’s friend Bev Bevan (who previously was in Sabbath during 83/84 on the Born Again tour) was brought in to play drums for Sabbath again, although when precisely he joined up again, I don’t know.
(July 87) In addition to Bev Bevan stepping in to play drums, the band needed a bassist if they were to play live again, so Dave Spitz returned to the stage to handle those duties. On July 20th, 1987, Sabbath played a music festival in Greece, which as it turns out has been their only appearance in Greece in their entire history.
(Jul-Aug 87) Almost immediately after the festival in Greece, Sabbath played Sun City in South Africa (the picture here is from one of the Sun City gigs). This was before Apartheid fell there, so Sabbath took a lot of crap about it in the press. Tony Iommi himself said this in a January 1988 interview about playing Sun City.. “Hopefully, it hasn’t done us any lasting damage. But in our defense I’ve got to say that this was discussed with Patrick Meehan’s lawyers who convinced us that Sun City wasn’t actually in South Africa…and we were foolish to believe them!” Bev Bevan objected to playing Sun City for political reasons, so another member change was needed. Terry Chimes (formerly of the Clash) stepped in to play drums here, and shortly afterwards.
After the Sun City gigs, final production on the Eternal Idol album was completed, and the album was (finally) released in November of 1987. Dave Spitz left for good during this period. When Dave actually departed is a bit of a mystery, but a good guess is that he was gone before the end of October (possibly earlier, as the Eternal Idol Tour rehearsals likely started sometime in October).
How’s that for convoluted? In all this time you have two vocalists, two bassists, two drummers, two recording studios, two producers, but one hell of an album. Even the credits are bizarre on the released album. Take a look at the credits page from the 1996 Castle Remaster release:
So who did what on the final released product?
Guitar: Obviously, Tony Iommi played all the guitars. That’s easy.
Keyboards: That too was also all handled by Geoff Nicholls, who according to stuff I’ve read/heard over the years had more to do with the actual music and lyrics than he was properly credited for.
Vocals: That was handled by Tony Martin. He re-recorded all of Ray Gillen’s bits after Gillen left. However, there’s one short piece of Ray Gillen on the final released product; a story that has been told several times before. In the track “Nightmare”, there’s some laughing that is the Ray Gillen original. Apparently Tony Martin said it worked so well, the band left it well enough alone. Here’s a 20 second sample of the Gillen laughing.
Tony Martin sent me this quick email for this article regarding his work and introduction to the album:
It was a very involved, new, deep, position i found myself in and was completely unprepared for it!!! I DID do the job though and i’m pleased with what it became. It was a little weird following EXACT lines and lyrics already laid in place because my voice was forced to work in some strange keys, but there wasn’t time to change any of it anyway, i only had a week to record the whole thing.!!!
Bass: The credits list both Dave Spitz & Bob Daisley as bassists on the album. Everything I’ve read however says that Spitz didn’t actually play anything on the released product, it’s all Bob Daisley. Bob confirmed this in his email to me for this article. That’s interesting, as Bob stated he was only there for a few weeks to record his tracks and write songs, and those bass tracks were laid down almost a full year before the album was released. Why was Dave Spitz credited when he didn’t play? Who knows. Perhaps some legal requirement, or they felt they owed him a favor and put his name there.. No idea.
UPDATE Jan 2009: This month, I got an email from Bob Daisley explaining why Dave Spitz was credited on the Eternal Idol album, when he hadn’t actually played anything. Bob said, “By the way, the question as to why Dave Spitz is credited on the album in the bass credits is answered by the fact that I wouldn’t join the band and Spitz stayed, so to give some sort of continuity to the album and live performances, his name appears on the record. It’s the same reason that Michael Innez had his name on the Ozzy album “No More Tears”. I played on it but wasn’t in the band and not going on the road to promote it. Michael was already in the band when I got the call from Ozzy to play on that album and I played on the whole thing, like with “Eternal Idol” and because Michael was still in the band and going on the road, he got a credit as well. So there it is…”
Drums: There are two credited drummers on the album, Bev Bevan & Eric Singer. While Bev does have a credit on the final Eternal Idol album as “percussion”, what (if anything) he played on the final album isn’t known. Eric Singer was asked at a KISS convention about the Eternal Idol album, and he said that Bev doesn’t actually play anything on the album, and that he’s the only drummer. I had also read something around the time of the release of this album that Bev was brought in only to “clean up” a few things on the final recording after Eric had already left, although that contradicts what Eric said about Bev not being on the album. I’ve since found out from Geoff Nicholls that Bev’s contribution to the album were some cymbal rolls in the song Scarlet Pimpernel. For that he got a credit of “percussion”. If you listen to Pimpernel, and turn the volume up, you can hear them. It’s admittedly a very light sound, but it is on there.
Out of all that came what I believe is one of the more cohesive Sabbath albums that has ever come down the pike. The Ozzy era is what it was, and the Dio era is extremely solid. Beyond that, most people tend to dismiss Sabbath’s recorded output, which is a shame. Too many people get hung up on “It’s not Ozzy” or “Dio rules” that they are blinded to good music. Say what you will about the changing lineups of Sabbath in the 80′s, you cannot deny the guitar work of Tony Iommi. Let’s check out the tracks:
NOTE: The “Buy via mp3″ links go to Amazon.com’s DRM free mp3 store, where you can buy the tracks for a buck apiece (or the whole album too). Anyway, they have decent samples for all the tracks they sell, so that’s worth checking out if you don’t know the tracks).
1) The Shining [ Purchase MP3 ]
This is the song that most people know about if they know anything from The Eternal Idol. It was the first (the only?) single from the album, it has a nice catchy hook, and got played on all the tours with Tony Martin. So it should be the most known of the tracks. It was the only one from the album that got a video produced for it, which I’m showing below.
The main riff for this song had been around for some time. It was originally written for the demo sessions back in 1984 after Ian Gillan had left the band. The band was trying to figure out what to do, and was trying other singers. One of the guys they tried was Dave Donato, and out of those demo sessions came several tracks, one was called “No Way Out”. Check it out, you should recognize the tune. :)
And, as long as we’re talking about old versions of The Shining, check out this audio. It’s a version of the track with Ray Gillen on vocals.
Speaking of the video for The Shining, here’s an amusing piece of trivia. Given the upheaval in personnel in 1987, when it came time to shoot a video for “The Shining”, the band had no actual bassist there on the day. In a bit of a panic, the band ended up pulling a complete unknown off the street to stand in for the video shoot. Tony Martin elaborates a bit on this:
The bassist on the video was some guy that we pulled in off the street. He was actually a guitarist, and he just stood in for the video. When the shoot was finished he asked if he could audition for the bass player position, but when we tried him out he just didn’t cut it. So back out on the street he went. He kept saying that he was a reincarnate red Indian, and that his spirit guide was some famous chief!!!! But that’s his claim to fame, I bet NOBODY believes him, can you imagine just getting shoved in off the street to audition for Sabbath. then getting kicked back out the door!!!
As I said, this is the most known track, it’s probably the most accessible track. It’s also the one I’m going to write the most about, because there’s more than my own feelings on the track available. :) I’ve even seen the riff used by some folks who throw their own guitar riffing up on Youtube. It’s one of my favorite tracks, but as much as I like this song, it’s not my favorite on the album.
2) Ancient Warrior [ Purchase MP3 ]
This song might be one of most overlooked tracks in the band’s entire history. I’ve always felt this has a really great hard riff. It’s not fast like The Shining or Neon Knights or something like that. Ancient Warrior isn’t doom and gloom slow like St Vitus Dance or Shadow of the Wind. Anicent Warrior fits right in the middle for me in terms of fast and slow Sabbath songs.
I absolutely love the main riff for this one. I love the entire musical construction here. Love the bridges, love this track. It’s probably tied for my favorite track of this album (with the title track). Check out a couple of sample riffs from the track:
I’ve always felt the song’s lyrics were about Jesus Christ. Check this out:
There’s no end – there’s no beginning
To the old man’s story
Does he still remember me
From lives gone by
Oh I see his spirit rising
Upon the back of time
I’ve got nowhere to hide
Will he keep a place for me
He is the king of all kings
The keeper of light
He holds eternity’s wings
If you look at that with the knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ, it certainly reads that way to me. Perhaps it’s my personal beliefs there, but it does seem to fit the facts. I did pose this theory to Bob Daisley, and he responded with: “No, not anyone in particular, just a nameless, timeless wise person really. No denomination or specific religion.”. So much for my theory, but I still think it fits. :)
3) Hard Live to Love [ Purchase MP3 ]
This song is not one of the better ones for me. Which is a weird thing to say, as whenever I say that I always feel people will interpret it to be “He thinks it sucks”. I don’t. It’s a decent track, but it’s not one of the stellar ones. After the first two tracks being killer, IMO, this one was a bit of a comedown. The riff is OK, but nothing special to me. It does repeat a lot, which is I suppose not a unique thing to this song. A lot of songs have a riff that repeats over and over again, but this one seems to do it moreso than others.
The lyrics appear to be about someone not being thrilled with parts of the “Rock and Roll” lifestyle and their thoughts on the issue.
4) Glory Ride [ Purchase MP3 ]
I like Glory Ride a lot better than Hard Life. It has a “touch” of the mid 80′s influence in it. I’m speaking of the “keyboard sound” that plays behind Tony Martin’s vocals in the non chorus part of the song. I know at this point in the band’s history Geoff Nicholls is more in the forefront, so I’d expect him to be more noticable than usual. The “keyboard sound” I speak of kind of reminds me of the 80′s a little.
I detest that “80′s keyboard sound” in so much music of that era, it’s the only part of the song that makes me not get excited. But there’s so many parts of this song I do like, I can overlook that. The song has varied structure, it’s not just the same riff repeated over and over again.
There’s a sound that to me feels like “clapping” of sorts behind the chorus. Makes me wonder if that was meant to be some sort of audience participation thing. There’s actually a few places in this song that seemed like audience participation bits. This song was only ever performed on the rather short Eternal Idol tour, and I have heard some live bootlegs from then, but it didn’t seem to capitalize on this issue (to me anyway).
5) Born to Lose [ Purchase MP3 ]
Nice riff. This is another that kind of falls in between my feelings for Hard Life to Love and Glory Ride. It’s a good song – I really like the main riff of this one, but the song never really gels for me. Can’t put my finger on this one, despite it falling under “decent track”.
6) Nightmare [ Purchase MP3 ]
This song has a 30 second keyboard intro by Geoff Nicholls. Thematically it feels like the keyboard intros to a couple of songs from the Born Again album (specifically Stonehenge & The Dark) or Sphinx (The Guardian) from Seventh Star. I always liked those kind of intros to Sabbath song. So right away this works for me.
This has a slightly different main riff. The riff has what I can only describe as a “paused” riff. There’s no actual stopping of playing, but for some reason if you listen to it, there sounds (to me) to be a fractional pause in the main riff. It adds something different to me. I’ve always loved songs that changed timing in the middle of the track. I’m not the most technical listener of music (can’t tell you exact time mind you), but I do tend to notice stuff like that. This song is actually one I wouldn’t like with other things I’ve said, as it’s a fairly straightforward song, but I like this “paused riff” an awful lot.
This also does have the bit I mention above with Ray Gillen’s original laughing in it (at around 2:48). After the bit with the laughing, there’s a completely different main riff. It’s a kind of interesting song with a different front and back bit. I like this a lot for the oddball riff and the inclusion of Ray Gillen on the final product.
7) Scarlet Pimpernel [ Purchase MP3 ]
A two minute instrumental. This track was never on any of the Ray Gillen bootleg versions of Eternal Idol I’ve seen. It’s one of those tracks that you can play for your grandparents, and don’t have to worry about it being “Black Sabbath”. :) Not much to say about this one except “I don’t hear Bev Bevan in here much except maybe some rolling cymbals I hear, perhaps?”
8) Lost Forever [ Purchase MP3 ]
Nice fast track. It’s not like “old Metallica fast” fast, but it’s got a nice faster pace than your standard Sabbath track. I like this track a lot, but for some reason I can’t find much to say about it.
9) Eternal Idol [ Purchase MP3 ]
Here it is. The best song on the album. (Well OK, I like Ancient Warrior a lot too, they’re both extraordinarily good). This feels so much like old school 70′s Black Sabbath, it’s not funny. I wonder if that was the intent when written, but man – this just “feels” like Black Sabbath should. Doomy, gloomy, and just dripping with heavy riffing.
“You and I victims of their word as the bastards of power try to poison our world.
Greed, money taken over their souls, you’re just mechanical brains.
Politicians don’t know. They just don’t know.
I’ve always loved those lyrics. It’s how the song closes.
If you listen to just one track from this album, this is it. Absolutely stellar track, one of the best of the Martin era by far (even if it was written for Ray Gillen).
10) Some Kind of Woman
This is a strange track. It originally appeared as a “B side” to the 12″ single release of The Shining, and nowhere else. Outside of the rarity of its existence, it’s very un Sabbath like. It’s a very fast bluesy song. It sounds like nothing else on the album. It’s not like it’s a bad song, but doesn’t terribly sound much like “Black Sabbath” to me. If you ever heard that cover that Black Sabbath did of Blue Suede Shoes from 1970, Tony Iommi’s guitar sound here sounds like that “sound” to me, even if the songs aren’t the same.
When Black Sabbath eventually gets around to putting out a “Black Box” for the material from the Tony Martin era, this had better be on there. It’s one of the lost tracks that virtually nobody has heard before due to it’s being a B side on probably the worst selling album in the band’s history.
Take a listen to this sample of the beginning of the track. If you’ve never heard it before, then you should see what I mean about it not sounding like any other Sabbath track.
11) Black Moon
Black Moon was also on the 12 inch single for The Shining. However, this track is well known already. It was later used on 1989′s “Headless Cross” album. This sounds pretty much the same as the version from 1989, except it’s a little slower. I’m not really going to get into this one, since it is on Headless Cross. The Eternal Idol single version is essentially the same track.
I suppose what pains me most about this album is that given the complete upheaval behind the scenes with this album, they managed to produce quite the solid album from front to back. While I like some tracks better than others, the album is very good. Yet most Sabbath fans don’t know it. Whether it’s because they truly just don’t know about it, or dismiss it out of hand because it’s not “Ozzy Black Sabbath” I don’t know.
But it’s one that deserves attention. That’s the reason I’m doing this piece. I’ve loved this album since it was new. In fact, in 1987, I got my first ever CD player as a Christmas present from my mother. I knew I was getting one, so I had purchased some CD’s before that. However, after receiving it, I decided to go out shopping for some “new” ones. The first thing I picked up was “The Eternal Idol”. This is the album I consider to be my first “new” CD purchase after I got my first CD player.
The album’s cover art is something of an interesting story. The cover art imagery is based off of an 1889 sculpture by French painter Auguste Rodin. I’m not going to get into Rodin’s history, you can read his Wikipedia page for background information. It is quite the odd choice, though. One wouldn’t think a metal album from the 80′s would have a French sculptor and artist from 100 years previous as the inspiration for their cover art. But stranger things have happened. The original sculpture is shown in a picture here.
For quite awhile I wondered what the deal with the models was, not knowing the original inspiration. Legend has it that the original sculpture was going to be used as the actual cover art, but some rights related issue prevented that. So the models you see on the final cover were done up and positioned to mimic the original sculpture. How true that story is, I don’t really know, but it’s what I’ve been hearing about the cover art for years.
There actually were two live dates (unconnected to the tour “proper”) before the album was released. One was in Athens Greece on July 21st. This date was the first time to this point that Sabbath had ever played there (the second was in 2007). The rhythm section was still a bit of a mess, and as such Dave Spitz was brought over to play the gig. Bev Bevan handled drums, which was his only live date with the band other than on the Born Again tour in 83/84. I have a (short) review of the Athens gig on my site here as given to me by sab fan Konstantine Sasma. After the Greece one off, there were the dates in South Africa at Sun City. Much has been made about Sabbath playing there before Apartheid fell, but I won’t get into that now. Apparently Bev Bevan did not want to go there for political reasons, so they had to get Terry Chimes (ex Clash) to play these dates. When the Sun City gigs were done, that was the end for Dave Spitz. As far as I know he wasn’t asked to play the tour proper.
So a proper touring band is needed for the formal Eternal Idol tour whose first “proper” date was November 22, 1987. As Dave Spitz was now gone for good, they needed a bassist. This ended up being Jo Burt. Jo had been playing with Jason Bonham (according to Geoff Nicholls). Where and exactly HOW they found him is not known to me, but there he is. :)
So we now have this band:
Tony Iommi – Guitar
Tony Martin – Vocals
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards
Terry Chimes – Drums
Jo Burt – Bass
We’re a long way from the early 70′s and Ozzy/Tony/Geezer/Bill. But as Geoff was fond of saying “the show must go on”, and this band hit the road for what turned out to be a very short tour. My tour notes show only 15 actual gigs played. Several of them were in Germany & Italy. Then there was to be the Hammersmith Odeon gig in London to end the year. That was scheduled to be played on December 28th, 1987. It didn’t happen; it was canceled. Tony Iommi had this to say about it in a January 1988 interview in Kerrang magazine..
“Yes, our equipment had to be impounded and i was suffering from a bout of what was thought to be tennis elbow, but on top of this I came down with Singapore ‘Flu while in Europe and got really ill. l couldn’t shake it off and felt horrible. Even now, the after effects haven’t completely worn off. it’s awful. “The last thing I wanted to do was to cancel the Hammersmith show – I was really looking forward to it. But we had no choice and all I can do is to apologize to the fans. But we do intend to re-schedule this date as soon as possible, plus hopefully slotting in a couple of other British gigs.”
This was of course never rescheduled. There were also supposed to be United States gigs too, but that also never happened. The management situation during this time was apparently a complete fiasco, with Tony saying the following about it (in the same magazine article)…
“The situation with Patrick was unworkable. We couid never find him when bills had to be paid and apart from one girl in the office, there was no-one we could talk to about anything. It was a nightmare and eventually I was left with no option but to walk away and try to pick up the pieces. All I wanna do is be left alone to get on with playing music. I just wish all these problems would go away.”
So you have a band with personal turmoil over the appearance at Sun City, a released (fired?) manager, impounded gear, unpaid bills, a rather unknown lineup, and an album that wasn’t selling well. 1987 couldn’t have ended worse for Black Sabbath I think. Fortunately the name wasn’t completely destroyed, and was eventually built back up, but one could very easily make the point that 1987 was the lowest point in the band’s history.
Still, even with all of that, if you were lucky enough to see one of the few live gigs on this tour, you saw something that most of us haven’t seen. And Black Sabbath is still Black Sabbath. I have to admit to wishing I could have seen ‘em on this tour.
To sum up the tour part of this article, here are a few pictures from some gigs in 1987.
Someone else’s perspective
I’ve spoken for quite a long time on Eternal Idol. Fortunately I’m not the only person who likes the album. I’d like to add a short piece by fan Mark Cloer (who also contributed to my piece on Seventh Star). Here’s someone else’s thoughts on this album…
Twenty years is a long time but it certainly doesn’t seem like 2 decades ago that my favorite Sabbath album hit the shelves. I was fresh out of high school and still a die-hard Black Sabbath fan. I remember there had been a lot of confusion in the air around the state of the band. We didn’t have the internet but I had limited knowledge from Hit Parader and some of the other music rags. Dio had gone, replaced by Ian Gillan who was replaced by Glenn Hughes who was repalced by Ray Gillen….. Of course Keel, Donato & Fenholt figured in there too but most of that was pretty much kept under wraps until many years later. Anyway, it was obvious that Sabbath was in turmoil! I was totally into the “Seventh Star” album and had loved Glenn’s work on it. Somewhere along the line I learned of the Hughes/Gillen switch and had expected to see this Gillen chap’s name in the credits on the the next Sabbath slab. I had a friend at a record store who kept me up on as much news as he could but I had no prior knowledge of this Tony Martin fellow in the credits of this new album with the strange album cover. I had never heard of the Eternal Idol sculpture so the album cover took me by surprise.
Anyway, I vividly remember popping the cassette into the tape deck for the first time. I was bummed that Hughes hadn’t lasted but I kept an open mind. Less than a minute into “The Shining”, I was hooked and it just got better from there. I didn’t know who this Tony Martin was but this “cat” could sing! What a set of pipes! Who the hell was he and where the hell had he been all my life?? His voice blew me away. It was crystal clear, clean and with power to spare. A new vocal hero was born! Most albums tend to have at least a couple tracks that seem like filler; Not this one (with the possible exception of “Scarlet Pimpernel”)! It had all the elements of a great Sabbath album. Some of the songs (like the title track) harkened back to some of the classic Sabbath vibes while others sounded modern and would have fit well onto one of the Dio albums or possibly “Seventh Star”. My favorite track was and still is “Glory Ride”. This Martin guy was really a breath of fresh air because he could REALLY sing, unlike a lot of the singers that were up and coming in the metal scene of the late ’80s. I remember reading some reviews of the album that passed Martin off as a Dio clone. I never got that. I don’t think he sounded anything like Ronnie, then or now. Sure, I guess he sounded more like Dio that he did Gillan or Ozzy but nobody with a set of ears would confuse Dio & Martin. He was an amazing “new” voice that deserved his own legacy and I was glad to have him in the band.
Of course the musicianship on “Eternal Idol” was stellar as one would expect on anything Iommi would stamp his name on. Tony’s guitar work was top shelf as usual and the bass and drums were really clicking, regardless of who actually played what. Geoff added his deft touch in all the right spots as usual. This was just a smoking album that doesn’t seem to sound the least bit dated even today. One often tends to call the newest release by a band their “favorite”, until the newness wears off but 20 years later I still maintain that “Eternal Idol” is my favorite Black Sabbath album as a whole piece of work. Many years later I got hold of the Gillen demos. I loved Ray and would have loved him to have continued with Sabbath for awhile longer because he was a huge talent but I much prefer the Martin version of “Eternal Idol” although it’s not a fair comparison because the Gillen demos are very rough and the finished Martin project is polished up as shiny as a new penny.
It’s really a shame that this album never got the respect it should have. All the rubbish involved with the revolving doors of band members, producers and management overshadows a truly magnificent collection of music. It was a new beginning for the next great era of Sabbath that lasted longer than expected but then dissolved way too soon for me and at least and handful of other fans who maintain that Tony Martin was the finest singer that Black Sabbath ever had. Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL eras of the band and picking a favorite is very hard but Tony Martin had me in the first minute of ever hearing his voice and 20 years later he is my favorite vocalist of all time. He and Iommi were a match made in heaven and I hope that some day they’ll see fit to work together again in some capacity. I’m as thrilled with the “Heaven & Hell” reunion as everybody else is and hope and pray the next tour brings them close enough to me to go see them. I’m anxiously awaiting the rumored new album in ’08, I’m sure it will be a new masterpiece. I can’t help but hope somewhere down the road there is a similar reunion of Iommi, Martin, Murray, Nicholls & Rondinelli (R.I.P. Cozy). I’m not holding my breath but the seeds planted with the release of “Eternal Idol” T-W-E-N-T-Y years ago bore some fabulous fruit that deserves to be revisited just like the Dio material.
Band Members Look Back
In my time running this website, I’ve made a few friends in the band, and I decided to hit a few of them up to see if they’d be interested in contributing their memories on making the album all this time ago, and what they thought of it looking backwards over the span of twenty years. I got responses back from Eric Singer, Geoff Nicholls, Bob Daisley, and even album producer Chris Tsangerides. Tony Martin also contributed with a few quotes I used further up in the article. I’m grateful to all of them for their contributions. Here goes:
Eric Singer’s Remarks:
Wow already over 20 years ago we set out to record that Sabbath record…
It started with demos in Birmingham, England. Actually it was Henley on Arden area in the outskirts of town. That was kinda of ironic to all of us since Tony had recently parted ways with longtime Sabs manager Don Arden at that time.
Anyways, we did a lot of demos at some barn studio in the loft later in the days since there were shops open for business down below during the afternoons. I remember having towels or T-shirts on my drums to dampen the sound ! A lot of ideas were recorded or tried out and it was a very productive time…
We then acquired a new manager Patrick Meehan and he arranged for us to go to Montseratt in the West Indies to record at Air Studios which was owned by George Martin of BEATLES fame. Sting, The Police, Duran Duran & Eric Clapton had all recorded there so we were really keen on going there. It was a beautiful place with a great studio and vibe. We ended up being there for 6 weeks ! It was a really fun time and even though we had obstacles and a few detours along the way, we did get some decent sounds and tracks done. Bob Daisley was flown in the play Bass on that record and I have maintained a great friendship with him to this day. Soon after basic tracks they all took a break to return home and then Tony resumed recording in London.
I soon after was asked to join Gary Moore for a tour in early 1987 and decided it was time for me to move in another direction…. I am thankful for the experience I got playing with Tony Iommi. He really is one of the most unique and influential guitarist of all time. Hopefully life will go full circle and we can work together again someday….
From Joe: Eric also sent along this picture of he and Bob Daisley during the recording of the album. The picture was taken at Montserrat near Air Studios.
Bob Daisley’s Remarks:
Iwas working with Gary Moore and living in England at the time, around October 1986 when I got a call from Jeff Glixman, the producer of “The Eternal Idol” asking me if I’d like to play on the new Sabbath album as Sab’s bass-player, Dave Spitz, was unavailable. A couple of days later I found myself in Montserrat, West Indies, at George Martin’s Air Studios there. The line-up was Tony Iommi, a truly great riff merchant and player, Eric Singer on drums, Ray Gillen, vocals, and Geoff Nicholls on keys. I was asked to join the band after the recording but I was happy with the Gary Moore situation and declined the offer. I did have a great time working with that line-up though and got on very well with them all. I wrote quite a lot of the lyrics for that album but I think some were changed when the final vocals by Tony Martin were added. I know it states in the credits that Dave Spitz was also a bassist on the record but he didn’t play a note on it, it’s all me. The song-writing credits are Tony Iommi only, which again isn’t accurate but reflects the situation at the time. I still have a lot of out-takes of Ray Gillen’s performances and for my money, he was the better vocalist and some of those rough mixes I have sound better than the final mix, to me anyway. Tony Martin did a great job of the final vocal takes but they were Ray’s phrasing and melodies in the first place so it was more natural to him.
The title track in my opinion is one of the heaviest, most interesting “dark” songs I’ve ever heard and remains one of my favourite heavy songs I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in. I think “The Eternal Idol” is one of the most underrated Sabbath albums and certainly deserves a lot more attention and recognition.
Geoff Nicholls’ Remarks:
Well my recollection of the Eternal Idol is one of very many different moods and changes but at the end of the day when you look back at the people involved, The musicians.
All the shit you go through seems to fade and the album I thought was a good one and the songs still stand up today. My favorites are “The Shining.” And “Eternal Idol.”
It started off as a wonderful experience with young new blood in the band. Eric. Ray. Dave. These guys were full of energy and bought a new image to the band as we had just finished the Seventh Star Tour and noticed a lot of younger people in the audience. We finished some writing in England and went off to Montserrat a Caribbean island a wonderful place totally cut off from the outside world and distractions.
But as always in the Sabbath history something had to go wrong.
I don’t want to get into all the reasons why but Dave left and Bob arrived. We also had new management and for some that cast a shadow. We never got to finish the album in Montserrat and returned to England and once again the Sabbath curse struck again after a short time we lost Geoff Glixman, the Engineer/Producer. And with Geoff went a lot of the sound effects that had been recorded.
With Ray being very inexperienced in the studio a new producer, Vic Coppersmith was bought in to help guide Ray through. But once again the Sabbath curse struck just as Ray had virtually finished recording all his vocals he also left without telling anyone. Once again I felt sorry for Tony Iommi he had always given new people a chance a was let down many times by people just out to use him.
And once again we had another situation. The cost of recording in Air studio’s was in London was very high. So Chris Tsangerides was bought in and we moved to Battery studio’s then the digital tapes or just the tracks needed to re- record the vocals and some finishing overdubs we put on to 24 track two inch tape and off we went once again.
Tony Martin was bought in to sing after coming down for an audition and sang the whole album in a week. He worked really hard and put a lot of effort into trying to retain the original ideas. Which is what he was asked to do mainly for the need to get the album done as quick as possible as the record company were screaming for a release at this time and who can blame them.
Then Chris transferred all the new tracks back onto the digital tape for the final mixes, which saved a lot of money and the album.
As I said a lot of mixed emotions. But then whoever said it was gonna be easy and we did find a singer who was in Sabbath the longest second only to Ozzy. And recorded some great albums after but that’s another day. Oh and by the way we did have some great fun inbetween – boy did we! Ha ah. Keep rockin’ in the free world.
From Joe: Geoff sent in a second piece when I had asked him about Jo Burt and Scarlet Pimpernel:
Hi Joe. As usual, the Sabbath curse struck again. Just to add to my earlier memories…
When we were mixing the album, Tony Iommi wanted to do an instrumental, so we recorded it. Bev Bevan came down to the studio for a visit, and he got asked to do some percussion bits on it, which he did which is why his name is on the album credits as a thank you.
Then the touring bit.
Originally, Bev and Geezer were going to play drums and bass for a gig in Greece, but Geezer pulled out at the last minute due to manager problems. So Dave Spitz got the call to play bass after that Bev left and Terry Chimes came in as a last minute replacement. Terry was a good drummer and all his background came from rock dummers even though he played in punk bands, I think is favourite drummer was John Bonham. And he also did a lot of teaching at drum clinics.
Jo Burt was called in to do a European tour. He had been playing with Jason Boham and a tour had been booked. Although they may not have been the first choice the old saying of the show must go on always raises its head and we made the best of it and as usual had a lot of fun and a lot of unusual experiences along the way.
Boy did we. Things were never dull, but that’s another book to be written.
Chris Tsangerides’ Remarks:
Hi Joe, well here go’s…
Originally I was asked to come in and do a few solos and then mix the project all in all around 3 weeks was earmarked this turned into 6 months and a whole lot more… They had a falling out with Jeff Glixman (original producer)and they did the vocals with Vic Smith.. the singer was the late Ray Gillen… By the time I arrived there was dissension in the camp which resulted in Ray and Eric Singer leaving during the record… Tony martin was drafted in and i did all the vocals again with him.. There was also nearly all the solos to do and keyboards basically I was given the raw bed tracks and we had to do everything else… hence the 6 months.. anyway I reckon It turned out well and had a blast working with Tony, during the down time he Geoff Nicholls and myself formed a joke band called “T.I.N” after our surnames and would jam all sorts of nonsense which seemed a good Idea at the time.. we had a great time as always together and it was good to meet up again last Monday at the Classic rock awards where Tony got the Metal Guru award…
Well, that pretty much does it for this look back at “The Eternal Idol”. It’s an album that just passed it’s 20th anniversary. I remember it well when it came out. I loved it when it was new, and I still love it today. It’s definitely a lost classic – one that most Sabbath fans don’t know a lot about. Hopefully my small article will help shed some light onto an album that gets lost when folks think about Black Sabbath.
If you’ve never heard the album before, then maybe my article can convince you to pick up a copy and give it a listen. I think you’ll like it. It should be obvious by now that I do. :)
If you get a minute, drop me a line, and let me know what you think of this article. Thanks.
Joe Siegler – Webmaster
Black Sabbath Online
UPDATE Nov 2011:
As I prep the site for it’s late 2011 refresh, I had to massage a few pages. Not for content, but for formatting. As I worked on this page, there were a few bits that had wrong tenses given the almost four years since I originally published this article. For the most part I left them alone, but I did want to add this bit at the end. On November 1, 2010 a double disc “Deluxe Edition” of the Eternal Idol album came out. Since it was based on the original Vertigo record contract, it was only released in Europe. Anyway, it had a remastered version of the album we knew, plus the two B side tracks (Black Moon & Some Kind of Woman) on there, so that was sweet.
But the real gold on the Deluxe Edition release was Disc 2. Tony Iommi finally granted permission to release the Ray Gillen version of the album. It was a shocker when it was announced, and even with that knowldge, it was more surprising when it finally came out! There’s been a few bootleg versions of the Gillen album out there over the years on various bootlegs. I’m aware of all them, but as I’ve mentioned a few times on my site, I was aware of an additional one that was sent to me by someone I’d rather not name which was CLEARLY higher quality than any known bootleg. I was given it with the instructions that it never be given out. Something I honored. I was asked after the Deluxe Edition came out if the version I had was like the final product on Disc 2. It pretty much is, so my source was pretty well connected, I always called mine “The Monitor Mix”, given how high quality it was. I know Andy Pearce worked a little on the Ray Gillen version, so I’d expect that to sound better.
THAT is the version to get. You get the album we knew, plus the pre-release version. Couldn’t be happier that it’s out. However, it wasn’t released domestically in the US, so you need to buy it from the UK yourself. Which actually works out cheaper than the import price that Amazon US sells it for. Click on the cover art below to be taken to the order page for Amazon UK. You won’t be disappointed.