Tony Iommi is the hard rock riff king! Some would argue Jimmy Page, or Ritchie Blackmore, or even miniscule Angus Young. The potential list of candidates is endless. Music, like all art, is subjective, but most will agree that what Iommi did with Black Sabbath, especially on the first six albums, was groundbreaking. It was bone-shattering. When I first listened to the songs on those releases, I couldn’t get over how each heavy track seemed to have a catchy, hook in it. I was dumbfounded with how a guitar player could keep reaching into a seemingly endless abyss of creativity, and could pull out gold every single time.
Starting with Sabbath’s self-titled debut, the very first riff, in the very first song, aptly named “Black Sabbath”, on the very first freaking album, is so catchy, and so sinister, that it alone can represent the sound, and genre, that the band would come to be known for. Tony Iommi’s guitar tone is angry, and big, and his brilliant use of vibrato and trills(an Iommi trademark) help paint an eerie image of a demonic force standing before the song’s protagonist. Paranoid, the bands breakthrough sophomore album, contains some of the best examples of Iommi’s riff mastery. “War Pigs”, “Paranoid”, “Iron Man”, “Electric Funeral”, and the brilliant album closer “Fairies Wear Boots”, all have gone on to become sonic tools for any budding rock guitar player looking to better their dexterity for riffing. They’re also all considered classic rock essentials, according to almost every rock radio station.
The albums Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Sabotage, continued the tradition of showing Iommi is a master of catchy riff writing, with songs like “Children of The Grave”, “Into The Void”, “Supernaut”, “Snowblind”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, the main riff Iommi wrote while struggling with writers block(let’s see Jimmy Page pull something like that out of thin air!), and the uber-heavy “Symptom of The Universe”, with its chugging verse riffs that we’re a clear prelude to what metal riffing would evolve into, not to mention its outro section that flips the switch and goes completely flamenco acoustic style with Robert Plant-esque vocals.
Did Tony Iommi invent the riff? No. Did he invent the ‘metal riff’? Hell yes he did! He also struck a chord with a young guitar player who never thought he could fall in love with something so loud and abrasive, yet comforting and inspring at the same time. That young guitar player was me!
Written by Evan Crocker for The Joe Bonamassa Blog
Photo Courtesy of Adrian Dango