Towards the end of last year I read a short interview with Pete Townshend wherein he discussed some of his favorite books. I looked into the unfamiliar titles and read three. Janey and Me: Growing Up with My Mother by Virginia Ironside was a revelation, an extremely well written and revealing family portrait by the journalist author about her mother who rose to become Professor of Fashion at the Royal College of Art despite not being an academic.
More curious was Pete's assessment of Ozzy Osbourne's I Am Ozzy as rock's best memoir. I would not have pegged Pete as an Ozzy fan, and surprised that he would have even cracked it open. It was delightful, a showcase for Ozzy's natural humor and a memory much more intact than the addled state he displayed on The Osbourne's.
I wasn't a fan of Ozzy's original band, Black Sabbath, but I did see them play live, twice. The first time, in November 1971 at the Long Beach Arena, it was as though Ozzy was in an alternate universe. The band was playing grinding, serious music, and here was Ozzy delightfully grinning as though he had disembarked from a ride at Disneyland. Ozzy, his shirt off, good-naturedly waved his arms as he sang songs titled "Wicked World," "Children of the Grave," "War Pigs" and "Paranoid." He configured his hands into V-sign peace symbols, and gestured just like President Nixon.
When I interviewed Ozzy months later at a house in Bel-Air the band was renting, for an article that ran in the UCLA Daily Bruin, he explained that the band's music had a positive, cathartic affect on their fans. Seeing the band in concert, they were able to relieve their frustrations. I hadn't thought that a band with a gloomy outlook, with references to Lucifer, nightmares, witchcraft and the supernatural, could make listeners overtly happy. I was surprised when Ozzy named the upbeat Beatles his favorite musical artist. (Truth be told, bassist Geezer Butler supplied most of the horror-laden lyrics.) On top of it all, Ozzy was a willing and engaging conversationalist. He invited me to the band's recording session that evening.
Little did I suspect that the company Richard Foos and I started, the Rhino Records label, would be issuing Black Sabbath records three decades later. But it almost didn't happen. Sharon Osbourne was now representing the financial interests of not only her husband but the other members of the band. It was almost comical. It was as if she and Ozzy were lounging on the sofa, snickering, watching Austin Powers. Taking a cue from Dr. Evil, they concocted a demand for "one million dollars!"
It was outrageous because we weren't getting anything new. In the U.S., Black Sabbath recorded for Warner Brothers Records. They were paid an advance on their royalties for each album they recorded, and then subsequent royalties as their advances were recouped from sales on the albums. Rhino didn't want to have Black Sabbath record anything new, merely to do a great job on reissuing the catalogue, initially with a box set of the original lineup's first eight albums. In re-signing with Warner's in the seventies, the band's representative inserted a clause that gave the group approval of any new configuration of the recordings, and Sharon was hitting up Rhino on behalf of her client or they wouldn't approve. It was a pure money grab. There was little consideration for the fine work that Rhino normally does, or the desire to create quality product. There was a stalemate for a couple of years, but Sharon got her advance. In the composition of any book, the writer has to determine what to leave it and what to take out. There's more to the Black Sabbath story, but as the reissues didn't come out until Richard and I had left the company, I didn't think it appropriate to include in the book.
Harold Bronson's book THE RHINO RECORDS STORY will be published on October 22nd.
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