How A Series Of Violent Black Sabbath Pranks Almost Killed Bill Ward

Warner Bros. Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a dark side to Black Sabbath. It’s not their lyrics or aesthetic. They never tried to convince anyone to practice necromancy or plunder a graveyard or kill their parents or any such hyperbolic nonsense. The real darkness that plagued the band was their own personalities. Black Sabbath were fucking assholes, and the person who took the brunt of their bullshit was their own drummer, Bill Ward.

Speaking on the subject of pranks in an interview with The Guardian, guitarist Tony Iommi recalls a time during the Vol. 4 recording session when the band got the bright idea to spray paint their drummer gold:

“We were staying at John DuPont’s house in Los Angeles, the bloke who owned DuPont paint products. We found all this paint in the garage, and were all pissed, so thought it would be fun to paint Bill gold from head to toe. He started having convulsions. The ambulance people gave us a right bollocking: “You idiots! You could have killed him.” They gave him adrenalin and we had to use paint stripper to get it off. He looked like a beetroot by the end.”

The paint incident would be enough to put most people off from that kind of sardonic physical humor forever. Just in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past 50 years and this is the first thing you’ve ever read on the whole of the internet and print music journalism, I’ve got some news for you – Tony Iommi isn’t most people. 

In the same interview, Iommi talks about Black Sabbath’s habit of setting their drummer on fire. Having referred to Bill Ward as “our party piece” during the recording sessions for Heaven & Hell, the joke finally went too far:

“It was our party piece, which always worked until the last time we did it. We had this new producer, Martin Birch, who’d heard all these stories about satanism and was a bit nervous. I made a wooden doll and wrapped it in a black cloth and the other guys wound him up that it was my voodoo doll of him.

“Anyway, Bill says – in front of Martin – “Are you going to set fire to me then, Tony?” I tipped rubbing alcohol over him. Normally it just burned off but this time it soaked into his clothes, so when I lit it he went up like a bomb. He was rolling on the floor, shouting and screaming. I thought it was part of the joke, so poured more stuff on him.

“Martin couldn’t believe it. We had to get an ambulance for Bill. He’d got third-degree burns. I felt bloody awful. We still play jokes on each other. Not quite as severe as that. I learned my lesson.”

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