Black Sabbath reunion – Bill Ward is OUT!

The last six months have been nerve racking for Black Sabbath fans, to say the least. First, on Nov. 11 the band announced a world tour and a new studio album, the first in 33 years, to be produced by legendary producer Rick Rubin (for full story, see Black Sabbath reform for new album, world tour.) Fans were ecstatic. Hearts sunk, though, on Jan. 9 when it was learned that guitarist Tony Iommi had been diagnosed with lymphoma (For full story, see Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi diagnosed with lymphoma.)

Although the news of Iommi’s cancer was shocking to fans, especially after the tragic cancer death of former Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio, fans were not prepared for drummer Bill Ward’s statement on Feb. 2. Ward announced, in no uncertain terms, that he was presented with an “unsignable contract” and that he could not sign onto a Sabbath reunion unless there were changes. The two camps, Ward and the rest of the band (and some will argue, Sharon Osbourne) have been at odds since.

Bill Ward 'Absence of Corners' poetry reading and art exhibit. Aug. 25, 2018 at The Last Book Store in Los Angeles. Photo: Alex Monico Archives.

Bill Ward ‘Absence of Corners’ poetry reading and art exhibit. Aug. 25, 2018 at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Photo: Alex Monico Archives.

In the weeks since Black Sabbath cancelled the entire tour, with the exception of one performance at the U.K.’s Download Festival on June 10. Black Sabbath later added a “warm-up” gig in their hometown of Birmingham on May 19 and a semi-headlining slot at Lollapalooza on Aug. 3. The remaining cancelled Black Sabbath dates have been replaced with “Ozzy & Friends”, which will feature special guests including Slash, Zakk Wylde, and others, in addition to a Black Sabbath mini-set with Geezer Butler.

The saga has finally come to an end it seems, with Bill Ward’s May 15 announcement that he will not participate in any of the three scheduled Black Sabbath gigs. His statement does not further clarify, but it is very unlikely that he will be playing on the new album either.

A Timeline of Bill Ward in 2012

But what led to this impasse? Following is a timeline of the events to date, starting with Bill Ward’s announcement on Feb. 2.

      • On Feb. 2 Bill Ward wrote on his Facebook page that he could not take part in the Black Sabbath reunion unless he received a “signable” contract, as he wrote “a contract that reflects some dignity and respect toward me as an original member of the band.” His full statement can be read here.
      • On Feb. 3 the band responded with their own Facebook message: “We were saddened to hear yesterday via Facebook that Bill declined publicly to participate in our current Black Sabbath plans…we have no choice but to continue recording without him although our door is always open… We are still in the UK with Tony. Writing and recording the new album and on a roll… See you at Download!!!”
      • On Feb. 4 Bill Ward posted a brief “thank you” note to all his fans and supporters.
      • On Feb. 7 the Facebook Community page 1,000,000 fans say yes to Bill Ward was started. By Feb. 9 the page had already received 32,000 “likes”.
      • On Feb. 7 posted a rumorish article that Bill Ward had been “fired” and replaced by Ozzy Osbourne drummer Tommy Clufetos. The news did not go over well for long-time fans. Many fans expected a more seasoned and age appropriate replacement, such as former Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice. Even Mike Bordin, who many view of as a “scab” for his previous stints as a replacement drummer, is somewhat respected. Clufetos, on the other hand, is a complete unknown for many fans. Also, some feel that a “metal”-style drummer is not appropriate for a band that historically has been a bit closer to classic rock than metal.
      • On Feb. 8 Bill Ward’s son, Aron, wrote a very lengthy post defending his father. The original was posted to the official Black Sabbath Facebook page and was subsequently deleted. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of other posts in support of Bill Ward seem to have been purged by the admin of Black Sabbath’s Facebook page around this time.
      • On Feb. 9 Sharon Osbourne sought to distance herself from the emerging scandal by turning to her Twitter account. She tweeted:“I am not in any position to hire or fire anyone in Black Sabbath. I don’t manage the band, I manage my husband.”
      • On Feb. 15 a spoof video was posted to YouTube entitled Generals Gathered in the Osbourne Bunker. The video is a clever example of the ‘Hitler reacts to… ‘ meme which has been used many times previously for a number of different subjects. The video, based around footage of the 2010 German film Downfall, features a hysterical Hitler reacting to his generals who are explaining to him that fans are boycotting the current Black Sabbath reunion due to Bill Ward’s exclusion. The twist? Hitler is actually intended to be Sharon Osbourne.
      • On Feb. 17 Bill Ward posted another statement, this time helpful that a settlement could be reached with the Black Sabbath camp. Later the same day Black Sabbath posted an official cancellation notice of much of their planned tour, presumably because of Toni Iommi’s battle with lymphoma. This left only one Black Sabbath show remaining, Download Festival, with the remaining dates to be performed by “Ozzy & Friends”.
      • On Feb. 19 Tony Iommi celebrated his 64th birthday.
      • On Mar. 26 Joe Siegler’s Black Sabbath Online site posted a Tony Iommi video tribute to Tony Iommi, sort of a get-well card to the guitarist.
      • On April 10 it was announced that Black Sabbath will be playing at Lollapalooza, their only scheduled North American appearance.
      • On April 30 Black Sabbath announced they will be playing a May 19 “warm-up” gig in Birmingham, where they first started as a band.
      • On May 4 tickets for the Birmingham gig went on sale, reportedly selling out in less than 10 minutes. Many fans were disillusioned as they saw tickets with a face value of £45 selling for five times that amount on online ticket broker sites. The show will be at O2 Academy, which only seats 4,000 people.
      • On May 5 Bill Ward celebrated his 64th birthday. Happy birthday, Bill!
      • On May 15 Bill Ward posted presumably his last statement for the time being, saying that he will not be participating in any of the upcoming reunion shows and that the Black Sabbath talks were finished. According to the statement, Bill was offered to only play three songs for the Download Festival. Worse still, he was asked to play the Birmingham gig “for free”, and was told that if he played well then negotiations might go further.
      • On May 17 Black Sabbath released a terse statement of their own, essentially saying “no comment” and that there are “two sides to every story”. Interestingly, they also state they are “engaging” a mystery “substitute drummer” for the three remaining shows.

Final Thoughts

Who exactly will be behind the drum kit in Birmingham, just two days from now? That remains a mystery at press time. It does not seem to be Tommy Clufetos. Clufetos has already been confirmed as drummer for all the “Ozzy & Friends” concert dates, so what would the point of not listing him for the Sabbath gigs? Also, Clufetos is “Ozzy’s drummer”. There is no indication that he has a good rapport with the rest of the band or that he even knows the Black Sabbath catalog, apart from a few songs.

Vinny Appice has already said that he has not been contacted by the band. Could Mike Bordin be the substitute drummer? It still seems odd not to name him if that’s the case. Is the drummer someone else entirely, perhaps a local unknown? Whoever it is, they likely have no future with the band apart from these three shows.

Unfortunately, the Sabbath reunion is shaping up to be disastrous on many levels. We don’t know the whole story yet, but it appears that pure greed has derailed one of the most promising rock reunions ever proposed. But the saga still continues, starting with Saturday’s Birmingham gig. I’ll have much more commentary on the situation once we learn more about the live shows and the status of the upcoming album…Stay tuned!

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