How Black Sabbath Survived The Music Business

Drummer Bill Ward's advice for aspiring rock stars
Black Sabbath's Bill Ward
The aspiring rock star’s indispensable guide to surviving a life in music, with advice from those who know best.

Bill Ward is the drummer in what many say is the biggest metal band in the world… the mighty Black Sabbath. A member from the band’s inception, he has dealt with enormous global success, and come through the other side of heavy alcohol and narcotic addictions. Bill’s experience should be heeded...

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE COOL
For me I’ve learned that being cool will kill me. So I don’t walk around all fucking hip, slick and cool and all pop star-ish while holding all the pain in. I let all the pain out in the morning. It doesn’t matter what might be bothering me, I just let it all out. I try not to live in any ego - I live in the reality of where the fuck I am. By doing that, I’m able to transverse all of the twists and turns and daily conflicts and ups and downs. To distance yourself from all the distractions gives you a sense of self-worth.

YOU HAVE TO BE FIT
If I know I’m going on tour, I start to train at least two months before we start. I start playing more vigorously and then I do walks, I build them up to ten mile a day walks because I want to get a lot of endurance. I also do a lot of push-ups. The backstage exercises are about twenty minutes stretching arms and legs, getting anything that’s had a whack the night before fixed - I get a massage to fix anything that’s sore. It’s really, really important. As a drummer I totally recommend looking after your bones and muscles. Years ago, there was a university that wanted to stick a load of sensors all over me to check what I was doing during a set. It turns out I was doing the equivalent to running fifteen miles a night in a one and a half hour concert. These days, as long as I’m doing those ten-mile walks, then I can usually measure that I’m going to be fine for the show. I still play my ass off and need to be really fit. If you’re playing in a hard rock band - if you’re playing in Sabbath - then you need to be in good shape.

CHERISH YOUR BAND
I feel like I’m playing in the living room. I don’t feel like I’m at a gig, even though I know I am. It feels like I’m with my entire family and that I know everybody there. I can’t feel more at home. If I wanted to die, I would want to die on stage. I would be honoured to die on the stage. It makes more sense to me up there than it does when I’m in my actual house when I come off tour. Being on the stage is hard to describe but it feels really normal and really, really nice. I thoroughly enjoy it. For a long time the original band weren’t playing together, but it’s a fucking privilege to share a stage with them. When that’s going on, I cherish it because I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen again. They’re great memories and it’s very sad to think it might never happen again with that band.

READ YOUR CONTRACTS
I think one of the things a band needs to have, besides a good accountant, is to sign really good contracts. I’m a victim of wanting fame and fortune so badly that I paid the price for that. I can’t speak for the other members of Black Sabbath in this regard, but we were all part and parcel of things like that where we signed into not very good contracts. I think it’s very important that any band, no matter how humble they may be, they need to sing into good paperwork which allows them what they need to have: freedom and security. Then you need to have a fucking ass-kicking logo and then, above all, you have to have kick-ass songs.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE
The best thing that I can say is to let the audience do what it wants to do. Let the audience react; they have a right to applaud and they have a right to boo. Let the audience be and leave them alone. If you go down well then great, and if you don’t go down well, then you’ve got to go and do it again tomorrow. When you watch Ozzy [Osbourne], he’ll go onstage and say, ‘Come on, you miserable bastards.’ But that’s as far as he’ll go with it, he just says it to get people to join in. A lot of artists do that but they’ll have a point where they’ll let go of the audience’s reaction.

HAVE A LAUGH
One of the biggest things that you’ve got to do when you’re out playing on the road is you have to laugh. And most of all laugh at your fucking self. You have to have a good laugh every single day. You’re supposed to be having fun out there; it’s not supposed to be all serious - the music can be serious and the discussions can be serious but I have to find those silly, fucking stupid things that happen and really laugh. Otherwise there’s no point in being out there.

Words by Josh Jones

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