Geezer Butler is one of those musicians that many of us know about, but not enough of us fully appreciate.
In fact, the founding member of Black Sabbath brought the bass guitar to a new level, using innovations like a wah pedal on the bass for the first time while flat-out redefining how to play the instrument in a three-piece band.
In short, Butler overcame the built-in problem most rock trios face: The gaps in the music when the guitarist solos. He did it by playing like a madman.
Who needs a rhythm guitar when you have Geezer Butler.
(courtesy of black-sabbath.com)
You could say Butler was the original member of Black Sabbath. He formed his first band, Rare Breed, in 1967 with old chum Ozzy Osbourne. The group didn’t stick, but sometime later Osbourne and Butler, originally a guitar player, tried again, this time forming Polka Tulk with guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward.
The four changed their name to Earth, but by 1969 settled on a new name — Black Sabbath. Butler switched to bass and they were off and running.
Sabbath’s impact on heavy metal hardly has to be repeated. Some credit the MC5 or Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin with launching heavy metal. It’s a valid debate, but let’s leave it at this: Sabbath was among those there at the start.
It’s a little-known fact that Butler was one of the band’s primary lyricists, and his interest in religion and the occult helped fuel the band’s aura. He also pushed the envelope on the Sabbath classic “N.I.B.” by attaching a wah pedal to the bass.
Trouble within the band is now legendary. Butler remained with Sabbath after Osbourne’s department, playing behind former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio. The band later enlisted former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan as well, while several reunions brought the original foursome back together.
Butler himself took several breaks from the band, and released three solo albums over the years, starting with 1995’s Plastic Planet. He followed it up with Black Science in 1997, and his most recent release Ohmwork, put out in 2005.
More recently he joined Iommi in another incarnation of Sabbath. Heaven and Hell brought Dio back on vocals and replaced Ward with veteran drummer Vinny Appice.
Dio’s death last weekend ensures that Heaven and Hell is over. But rest assured that Butler is sure to surface soon enough.
And when he does pay close attention to the rhythm section.
Listen closely, because sometimes he gets lost. But listen to Sabbath doing “War Pigs,” particularly the jam at the end, and tell me if you’ve heard anyone better.
(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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