On February 4, 2017, black Sabbath played its final concert at Genting Arena in the band’s hometown of Birmingham, England. It was the 81st and last show of their triumphant farewell tour, which was billed as The End. Fortunately, for those who could not attend, the event was filmed by director Dick Carruthers and was released on DVD, Blu-ray, CD, and vinyl as The End in November. Featuring perennial favorites like “War Pigs,” “Iron Man,” and “Black Sabbath,” The End also includes the Angelic Sessions, a five-song rehearsal featuring deep cuts not performed live, like “Wicked World,” “The Wizard,” “Changes,” and more. It’s an intimate look at a legendary band shaking the cobwebs off songs they hadn’t played in years, warts and all.
Geezer Butler seems content with Sabbath calling it quits. He’s appeared live with the Hollywood Vampires (with Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and others) at the Roxy in Los Angeles and performed at Voodoo Music + Arts Festival in New Orleans with Ozzy Osbourne, Tom Morello, and Slash. Other than such one-off appearances, he’s been laying low. After spending the better part of 50 years forging iconic bass lines like “N.I.B.,” “Hand of Doom,” and “Sweet Leaf,” he seems to be mostly enjoying life as a civilian.
L–R: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler
Were there challenges to re-learning material you hadn’t played in almost 50 years?
“Hand of Doom” was the only song we hadn’t played for some time. As I recall, we hadn’t played it since the early 1970s. The verses were straightforward, but I had to listen to the rest of it a few times to remember what I played.
You tune differently than you did on the first couple of records. Did you have to learn songs in different positions?
We didn’t have to learn the songs in different positions on the fingerboard. Instead, we have three changes of guitars, depending on which song we are playing. We tune to D, C#, and C. For instance, we play “War Pigs” tuned to D [the original recording is in E], “Under the Sun” is in C, and “Children of the Grave” is in C#.
Do you have a favorite song to play, or one that epitomizes your style?
I don’t really have a favorite, but I suppose “War Pigs” epitomizes my style. There’s quite a bit of bending the notes in that one, and some fast runs.
The solo section of “War Pigs” is an epic jam between you and Tony Iommi. Did you improvise each time you played that?
It was usually consistent. I can’t stray too far from what I usually play on that one, otherwise it could end up in one big mess.
Did you improvise the bass solo that starts “N.I.B.”?
I used to improvise it every night, but it was hit-or-miss, so I decided to keep it fairly consistent and just improvise the end. I still got nervous when it came to the bass solo, so it helped to keep it consistent.
Live drummer Tommy Clufetos has a different feel than Bill Ward. Did that affect choices you might make regarding your bass lines?
No, it didn’t affect my approach whatsoever. I played the songs as true as possible to the recorded versions.
Live, Adam Wakeman played keyboards and rhythm guitar. Did that influence your approach on any of the tunes?
I didn’t change my bass lines at all. In fact, I didn’t have the keyboards or rhythm guitar in my monitors, so they had no influence on what I was playing. Adam’s main purpose was for Tony to concentrate on his solos, so he didn’t have to choose between that and playing rhythm.
Do you practice at home when you are not on tour, or in preparation for a tour of this magnitude?
I used to practice every day, but since the tour ended, I haven’t been practicing as much as I should. I recently moved house, and I’m in the process of setting up my home studio, so that has taken up much of my time. But I do like to experiment with different sounds when I play on my own. Regarding prep for The End tour, most of it was spent re-learning “Hand of Doom” and refreshing the set list.
You started using Ashdown amps on this tour. What is it about the Ashdown that you like?
I switched to Ashdown because they were really into working with me on building an amp that reflects my sound. They came to rehearsals for the 13 tour and brought a few amps for me to try. They built an amp with a nice adjustable overdrive, which is what I was looking for.
There was a rumor a while back that Black Sabbath intended to follow up 13 with a blues-oriented record.
We talked about it, but that was before we decided to do The End tour. I thought time-wise it was more important to do a farewell tour, rather than spend time trying to follow up 13, especially as that album had taken three years to write and record, and we’re not getting any younger [laughs].
Is there any chance we will see one-off Sabbath gigs and/or recordings?
I wouldn’t say never, but it’s highly doubtful. I’m quite happy to leave things as they are.
What are your plans now that Sabbath is over?
I have no immediate plans. I’ve really enjoyed spending time at home and doing lots of tourist-type traveling. I’m in the process of sorting out my studio and listening through the 100 or so ideas I have written. If I put together an album’s worth of songs, I’ll look at releasing it sometime.
Black Sabbath, The End [2017, Eagle Rock Entertainment]
Basses (all Lakland) Geezer Butler Signature (P pickups), Geezer Butler Signature (w/EMG PJ pickups), USA Series 44-51M (“Birthday”), USA Series 44-64 (“Goldie”), USA Series 44-64 (“Old #1”), USA Series 44-51M (“Astor Villa”), Custom/Prototype USA “EBOstyle”
Rig Ashdown ABMRPM-GZR Custom Bass Preamplifier, Ashdown ABM APM EVO II power amplifier, custom-built Ampeg 4x12 and 2x15 w/Electro-Voice speakers
Strings DR Strings K3 Black Beauties (.050–.110)
Strap Heavy Leather NYC Geezer Butler Signature Strap
Effects, etc. Dunlop GZR95 Geezer Butler Cry Baby Wah, Wireless Shure ULX-D