John Michael Osbourne was born today in 1948 in England. You are forgiven if you thought that the Prince of Darkness had always existed or was spawned directly from the loins of Lucifer. Ozzy actually had two human parents and grew up like most kids in the working class neighborhoods of Birmingham. He struggled in school due to learning disabilities and eventually dropped out at age 15.
Ozzy fell under the spell of the Beatles and was inspired to pursue a life as a rock star. Before he made it in music he worked a number of odd jobs, including a stint at a slaughterhouse and a brief career as a car horn tuner. Ozzy also dabbled in crime but he was an awful thief and ended up doing a month and a half stretch in jail. He managed to save enough money to buy a PA and began to focus more on music.
In 1967 he joined bassist Geezer Butler’s band Rare Breed. This band was short-lived and Ozzy soon found himself working with Butler again in a band called Polka Tulk Blues. The band also included guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. Polka Tulk Blues changed their name to Earth before finally settling on Black Sabbath in 1969. They took their name from the Boris Karloff horror movie “Black Sabbath”.
It was Geezer Butler that suggested the name Black Sabbath after waiting in line to see the movie and remarking how strange it was that people paid money in order to be frightened. Sensing that they were on to something, Butler and Ozzy wrote the lyrics to the song “Black Sabbath” and heavy metal was born. In a time of free love, hippies and flower power, Black Sabbath was about as far removed from the mainstream as a band could be.
There was, however, a market for the mayhem that Ozzy and Black Sabbath were peddling and they quickly found success. Their live shows were well attended and Sabbath was featured on a popular radio program. They were signed by Phillips Records and they recorded their first album, “Black Sabbath”, in only two days. The album was released in England in February (on Friday the 13th) of 1970 and released in the United States in May of the same year. Despite terrible reviews by the press and very little radio play in the U.S., it reached as high as #23 on the U.S. album chart and has since sold over a million copies.
Sabbath quickly capitalized on their success and recorded their follow up album, “Paranoid”, only four months after the release of their debut. The title track on the album, which became one of their most popular songs, was an afterthought. The band didn’t have enough songs for the record and Tony Iommi wrote the song “Paranoid” in less than an hour. The release of the album was pushed back for four months because their debut album was still on the charts. It was finally released in January of 1971 and rose to #12 on the album chart.
Only five months later Sabbath released their third album, “Master of Reality”, which reached the Top Ten on the album chart. The band’s success was a mixed blessing. They were finally able to afford proper time in the recording studio but they were also able to afford a tremendous amount of drugs. Ozzy’s drug of choice was whatever was available but he had a particular affinity for cocaine and booze. The non-stop touring and drugs finally caused the band to slow down a bit, though they did release their fourth album, “Vol. 4”, in 1972. The original title of the album was “Snowblind” (cocaine, get it?) but the record label changed the name at the last minute.
Ozzy and the rest of the band’s drug use was absolutely out of control but they managed to keep it together long enough to release two more classic albums, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in 1973 and “Sabotage” in 1975. Sabbath started to unravel rather quickly and their music suffered tremendously. Ozzy and Sabbath recorded two sub-par albums before he was fired in 1979.
In 1978 Ozzy had already begun working on a solo album with a band he called The Blizzard of Ozz. The Blizzard was a metal supergroup in and of itself and included former members of Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Rainbow and Rhandy Rhoads from Quiet Riot. Ozzy’s first solo album, “Blizzard of Ozz”, was released in 1981 and it has sold over four million copies. His next album, “Diary of a Madman”, reached the Top 20 on the album chart and also sold millions. This was his last album with Randy Rhoads, who died in an airplane crash in 1982.
Ozzy replaced Rhoads with Jake E. Lee and continued recording and performing. He released eight more solo studio albums with various lineups, including Zakk Wylde, Robert Trujillo and Mike Bordin. He has also reunited with Black Sabbath for reunion tours and Sabbath and Ozzy released the album “13” in 2013. In addition, Ozzy started the wildly popular music festival Ozzfest in 1996. Ozzfest has featured appearances by Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, Tool, System of a Down, Pantera, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Slayer and Slipknot among many others. Over five million people have attended Ozzfest since its inception.
As famous as Ozzy is for his music, his personal life has drawn just as much attention. The stories about Ozzy’s excesses are legion and are mostly true. He did indeed snort a line of ants to try and one-up the guys from Motley Crue. Ozzy did bite the head off of a bird while in a meeting with record studio executives. He also did bite the head off of a bat during a concert. In Ozzy’s defense, he thought the bat was made out of rubber. The same cannot be said for the bird as he was quite aware that it was alive. Ozzy was indeed arrested for urinating on the Alamo .
Ozzy’s image was softened a bit with the debut of the television show “The Osbournes” in 2002. The MTV reality show focused on life at home with Ozzy and his wife Sharon and their two children. Ozzy seemed to go from the Prince of Darkness to a harmless doddering idiot almost overnight. For many longtime Ozzy fans it was painful to watch and reinforced the idea that it’s typically a very bad idea to meet your heroes (see also Gene Simmon’s Family Jewels).
Ozzy struggled with alcohol and drug addiction virtually all of his adult life. Science recently weighed in on the subject and revealed that Ozzy has genetic mutations that allow his body to cope with quantities of drugs that would kill a herd of elephants. While the drugs have certainly impacted him and his work, the Ozzman still cometh to a town near you. Black Sabbath will embark on what should be their final tour on January 20 in Omaha, Nebraska.
The song that started it all, song one, side one - “Black Sabbath” off the album “Black Sabbath” 1970:
“Hand of Doom” off the album “Paranoid” 1971:
“Into the Void” off the album “Master of Reality” 1971:
“Supernaut” off the album “Vol. 4” 1972:
“A National Acrobat” off the album “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” 1973:
“Hole in the Sky” off the album “Sabotage” 1975:
“Suicide Solution” off the album “Blizzard of Ozz” 1980:
“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” off the album “Diary of a Madman” 1981:
“Bark at the Moon” off the album “Bark at the Moon” 1983:
“The Ultimate Sin” off the album “The Ultimate Sin” 1986:
“Crazy Babies” off the album “No Rest for the Wicked” 1988: