As Black Sabbath’s original drummer, Bill Ward influenced generations of drummers with his prototypical heavy metal style. After dropping from sight during the early ’80s to rebound from drug and alcohol addiction, Ward returned to Sabbath in 1983 to work on the Born Again album, before once again receding into semiretirement. Besides a few one-off appearances – including two shows in his hometown of Birmingham, England, last December – Ward hasn’t toured with the original Black Sabbath lineup for nearly 20 years. At the time of this interview, in 1988, the four founding members were back together on a European reunion tour.
DRUM!: When you played the reunion shows last year, did your drum parts come back to you quickly?
Ward: We had to get a vacuum cleaner and clean my head out. [laughs] I really couldn’t remember some of the songs at all, and I had to listen to them quite a lot. I was screwing up on simple things, like “Electric Funeral.” There were some tempo things I had to watch. We did the rehearsals in early November ’97, and the first few days were a little rough. But after that it began to fall into place nicely, and the band started to sound nice. I felt pretty relaxed and felt like I was getting the chops where I needed to get them. It took a little while. After 19 years, that’s a long time.
DRUM!: Are you looking forward to rehearsals for the upcoming tour?
Ward: I can’t stand rehearsing. I don’t spend a lot of energy fretting over the songs, or getting anxious. I just let myself kind of develop into the song. It’s difficult for me. I never play the same thing twice. And I think sometimes that can be unnerving for Geezer, or Tony or Ozz. Over the years I know that they’ve played with very capable drummers who probably play the same thing each night. And that becomes somewhat reliable. But it’s very difficult for me to play the same thing every night. I try to, but it becomes very boring for me to become repetitive.
DRUM!: Does that also apply to practicing the drums on your own?
Ward: I don’t practice at all. I like to stay away from the drums. The drums for me are something that happen, and they explode, and it happens, and comes out and that’s that, you know? I don’t really consider myself a drummer, actually. [laughs] I haven’t for a long time. The guys who played in the Sabs before, like Cozy Powell and Vinnie Appice – I regard all those people as drummers, because they seem to have technique and style, and are able to play. I like to be spontaneous and orchestrational, so I don’t really have a day-to-day routine of practice.
DRUM!: You’ve played with Sabbath on a couple occasions since leaving the band in 1984. Have you noticed any musical differences between the new and old versions of the band?
Ward: In the Sabbath that I knew, we didn’t play in time. Ozzy didn’t sing in time. So there’s a very fine time issue here. Whereas the band was in time but out of time. When we did the song “Black Sabbath,” there’s really no 1. So back in the Sabbath days, we were all more or less out of time, which put us totally in time, if that makes any sense whatsoever. It makes sense to me. And there had been a departure from that. Tony Iommi over the years has played with people who are playing in time. For instance, when I went to South America with Tony and Geezer in 1994, I had about two or three days to catch up with everything. But what was happening was that [singer] Tony Martin was singing “Black Sabbath” in time. And I’m literally right there trying to do the measurements and trying to keep some consistency in the song.
DRUM!: Did you have any idea that the band would have such longevity back when you recorded Black Sabbath’s early albums?
Ward: No, not at all. At the time I was just happy that we made an album. I’m really glad that God’s kept me alive to let me see how this thing’s unfolded. Those have been very pleasant gifts. What’s even nicer is to see us four get on stage and rock. Tony’s 50, and I’m going to be 50 on May 5th, and we’re up on stage, man, kicking ass. I always used to think 50 as old. At the concert in December, I think the youngest Sabbath fan was nine years old. And we’ve got guys coming up who are 50 and 60 years old, with big, long, great beards and bald heads, and they still have got the energy.