Bill Ward: Ironing Out The Devil’s Metal

“Then Roy gave me a really good piece of advice. He said, ’You know what, you can already play drums. Why don’t you just be Bill Ward, because you’ve been doing really well being Bill Ward.’ And he was right, and I feel like in the last ten years that I’m starting to get a footing on myself as a drummer. I feel like I’m getting there because I’ve gone through so many phases in drumming and so many phases within myself. The whole thing keeps changing all the time. It’s constant progress.”

The Devil Of Success

The concept of constant progression touches not only Ward’s drumming ability and expertise, but also his personal and professional goals and ideals.

“When I was ten years old, ’success’ was to be able to shake my ass like Elvis Presley, meet millions of girls, and have lots and lots of money. Then I found out that being in the music industry is hard work, and that concept took me by surprise because I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. I didn’t realize it required patience and a lot of other things that come with being a musician. In my teenage years, my idea of success was to be a pop star or rock star. I thought that was it. I thought that would fix it. If I had all that, I would be safe. Well, that did happen and I wasn’t safe.

“My idea of success now is to write a piece of music that is good music. I don’t look for accolades or financial rewards or prestige. All of the things I thought I wanted as a younger man have all become something different now. I measure another person now not by what he wears or what he has. I measure him by the way he acts. So I’ve learned to realize that there are all kinds of different people, and they’re just people. And it’s okay.”

Lessons learned from the pits of hell. The inner turmoil that Sabbath endured — together and apart — has been well documented. All the drugs and alcohol buried the group in a dense, bitter mud. Lifelong friendships were thrown away with the empty bottles. But in the end, after years of painful emotional and physical rehab, the four boys would reunite.

“We’ve always been kind enough to be caring towards each other, even when we disagreed. And I think that comes from doing a lot of time together. It was 1967 when we first started getting together. That’s a lot of time on the road, sleeping in the same beds, sharing music, sharing everything. When you have something like that and you’ve gone through a life that’s been so consuming — we just had us to help each other, we didn’t have psychiatrists, just us — you get each other through all the rough stuff. And that camaraderie and strength we built was enough to hold us together right up to today.

“I think also that all of us have gotten healthier as time has gone on. We don’t harbor resentments, and there have been a lot of behind-the-scenes apologies. I think we’ve utilized the twilight years of our lives pretty well in order to give each other a bit of respect … and a hug.

“I have to feel comfortable with the guys I’m working with. I can’t hide away from the other musicians, because I have no place to go anymore. It used to be that I could go hide in a bottle, but I can’t do that now. I’m stone cold sober. So I have to insist that my relationships are strong. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. I stopped running away from me 23 years ago.

“One of the things that I’ve learned — and severely so — is that in Sabbath we really believed in what we were playing. And that’s why we could get through the rough stuff — the months and months on the road and a lot of different things. I think it’s important that musicians who have any reservations towards their music and who plan to go out on the road should really take heed. Beware. That stuff will pull you down pretty quickly. If you’re not your real self on the road, then it doesn’t take long to collapse. It’s important to be as true to yourself as possible with whatever you’re doing.

“A lot of people ask me what was the best gig we did and stuff like that. And most people think it would be the biggest gig with the millions of dollars where the band played great and all that. It really has nothing to do with that at all. The best gigs we ever did were when we were really tired, we hadn’t eaten, half of us were sick with the flu, and really we just wanted to go home and lie in bed for a month. But instead we were in a place where it was snowing outside and very cold. And we’d be sitting on our couches backstage, and I’d look around and everyone’s either asleep or dying.

“Then about 20 minutes before stage time our roadie would come in and say, ’Twenty minutes lads.’ And we’d all get up begrudgingly and pick up a guitar, or I’d pick up my sticks — just really slow and tired. Then as soon as we stepped on stage, it was as if none of that existed. I’ve seen that band go up on stage and absolutely kill the place like there was nothing on earth wrong whatsoever and then come back and literally collapse backstage.

“Now that’s a good band. That’s how you measure a good band. Nobody was whining. Nobody was saying they couldn’t take it anymore. We just got up and played and then collapsed again. That’s what we learned to do. And because of that, I’m really proud of our band and really proud to be part of a band like Black Sabbath.”

Wards Traps

bill ward

Circa 1970
Ludwig Drums (Gray Ripple finish): 14" LM 400 Series Snare, 22" x 14" Bass Drum, 10" x 9" Tom, 18" x 16" Floor Tom. Zynn Cymbals: 14" Hi-Hats, 18" Crash Ride, 20" Crash Ride. Hardware: Ludwig.

bill ward

Circa 1980
Tama Drums (except otherwise noted): 14" Ludwig 600 Series Snare, 26" Bass Drums, Octobans, 4" Tom, 6" Tom, 8" Tom, 10" x 9" Tom, 12" x 10" Tom, 12" Tom, 15" Tom, 22" Gong Drum, 18" Floor Tom, 20" Floor Tom. Cymbals (various manufacturers): 15" Hi-Hats, 22" China (upside down), 20" Crashes. Hardware: Tama. Pedals: Ludwig Speed King.

bill ward

Circa 2005
Tama Imperialstar Drums (except otherwise noted): 14" x 8" Sonor Snare, 26" x 14" Bass Drums, 20" Gong Drum,14" x 5" Sonor Snare, 6" Octobans, 14" Toca Timbale, 15" Tom, 16" x 16" Floor Tom, 18" x 16" Floor Tom, 14" x 8" Snare. Sabian Cymbals: 14" AA Sizzle Hi-Hats, 24" HH Powerbell Ride, 14" AA Mini Chinese, 22" AA Medium Ride, 24" HH Powerbell Ride, 22" AA Brilliant Rock Crash, 10" HH Splash, 27" HH Chinese (with one rivet), 26" Brilliant Prototype Chinese.

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