The Paranoid Mind Of Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward

Sticking It To The Iron Man

Far from the Satan-worshipping phantasmagoria many have mistaken it for, Paranoid is in fact a seething anti-war statement. It was a provocative thing for a couple of English kids to be making at that time in America, when Vietnam protests were everywhere and death tolls from the nightly news reports inundated the population. The album’s original title, War Pigs, was scrapped for fear that it was too controversial. “The counter culture had already exposed an incredible amount of drug abuse, all kinds of damaging things that were going on on our planet.” Ward explains. “It was just the realities of the things that we were seeing, even though there was not necessarily anything new.”

At least not as far as protest music was concerned. Jimi Hendrix’s ironic “Star Spangled Banner” solo barely registered on the acid-fried hordes at Woodstock the year before. The Who, smashing equipment to pieces, were trivialized as spoiled rock-star vandals. But it was the four working-class kids from the U.K.’s industrial north who registered the most outrage. “I think that was a powerful statement that we made,” Ward says. “Even though the statements had been made before by many other artists. And no disrespect to some of my ultimate brilliant bands – I tip my hat to Mitch Mitchell and Keith Moon and all these incredible bands of the ’60s who had aggression. The difference was that now there was a really gritty kind of an almost f__k you.”

Paranoid’s angry politics are effectively disguised by the non-linear, jazzy sensibility of the Ward/Butler rhythm section throughout the record. If Iommi’s guitar licks usually corresponded to Ozzie’s phrasing, it often forced Ward to do the opposite. “When Tony played those enormous chords in front of ’War Pigs,’ I would look and I would go, ’Okay, what am I going to do? How is this going to be presented? So I put the whole thing in waltz time. And Geezer, Geezer went there, and he fit it perfectly with what Tony was doing. So that’s what it is. I think the song would’ve been a train wreck had I played [straight] drums to it. I went into waltz time and I made broad strokes and huge cymbal crashes – that’s what made the whole thing pop. I'm not saying that I made the whole thing pop, but that helped to make the whole thing pop.”

Of course, no analysis of Paranoid would be complete without the juicy drums on “War Pigs”’s chorus – a triplet masquerading as a wide-flam fill, one of the album’s money shots and a lick that Ward essentially invented. How’d he come up with it? “It’s instinct and it’s reaction. That was just something that I felt was the right thing to do.”

Land Of Oz

You see the improvisational side of Ward’s playing on the epic “Rat Salad” and album closer “Jack The Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots.” The drum solo in the recorded version of the latter is probably a third as long as what he played live. As per performances back then, everyone took an extended solo to give the other band members a rest. “It was pretty close to what I would normally do on stage,” he says of the recorded version, of which he is particularly critical, bemoaning “the clunkiness of the drums, and my triplets didn’t come across. I wish my set and my drums would have sounded a bit more live. The triplets were a little inactive for me on that particular take.”

Paranoid’s token hippy-dippy cut “Planet Caravan” – with its blissed-out organ and Ozzie’s filtered vocals – sports contrastingly tight conga work, yes, by Bill Ward. “As a drummer, I also have to be a percussionist,” he says, recalling his teenage “apprenticeship” at Mic Evans’ drum shop in Birmingham, banging around on congas. “I would play a lot of different things: cymbals, congas, vibraphone, all kinds of instruments. So in percussion, I have to play things that are clear and precise and in time.”

Strangely, the band has never played “Planet Caravan” live. “With all the head bangers and everything it’s just like we have to pour it out, and so [something with such] solitude didn’t have much of a chance at being a live song.”

Here’s To 40 More

Sabbath fans may have their favorite albums, but we defy anyone to argue against Paranoid’s superiority. Though on follow-up Master Of Reality, the use of double bass drums changed the band’s character – for the better, Ward seems to imply. “Tony and Geezer were getting increasingly amplified, and so I was feeling a bit left out.” On the flip side, 1969’s Black Sabbath was just a gateway to Paranoid’s stylistic diversity, lyrical risks, and frame of mind. “We were very angry, and so it was a different attitude that was coming into this,” he says. “I liked the aggression in the way that we were making it. And to me, that’s where heavy metal made its own foot print.”

Ward’s Paranoid-era Setup

Bill Ward

Drums: Ludwig (Black & White Marble)
1. 22" x 14" Bass Drum
2. 14" x 5" 400 Series Metal Snare Drum
3. 12" x 9" Tom
4. 18" x 16" Floor Tom

Cymbals: Zildjian
A. 14" Hi-Hat
B. 18" Ride/Crash
C. 22" Ride

Bill Ward also used a Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal and Ludwig and Premier hardware during the recording of Paranoid.

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