Inside The Paranoid Mind Of Bill Ward

40 Years On, Black Sabbath's Metal Masterpiece Still Reigns Supreme

The first heavy metal album. That’s what critics routinely say when referring to Black Sabbath’s 1970 magnum opus, Paranoid. It’s serious baggage for a band to carry around, but Bill Ward could give a toss. Paranoid represents something larger than a genre template for this 62-year-old, and his band’s second album is on the order of a generation’s clarion call, a musical-cultural sea change, even. That several eras’ worth of keg-chugging devil’s horn—flashing metal fans still embrace it four decades after its release, well, bully for ol’ Bill.

When we rang him up, Ward, comfortably nestled in his beach-front condo just south of Los Angeles, had recently viewed the making-of DVD documentary celebrating Paranoid’s 40th anniversary for Eagle Rock Entertainment’s Classic Albums series (which also features the original disc, a quadraphonic mix (a ’70s version of surround sound), and some instrumental mixes and versions with alternate lyrics). “The only thing that I was a little bit grumpy about was that the guitar parts – showing how each thing was played – I felt just went a little bit too long,” Ward says, voicing a universal drummer gripe as timeless and relatable as anything he played on Paranoid.

Bad Lads

The biggest myth about the salad days of Black Sabbath is that it was all just one big limo-chauffeured, drug-gobbling, female-thronged blow-out. What substance there was to that media-massaged image, the band scarcely had the time to savor. “We were in the eyes of the hurricane,” Ward says of the weeks just prior to the Paranoid sessions, which Sabbath spent on the road promoting their debut throughout Europe. To the band and Warner Bros.’ surprise, 1969’s Black Sabbath was ascending rapidly up the charts, so label execs were keen to have them crank out another record. No sooner had they finished the continental jaunt than they were thrown into London’s Island Studios with producer Roger Bain and engineer Tom Allom.

During those five days at Island, the work pace was so frantic and the process so new, it barely had time to sink in. Funny how the little things stay with a person. “I was bowled over at the time by the way Roger Bain looked,” Ward recalls. “He wore Converse sneakers and so did I. It was nothing what he’s done for records or his skills as a producer or anything else. It was literally something like, ’He looks pretty cool. All right.’”

Before a single note could be recorded, Bain and Allom struggled to do justice to Sabbath’s brand of wide-screen blues metal. “The producers were still trying to figure out, How do we grab this enormous sound? How do we put a lasso around it and pull it in? We were actually in [our] early twenties when this was done. We were very outspoken, and I think at times, quite rude. It’s like, How do you get all that onto the records?”

You record live for a start. Tape was rolling as soon as Ward counted in the other guys. Sometimes, during subsequent albums, if they got a good front end and a good back end, they’d splice the tape. But as Ward recalls, that never happened on Paranoid. “There were no metronomes and everybody just went in and played live, and that was that. That’s as theatrical as we got, you know? So Tony [Iommi, guitars] and I had to lay a really good base in the rhythm tracks. We had to really get it right.”

Paranoid was a steep learning curve as far as studio process. The drums were all close-miked, and unfortunately it wouldn’t be until the following release, Masters Of Reality, that Ward would begin to learn about ambient miking, boom mikes, and all that other good stuff. “A lot of our drum sounds were very click-y,” he says, the word curdling in his mouth. “They were very boom-y or blatt-y. I listen back and I still go, ’Ooh …’ It’s pretty painful.”

Shots From The Hip

The band had intended to record seven tunes for Paranoid that they had written on the road while touring in ’69, but the label thought they needed a single. “Tony was already working on the lick that you now hear on ’Paranoid,’” Ward says. “We all looked at each other because we knew something is gonna happen. So, as he rushed to keep behind the microphone, I was fumbling with my drum kit, trying to get into this little booth, you know, put my headphones on, because I knew we are going to roll. We did, we rolled it out.”

“Paranoid,” with its busy, propulsive tempo, is key to deciphering Ward’s rhythmic approach. “I had one bass drum only when we did “Paranoid,” and I’m playing six notes across it. We’re kind of almost pumping. Pumping back in drums, and that holds everything steady while Tony’s off playing his melodies.”

“Ironman” employs similar strategy, but to greatly different effect: A slow, repetitive bass drum on the 1 at the song’s outset sets the ominous tone for what is probably the band’s most widely recognized hit. “It was a 22" Ludwig, quite beaten up,” Ward remembers of that infamous bass drum. “You know, just trying to do its best to emulate something walking menacingly towards [you] – some kind of a giant.”

The rhythmic novelty in “Ironman,” even as we hear the opening salvo in our collective head-banging heads, is the way Ozzy’s vocals are pegged to each of Iommi’s guitar notes. Ward, in turn, follows the phrasing of the singer and guitarist in the verse. “We were all going to the same place at the same time, and that was one of the key marks that we had recognizable as Sabbath music, which is actually the opposite of what Led Zeppelin were doing: They use air as a sound.”

It wasn’t until the summer of 1970, just after the album’s release and right before the tour, that Ward got a second bass drum (one pulled from a George Hayman—brand kit; later he got a Buddy Rich 26" special). Yet his right foot is so strong, fast, and agile throughout Paranoid, you’d never know it was a single kick. “What we would do is try to fill up any holes.”

At one point on the making-of documentary, Ward states that “Hand Of Doom” is his favorite Paranoid track. “It’s almost like a day in the park,” he says. “It’s just real funky, it’s really jazz-like to me. I can do a lot of nice hi-hat work, a lot of stick work. I play on the rim, live, like a rimshot. I can put in nice big bass drums. But ’Electric Funeral’ is like that, and ’Into The Void.’ I know ’Into The Void’ is a separate song on a different album, but they all have that same kind of really funky groove.”

To understand why Paranoid’s beats are so unlike today’s metal, a little context is helpful. In Britain in the 1950s, everyone listened to the swing records the American G.I.s brought over during World War II. Gene Krupa, Glen Miller, and Count Basie were default influences. (“I loved the drums [of Jo Jones] in Basie’s music”). As a teen in the mid-’60s, it was British blues rock, especially John Mayall’s Blues Breakers drummer Huey Flint, that opened Ward up to new rhythmic possibilities. “One of the things I learned is that I play orchestrationally. So, I paint and I react. I paint pictures to Geezer’s bass and to Tony’s guitar, and I react to it. I love spontaneity. I have no plan and I have no rhyme and I have no reason and I certainly have no rhythm, such as what we normally have from what we call a drummer.”

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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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Groove Analysis

“War Pigs”

This song was written as a comment on the injustices of the Vietnam War, and remains just as poignant today. “War Pigs” was originally going to be the album’s title, but the label chose to avoid the potential controversy at the last minute. Ward’s drumming on this song (not to mention on this disc as a whole) is required learning for every metal drummer. We’re examining the section following the bluesy jam that opens the track. Ward uses a couple of bass drum and crash combinations followed by his hi-hat stomping eighth-notes. It’s funny how something seemingly insignificant can get stuck in thousands of drummer’s brains. His signature open hi-hat shuup is on the & of 3 in the second bar of the cycle is a perfect example of that. In the fourth measure, he plays an offbeat drum fill to set up the mayhem that follows. He puts syncopated rhythms, flams, and his quick singles to good effect in this tune.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward “Paranoid”

“Paranoid” is a heavy metal anthem if ever there was one. Ward’s approach on this tune may have inspired, and been a precursor to, today’s routine use of double drums in metal. It’s a great driving drum part, and quite a workout that Ward sustains for three straight minutes.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward {pagebreak} “Planet Caravan”

If you don’t recall this tune, it’s slow, dreamy ballad, and Ward plays a simple conga drum accompaniment behind the track, a few bars of which are notated here. He used just two drums and they’re panned wide. This one’s not for metal heads.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward “Iron Man”

This song’s opening bass drum pattern/guitar riff is a classic. What could be more ominous? This is another of the many instances in which Ward played his bass drum under his fills. He plays a cool single-stroke fill in the final line of this excerpt. Somewhat idiotically, and further proving the pointlessness of self-congratulatory award shows, “Iron Man” won a Grammy for best metal performance in the year 2000, 30 years after its release.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward {pagebreak} “Electric Funeral”

For this song, we’ve selected the drum break that occurs a couple of minutes into the song. Ward seemingly channels Iron Butterfly’s Ron Bushy’s drum part from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” for the bass drum and tom fills that lead into the cymbal and guitar unison hits. The time between these hits keeps getting shorter, which adds urgency to the section. In the fourth line, we see the funky guitar rhythm that sets up the next, slightly slower section. For the first two bars of this part Ward keeps the sixteenth-notes even, but when the vocals enter in the third bar of this new groove he shifts to a slightly swung feel. Ward plays a funky groove with the snare on the & of 1, 2, and then shifts to the ah’s and e’s that he doubles with his hi-hat, giving the groove a jazzy vibe.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward “Hand Of Doom”

This track begins with a quiet bass guitar riff, which the drums join in with in the fourth bar. Ward plays a funky rim-click groove for the next half-minute or so until the full-band crescendo that leads into the chorus. At this point, Ward rips some tasty fills using sixteenth-note triplets and a series of quicker thirty-second-note singled fives separated by his punchy kick drum. He uses some short but tasty hi-hat barks in a couple of fills, then ends with a dramatic triplet fill before breaking down to just his hi-hat at the next verse.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward {pagebreak} “Rat Salad”

This track is Ward’s “Moby Dick.” That is, it’s a drum solo masquerading as a song, à la John Bonham on that Zeppelin classic. The guitars play along with cymbal hits, as seen at the beginning of the solo section and also in the middle of this transcription. Ward shows off two of his characteristic skills: his fast single-stroke rolls ripping some killer accented thirty-second-note snare rolls throughout the solo, and also his quick flams that travel across his drums and are separated by bass drum notes. Regrettably, the solo is just too long to transcribe in its entirety.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward “Fairies Wear Boots”

This track has some tasty fills that Ward plays between the guitar and cymbal crashes on 1 ah. Because the tempo is slow, the first sixteenth-note fill around the kit feels almost like eighth-notes. The next fill uses a linear-triplet fill played RH LH RF over and over, and was a staple of many other popular drummers in the era, such as Carmine Appice and John Bonham. If you haven’t mastered that lick, master it you must! The next fill shows some more of Ward’s use of quick thirty-second-note singles, as does the final measure.

DRUM! Notation Guide

Bill Ward