Self as Instrument: Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi
Naturally, one of the benefits of keeping diverse company is exposure to different tastes from your own. So it is that, as the parent of two boys, I accompanied my husband to the barber shop and perused through Rolling Stones magazine while I waited.
I came across how Black Sabbath played their farewell tour this September 2015. Now, I experienced my high school years in the ‘80’s, so I was no stranger to this band; however, the associations I had of this band were all negative, especially given that I lived those years in a community which kept the Sabbath. As an adult, my programs entail critical thinking, unconscious bias, implicit associations, and dealing with second-hand bias. In Tony Iommi’s case, there are a lot of explicitly negative associations (in my opinion), and, yet, to retain critical thinking we must examine the origins. This is the trait of a leader: Be curious. What follows is what I uncovered about Iommi, who is Black Sabbath’s sole continual band member and primary composer, the man who invented the Heavy Metal riff and is ranked by Rolling Stones as #25 of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Anthony Frank Iommi was 17-years old at work in a sheet metal factory when he lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers on the “fretting” hand. He was more distraught at the prospect of having to surrender his enjoyment of guitar playing than the fact that he lost his fingertips (that’s my female, non-guitarist subjective experience at play). Recognizing Iommi’s distress, his factory foreman played him a recording of the famous jazz guitarist, Jean “Django” Reinhardt.
“My friend said, ‘Listen to this guy play,’ and I went, ‘No way! Listening to someone play the guitar is the very last thing I want to do right now!’ But he kept insisting and he ended up playing the record for me. I told him I thought it was really good and then he said, ‘You know, the guy’s only playing with two fingers on his fretboard hand because of an injury he sustained in a terrible fire.’ I was totally knocked back by this revelation and was so impressed by what I had just heard that I suddenly became inspired to start trying to play again.”
Unique Sound and timing of consumer readiness/delivery. Iommi slackened the strings to ease the tension on his fingers, so it wouldn’t hurt so much. This produced a strange sound, which became a technique and the mainstay of heavy metal music. The sound has the musical technical term of Tritone, or the flattened 5th (a.k.a. augmented 4th), which spans three whole steps in the scale. In the Middle Ages, this dissonant music interval was called “diabolus in musica” (the devil in the music). Diminished chords are often used during the scary parts of horror movies. Consequently, Iommi became known as playing the “Devil Chord.”
Band Name and the discovery of marketplace demand. Iommi’s band was called Earth, but they discovered there was another English band named Earth, so they opted to change their name to avoid confusion. It just so happened that the movie theater marquis across the street from the band’s rehearsal room displayed “Black Sabbath”— a 1963 horror film, starring Boris Karloff. Bassist Geezer Butler commented, “Strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies.” Light bulb…people want to feel.
Marketing and creating the “stick factor.” Iommi didn’t come up with the concept of the upside-down cross; he always wears the cross necklace rightside up. However, once Black Sabbath recorded its first album under that name, the marketing group kept with the theme of rebelling against a long-held standard of mainstream tradition. This perceived Satanism solidified, and indelibly etched, this group’s place in Rock – a musical genre that already attracted a group of “rebels” against traditional culture.
Leaders follow their passions, despite the obstacles. They carve their place in time by staying true to who they are, and by recognizing that being different may be the greatest asset they have. Carbon copies are not craved as much as limited editions. Realizing that sometimes life’s disasters happen for a reason — which are usually unknown to us in the moment – is critical for resilience and success…and, if we are resilient, we place ourselves in a better position to experience a high bounce after a deep fall.
Thank you for being you, Tony.
How do you practice self as instrument?
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, cultural integration expert, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. We increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
© Rossina Gil, 2015
BBC interview. June, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QEd8CqAmGs
Iommi, Tony. Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. Simon & Schuster Ltd. (2011).
NYRock.com. “Ozzy Osbourne: The Godfather of Metal”. June 2002.
Posted on December 11, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged Black Sabbath, Django Reinhardt, Geezer Butler, Leadership Development, Rolling Stones, Self as Instrument, Tony Iommi. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.