Behind the Band Name: Black Sabbath

Obsessed with the occult at the time, bassist Geezer Butler painted his walls black and decorated his place with images of satan and inverted crucifixes. Bandmate Ozzy Osbourne also gave Butler a book on the occult to add to his collection, which he read and placed on a shelf near his bed before going to sleep. When Butler awoke, there was a black silhouetted figure standing at the foot of his bed that ran toward the bookshelf where he had the book. The book had disappeared.

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“I woke up in a dream world and there was this black thing, staring at me,” shared Butler. “It just lasted a second, but it freaked me out. As a child, I always had a lot of psychic experiences. That was one of the very last ones I had.” He added, “That was before I did drugs—maybe doing drugs killed that part of my brain.” 

Boris Karloff

Spooked by the vision at the time, he shared the story with his bandmates, and Osbourne began writing the song “Black Sabbath,” named after the low-budget, three-part 1963 horror film of the same name, starring Boris Karloff. (The song was later released on Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut in 1970.)

Earth Was Taken

At the time, Geezer, along with guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward and singer Ozzy Osbourne had formed a band in their working-class, factory-filled hometown of Aston in Birmingham, all just a few streets away from one another, and called themselves The Polka Tulk Blues Band.

The band name soon changed to Earth, but since there was already a psychedelic band in Britain using the name, the foursome went back to the Karloff film, Butler’s harrowing experience, and the song they had written and became Black Sabbath in August of 1969.

Heavy “Rock,” Not “Metal

Black Sabbath fit the band’s heavier rock sound and darker personas.

Though the band was credited with creating “heavy metal,” and influenced numerous metal acts throughout the decades, at the time they never considered themselves a part of the genre.

“We called it heavy rock,” said Iommi in 2017. “The term heavy metal came about from a journalist when I came back from America [in the ’70s]. He said ‘you’re playing heavy metal’ and I said ‘no, it’s heavy rock—what’s that?'”

Photo: Legacy Recordings

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