Tony Iommi recalled how the manager of the factory where he lost two fingertips gave him the gift that encouraged him to start relearning guitar.
The Black Sabbath icon has previously told how, on his very last day as an employee at a metalworks in Birmingham, England, he suffered an industrial accident that made it likely he’d never play again.
“I’d given my notice in to leave because I was going to turn professional with a band, go to Europe,” Iommi told Gibson TV in a new video. “I’d auditioned with this band, they liked me and I was about to get ready to go away, which would have been the first time for me. I was really excited about it.”
He recounted how he’d arrived for his final shift, where he welded sheets of metal together, and was told that the person who operated the guillotine further up the assembly line didn’t show up. “They said, ‘You’ve gotta go on the machine yourself because they’re nobody else to do it,'” Iommi recalled. “So, as I’m pushing the metal through the press, the machine came down on my hand, and in the action of pulling my hand back quick, I pulled the ends of my fingers off.
“That was it then for me. I couldn’t believe it – the last day. Before that I went home for lunch, and I said to my mother, ‘I’m not gonna go in this afternoon.’ [She said,] ‘You go back and you finish off the job properly!’ So I went back, and that’s what happened. So I blamed her then!”
You can watch the interview below.
Iommi said he started thinking about a new approach to playing “while the bandages were on,” but he was advised by “various specialists” that he might as well give up. “The manager of the firm came round to my house to see how I was, and I was really depressed,” he recalled. “He went, ‘I brought you an EP round, will you play it?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to listen to music now.’ I was depressed – the last thing I wanted to do was listen to a guitar player. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Put it on.’”
The EP in question was by Django Reinhardt, one of the first-ever lead guitarists in modern music, who’d lost the use of two fingers in a fire. “I couldn’t believe it,” Iommi said. “When I heard his gypsy jazz, it was brilliant. Especially having lost the use of two fingers. … I could relate to that after doing the same sort of thing. It really inspired me to learn more by doing something with my fingers. So I made these tips for them so I could play.”
After trying a number of approaches, Iommi settled on making fake fingertips out of leather, which used to last him about a month when he was on tour before they needed replaced. He recalled the early days of this new approach as “like starting from scratch, and worse. … Suddenly I’m there, faced with not being able to play a full chord. And that’s what made me come up with the Black Sabbath thing … trying to make the thing sound bigger to fill in for the full chord.”