With a list of collaborations over the years longer than your arm, Tony Martin has been busy making music for well over 20 years since his big break in the late ’80s. Best known as the lead singer for English heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, Martin recorded five albums (The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross, TYR, Cross Purposes, and Forbidden) over his two spells with the band.
Tony and I had been in touch and, as frantically busy as he is this year, he offered to answer some questions for me. So thanks to the wonder that is email, I asked Tony things like ‘What are you working on now?’, ‘What the hell is going on with the music industry these days?’ and ‘Was Forbidden really that bad?!’
Geeks of Doom: I would like to start by asking you about the 5 projects you’re currently working on – When will we get to hear them? What are they sounding like?
Tony Martin: I have done the new Cage album of course, which is already released. I have also recorded the latest [Aldo] Giuntini album which is being produced now. I travel to Italy shortly to begin a new project and direction for me with a band called Silver Horses, a kind of blues [Led] Zeppelin thing. I have plans for a tour in 2013 and a solo album. Lots of things going on.
Geeks of Doom: Did you always plan to write 5 simultaneously? Is there a running theme, or was it a case of when the inspiration strikes?
Tony Martin: The projects are all intended but not necessarily in that order, it just happened that way round. We artists have to try and forward plan as much as possible because the industry is very weak and you can’t sit back and assume that things are going to come your way. So it’s essential to plan it as much as possible.
Geeks of Doom: What other musicians do you have playing on them? Will you be heading out on the road to tour these albums? And will it be with the same band?
Tony Martin: As the other projects happen I will be happy to talk to you about them then.
Geeks of Doom: You can play just about any instrument – which one was your first love?
Tony Martin: My first instrument was guitar. I began as a guitar player and still play that to write with, but I play lots of other things and it’s great to have that knowledge. I don’t consider myself a musician in the formal sense, but I can get a tune out of most things.
Geeks of Doom: Did you ever think about concentrating on just one instrument or did you always want to be a singer?
Tony Martin: I NEVER wanted to be a singer! I went to an audition with a band called Legend and duly took my guitar. They said, “No, we need a singer” and wouldn’t let me play. I’m still not too sure if it was my voice that was good or my guitar playing that was shit!!!
Geeks of Doom: Obviously everyone knows you from your time in Black Sabbath, but take me back to your life before that, what led up to you working with them and what were you working on musically at the time?
Tony Martin: Mostly before Sabbath I was in local bands with nothing much to shout about. The band immediately before Sabbath was called the Alliance. We had a deal with Warner Brothers, but nothing happened and the band folded.
Geeks of Doom: Recently you said your least favorite Black Sabbath album is Forbidden – why is that?
Tony Martin: Hahaha … Forbidden is just bad! Only 2 or 3 songs really stand up in my opinion and the whole vibe of it is wrong. It’s not Sabbath really, more like an experiment.
Geeks of Doom: Do you feel like there’s unfinished business with Black Sabbath? Do you wish your final album together was better?
Tony Martin: Of course I wish it had been a better parting. Don’t think anyone would wish otherwise!!!!!!!!
Geeks of Doom: How did you feel when Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio got back together for the album Dehumanizer in 1992?
Tony Martin: The Dehumanizer thing was a real eye opener. After all that had been said and the good work to that point, it could only have ever been a real jolt!!!! No other word for it.
Geeks of Doom: Were you apprehensive about re-joining Black Sabbath for Cross Purposes?
Tony Martin: I had already started my first solo album Back Where I Belong so when I got the call to go back I was committed by that point. And in fact it was just a couple of months after they had started the thing with Ronnie James Dio. I was determined to finish my solo thing and so turned them down at that point. We did keep in touch though and I went to some shows. Ronnie wasn’t too pleased, but eventually they had enough and asked me to rejoin again later so it felt like I hadn’t actually left. In fact, I was never formally fired, the phone just stopped ringing. Ian Gillan [Deep Purple singer, also another ex-Black Sabbath lead singer] asked me once if I had actually been fired and I said, “No.” He said, “Neither have I.” We should just turn up one day and walk on stage!!!
Geeks of Doom: How did the band dynamic change when [bassist] Geezer Butler returned? Was there an ‘us and them’ situation with Iommi/Butler and the rest of you?
Tony Martin: There always was a kind of ‘Me and them’ situation. They are 10 years older than me and our circles didn’t really cross. Our friends were different and our experiences were different, but it wasn’t a bad situation at all.
Bill [Ward, Black Sabbath original drummer] was actually part of the line up when I was there and we played South America together. We did [English festival] Monsters of Rock with Kiss. I liked Bill, [we] got on well.
Geeks of Doom: Would you welcome a return to Black Sabbath? If so, what would need to happen for this to become a reality?
Tony Martin: I would be cautious about a reunion. Not sure how that would work, Sabbath haven’t spoken to me for 15 years!!! Hmm…
Geeks of Doom: Would you offer to play drums just for the reunion shows if Bill Ward pulls out?
Tony Martin: I’m not that great at multi-tasking, so playing drums and singing wouldn’t work!!!!
Geeks of Doom: You worked a lot with Cozy Powell – what are your memories of him?
Tony Martin: Cozy was a very professional independent guy, didn’t suffer fools AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!! If you didn’t do your job properly, you knew about it. Apart from that he was a fuckin’ awesome person to know and play with!!!!!!!!
Geeks of Doom: John Lennon once said that Ringo Starr wasn’t the best drummer in the world, he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles. You’ve worked with Ringo’s son Zac [on solo album Back Where I Belong] – was he any good? Was he the best drummer in your band?
Tony Martin: Zac was VERY good!!!!!! For a guitar player!!! He played drums amazingly well, but mostly he was a great guy to have around and sometimes that is what being in a band is all about.
Geeks of Doom: The current state of the music industry is something you feel very strongly about. What have been the most significant changes in your years as a professional musician and how do you navigate the various pitfalls?
Tony Martin: The industry is lost, it has completely lost its way. There isn’t enough time to run my whole feelings/plan here, but basically the attitude has got to change starting with the musicians who are too scared to do anything different to recover from it and the industry that has to give something back or lose out. The common myths of “Music is for FREE” must be shattered. Music is NOT for FREE! Thing is, it is so far gone it will take a while before we can really have a stable industry again. But if you want a full interview on my take on it, I will gladly oblige on a different occasion.