Black Sabbath: What's in a Name?

Black Sabbath in 1970
Photo Credit
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

On Aug. 30, 1969 in Workington, England, Black Sabbath performed their very first concert under that name; they’d existed as a band prior to that, just under a different moniker.

What was that name? Why did they change it? How’d they come up with the new name? Read on...

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First, a bit of backstory: on July 13, 1968, Tony Iommi and Bill Ward played their final gig as members of Mythology, a band whose career had been coming along swimmingly right up until the whole lot of them were arrested and fined for possession of cannabis resin. With their reputation marred, at least amongst club owners, Mythology suddenly found themselves with precious few gigs available to them, resulting in sufficient frustration for the band to call it a day after that mid-July show in ’68.

In search of greener pastures, Iommi and Ward responded to an ad at their local music show which read, “Ozzy Zig requires gig, owns his own P.A.” The ad offered an address, so the twosome trudged over to the location in question, only for Ozzy Osbourne to open the door, at which point Iommi snapped, “Oh, no, forget it: I know this guy.” Indeed, Osbourne had earned local infamy from his tendency to go around beating people up, and that sort of volatility wasn’t something Iommi was looking for in a bandmate.

READ MORE: Tony Iommi Shares Black Sabbath Secrets on Rhino Podcast

As a result, Osbourne instead ended up joining forces with Geezer Butler; that pair came after Ward to serve as their drummer. Ward’s only caveat, however, was that he wouldn’t do it until Iommi agreed to be a part of it as well, and you may thank the gods of rock that Iommi had a change of heart, saying, “Why don’t we all have a go? Get a band and see how it goes.”

Thankfully, it went well...except for the name.

Originally, they were called the Polka Tulk Blues Band and included two additional members: slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan “Aker” Clarke. First they changed the name to just Polka Tulk, then they changed it to Earth, and either between those two name changes or after the second one, they dropped Phillips and Clarke from the lineup.

Actually, that’s not entirely true: they wanted them out of the band because they didn’t seem to be taking the band as seriously as the rest of the lot, but rather than firing them outright, the other four told them that the band was breaking up, after which they simply reformed without Phillips and Clark. (Still, we’d like to think that somewhere within the multiverse there exists an incarnation of Black Sabbath which features a sax-heavy version of “Iron Man.”)

Not terribly long after changing their name to Earth, however, the band discovered that they were starting to be confused with another British band called Earth, which resulted in another name change. In an interview with For Bass Players Only, Butler revealed that his brother had often mentioned the horror film Black Sabbath, and he’d tucked it away as an idea for a future band name. When Earth needed to switch their name to something else, he offered it up as a suggestion, and as history reveals, the other guys thought it wasn’t half-bad.

So there you have it: the epic tale of how Black Sabbath became Black Sabbath!

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