In October 2011, Tony joined a new rank of media, when he because an author. His autobiography, “Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath” was published worldwide to much acclaim. Initially available in hardback, and updated a year later with a paperback edition, an audio book, and a couple more chapters, this book has captivated Black Sabbath fans around the globe.
If you have not checked out this book, we have a selection of materials from the book for you to check out.
When the book was published in 2012 as an audio book, Tony’s long time mate (and Black Sabbath drummer) Bev Bevan came in and read the book. This was recorded, and is now available for you to purchase as an audiobook. We have two audio clips from this. The first is a five minute sample of the book, and the second is Bev talking about recording the book.
In Oct/Nov 2011, Tony undertook a book signing tour, where he met fans and signed copies of the book. Joe and Damian from black-sabbath.com have a video report from Tony’s appearance in Ridgewood, NJ.
Live Stream Video
As part of the promotion of the book, Tony participated with an online live chat with fans about the book. This took place on Nov 1st, 2011, and you can watch a full replay of this session below.
Exclusively on tonyiommi.com, you can read a chapter from the book.
Here is Chapter 11, “Why don’t you just give me the finger?“.
It was my very last day at work. There was this lady who’d bend pieces of metal on a machine. They’d send her stuff down to me and I would then weld it together. She never came in that day, so they put me on her machine because otherwise I’d be standing about with nothing to do. As I had never worked it in my life, I didn’t know how to go about it. It was a big guillotine press with a foot pedal that was wobbly. You’d pull this sheet in and then you’d put your foot down on this pedal and this thing would come down with a bang and bend the metal.
Things went all right in the morning. After I came back from my lunch break, I pushed the pedal and the press came straight down on my left hand. As I pulled my hand back in a reflex I just pulled the ends of my fingers off. When you stretch your hand out and you line up your index-finger and your little finger and you draw a line between the tops of them, it’s the bits sticking out from the two fingers in the middle that got chopped off. The bones were sticking out of them. I just couldn’t believe it, I just saw blood go everywhere. I was so much in shock it didn’t even hurt at first.
They took me to hospital, sat me down and instead of doing something to stop the bleeding they put my hand in a bag. It quickly filled up and I’m thinking, when am I going to get some help, I’m bleeding to death here!
A little later somebody brought the missing bits to the hospital, in a match box. But they were all black, completely ruined, so they couldn’t put them back on. Eventually they took me in, cut skin from the arm and put it over the tips of my wounded fingers. The nails had come straight off. They put a bit of beard back in one of them, they skin grafted it and that was it.
And then I just sat at home moping. My parents were upset as well, but they didn’t take my guitar playing very seriously, they looked at it as just a passing phase. They probably thought, oh well, he’ll grow out of it and get a proper job. But I thought, that’s it, it’s over with! I couldn’t believe my luck. I had just joined a great band, it was my very last day at work and I was crippled for life.
The manager of the factory came to see me a few times, an older, balding man with a thin mustache called Brian. He saw that I was really depressed, so one day he came down to the house and gave me this EP and he said: “I bought you something. Put this on.”
I was going: “No, I don’t really want to.” Having to listen to music was certainly not going to cheer me up at that point.
He said, “Well, I think you should because I’ll tell you a story. This guy plays guitar and he only plays with two fingers.”
It was Django Reinhardt and, bloody hell, it was brilliant. And I thought, he’s done it, and if he’s done it I can have a go at it as well. It was absolutely great of Brian to be thoughtful enough to buy me this. Without him I don’t know what ever would have happened. Once I heard that music, I was determined to do something about it instead of sitting there moping.
I still had bandages on my fingers and so I tried playing with just my index-finer and my little finger. It was very frustrating, because once you’ve played well, it’s very hard to go backwards. Probably the easiest thing for me would have been to try and flip the guitar upside down and learn to play right handed instead of left handed. But I thought, well, I’ve been playing for a few years already, it’s going to take me another few years to learn it that way. That seemed like a very long time then, so I was determined to keep playing left handed. I just persevered with two bandaged up fingers, even though the doctors at the hospital said: “The best thing to do for you is to pack up, really. You are going to have to get another job, doing something else.”
So I went home really dismal and I thought, fucking hell, there has got to be something I can do.
After thinking things through for a while, I wondered whether I could make a cap to fit over my fingers. I got a Fairy Liquid bottle, heated it up on the oven, melted it down, shaped it into a ball and waited until it cooled off. I then made a hole in it with a hot soldering iron until it sort of fit over the finger. I further shaped it with a knife and then I got some sandpaper and just sat there for hours just sandpapering it down to make it into a sort of a cap. I put it on and tried it on the guitar, but it didn’t feel right. Because it was plastic and it kept slipping off the string and I could barely touch it because it was so painful. So I tried to think of something I could put over it. I tried a few different things, like a piece of cloth, but of course it ripped. I tried different pieces of leather, which also didn’t work. I found this old jacket of mine and cut a piece of leather off it. It ruined my jacket, but it was an old piece of leather so it was a bit tougher. I cut it into a shape so it wou
ld fit over the ‘thimble’ and glued it on, left it to dry and then I tried it and I thought, bloody hell, I can actually touch the string with this now. I sanded down the leather a bit too, but then I had to rub it onto a hard surface to make it shiny so it wouldn’t grip too much. It had to be just right so you could move it up and down the string.
Even with the ‘thimbles’ on it hurt. If you look at the tip of my middle index finger, you see a little bump on the end of it. Just underneath there is the bone. Even now I have to be careful because sometimes if they come off and I push hard on a string, the skin on the tips of my fingers just splits right open. The first ones I made fell off all the time. And it is trouble then; one of the roadies crawling about the stage, going: “Where the fucking hell has that gone?”
So when I go on stage I put surgical tape around my fingers, touch a little bit of superglue on that and then I push the things on. At the end of the day I have to pull them off.
I’ve had it a couple of times where I’ve lost them. Because I virtually live with the bloody things when I’m on the tour, I keep them with me all the time. I’ve always got a spare set and my guitar tech Mike has a spare set to carry around with the gear.
Going through customs with these things is another story. I got the thimbles in a box and they search your bag and go: “Ah well, what’s this? Drugs?”
And then, shock, it’s fingers. I’ve had to explain it to them on several occasions. And they go: “Whoah.”
Putting my fake fingers away in disgust.
Nowadays the people at the hospital make the thimble for my ring finger. They actually make me a prosthetic limb, a complete arm, and all I use is two of the finger tips that I cut off of it. I said: “Why don’t you just do me a finger?”
But they said: “No it’s easier for us to give you a whole arm.”
So you can imagine what the dustman thinks when he finds an arm in the bin. It looks like a real finger, there’s no leather on that ring finger one, I can play with the material it’s made off. They are too soft sometimes when they send them, so I have to leave them out in the air for a while to start getting hard, or put a bit of superglue on them to get them to the right feel again. Otherwise they grip the string too much. It’s a process that takes ages.
The homemade ‘thimbles’ used to wear down as well, but the actual casing now lasts, it’s only the leather that wears. Each one of them last probably a month, maybe half a tour. They are under a lot of stress. Just a thin piece of leather over that plastic, you’re bending strings and you sweat and everything else, they take a good bit of hammering. And when they start wearing through I have to go through the whole thing again. Get the piece of leather, do it, get it right, rub it down until it’s shiny. I have to actually put an oil on and a bit of baby powder and rub it in, just get it to the right consistency so it’s like your skin. Obviously it’s nowhere near as good, but it’s as near as I can get it.
And I still use the same piece of jacket I’ve used for all of those 40 odd years. There isn’t much of it left now, but it should last another few years. Once it’s gone I’ll just have to find something somewhere else.
It’s really primitive, but it works. It’s a bit of an art, really. I’ve developed it because there’s no other way and nothing else I can do, it has to be that or nothing. It has even benefited other people. A guitar player who was with Sade cut the end of his finger off as well. He heard about me, got in touch and asked what he could do, and I actually sent him a thimble to try. Because I can understand what it’s like for him: bloody awful. Over the years I’ve sent other people who were in the same boat a thimble as well, so they can see what it does. But you either got to pack up, or you got to fight and work with it. It takes a lot of work. Making them is one stage, but trying to play with them is the other. Because you have no feeling, you have nothing. You’re aware of this lump on your fingers, so you really have to practice at it to get it so it will work for you.
Part of my sound comes from learning to play primarily with my two good fingers, the index and the little finger. So I’ll lay chords like that and then I put vibrato on them. I use the chopped off fingers actually mostly for soloing. When I bend strings I do bend them with my index finger and I learned to bend them with my little finger. I can only bend them with the other fingers to a lesser extend. Before the accident I didn’t use the little finger at all, so I had to learn to use it. I’m obviously limited because even with the thimbles there are certain chords I will never be able to play. Where I used to play a full chord before the accident, I often can’t do them now. So I compensate by making it sound fuller. For instance I’ll hit the E-chord and the E-note and put vibrato on it to make it sound bigger, so it’s making up for that full sound that I would be able to play if I still had full use of all the fingers. So that’s how I developed a style of playing that suits my physical limitations. It’s an unorthodox style but it works for me.
From the Press Release
The name ‘Tony Iommi’ sends shivers down the spines of guitarists around the world. As lead guitarist and songwriter of Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi is considered to be one of the most influential musicians of the past four decades and the inventor of heavy metal. From working class, Midlands roots, his unique playing style – a result of a disfiguring hand injury he suffered working in a sheet metal factory — created a dark and gothic sound unlike anything that had been heard before and which captured the mood of its time. Sabbath went on to become a superband, playing to massive audiences around the world and selling millions of records, and Iommi led the life of a rockstar to the fullest – with the scars from all the drug-fuelled nights of excess and wildness to show for it. Iron Man is the exclusive account of the life and adventures of one of rock’s greatest heroes.
Iron Man chronicles the story of both pioneering guitarist Tony Iommi and legendary band Black Sabbath, dubbed “The Beatles of heavy metal” by Rolling Stone. Iron Man reveals the man behind the icon yet still captures Iommi’s humor, intelligence, and warmth. He speaks honestly and unflinchingly about his rough-and-tumble childhood, the accident that almost ended his career, his failed marriages, personal tragedies, battles with addiction, band mates, famous friends, newfound daughter, and the ups and downs of his life as an artist.
Everything associated with hard rock happened to Black Sabbath first: the drugs, the debauchery, the drinking, the dungeons, the pressure, the pain, the conquests, the company men, the contracts, the combustible drummer, the critics, the comebacks, the singers, the Stonehenge set, the music, the money, the madness, the metal.
`Tony Iommi is the true father of Heavy Metal, a continuously creative genius riff-meister, and one of the world’s great human beings’ –Brian May
`Without Tony, heavy metal wouldn’t exist. He is the creator of heavy! Tony is a legend. He took rock and roll and turned it into heavy metal’ –Eddie Van Halen
`Mr Iommi, aka . . . The Riffmaster. It’s all his fault I am where I am’ –James ‘papa het’ Hetfield
‘Tony Iommi should be up there with the greats. He can pick up a guitar and play a riff that’d knock your f-ing socks off’ –Ozzy Osbourne