While appearing in an interview with Mike Brunn, Black Sabbath bassist and founding member Geezer Butler revealed that Tony Iommi wasn’t all that excited to work with producer Rick Rubin on the band’s final album “13.” The record, which was recorded between 2012 and 2013 and came out in 2013, was the band’s first collaboration with the famous producer.
The issue came up when Geezer was asked to compare two of the albums from the band’s history — “13” and 2009’s “The Devil You Know” which was released under the “Heaven & Hell” moniker with Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Answering the question, choosing the favorite between the two was a no-brainer to Geezer (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):
“Probably ‘The Devil you Know’, because we all [had] democratic input into it. And what annoys me, it was a lot more fun making that album. ’13’ just seemed to go on forever, and we had Rick Rubin producing it, supposedly.”
Discussing it further, Geezer then added how, despite Ozzy Osbourne having a great experience with Rubin, that wasn’t the case with Tony Iommi:
“Rick Rubin worked great with Ozzy, but I don’t think Tony really got on too well with him. So I prefer ‘The Devil You Know’ album.”
During the same interview, Geezer also reflected on his work as a member of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band back in the day. According to Geezer, he felt a “relief” just being a band member:
“It was good because Ozzy’s family and my family were really close anyway, the kids were really, really close; we used to go on holiday together and everything. So it was easy for me because I didn’t have to take the blame for anything. [Laughs] The responsibility of everything was down to Ozzy, so I just felt relief. It was an easy gig for me to do, and we were good friends.”
As far as the work with Rubin goes, it seems that this is just one of many complaints about the producer’s odd approach. Going back to 2021, Tony Iommi himself spoke up on the matter and, without using any particularly harsh words, expressed his dissatisfaction with Rick’s way of work.
While speaking to Spin in an interview, Iommi was asked whether he learned anything new from Rick. He replied:
“Yeah, I learned how to lie on the couch with a mic in my hand and say ‘next.’ [Laughs]”
“It was just different, the way he works. He wanted to find the original Sabbath sound. He said, ‘Have you got your original amps?’ I said, ‘Rick, that was 50 years ago. Do you have any amps from 50 years ago?’ I said, ‘I don’t have them, they’ve blown up. They’re gone long ago. I’ve got my own amps now.’ He said, ‘no, we need the old stuff.’”
“So I get to the studio and there are 20 different bloody amps there. He goes, ‘They’re vintage amps.’ I said ‘That doesn’t mean they sound good, they’re just old.’ He went, ‘Well, let’s try them.’ I tried them and I didn’t like any of them. So it was a bit of a backwards and forwards til he got used to me, and I got used to him, really.”
“But we did it, and the album was very basic. I’d done a lot of the songs from the last album in my studio at home. I thought the sound was better, to be honest. But there was more stuff involved; I put more instruments on it. He just wanted it very bare and very basic, which you know, was good.”
Another musician to openly express his dissatisfaction with Rick Rubin’s way of work was guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. In an interview from 2022, Klinghoffer reflected on his work with Red Hot Chili Peppers and the two albums he did with them, 2011’s “I’m with You” and 2016’s “The Getaway.” Reflecting on these two, he said:
“I’m incredibly conflicted about my output with that band because I feel like, in both circumstances, producers got in the way of us truly making great music or a great record. I like almost all of the songs that we wrote together, but seldom did we capture them in the best way.“
“I will say that in the case of ‘I’m With You,‘ I feel Rick Rubin was way more a hindrance than a help. He told me once, ‘I just want to help the songs be the best they can be.‘ I should’ve said, ‘Well, then get your driver to come and get you.‘”
Nonetheless, Black Sabbath’s “13” proved to be a commercial success. Technically, this was the band’s first album since “Paranoid” in 1970 to hit the No. 1 on the UK album charts. And it was also the band’s first-ever album to top the charts in the US.
The success, however, could potentially be attributed to the massively long pause after Black Sabbath’s previous album which was 1995’s “Forbidden.” What’s more, this was also the first album since the ill-fated “Never Say Die!” to feature Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. Although considered to be part of the Ozzy era of the band, “13” saw them working with Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk on drums who replaced original member Bill Ward.