Geezer Butler Answers If Van Halen Were Really Better Than Black Sabbath at Joint Tour in Late ’70s

While appearing in a recent interview with Mike Brunn, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler looked back on the band’s tour with Van Halen back in the late 1970s. Apart from being of great historic importance, the tour also became known for claims that Van Halen, who were the openers, outperformed Black Sabbath every night.

During the interview, Geezer was reminded of the tour and the claims that Van Halen were, allegedly, better than Sabbath. However, the interviewer instead asked Geezer whether he thinks it was the other way around, with Sabbath outperforming Van Halen. He replied (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“I wouldn’t say better, but we certainly held our own. Because people were coming to… It’s the Sabbath following that was coming, and a lot of them, when Van Halen went on, were surprised how good Van Halen were.”

Van Halen 09 22 1978 Fresno

Going more into the matter, Geezer admitted that they admired Van Halen, offering:

“We were fans of Van Halen as well. We’ve gotten great with each other, and we used to party every night. [Laughs] Tony and Eddie got on great.”

However, at first, things weren’t all that smooth since Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne felt a little annoyed. Geezer continued:

“At first, Tony was a bit pissed off that Eddie was doing these longer and longer guitar solos. Ozzy was peeved that Dave Lee Roth was going out and using all Ozzy’s things. I think that really started getting us down in the end.”

Black Sabbath - Never Say Die (Full Concert) 1978

This was also a pretty rough time for Black Sabbath. Not long after the tour, they would part ways with Ozzy Osbourne due to his addiction problems. But the band’s albums were not performing well and things started weighing down on them, including the label, Warner Bros., giving more attention to the Van Halen who were the new guys. Geezer added:

“Some people love Sabbath, some people love Van Halen. The one thing… The record company was out promoting Van Halen, and we were on the same record company.”

“But all the backing was going into Van Halen, they were forgetting about us. I think it was just a good show all around.”

Black Sabbath - Live at the Olympen, Lund, Sweden (1977)

Around the time Black Sabbath was falling apart, Tony Iommi got the chance to meet Ronnie James Dio, previously known as the singer for Rainbow. As they fired Ozzy, Tony brought in Ronnie. And, according to Geezer, Black Sabbath was saved by this decision. Asked about that, he replied:

“Ronnie was just the thing that we need to come into the band. He was so full of enthusiasm and ideas. Getting rid of Ozzy is like… We were all really low. We didn’t know if we were going to carry on or anything like that.”

“And then Ronnie came in, and we’d already written things like ‘Children of the Sea.’ And some of the things that later turned up on the ‘Heaven and Hell’ album, but we didn’t have any vocals on it.”

Children of the Sea

“Ronnie came in, listen to the idea for ‘Children of the Sea’ and comes up with vocal [lines]. Of course, he wrote his own lyrics as well. So that gave me time to concentrate on more what I was doing on bass, more on the music side of things. And it was just such a breath of fresh air and enthused all of us.”

Over the decades, there have been so many takes on the matter with even famous musicians weighing in and explaining how one band was better than the other. For instance, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, who’s known for his very direct takes on all matters, thought that Van Halen “destroyed” Black Sabbath on that tour.

In an interview from earlier this year, Gene looked back on meeting Eddie and eventually seeing them play live as support for Black Sabbath. He offered:

“At their absolute peak, nobody could touch them. When they went out on tour with Black Sabbath in 1978, Van Halen destroyed that band. Tony Iommi admitted it, and so did Ozzy.”

Van Halen "Fools" @ Piper Club Rome Italy 1980

“What really intrigued me about Van Halen was that they came out of nowhere, it seemed like they had no lineage. The big lips and blues-laden songs meant that you could trace the relationship between Aerosmith and the Stones, but to this day I’ve no clue where Van Halen came from.”

He also added:

“Edward has talked about being a fan of Clapton. I’m sorry, I don’t see that. Where other guitarists were inspired by B.B. King or Albert King, Edward was playing majors and minors and flat-thirds. What he did was closer to classical music.”

Eddie Van Halen - Solo/Eruption - Live without a Net

The tour for Black Sabbath’s 1978 album “Never Say Die!” commenced on May 16 that year and wound up on December 11. With a total of 100 shows, the tour was divided into four legs, two in Europe and two in North America. But the supposed rivalry and internal problems aside, the tour is well-known for the band members having a blast while being on the road together.

Photo: Tilly Antoine (Geezer Butler au Hellfest 2019), Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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