Anthony Frank "Tony" Iommi (born 19 February 1948, Heathfield Road Hospital, Handsworth, Birmingham, England) is an English guitarist and songwriter best known as the founding member of pioneering heavy metal band Black Sabbath, and its sole continual member through multiple personnel changes. Iommi is widely recognised as one of the most important and influential guitarists in heavy metal music. According to Allmusic, "Iommi is one of only two guitarists (the other being Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page) that can take full credit for pioneering the mammoth riffs of heavy metal."
In 2004, Iommi was ranked number one on Guitar World's "100 Greatest Metal Guitarists of All Time", and in 2011, ranked 25th in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". On 13 October (Europe) and 1 November (United States) 2011 Iommi's autobiography was published, entitled Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. On 9 January 2012, it was announced that Iommi had been diagnosed with early stage lymphoma.
The son of first generation British Italians, Tony Iommi originally wanted to play the drums, but due to the noise they produce he picked up the guitar as a teenager, after being inspired by the likes of Hank Marvin and The Shadows. He plays guitar left-handed. In an industrial accident at the age of 17 on his last day of work in a sheet metal factory, he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand.
After the injury Iommi contemplating abandoning the guitar. However, his manager encouraged Iommi to pursue music by playing a recording of famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. As Iommi would later write:
My friend said, "Listen to this guy play," and I went, "No way! Listening to someone play the guitar is the very last thing I want to do right now!" But he kept insisting and he ended up playing the record for me. I told him I thought it was really good and then he said, "You know, the guy's only playing with two fingers on his fretboard hand because of an injury he sustained in a terrible fire." I was totally knocked back by this revelation and was so impressed by what I had just heard that I suddenly became inspired to start trying to play again.
Iommit attempted to learn to play right-handed, but eventually returned to left-handed playing and strung his guitars with lighter strings and made thimbles to extend his fingers.
Iommi had played in several blues/rock bands, the earliest of which was The Rockin' Chevrolets from 1964 to 1965. The band had regular bookings and when they were offered work in Germany, Iommi decided to leave his factory job to take up the opportunity. From 1966 to 1967 Iommi played in a band named The Rest. This was the first time Iommi played with future Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.
From January 1968 until July 1968 Iommi was guitarist in Mythology, with Ward joining a month later in mid-February. In May 1968 police raided the group's practice flat and found cannabis resin, which resulted in a £15 fine and a two-year conditional discharge for Iommi, Ward, Smith and Marshall. Mythology split up after a gig in Silloth on 13 July 1968.
In August 1968 at the same time as the breakup of Mythology, a band called Rare Breed also broke up. Rare Breed vocalist John "Ozzy" Osbourne and rhythm guitarist Terry "Geezer" Butler joined with Iommi and Ward from Mythology and also slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan "Aker" Clarke. The six-piece band, now with Butler as bassist, were named the Polka Tulk Blues Company. After just two gigs (the last of which was at the Banklands Youth Club in Workington), Phillips and Clarke were dismissed from the band, which soon after shortened its name to Polka Tulk.
Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne renamed the band Earth in September 1968. They carried on under this moniker until December 1968 when Iommi briefly departed to join Jethro Tull. However after only one performance (an appearance on "The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus" in which the band mimed "A Song for Jeffrey", which Ian Anderson sang live), Iommi was back with Earth once more.
In August 1969, following the confusion with another group named Earth (who had minor success in England), the group renamed themselves Black Sabbath. His aforementioned factory accident affected the Black Sabbath sound later on, as Iommi detuned his guitar from E to C# (a minor third down), in order to ease the tension on his fingers; Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler did the same to match Iommi. Sabbath were among the first bands to detune, and the technique became a mainstay of heavy metal music. The first two Black Sabbath albums are actually in E tuning, however, as Iommi didn't start tuning down to C# until 1971's Master of Reality. Iommi combined blues-like guitar solos and dark, minor-key riffing with a revolutionary high-gain, heavily distorted tone with his use of a modified treble-boosting effect-pedal and a Gibson SG, as well as plugging his guitar into his amp's bass input.
By the mid-1970s, incessant drug usage, managerial problems and constant touring had taken its toll on the band and Ozzy Osbourne was fired in 1979 by Iommi. Osbourne was replaced with Ronnie James Dio, the former vocalist for Rainbow (a band formed by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore). With Dio Black Sabbath produced Heaven and Hell, prior to replacing Bill Ward with Vinny Appice. With Iommi and Geezer Butler the only original members, this line-up produced Mob Rules. During the '80s and '90s Iommi rebuilt the band with many lineup changes with vocalists including Ian Gillan (formerly of Deep Purple), Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin and Ray Gillen. After Ian Gillan departed the band in 1984 Iommi recorded his first solo album, entitled Seventh Star. The album featured Glenn Hughes (formerly of Deep Purple) on vocals, but due to label pressures, it was billed as a release by "Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi."
In 1992 Iommi appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, playing four songs with the remaining members of Queen and other guest artists. In the following year Iommi teamed up with fellow Black Country band Diamond Head and co-wrote the song "Starcrossed (Lovers in the Night)" for their 1993 Death and Progress album. At Ozzy's "farewell" concert at Costa Mesa in 1992, Dio refused to perform and abruptly left the band. As a result Rob Halford was recruited to perform as the vocalist for two gigs (Halford also sang at one of the dates on the 2004 Ozzfest tour, when Ozzy couldn't perform due to bronchitis). Following Osbourne's solo set, the show concluded with Ozzy bringing out the other members of the original Black Sabbath line-up for a 4-song reunion.
Black Sabbath went on to record two further albums with Tony Martin before the original line-up reunited as a touring band in 1997. While Bill Ward played at the two initial reunion shows at Birmingham NEC in December 1997, he was not present for the following two reunion tours, his second absence due to a heart attack. Ward was replaced by Mike Bordin and then Vinny Appice.
Rob Halford, vocalist for Judas Priest, when filling in for Ozzy Osbourne during an August 2004 concert in Philadelphia, introduced Tony Iommi to the audience as "The man who invented the heavy metal riff".
On 11/11/11, the original band members announced that they were reuniting and recording a new album. The band are scheduled to play at Download Festival in 2012, followed by a world tour.