Black Sabbath is over, but there’ll be no shortage of salutes for Tony Iommi this month as a he turns 70 years of age. Iommi has had his own health scares in recent years, but nothing stopped him from completing Sabbath’s mammoth farewell tour of 2017, The End – the DVD and CD of the final show, from just over a year ago on February 3 2017, is in stores now.

Iommi undoubted rules in history as the most influential metal guitarist of all time: without him, heavy metal wouldn’t be what it is and probably wouldn’t exist at all.

Here’s a timely salute to the genius of metal’s riffmaster general, in his own words from interviews with and in a few words from ‘his singer’…

Black Sabbath

Because Iommi lost the tips of his fingers in a factory accident, a huge inspiration early on was “two fingered” jazz Django Reinhardt...

“He sparked me off - because of what happened to my fingers, he was inspirational. It was later on that I got really interested in jazz guitar. Joe Pass, I love.”

But he also likes instrumental twang and the blues…

“My original guitar influence was always The Shadows. But when I got into blues stuff… it didn’t even matter who the artist was. I just used to buy blues LPs, just to listen and learn. But I really liked John Mayall with Eric Clapton, the Bluesbreakers’ ‘Beano’ album.”

Tony loves his Gibson SGs…

“You could get to the top frets easily on an SG, and it was light. The SG was just ideal for me. Once I’d recorded the Black Sabbath debut album I never went back. It was a bit touch-and-go at the time. I was using very light strings, the SG’s neck was not all that stable – you could bend the neck and it went ‘oooo-wee-ooo,’ But that original was a great guitar, I used it for many years.

“My original SG is now on display at the Hard Rock Café in New York. I modified it a lot. I put polyurethane on the frets so I could slide chords and solos easier. I play with thimbles on my fingers, so I had to make every guitar work for me. In remember Brian May (of Queen) picking up my guitars once and he just said: ‘that’s so different to any guitar, how do you even play that?’”

but Tony also reckons he’ll always just sound like he does whatever he plays!

“I do have a Telecaster... but I never play it. A Les Paul? Yeah, I could get my sound from a Les Paul, I’m sure. Again, I did a track with Brian May years ago, and I gave him one of my Gibson SGs and a Vox AC30… and he sounded just like Brian May always did. It’s not always just gear.”

He found it hard writing his Iron Man memoir… but he did enjoy sharing some Sabbath secrets, such as when Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham jammed with Sabbath...

“Are there tapes of that jam? I really don’t know. They might exist on the end of some master-tapes we had, but I certainly don’t have them. John was a good friend, best man at my first wedding, and he liked us. We jammed through ‘Supernaut’ (from 1972 Sabbath album Vol 4.) John loved that track. Though we ended up just jamming 12-bar blues at the end. ‘Supernaut’ got too complicated for John! He was going all over the place.”

Ozzy Osbourne says Tony Iommi is like no-one else he’s ever played with.

 “‘The world doesn’t revolve around Tony,’ my dad said. ‘There’ll be other guitarists,” Ozzy recalled of the band’s early faltering days. He was a good guy, my old man. But this time he was wrong. There were no other guitarists. Not like Tony.”

Casual showbusiness fans think that Black Sabbath is ‘Ozzy Osbourne and some other guys’. Ozzy knows different...

“Officially, we didn’t have a band leader,” the singer wrote in his memoir I Am Ozzy. “Unofficially, we all knew it was Tony.”

Iommi says “it’s impossible” to name his favorite Sabbath songs: but a Sabbath album he really loves may surprise you...

“All Sabbath songs have meant something to me. Even favorite albums, it’s the same! But I do like Heaven And Hell as an album a lot, because I got to play something different. But everything I’ve done, I like. I wouldn’t have released it if I didn’t like it. ‘Iron Man’, ‘Into The Void’, ‘War Pigs’…those are some favorites. But I dunno, there’s a lot of Sabbath songs! The track ‘Black Sabbath’ is still great. It was then I knew I had come up with something different on the guitar.”

And finally: Tony sometimes tires of that “Father Of Heavy Metal” tag…

“But I’ve lived it with it so long now… and it’s nice to get credit for something, isn’t it? I listen to and can play jazz and blues, but it’s the riffs that I get recognized by.

“But to me, Black Sabbath were always open to new sounds. On every Sabbath album there’s always something out the box. We had instrumentals on a hard rock album when everyone was telling us; you can’t do that! I love ‘Laguna Sunrise’ (acoustic instrumental on Volume 4), for example. I enjoyed working with a choir I liked getting string sections involved on (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’s) ‘Spiral Architect.’ Sabbath always did something different on each album. But I guess many people don’t remember those tracks so well.”

The Future For Iommi?

Iommi hasn’t said too much about what he plans to do now Sabbath is over. To his credit, he is now involved in a lot of health charity work, inspired by his own battle with lymphoma in early 2012. He hasn’t completely ruled out the idea of one-off Sabbath shows for a special occasion, but it seems certain there’ll be no more records or tours.

He’s told Gibson he still keeps a guitar in his bedroom for when inspiration strikes and that, “I haven’t done so much jazz and blues on records – one day, I’d like to do that.” And he told the UK’s The Midlands Rocks website this month (February 2018), “I would certainly like to start writing again.”

In 2013, Iommi also let slip about a “riffs album” he was hoping to finish with the help of Brian May. According to The Guardian newspaper, the plan was hatched when May visited Iommi’s studio and heard some of the hours and hours of Tony’s unreleased guitar jams. “I thought it would be great to make a compilation out of them,” May explained. “The idea was to put all these riffs out in some form so that people could build their own songs from them. You could make your own music with Tony Iommi on guitar!” What a thing that would be, but no announcement just yet.

Whatever he does, this year or next or never: happy 70th birthday, Tony Iommi!