what it is: from black sabbath to white keach
where i found it: beginning with tony iommi's guitar tone
I've been listening pretty relentlessly for the past few weeks to the first six Black Sabbath albums. This has lead to three recurring thoughts:
1) This is excellent music to blare into your brain when hungover.
2) How can this band make so few questionable choices over the course of six albums? Even the hilarious backing vocals half way through Electric Funeral and Ozzy ending Fairies Wear Boots * recounting that the doctor's diagnosis is "smoking and tripping is all that you do, yeahhhhhhh!" seem like master strokes.
3) The Butler/Ward rhtyhm section is one of the greatest things to ever happen in rock and roll. When I was younger mostly focused on the foreground riffs and lyrics, but these days I can't help noticing how much the drums and bass kill it at every turn.
4) How the fuck does Tony Iommi get his guitar to sound so great?
For the answer to the last question I turned to a friend who has an unhealthily in-depth knowledge of electronic guitar circuitry. Other than a wah pedal, Iommi relied almost entirely on something called a treble booster (the original model was an amp top box called a Dallas Rangemaster). I am no fan of Eric Clapton, but he apparently popularized these in England with the release of the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton LP. Here he can be seen on the front of that LP reading a Beano comic.
So while Clapton has been paid so many dollars to water down the blues all these years, at least we have him to thank for giving Iommi the tools to pummel us so mercilessly at such length.
Back to the boxes: obviously these gadgets now go for sums that only the dude form ZZ Top can afford. In fact, here's a picture of him with his Dallas Rangemaster:
Since the 60s, a number of clones of these boxes have popped up. One is the greatly named Klon Centaur. Another is called the Beano Boost. It's not a big leap to go from something called the Beano Boost to a scene from the Western The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in which an albino villain played by Stacie Keach stands in the street yelling "Beano! Beano!" This must be one of the most unusual scenes in all of cinema. And that's how I got from Black Sabbath to White Keach.
* footnote: there is some debate as to whether Fairies Wear Boots discusses being jumped by skinheads or some hallucinations that poor Ozzy was made to experience. Each listener has to make his own decision.