Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Words for Bill Ward

Like many diehard Black Sabbath fans around the world, I was greatly saddened to read Bill Ward’s February 2, 2012 announcement that he was reluctant to participate in the previously-announced reunion of the band’s original lineup unless he was presented with something other than an “unsignable” contract. And like many Sabbath fans, I was shattered to later read a statement from Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler indicating their intentions to continue their reunion plans without Bill, if necessary. Aside from posting a few knee-jerk comments (and, in some cases, emotionally-charged graphics) on my private Facebook page as well as on a few pro-Bill sites on the Web here and there, I haven’t publicly addressed this situation on behalf of Gausten Books (which has published two titles featuring Bill Ward), or on my own behalf as someone who has had nothing but an overwhelmingly positive history with the man. With the pro-Bill drum still being heard loud and clear around the globe (and getting much louder by the day!), I felt it was time for me to fully speak my truths regarding the kind of man Bill Ward is.

Let me make it clear that I am not a “band insider” who knows what is going on behind closed doors regarding Bill and his relationship with the other members of Black Sabbath. Frankly, it’s nobody’s business. However, what I can discuss here is my impression of Bill based on my experiences with him over the years. Based on these interactions, I believe in my heart that any contractual arrangement offered to Bill that is beneath the high level of respect he deserves is reprehensible – both to him as a musical innovator AND as a human being. And here’s why.

First, Bill’s loyalty to Black Sabbath is legendary. Here’s what he told me in 2005 shortly before the band was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame:

“I can only play drums with one band. I'm still very much like that. I like to jam with other bands. I've got no problem with that. I'd even like to cut records with other bands, in the sense of like cutting a track, being a socialite drummer. But I would never, ever consider joining a band as a drummer after being in Black Sabbath.”

Second, Bill’s humanitarian efforts are extraordinary. Away from Sabbath, Bill remains active in helping to keep the Vietnam Memorial in DC clean and maintained. Wait, you didn’t know that? Well, read on.

In 2002, he released "Straws" (
http://www.billward.com/discography/straws/), a special CD single sold to raise funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the Alice Faith Mittelman Foundation, the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and the National Veterans Foundation. As Bill once told me about the “Straws” endeavor:

“I was trying to raise money for four or five different charities, the first charity being the Veteran's Wall in Washington D.C. for the men and women who died in Vietnam, who lost their lives there. Nobody's actually employed to clean the wall. The people that clean that wall are all volunteers, so you can send money to them to help buy the cleaning fluids and pay them a little money for their services or whatever it might be. So that's one of the charities that we support. It's like, give back to those who fucking died, you know?”

I’m sorry, but these are not the words of a man who would hold up a reunion tour over greed.

On a deeply personal note, I know Bill Ward to be a caring, thoughtful and honest human being, and someone who remains a source of encouragement and inspiration to me. Growing up a drummer with cerebral palsy, I had to learn to relax enough to keep a beat without my left leg seizing up. Around the age of 11 or 12, I discovered the first Black Sabbath album – and the magic that can be derived from keeping the groove slow. “Behind The Wall of Sleep” became personal therapy for me, as I played along to that track to slow down and finally find the calmness I needed as a foundation before attempting to get heavy and fast. If not for Bill Ward, the four dozen or so records I’ve been on would have remained a nice fantasy instead of a reality. After my first-ever interview with Bill back in ’05, I gathered up the courage to tell him about my childhood struggles, and how his drumming changed everything for me. After hearing my tale, Bill thanked me and said something I will never forget:

“I wish you strength to overcome, courage to progress and the knowledge that you are not alone”

Bill, there are millions of us around the world who offer you those same words right now.

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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