Light My Fire?

Getting back to my Black Sabbath post from a few weeks ago – it also surprised me that I couldn’t remember ever hearing the name of the group’s drummer, Bill Ward, since I’ve always been one of those people who studies liner notes. Ward (who turns 71 at the beginning of May), apparently is doing all right at the moment, although like many rock musicians he went through serious struggles 40+ years ago with drugs and alcohol.

It couldn’t have helped that, as Ward’s entry in the Wikipedia notes, the band “would often [perform] harmful pranks on him.” Spray painting his body with gold paint when he was drunk and unconscious, for example – which any James Bond fan could tell you was a bad idea, and which meant that an ambulance had to be called. Or, more regularly, setting him on fire.

In Chapter 48 (“Ignition”) of his 2011 autobiography Iron Man, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi writes, “I had set Bill Ward on fire before, but this time things got out of hand.” It started when, at a recording session, Iommi asked Ward if he could set him on fire, and the drummer replied, “Not just now, I’m busy.” Amazingly, a few hours later, Ward came back to Iommi, and said, “I’m going back to the hotel, so do you still want to set fire to me or what?”

“As Bill seemed keen on doing this,” Iommi writes, “I decided to make a bit of a production of it.” Splashing tape head cleaner over Ward, he lit it, and the drummer “went up like a bomb.” The reaction was so intense that “I thought he was joking, but he was actually ablaze… He ended up with third-degree burns to his legs.”

A situation like that might drive anyone to drink.

p.s. Iommi writes that he usually just set the end of Ward’s pointed beard on fire, not his whole body. “We called Bill ‘Nib,’ because with his beard his face looked like a pen nib.” The title of the Black Sabbath song N.I.B., it turns out, is not an acronym, just a reference to Ward’s beard.

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