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©2019 Jimbo Kennedy

Jimbo Kennedy is an Oregon-based guitarist and author.

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Tony Iommi is the Reigning King of Heavy Metal Guitar Riffs

March 4, 2019


This post is about a Catholic guitar player named Tony Iommi. He once led the most "demonic" band ever to raise the Corna🤘("Devil Horns" or Karana Mudra), Black Sabbath! The band's (also Catholic) bassist, Geezer Butler, became interested in the occult early on in the band's career. One night, sensing an evil presence in his room, he awoke to retrieve his latest magical tome. But the book had vanished! From this spooky story came the band's name and their famous "Black Sabbath" song. Tony Iommi's use of the tritone (aka "The Devil's Interval") in the song's main riff anchored the darkness of Ozzy's lyrics, and the Heavy Metal genre was born. (See: Map of Metal)



At the beginning of his guitar career, Tony took a job in a factory. The video below tells the story of how he lost his fingertips in an accident there, lost all hope for his future, and then came back slinging. (You'll notice his artificial fingertips in the other videos.) He mentions how he developed the first light gauge guitar strings. But also important to Tony's Heavy Metal Holiness is that he detuned those strings. This had to do with achieving a dark sound, of course, but it also made guitar playing easier on his fingers.



Black Sabbath went through many lineup changes over the years but Tony was always there, shredding his dark blues style. More recently, he started the band Heaven and Hell, which is basically Sabbath with a new name. For those new to their stories, Ronnie James Dio also sang for Black Sabbath. Though Ozzy Osbourne maintained more fame over the years, Dio is a Metal Icon closer to Tony's. Here is "Heaven and Hell": old men singing about dying young.



Tony has said that what makes a great guitarist is someone who plays from the soul. It is important to note here that most of Tony's bands have had an occult-y, foreboding, or "evil" tone. But he has always considered himself a Catholic. And if you read these bands' lyrics, you will notice a very Christian overtone. Religious or not, Tony regularly expresses a sense of purpose about his music and life. He has developed his own style and would encourage you to do the same.



Look around the web for quotes about Tony Iommi. You will find every Master of Metal pointing at him as the Godfather of the Heavy Metal riff. He occupies this space alone. He has no competitors to the throne. And he does this with such sovereign grace, you know he's the King of Metal Guitar. Long live the King!


As a nice finale to this post dedicated to a true Guitar Guru, here's an epic 7-minute solo from a 2009 Heaven and Hell concert.


Thanks for reading.

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