At 17, Tony Iommi was on the path he had always dreamed of as a young English guitarist. While most of his peers were condemned to a life of factory work, Tony was to cross Europe on his first tour with The Bird and Bees. But on the very last shift of his job at an industrial steel mill, everything came to a screeching halt.
It was the mid-1960s in a smog-ridden industrial town in central England. Iommi was finishing his last shift as a welder when he was told to work on a huge metal-flattening machine for the first time. His colleague who normally worked on this machine was away, and there was no one else to do it. Tony had to push the metal where it was flattened, but what caught him off guard was the intense force of the press.
“As I was pushing the metal through this machine, it fell on my finger, bang. I pulled my arm back, and as I pulled it back, I pulled the fingertips out,” remembers Iommi.
At the hospital, Tony received devastating news. Doctors told him they couldn’t fix his fingertips and his guitar playing days were now over.
When most artists encounter adversity, they give in. However, when the geniuses of the world encounter difficulties, they innovate. “I did mine [finger]tips,” Iommi explained in an interview with Loudwire. “I took a bottle of dishware — a plastic bottle — and melted it into a ball. Then I took a hot soldering iron, drilled a hole in it, and placed it on my fingers, so there was this big lump in my finger. I sat there for days rubbing it into the shape of a finger.
Tony had to relearn the guitar from scratch. His improvised fingertips meant he couldn’t play fast music very well and his loss of finger dexterity meant he had to make the most of simple chord shapes. With all these changes, it had the added effect of making his guitar sound… different.
Losing his fingertips was devastating, but looking back it created something new. It gave him a whole new mindset…a whole new way of looking at playing guitar. Tony created something new, something fresh, something good, out of what some would call a tragedy. That something was Black Sabbath.
Watch the full story on how Tony Iommi’s severed fingers helped create the sound of heavy metal in the video below.
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