Viking's Choice

Banking On The 'Black Sabbath' Brand

This past Friday, Ozzy Osbourne — the heavy-metal godfather turned bumbling reality TV star turned failed variety TV host (okay, it's not technically canceled yet) — sued his on-again/off-again bandmate Tony Iommi for rights to the "Black Sabbath" brand.

For the uninitiated, a painfully brief history: Four English blokes form the seminal rock band Black Sabbath in 1968 and release eight albums from 1970 to '78 (six of them among the best albums of the '70s, two of them among the worst). Guitarist and main songwriter Iommi fires Ozzy from the band in 1979 for not caring enough about Black Sabbath, former Rainbow/Elf frontman Ronnie James Dio takes over the mic (restoring Sabbath's good name), Dio leaves for solo career in the mid-'80s and comes back and leaves again. And then there was the '90s, which were fairly negligible.

Okay, back to the issue at hand. You'll want to note that it's the "brand" and not the "name" that Ozzy's after. As the statement below seems to indicate, Ozzy doesn't seem to care that there was a touring entity known as "Black Sabbath" without him; he just wants his cut.

So the question really comes down to: Who should own the "Black Sabbath" brand? And should that list include Dio? After all, Dio's return to Sabbath as vocalist in recent years has been overwhelmingly praised — perhaps a bit too much.

Why Dio rules, plus Ozzy's full statement, after the jump.

After Dio rejoined Iommi to record songs for a 2007 Black Sabbath greatest-hits CD (highlighting the Dio years), the classic '80s line-up decided to reunite. To avoid legal entanglements with Ozzy, Iommi and crew rechristened Black Sabbath as "Heaven and Hell" a couple years ago (named for the first Dio-fronted Sabbath album in 1980). I mean, Sabbath is Sabbath is Sabbath, but in all fairness, with Dio at the mic and Vinny Appice on drums, Iommi has always flexed his muscles differently. "Better" isn't the right word here; Dio is a completely different animal than Ozzy. Even with a troll-like stature, Dio is a natural rock frontman, and remains outrageously theatrical after all these years — and he's pushing 70.

I always wrote off Dio as the funny little man who fronted Rainbow, but ever since Dio's return, I've become a Dio apologist. His voice and persona re-ignited Iommi's songwriting, which became more anthemic and unapologetically "rock" in a way Ozzy could have never fronted. After Ozzy further distanced himself from Sabbath — notably apparent on two bad Ozzy-led albums in the late '70s — Black Sabbath was reborn with Dio front and center.

And while the new Heaven and Hell CD, The Devil You Know, is no Heaven and Hell or Mob Rules, it re-captures some of Sabbath's early-'80s heyday ("Bible Black" and "Follow the Tears," especially), which is much more than I can say for anything Ozzy's done in... gosh... I don't know how long. (I actually really enjoyed The Osbournes reality show, but that had as much to do with music as American Idol does.)

Here's the full statement from Ozzy Osbourne:

It is with great regret that I had to resort to legal action against my long term partner, Tony Iommi, but after three years of trying to resolve this issue amicably, I feel I have no other recourse. As of the mid-1990's, after constant and numerous changes in band members, the brand of "Black Sabbath" was literally in the toilet and Tony Iommi (touring under the name Black Sabbath) was reduced to performing in clubs. Since 1997 when Geezer, Bill and myself rejoined the band, Black Sabbath has returned to its former glory as we headlined sold-out arenas and amphitheatres playing to upwards of 50,000 people at each show around the world. We worked collectively to restore credibility and bring dignity back to the name "Black Sabbath" which lead to the band being inducted into the UK and US Rock & Roll Hall of Fames in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Throughout the last 12 years, it was my management representatives who oversaw the marketing and quality control of the "Black Sabbath" brand through OZZFEST, touring, merchandising and album reissues. The name "Black Sabbath" now has a worldwide prestige and merchandising value that it would not have had by continuing on the road it was on prior to the 1997 reunion tour. Tony, I am so sorry it's had to get to this point by me having to take this action against you. I don't have the right to speak for Geezer and Bill, but I feel that morally and ethically the trademark should be owned by the four of us equally. I hope that by me taking this first step that it will ultimately end up that way. We've all worked too hard and long in our careers to allow you to sell merchandise that features all our faces, old Black Sabbath album covers and band logos, and then you tell us that you own the copyright. We're all in our 60's now. The Black Sabbath legacy should live on long after we have all gone. Please do the right thing.

Basically, Ozzy wants all four of the original members to share in the merchandising profit. Fair enough, I guess. It's still not entirely clear what kind of copyright Iommi owns, but if Ozzy is intent on splitting the goods, Dio's got a strong case to be included in that share.

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