Perfect Sound Forever


1971 promo photo with Geezer on the left

Geezer Butler- Titan of Bass
Interview, book excerpt by KJ Jensen
(February 2023)

Geezer Butler seems to have been around forever. Back when I was a teenager, his band Black Sabbath was a big highlight of my daily music routine. The headbangers ball video and the albums they released back then still stand up today as classics in heavy metal music. He is an amazing part of Black Sabbath. He is their "secret weapon."

This is why it was an amazing experience for me to include an interview with Geezer in my recently published Titans of Bass book. The project involved compiling over 130 interviews with the worlds best bassists. The books aim is to teach an absolute beginner how to play a complete song in under 2 weeks, and hopefully have fun on the way.

A brief history of the "Geezer"

Geezer Butler is a songwriter best known for his bass playing and songwriting with Black Sabbath, but he has also been a member of Heaven & Hell, GZR (Goodbye to Romance), and Ozzy Osbourne's band. Geezer Butler was born Terence Michael Joseph Butler in Birmingham, England on July 13th, 1948. He grew up in a working-class family, and his early years were spent learning piano and violin.

Black Sabbath was formed in 1968 and released their first album in 1970. The classic self-titled album was a solid start to what would become the foundation of metal. The album features Ozzy Osbourne's distinctive voice and lyrics; Tony Iommi's guitar playing style that weaves in and out of a heavy sound while maintaining its own unique tone; Bill Ward's drumming style that keeps things steady and grounded as needed; and Geezer Butler's bass playing which lays down a firm foundation for all this to stand on.

This combination created an atmosphere of heaviness, darkness, melancholy--and ultimately evil--that has been copied by almost every heavy metal band since.

Onto the Interview...

I composed a list that featured the absolute bass-ics (sorry for the pun) of Geezer picking up the bass, and the results were quite interesting.

Why did you choose the Bass as an instrument?
"I chose the bass, because, at the time, rhythm guitarists weren't required in the type of music that listened to, like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I started playing bass when I was nineteen, when I joined what would become Black Sabbath. I originally played rhythm guitar, inspired by my favourite band, the Beatles."

When's the first time you actually noticed the bass in music?
"I am not too sure, as my family had a cheap record player with a tinny sound. Only the songs with prominent basslines really stood out. I remember "My Generation" by the Who, ""Gimmie Some Lovin'" by the Spencer Davis Group, and "Under my Thumb" by the Rolling Stones."

To Pick or Not to Pick?
"I never used a pick, I prefer finger style. That's how I started and that's what I'm used to. On some tours, I had to revert to using a pick on a couple of shows when I had blisters on my fingers from playing, but only in an emergency."

Tone was a subject that I focused on in Chapter 8 of the book. What's his view of tone?
'It's important to find a tone that inspires your playing. I like a slightly distorted tone when playing heavy stuff. I find it helps my playing."

Do you agree with the "Less is More" principle?
"As a former rhythm guitarist, I like to fill in the parts around a single guitar part, or play with the guitar to give it a heavier feel."

In the book, Chapter 11 focused on the 'Heroes of the Bass Titans.' Geezer replied that Bass Hero #4 was his bass champion.
"My main inspiration was Jack Bruce. He was the first bass player that I got close to at a club in Birmingham. I had specifically gone to Cream to see Eric Clapton. His playing on John Mayall's Bluesbreakers album was ground breaking. I was mezmorized by the stuff that Jack Bruce was doing on bass. He bent the strings and played totally avant garde bass runs and riffs. He was also playing lead guitar on bass."

He also appreciated new bassists for their creativity.

"Mike Kerr from Royal Blood has a very innovative and unique bass style."

One of the main goals of the Titans of Bass is to teach an absolute beginner how to play the Official Titans song "The Midnight Special" in 14 days. However, I wanted to include further simple songs to study for the future titans of bass. So I asked "What song should an absolute beginner start with?"
"The riff for "Iron Man" is a good one to start with. It's fairly simple and straightforward."

Geezers bass playing style

Geezer's bass playing sound was very unique for his time and position. He used a lot of distortion, but not like the other guitarists in Black Sabbath. They were known for having a high pitched yet melodic sound. However, Geezer Butler played more on the low end of the sound spectrum. This was an amazing contrast that add a depth and added dimension to their dark sound.

One thing that makes Geezer Butler's bass playing stand out was the use of his different tunings.

Especially on popular songs like "Iron Man" and "War Pigs," he zigged when most bassists would zag.

The foundation of all heavy metal is the bass playing of Geezer Butler

The foundation of all metal is pure and simple: the bass playing of Geezer Butler. The most amazing part of the legacy of Geezer is that he did most of his work without ever having formal bass lessons.

Just think about it: what would Metallica be without Cliff Burton? Black Sabbath without Geezer Butler? Pantera without Rex Brown? And let's not even get started on all those bands that followed in their footsteps and simply copied Metallica and Pantera instead of taking lessons from history. Sab is the best metal band of all time, hands down. Prove me wrong!

I saved the best for last.

I lied. I had one more question that I asked Geezer. I literally saved the best for last.

"What's the best advice anyone has ever given you regarding learning the bass?"
Geezer replied "I found out that having confidence in your playing is very important, no matter what level of player you are, from the very beginner upwards."

So, there we have it. The story of one of the greatest metal bass players ever to walk this earth. Geezer Butler has been a household name for many years now, and will no doubt continue to be so in the future. His influence on our musical culture cannot be overstated; without him there would be no Metallica or Pantera, no Slipknot or System Of A Down... hell, even if you don't like heavy metal music, you still owe a debt of gratitude to this man for what he did for music in general.

Please check out Titans of Bass for the 130+ interviews with more titans like: Justin Chancellor (Tool), Victor Wooten, Billy Sheehan, Ron Carter, Jeff Berlin, Mike Watt, Sean Lennon, George Porter Jr., Nathan East, Lee Sklar, Abraham Laboriel, Stu Hamm, Jack Casady, Verdine White and over 100 more.

All quotes are taken from the Titans of Bass book authored by KJ Jensen and published by Backbeat Books.

Also see our article on Black Sabbath's early years

And our article about Tony Iommi

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER