The biggest hit of Black Sabbath’s career is 50 years old – or a half a century in old vinyl money.
Opening with the Vietnam song War Pigs, Paranoid became the band’s first No 1 album after it was released on September 18, 1970.
As first manager Jim Simpson says: “The 50th anniversary of Paranoid’s release really is a milestone, of worldwide importance, and it is 100% Birmingham.”
The single of the same name got to No 2, rated by the NME in 2012 as the sixth greatest guitar riff of all time behind poll-topping Back in Black by AC/DC.
Even today, Jim can’t eat a meal at home without recalling the day when the ground-breaking spirit of heavy metal came calling in his own office cum dining room – and enabled Black Sabbath to changed the sound of world music forever.
Working from a modern end-terraced house he’d bought a few years earlier in 1966, Jim had got up ready to host a morning meeting with three quarters of the members of one of several bands he was managing at the time.
He was behind his desk and in front of him future rock legends Bill Ward on drums, guitarist Tony Iommi and the man who would become the world’s most famous Brummie – John “Ozzy” Osbourne.
Missing from the Aston foursome was bass player Terry “Geezer” Butler.
At this point, you should know that Jim “hated” the name Earth – as the band were known as then – and having found two bands from London in Melody Maker with the same name thought that was as good a reason as any to change it.
Running late, Geezer had to be let into Jim’s four-bed, end terraced home by his music management company secretary Sue Smith.
The first the boys knew of his arrival was when Geezer poked his nose round the door and said “I’ve got it chaps, I’ve got the name.”
Little realising what he was about to say, his Earth-y colleagues pulled his leg about where he’d been and why he was late.
But Geezer stood his ground and, still poking his head round he door, uttered the now legendary words: “Black Sabbath.”
Even now, Jim’s eyes twinkle at the memory because that moment “gave the band its musical direction and something that we all believed in.”
And so this weekend marks the 50th anniversary of one of the single most seminal moments in the career of a band named after a 1963 Boris Karloff movie.
But the release of Paranoid was also the beginning of the end for Jim.
When he’d bought his home / office in 1966 he was too busy to go shopping and used copies of the Birmingham Mail as curtains.
Jim was determined to work from there even if Sabbath were going to be touring United States, because he lived and worked on trust.
But “harder people” were tapping up the budding stars in favour of a switch to Don Arden whose clients included The Move.
A court case followed about the nature of the split and compensation due, with Jim recalling how uncomfortable he felt sitting in court while the equally uncomfortable band members “appeared in suits but with Black Sabbath hair.”
Jim laments: “We’d never fallen out… and have still never fallen out.”
The die was cast and Jim had to move on to other things but maybe it was all written in the stars.
Years later, Don’s daughter Sharon ended up marrying Ozzy – and Jim readily credits her for now only “saving Ozzy” but also eventually putting the band back together again.
Now that’s rock and roll!
Jim continues to live in the same house and still eats his dinner in the same room that gave the world heavy metal.
“I’m not a chef, but we really cooked up something good that day,” says Jim who, incredibly, had previously been a trumpet-playing Locomotive bandmate of Redditch’s own future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
“If you wanted electric drive, Sabbath’s Bill Ward would be your man,” says Jim.
“If you wanted someone to play all around the kit you’d have John Bonham.
“But it’s Black Sabbath who became the greatest rock and roll band this country has produced.
“They have had more influence on world music than The Beatles who were more of a girls’ band at the time, while the boys tended to prefer the Rolling Stones who remain a great band.
“It all stems from when Geezer told us the name when he peered round the door in my dining room which back then was also my office.
“I was facing the door and Ozzy, Bill and Tony were facing me.
“So when Geezer appeared at the door, they all turned round and saw Geezer.
“I could see by their reactions that everyone knew at the time that that was the name, they were all slapping each other on the back.
“The first track on that first album Black Sabbath in early 1970 was perfect.
“And as for Paranoid… if you don’t get that song the first time you never will.”
+ Tracks on the album are: Side One – War Pigs, Paranoid, Planet Caravan and Iron Man. Side Two – Electric Funeral, Hand of Doom, Rat Salad and Fairies Wear Boots.
Black Sabbath’s first album Black Sabbath was recorded in a day, from about 11am to 11pm and Jim was there throughout. It was released on February 13, 1970 as part of a hard-won deal aimed at getting the band to deliver six albums in three years!
Jim missed the recording of Paranoid, which was done in about three days, as well as their long, gruelling stint at the Star Club in Hamburg that effectively machine tooled their metallic precision.
Jim says: “I recall the release of the first album more than the second simply because it was the first.
“That was a real thrill, because we’d worked so hard to get a deal and that first song on that album was monumental. Definitive. It just says it all.
“But those two first albums are still the best things they ever did and all the gigs they’d done working for tuppence paid off.
“The week I lost the band Paranoid was No 1 on the album chart, the single No 2 and the first album was back up at No 16 so the idea I didn’t know what I was doing was, well…”
Indeed. Not for another 43 years until their final album Thirteen was released in 2013, would Black Sabbath have another No 1 album again.
Jim adds: “I’ve obviously thought about it a lot over the years, but, yes, I would have loved to have had another couple of years with them to just to see…
“I would have fought tooth and nail to not let Ozzy split from the band in the way that happened because the magic was in the four of them together.
“But the truth is, I couldn’t keep up with the late nights and the parties. I was happy to manage them from home, others took advantage of that relationship.
“Meanwhile, my then wife said if I went to the US with them on their first tour there, she wouldn’t be here when I got back.”
Jim insists he has always got on well with all of the band members, while at the after show party of the band’s last gig at the then Genting Arena at the NEC was on Saturday February 4, 2017, Tony said they had simply forgotten to invite him to the show.
I’d offered him my second ticket, but, Jim being Jim, didn’t taken me up on the offer so I took a mutual friend he approved of instead to give him the thrill of being at that last gig.
“If I’m going, it will be because I’ve been invited,” Jim had said in the run-up to the show.
With Ozzy Osbourne set to play the rebranded Resorts World Arena on October 31 this year – well, it hasn’t been cancelled yet! – one hope’s the wild man of rock will remember who helped to put them on the road not just to fame and fortune but into the pages of rock history as the godfathers, nay inventors – of heavy metal and its myriad contemporary subdivisions.
So if you’re reading this Ozzy… make sure Jim’s got his ticket this time as he’d love to be there cheering you on!
+ Co-written with brother Ron Simpson, Jim recently published his life story in a book called Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Bear – From the Blues to Jazz, Rock & Roll and Black Sabbath (Brewin Books, £17.95 – ISBN 978-1-85858-700-4)
In 1985, Jim founded what is now known as the 2020 Birmingham, Sandwell and Westside Jazz Festival. He rearranged it this year from July 17-26 to October 16-25 and is still planning to go ahead with as many live events as possible.