Bill Ward Not to be discounting at all towards Ronnie James Dio But Black Sabbath Without Ozzy were turbulent times; for me, they were rough times. I loved him like a brother
This weekend’s edition of legendary BLACK SABBATH drummer Bill Ward‘s radio show “Rock 50” included his tribute to former BLACK SABBATH keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, who died in late January after a long battle with lung cancer. Ward said (listen to the audio below): “A few weeks ago, Geoff Nicholls, who played in BLACK SABBATH, as well as in a number of oher bands from Birmingham, but he played in BLACK SABBATH… Very nice man. I knew him. I played with him. I’ve been on multiple tours with him. And he played keyboards and guitar and backup vocals. Geoff had been ill for a little while, and he actually passed away just recently. He actually died on the 28th of January of 2017. Geoff was 72 [Editor’s note: Most published reports indicate that Nicholls was 68 at the time of his death], and he was with his family when he died. A lot of people loved him, obviously.”
The drummer continued: “Some of the bands that we had back in Birmingham in the early ’60s were THE BOLL WEEVILS, THE SEED, JOHNNY NEAL AND THE STARLINERS. And I always remember JOHNNY NEAL AND THE STARLINERS, and I remember them showing up in their… Back then, we all had these transit vans, or actually Bedford vans, and everybody would put their amps in the back and the drums in the back of the van, and we’d go from gig to gig. And Geoff was a part of all that — he was a part of all of this huge thing that happened in Great Britain in the early ’60s, where we all left school and we were all in bands. He was a part of that, and I, too, was a part of those memories. And I remember JOHNNY NEAL AND THE STARLINERS a lot. I used to go and see them play. There’s so much that’s been done, that’s been said and that’s been achieved. And then further, we have to come to the end of things as well.”
Ward added: “I did have an opportunity several months ago to say what I needed to say to Geoff. And so, I feel good about where we are as men.
“What I thought might be an honorable thing to do today was to play the actual [BLACK SABBATH] song ‘Heaven And Hell’ with Ronnie [James Dio on vocals]. I can remember when we actually got that part of the song, when we actually got ‘Heaven And Hell’. Things had been slow all week. We had been writing, but we hadn’t really connected with anything that I can remember; we hadn’t really connected too much. But it was a Friday afternoon. I was hanging outside, and Geezer [Butler, bass] was somewhere, and Geoff was in the living room, and Tony [Iommi, guitar] was in the living room. And I heard that famous riff [hums the main riff of the song], and [I was], like, ‘Oh my God!’ and I just came walking into the living room immediately and I sat down behind my drums. At the time, actually, they were Bev Bevan‘s [ex-BLACK SABBATH drummer] drums. They ended up in the house somewhere, and they were Bev‘s drums. And a nice kit too. Anyway, I started playing, and I just went into the backbeat behind Tony’s riff, and Geoff was already starting to… getting grooving — he was already on top of that as well. And Ronnie was either in the kitchen or he had just appeared out of nowhere, like a flash of lightning or something, and Ronnie showed up and immediately he started jamming on some lyrics. And literally, about thirty minutes later, we had pretty much ‘Heaven And Hell’… not literally as you hear it, because we did change just a couple of things around, but it was there on that Friday afternoon. I remember actually coming back down here into Orange County. We were up in Beverly Hills when we first wrote the song. And I remember coming back down and going, ‘Oh my God! We’ve got one in the bag.’ It was a great feeling. It just kept around my head, like, ‘Oh, wow! This is very nice.'”
Bill went on to say: “Those were turbulent times; for me, they were rough times. Oz [singer Ozzy Osbourne] wasn’t there, and I loved him like a brother, and I really missed him. And when I say that, I hope people will take that the right way in terms of that’s not to be discounting at all towards Ronnie. I love Ronnie too — a great singer and a very nice man.
“But that’s how that came about. [And] Geoff was in right there in center stage.
“To me, he was a great musician, because he never stepped out [and] he always respected the privacy of wherever we were in our thinking and in our balance. And that’s what makes a good musician — when you can see where the other guy is, and you can make room for them. And he had that ability, and I think that’s why he spent so much time with Tony, all the way through into the latter tours that we did. A great guy and a big loss to the music industry, to the music community.”
Nicholls, who played keyboards on all of SABBATH‘s albums between 1980 and 1995 and toured with them, was reportedly in remission from cancer at the time of his death but succumbed to the side effects of chemotherapy.
Nicholls‘s first appearance on a SABBATH album was on 1980’s “Heaven And Hell”. Although his main role with SABBATH was on the keyboard, Nicholls also played some rhythm guitar at concerts. In addition to not always being credited as a full member of the band, Nicholls rarely appeared on stage during SABBATH shows and would instead play on the side of the stage or backstage.
Nicholls‘s involvement with the band ended when Adam Wakeman (a member of Ozzy Osbourne‘s solo band) was chosen to play keyboards during SABBATH‘s 2004 and 2005 tours as part of Ozzfest.
Nicholls also played keyboards with former BLACK SABBATH singer Tony Martin in his band TONY MARTIN’S HEADLESS CROSS and performed on both of Martin‘s solo albums.
Before joining BLACK SABBATH, Nicholls was member of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) band QUARTZ, whose 1977 debut album was produced by Iommi. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Geoff played lead guitar for the Birmingham band JOHNNY NEAL AND THE STARLINERS.