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The Night Rob Halford Saved Black Sabbath

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"The Priest Comes to the Sabbath" bootleg CD cover

"The Priest Comes to the Sabbath" bootleg CD cover

When Metal Legends Collide...

In November 1992, Ozzy Osbourne was about to wrap up his supposedly final concert tour in support of the massively successful No More Tears album. Two "farewell" shows were scheduled at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California.

To make these "retirement" concerts into an even bigger must-see event, the Osbourne camp reached out to Ozzy's former band, Black Sabbath, with an offer to open the Costa Mesa shows. At the time, Sabbath was touring in support of 1992's Dehumanizer album, which featured the return of vocalist Ronnie James Dio—the man who'd replaced Ozzy in 1980. Everybody thought this was a fabulous idea—except Dio, who suspected that the invite was merely a back-door method to plant the seeds for a reunion with Osbourne. Dio refused to do the shows and announced that he was leaving Black Sabbath for the second time.

By them agreeing to play the shows in LA with Ozzy, that, to me, spelled out ‘reunion with Ozzy.’ And that obviously meant the end of our particular project.

— Ronnie James Dio

Various bootlegs of the Costa Mesa gigs. Note that the one on the top right says "with Rob Ralford." Ha!

Various bootlegs of the Costa Mesa gigs. Note that the one on the top right says "with Rob Ralford." Ha!

Enter Halford

In desperation, Sabbath's Tony Iommi reached out to a fellow son of Birmingham to replace Dio for the two gigs: Rob Halford of Judas Priest fame. Rob was a free agent at the time, having split from Priest the previous year. He was also a massive Black Sabbath fan, so naturally he jumped at the chance to be their temporary front man. Legend has it that Rob only had two days to familiarize himself with Sabbath's set list prior to the gigs.

Metal news traveled slower in those pre-internet days, so I imagine much of the audience in Costa Mesa must have been quite surprised to see Rob Halford take the stage with Sabbath on November 14th, 1992. By all accounts, the Metal God absolutely killed it, in spite of the short amount of prep time.

I'm sure that there were already plenty of bootleggers in the audience to capture Ozzy's "last shows" on tape, and they must have been absolutely thrilled to get the Halford/Sabbath combo as an added bonus. Grainy VHS videos and scratchy audio recordings of the two gigs immediately became popular items in tape-trading circles. Rumors briefly circulated that Halford might join Black Sabbath full time, but obviously that never came to pass.

Nov. 15, 1992 (Full Set)

Call for the Priest...

I own a CD of the second night's show on November 15th (entitled The Priest Comes to the Sabbath), which seems to be the more common of the two nights available via bootleg. It's obviously an audience recording (occasionally someone yells out "YEEEAAAAHHH!" or "WOOOOOO!" close to the recorder/mic and drowns out the music!) and unfortunately it's missing the first song of the set ("The Mob Rules"), but aside from that it's a decent quality recording of an amazing night in Heavy Metal history. Rob's lack of rehearsal is most obvious during "Children of the Grave," when he comes in at the wrong time and then has to repeat the first line of the song a moment later (whoops!). However, he quickly redeems himself with a fine rendition of Heaven and Hell's "Children of the Sea" (one of my all time favorite Sabbath tracks).

As the set goes on, I'd say that Rob's singing style is better suited to the Dio era songs like "Neon Knights" and "Heaven and Hell," but on the other hand, he does turn in some killer performances of Ozzy-era classics too, especially "N.I.B." and "Into the Void."

The crowd is clearly having a blast throughout the set, and it sounds like Rob himself is pretty damn jazzed to be singing for one of his favorite bands, too. I guess even Metal Gods can still have fanboy moments!

"Paranoid" With Rob Halford—2004

The Aftermath

Ozzy's planned "retirement" didn't last long. He was back out on the road again only a few years after the Costa Mesa shows, and Black Sabbath kept on truckin' as well. Their paths frequently crossed with Ozzy's during the late 90s at the man's annual OzzFest attractions. Sabbath also managed to mend fences with the estranged Ronnie James Dio, releasing 2009's The Devil You Know album with him (under the moniker "Heaven & Hell") before Ronnie's tragic death in 2010. A full fledged Ozzy/Sabbath reunion resulted in the 13 album, released in 2013, and a farewell tour.

Rob Halford spent the rest of the '90s dabbling in street-level groove metal with his solo project Fight and electronic rock with the band "Two." He returned to Priest style traditional metal with his Halford solo band before he rejoined Judas Priest in 2004.

Amazingly, Halford's association with Black Sabbath wasn't quite over yet. Judas Priest was taking part in the 2004 OzzFest tour, headlined by an Ozzy-fronted Black Sabbath, when Ozzy came down with a bout of bronchitis at the Camden, New Jersey date. Rob was asked to step in for Sabbath once again, and even though he had already performed a full set with Judas Priest that day, he was still able to belt out an additional set of classics with Sabbath that night! "Iron Man" indeed!

© 2019 Keith Abt

Comments

Kaili Bisson from Canada on May 27, 2019:

Maybe '04 was a planned bout of bronchitis, since Halford was already there ;-) The shows in Costa Mesa must have been pretty amazing. I'll need to look out for that CD.

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