Joe Siegler (Black Sabbath Online)

Joe Siegler and Geezer Butler

At eighteen years young, Black Sabbath Online is one of the best known and most well-established fan sites on the web. But to say that it’s a rich source of information on all matters Sabbath, would, if anything, be an understatement. You want to know dates, venues and support bands from any particular Sabbath tour? Interested in album catalogue numbers? Trying to get your head around all the comings and goings of the sometimes bizarre line-up changes in the 1980s? Want up-to-date information on what’s happening now? Want to be part of a thriving online forum? You’ll find all of that here, and more.

The man behind the site is Joe Siegler, and his work is held in such high esteem by the band themselves, that although Black Sabbath Online is not an official band site, several past and present members of Black Sabbath have asked him to make sites for them too!

As readers of Words and Music will know, my own experiences of Black Sabbath’s music feature prominently there, both in the gig chapter (‘This One Sacred Hour’, you can read an extract here) and in the chapter called ‘God and the Devil’. It was a pleasure and a privilege, then, to be able to catch up with Joe and find out a bit more about his own experiences of running such a popular website and being a Black Sabbath fan.

Henry - Sabbath flying devil

So Joe, how did you get involved with Black Sabbath Online?
Well, it’s something I just ‘started’, the term “get involved” doesn’t really apply. Anyway, back in 1995, we were in the wild west of the World Wide Web, as at that point it was only a year or so old. Granted the web back then was little more than single pages with the occasional picture. It wasn’t the multimedia extravaganza that the web is in 2013. Back then everyone and their mother didn’t have a website. I was getting into website stuff for my former company (in fact, the original incarnation of my site had no domain name, it was just a few pages on my former company’s website as a hidden page. Heh.)

Anyway, I took a look around, and there wasn’t much of anything out there for Black Sabbath.  What was there was pretty banal, and I thought, “Well, I can do better than this”, so I got started on my site.  Even so, it was pretty basic, though I still had more info out there than anyone else at the time, so I just went for it.

In short order, I needed a domain name, and I looked around.  Blacksabbath.com was taken (although then it was just owned by another fan – who wasn’t using it).  When he wouldn’t respond to my queries, I looked around, and took inspiration from one of the only two bands I knew of then that had any internet presence, which were Megadeth and Deep Purple.  Then, Deep Purple ran with a URL of deep-purple.com – and I thought if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.  So black-sabbath.com was born as a domain name.  I’ve held it ever since, despite blacksabbath.com changing hands a few times since those early days.

I wrote about some of the history of my site when I launched the current incarnation in early 2012.  You can read about that here:  http://www.black-sabbath.com/2012/01/welcome-to-the-new-site/

What sort of things do you do, and how much of a time commitment is it?
That really varies. The year of 2011 was taken up mostly with a total overhaul of the site. Mostly it’s spent on maintenance. With the new album out, obviously more is happening. The big advantage here is this is a FAN site, and since I created it, I can 100% dictate what goes on it, and when it happens. Obviously some events (concerts, album releases) are more time based, but ultimately I work on it when the mood strikes and I have time.

Lately I’ve taken to updating with small little things on Twitter a lot.  I’ve built up a nice following on my site’s Twitter feed where I talk to other fans about any number of things Sabbath related.   They’re also a good source to ask questions of too.

Time is a big deal for this, because in the last eight years I’ve been a parent, where as I wasn’t before, and of course that makes for a big change in patterns and behaviours. I squeeze in work where I can, and keep the essentials moving forward, but I don’t have the time I used to have in my “no kids” area. Ultimately though, family will always come first, and the site can go rot if family concerns need to be dealt with.

Black Sabbath Mob Rules album coverWhy Sabbath? Is it possible to say what their music means to you?
Well, I got into them when the Mob Rules album was the then ‘new’ album. Back then it was about the guitar sound of Tony, and the voice of Dio, who was my original introduction to the band. Over the years, I’ve continued to enjoy them, and to be honest, my “onramp” as such was right before the band started on its, well, fiasco of line-up changes through the 8os. Through that all was Tony, so he for me is more Sabbath than anything else. 

What does the music “mean”?  That’s kind of a philosophic question. Ultimately it doesn’t. I enjoy it. I stomp my feet, and I enjoy it, but it is just music. There are more important things in life than music. That’s probably an odd stance from a guy who runs a successful fan website, but in the end, I see music as something disposable. ENJOYABLE of course, but it doesn’t “mean” anything beyond the immediate joy of listening to it.

Ever meet the band?
Yes, several times face-to-face, but a lot more via email and phone calls. I’ve written about the face-to-face meetings on my website in the past, but here are a few tidbits. First time was in 2005 backstage on an Ozzfest date. The first time I met Tony Iommi, I saw him about 2 minutes or so before he was close enough where I could talk to him. In those two minutes, my entire time as a fan flashed before my eyes, and all the things I thought about saying to him if I met him went out of my head, and I was left with “WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO SAY?”   Ha, ha.  In the end, we exchanged some pleasantries, and it went well enough. I got an email back from one of his assistants a week or so later saying he wanted to apologise to me for not having more time to compliment me on my website, which was a heck of an ego stroke.

My favourite story comes from a backstage stint at a Heaven and Hell show in 2007.  I was with Tony and Geezer in Geezer’s room (when Geez invites you into his room to raid his cooler for beer, you take that invite). Anyway, we were talking, and I mentioned something on my website I did earlier in the year – it was an April fool’s joke where I said that Ronnie had quit the Heaven and Hell tour, and been replaced by Ian Gillan – and that they had renamed themselves  “Born Again”. We had a laugh about that, and mentioned the next year and if they were doing anything with Ozzy. Tony said “Well, you haven’t heard what’s happening next year”. I forget the exact words, but it was something about reunion with Ozzy and a new album and all that (this would have been 2008). I apparently fell for it, and went “REALLY?” with an appropriate open mouth look. Tony and Geezer just looked at each other and both of them pointed at me and started laughing, with Geezer saying, “Look at his face”.  When the guys are playing practical jokes on you, you know you’re accepted. That was a great moment for me.

Heaven and Hell 25-41NOTE: The April fool’s Joke post is still online here:  http://www.black-sabbath.com/2007/04/dio_out_ian_gillan_back_in/

They say it’s often a mistake to meet your heroes. Presumably your experience with Sabbath has been different?
Well, yeah.  That all started back in 1997 when Cozy Powell rang me up on the phone at my day job, and asked me about doing a website for him. Outside of my own fan site, he was the first. That blew me away because honestly, at that point, I hadn’t built up much of anything (my Sabbath site was just two years old then). But I guess he saw something in what I was doing. Sadly, Cozy died before we got much of anywhere with his site, but I’ll never forget that moment.   

With all of them, a trick I found when we get to talk is to say something along these lines: “Look, for a lot of my life, I’ve been a fan.  Can we talk about {insert fan stuff} so we can get that out of the way?” That trick seems to have worked. I also know David Gerrold, the author, and when I first touched base with him, I said the same thing … “Can we talk about Tribbles for a minute?  Otherwise they’ll be in the back of my mind”. Maybe it was the presentation, or the tone or whatever, but that trick of ‘getting that kind of fannish crap’ out of the way early on so we can have a relationship (either personal or professional) has gotten the job done. But you have to have a hook. Gerrold has talked to numerous people about Tribbles over the years, and Iommi has talked to people about his music a shit load of times over the years.  So it’s not just my trick, I suppose.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I don’t think there is a stock answer. What works for me may not work for you, because I don’t know how you are with people, what your body language, tone of voice is like. I guess one thing to suggest would be to assume that anything you can think of they’ve probably heard before. Don’t think you’re the first person to think of something. I wouldn’t spend a ton of time thinking of the most obscure question to ask, either. Just be honest and forthright with what you’re saying.

Black Sabbath Born Again album coverYour first Sabbath gig?
November 5, 1983 at the now demolished Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA. When I first got into Sabbath, they had just been through Philly on the Mob Rules tour, so I had to wait for the Born Again tour. Quiet Riot opened for them. That was when Quiet Riot were literally EXPLODING with their Metal Health album.  

An interesting fact about that Sabbath gig. You remember that show in Cincinnati back in the late 70s by The Who where some kids got trampled to death? Well, that was due to what was then called “open seating” or “festival seating” (meaning no seats on the floor). After that show by The Who, that kind of concert was stopped everywhere in the United States – UNTIL that Black Sabbath concert I went to in Philly. Much was made on local radio about that, and I got there hours before doors opened. I was there early enough to get all the way down the front, and I can see why people were hurt before. It was about an hour and a half until Quiet Riot went on, and I was already being crushed by people pushing forward. I eventually bailed out of there before Quiet Riot came on, and hung out about halfway back on the floor, and enjoyed it a lot more. That was my first gig.

Your best Sabbath gig?
Black Sabbath Cross Purposes album coverI’d say probably the Cross Purposes shows in 1994. The reason is twofold. First, I think they had the most inclusive set of the entire run of the band’s history that tour. Ozzy only does Ozzy era songs.  Dio just did Dio and Ozzy era songs.  Tony Martin did ’em all (although they didn’t play anything from Born Again, he did sing some stuff from Seventh Star on a tour once).  Second, they had some stones and tried to drop ‘Iron Man’ from the set list. Ultimately they failed, and it came back, but I gave ‘em props for trying to move past that.

There’s other moments I liked.  The time I was on the actual stage in Ozzfest 2005 when the band were taking their bows, and the time in 2008 when Ronnie Dio remembered my name from having met me once previously a year ago. Was blown away by that. 

Your top five Sabbath albums?
Ooh, that’s tough. My opinion changes over time on that issue. The other problem with a question like that is that when you list the five, some fan who looks at what I’ve said will go “Well, what the fuck about such and such an album – you’re an idiot”.  Questions like that are polarizing because people translate your answer into “Just these five are good, and the others aren’t,” which is obviously not the case.  Doesn’t mean I like just five Black Sabbath albums. I like ‘em all. Even the lesser Sabbath albums (none are truly bad) have gems on them.  

Having said all that, here’s five – and why.  AND in no particular order …

Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell album coverHeaven and Hell – a brilliant masterpiece of an album that literally brought the band back from the dead.  Honestly, if Ozzy was still vocalist on this album’s final version as he was when it started, does anyone think they’d still be together now? Doubt it.

Cross Purposes – I’m partial to the Tony Martin era, and this one had Martin, as well as Butler & Iommi on it. Didn’t realize until sometime later how much stronger this album was with Geezer Butler on it. That’s no slight on the other bassists in the fold (and I’m friends with Neil Murray), but Geezer fucking made this album, in my opinion.

Black Sabbath The Eternal Idol album coverThe Eternal Idol – given the absolute clusterfuck its birthing process was (two singers, two producers, two credited drummers, two recording studios, two credited bassists), it was one of the more solid albums put out under the Sabbath name in the 80s from front to back.

Born Again – for any number of reasons, this project was never going to last long, but the album produced had some of the best songs by any incarnation of Black Sabbath.  Really, REALLY loved this.

Black Sabbath album coverBlack Sabbath/Paranoid/Master of Reality – I know it’s a bit of a cheat, but to me, I view the first three Black Sabbath albums as a trilogy of sorts. After the first three, the sound started to change. But in this time, they were as fucking solid as any band could EVER hope to be. These three albums were the foundation not for a single band’s career, but an entire genre of music spanning decades and multiple bands. So yeah, you can’t talk about the best of Black Sabbath without talking about these albums.

Black Sabbath Never Say Die! album coverHonourable mentions to Mob Rules for being my first ever Sabbath album, and to Never Say Die!, which I really love for the musical experimentation. Have told Geezer on many an occasion I’d PAY to see them try ‘Air Dance’ live.

What do you make of the current reunion?
I’m excited for new music by them of course. I don’t think any Sabbath fan wouldn’t be. However, I also work for Bill Ward – and I think I’d prefer not to answer this question because of that. I know people are going to translate that into “Joe thinks it sucks”, but I’ve had conversations with Tony and his manager as well as Geezer and Gloria Butler, as well as Bill Ward and his people (not to mention his wife) about all this. It’s a weird dance I do, running the fan site, as well as the websites for Bill Ward and Geezer Butler. I’m bound to respect their opinions and stances they take – which is their right as I work for them – but all those parties agree with my stance of trying to not take a stance on that, because ultimately most questions about the reunion come back to the “Bill Ward thing” at some point.

So while I’m excited about the music, I, like most people, wish they could have worked it out with Bill Ward. That makes me sad.

Black Sabbath Paranoid album coverSome (not me, obviously) might say running a fan site is an unhealthy obsession. What would you say to that?
I’d say it depends on how you balance the rest of your life around it. If it’s the only thing you do, then yeah, it’s bad, but I see the rest of my life as far more important than the website. The website is fun. Heck, next month (July 2013) I’ll have been doing it for 18 years.  You don’t do something for 18 years if you don’t like it. But I know the proper place in my life it holds. The website doesn’t dominate my life – it’s the other way around.

Of everything you’ve done with Black Sabbath Online, of what are you most proud ?
Black Sabbath Master Of Reality album coverThat’s easy: my site’s timeline page. Nothing else I’ve ever done comes close. In a way, that started the site. Back in the days before I started the site, I used to keep a text file list of the band line-up changes. I hung around the music forums on CompuServe in the late 80s, and used to maintain the text file there. I’ve always cared about GETTING IT RIGHT. When I don’t, I want to know, and I’ll fix it. But the timeline page grew out of that original ancient text file. I’ve done a lot for the site over the years, but the timeline page is all written by me. It chronicles all the changes in line-ups there have been since the earliest days of the band, AND THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT. I’ve gotten a few compliments on it from band members.

One goal I still have is to be able to sit down with Tony Iommi and go over the bloody thing, as I really want it to be RIGHT. I’m fairly confident it is, but there are some obscure bits that could use some fleshing out (the time after Born Again before Seventh Star comes to mind).

Note: Check out Joe’s Sabbath Timeline here: http://www.black-sabbath.com/theband/timeline/

Are you involved with any other bands or offshoots or in music in any other way?
There is the Cozy Powell website which I mentioned above. When Cozy died, I kept it going as a memorial, and for the longest time it stayed the way it was when Cozy was alive. But after a time that 1997 design really needed to go. It stays online as a tribute of sorts, but with Cozy gone now for 15 years, it’s hard to keep that as a living site. There’s also the Geezer Butler and Bill Ward sites. I was also officially the web guy for the Heaven and Hell website (still am I suppose), but with Ronnie being dead, and that band being inactive, that’s stagnated.

I’ve consulted and helped out on a few other band things. For example, Tony Iommi’s manager and I have worked on a few small things – but I don’t “work” for him.  But that’s pretty much it for me. I’ve turned down a few non-music related website projects, as my life is pretty full as it is.

In your experience, is it ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ that attracts rock fans or is it more about the music?
As I like to tell people, my celibacy in high school was definitely involuntary. The other stuff?  That lifestyle was never me anyway. I cared about the tunes. I can’t address the rest of that from personal experience.

How do you view the role of fan clubs and fan sites in the current era? And do you think they have a future?
I’ve been around long enough where the term ‘fan club’ to me means the kind of thing that you mailed in your money for, you got printed newsletters, a membership type thing, and that’s pretty much it. I’m not sure what the term ‘fan club’ means in 2013 when everything is about Facebook, Twitter, and stuff like that. I used to, for the longest time, run an email newsletter for the band, which I called ‘Pilgrims of Sabbocracy’ – that was a lyric written by Tony Martin lifted from the Cross Purposes album. It was a semi-regular email newsletter that survived for a really long time on email communication, but in the end that was replaced by Twitter/Facebook and the like.

I guess the question is how you define ‘fan club’. Is what I do on my site and my forums and Facebook page considered a fan club? If you view it that way, then yes, there’s a thriving future for it in this age of always connected social media. But if you view it the way I do, then the concept of ‘fan club’ is already dead.

NOTE: A little history about my email newsletter is here:  http://www.black-sabbath.com/otherstuff/

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Black Sabbath’s 13 is #1 on the charts in the UK in its first week of release. Suck it Justin Bieber.

Mohammed Osama 13

Artwork courtesy of Mohammed Osama

Black Sabbath 13

CHEERS JOE!

Visit Black Sabbath Online: http://www.black-sabbath.com/

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4 Comments

  1. Great Interview. I think Joe’s site rivals most “Official” sites of classic rock artists as far as thoroughness and ease of locating information are concerned and definitely blows away most fan sites in those categories. Seriously if you had to do a report in school you’d luck out if you drew Black Sabbath instead of say, Led Zeppelin.
    I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon the site and it’s Born Again section I couldn’t believe someone liked that album as much as I did, enough to compile all that info, stuff even I didn’t know. got turned on to the Born Again Demos back when they were just floating around before their official release. But more importantly Joe’s never ending defense of the Tony Martin era prompted me to give those albums a chance.
    Thanks for the article.

    Reply
  2. Hey Michael, thanks for your comments. Yep, Joe’s site is without a doubt one of the very best. I found it very helpful when I was doing a bit of background research for ‘Words and Music’.

    (Should also add that Jeff Strawman is also doing a pretty good job these with his Zeppelin site ‘Achilles Last Stand’ – more on that here: https://wordsandmusicbook.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/jeff-strawman-achilles-last-stand/)

    I enjoyed reading Joe’s album picks. I’m also someone who thinks that ‘Born Again’ and ‘The Eternal Idol’ are underrated. I only saw Tony Martin live with Sabbath once, on the ‘Tyr’ tour – but enjoyed that gig and album too.

    Best wishes,

    Michael

    Reply
  3. joesiegler

     /  June 30, 2013

    Gah! I didn’t see them on the Tyr tour with Tony Martin, and that was the tour they played a bit from Seventh Star! Grumble…

    Reply
  4. bill ward fan

     /  April 20, 2014

    Hi Joe,I love Black sabbath online. Have you had any interaction with Bill ward lately? I was hoping he eventually brings out a new album and start selling merchandise on his website.

    Reply

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