1971 It’s the first week of September and I stumbled half asleep into the Journalism classroom. As my fellow seniors made way to their desks, I mumbled ‘hellos’ to some and sat down, not looking forward to the day’s assignments.
I settled in I saw Gracie Flores looking at me with a big Cheshire Cat grin. I immediately wondered what does she want? Do I have to draw another mascot logo for the school paper? Not this time; instead she cooly asks, “Hey, did you hear who’s coming to the Coliseum?”
That got my attention. “No”, I sheepishly replied, sounding really out of the loop. I’m usually the one with the latest concert info. Not skipping a beat, she says,”Black Sabbath”.
Now I’m truly awake and my eyes got as big as saucers. “No way”, I uttered to her. “Are you kidding?” “Nope”, Gracie utters, “It’s next month!”
My mind went into overdrive. I gotta get my ticket. The closest place that sells them is the record shop at Kern Plaza on Mesa. “This show is gonna sell out”, kept racing in my mind. I told my buddy Willie, “Lets go buy tickets”, but he was more composed about it all. “It wont sell out”, he said. “Huh?”
His response was perplexing to me because, quite frankly, everything else ceased to matter.
After school I high-tailed it to Kern Plaza, bought my ticket and looking at it in my hand, I felt like I had robbed a bank. I was such a big fan of Sabbath’s three albums and the latest, Master of Reality, was getting a lot of rotation on my turntable.
My mom half-heartedly complained that the vocals sounded Chinese, but she never told me to turn it down.
Willie and two other friends joined me the day of the concert. We all agreed that to get real close to the stage we’d have to get there early, so we arrived around 4pm. I had brought my Kodak Instamatic camera and planned on getting some shots from the edge of the stage.
Photography at rock shows was rare back then. I’d see one other person with a camera at times, but no more than that. I started acquiring a small photo collection of bands the likes of Grand Funk, The Rascals, Sly and the Family Stone and Three Dog Night.
The prints turned out “ok”, considering the type of camera and film used.
There we were, sitting on the cement next to the main entrance. I had my back to the door and was facing the parking lot. The others sat close by in a small semi-circle. Then two more guys showed up. It’s no surprise that we each brought a pack of sunflower seeds to munch on, the proverbial school snack. We left trails of shells wherever we went. In this case, small piles grew alongside the four of us.
After about an hour, I notice a black limosine drive up about a hundred feet away, stopping perpendicular to the parking stalls next to the fence. I thought it was odd, and had no clue as to what this was about, until the limo doors opened.
One by one, out stepped four guys in black leather jackets and pants, with hair down past their shoulders. “DAMN!”, my mind exploded. Its Black Sabbath! I froze and stared at the group heading our way, with a giant sized rotund, moustached man carrying a briefcase.
He was the first one to the door and started banging on it loudly with a bear-paw sized hand, waiting for someone to unlock the bolt. He looked down at us with a semi-annoyed expression.
Standing in line behind him were Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and John. Ozzy and his mates also scanned the faces of the few fans looking back up at him. Ozzy piped up, “What are you all doing here?” I answered,”Waiting for the show”.
His expression was one of mild surprise that anyone would be here so early (I learned years later about bands making sound checks hours before the show.)
In intervals, the mountain man keeps banging harder and longer on the door. The small talk turn takes a turn. Ozzy looks over at the sunflower seeds I’m eating, points and says,”You eat those?”
Taken aback, I manage to say, “Yes…we all do”. A small grin comes across his face and he says, “Can I have some?” I said, “Sure”, I shake a few out onto his extended hand while his bandmates look on curiously.
With a puzzled look on his face, Tony carefully picks one seed from Ozzy’s hand. For second, Tony looks at it like its a botanical discovery no one had ever seen before. He slowly brings it up and places it gingerly in his mouth but never said a word.
Just like that the door opened, Ozzy turned and said, “See you all later!”, and they all rushed inside like they were late to a staff meeting. The door closed with a thud, leaving the four of us and the two other guys looking at one another like, did that just happen?
I’m sitting there with a giant-sized WOW expression on my face and I see Willie pointing at something next to me, but not saying a word. I nod at him asking, “What?”, and he keeps pointing.
I finally glance down and groan out loud. My Kodak Instamatic camera sat next to me, completely forgotten during what was in retrospect, a genuine Hollywood moment. I wince, shaking my head in disbelief.
I look back at Will and he’s shaking his head as well.
The hours went by and once inside, we made our way to the front of the stage. As I looked back from our vantage point a huge crowd grew inside the Coliseum.
The band began with NIB from the self-titled LP and the heavy guitar chords tore into the darkened venue with a lone spotlight highlighting Ozzy. The second track on the set was War Pigs, followed by more from the Master of Reality LP: Sweet Leaf and Children of the Grave.
After a guitar solo by Iommi, the band returned with Iron Man and closed the set with Paranoid, which brought the main floor’s audience to it feet. The encore was a great surprise to me from the Paranoid LP: Fairies Wear Boots, which rocked loud and heavy for a full six minutes.
At the end of the concert and with electricity still in the air, my friends and I exited the Coliseum with a ringing in our ears that lasted over a week. It was a memorable show highlighted with an unexpected meeting of Birmingham’s heavy metal boys.
Nowadays, whenever I see a pack of sunflowers seeds I always think of Ozzy and his parrot.
José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor