After Ozzy Osbourne released the hit album No More Tears in 1991, a project which spawned favourites such as the title track and ‘Mama, I’m Coming Home’, he surprised fans when he abruptly declared his intention to retire from music. He said that the album’s run of shows, the ‘No Mour Tours’ tour, would be his last.
Accordingly, it was announced that the ‘No More Tours’ run would conclude with a duo of shows at Costa Mesa’s Pacific Amphitheatre. To add more weight to his “final” performances, Osbourne invited his old band, Black Sabbath, to open for him, with a view to him joining them at the end of the night to perform a handful of classics. This was to be the first he had played with Sabbath since Live Aid in 1985.
At the time, Sabbath were promoting their new album, Dehumanizer, their first in over a decade to feature frontman Ronnie James Dio and the first in nine with founding bassist Geezer Butler. Unsurprisingly, Dio was not keen on the idea of the band briefly regrouping with Ozzy. Per guitarist Tony Iommi’s memoir Iron Man, Dio said: “I’m not doing that. I’m not supporting a clown”.
Dio then left the band, sensing from the situation that a full reunion of the original Black Sabbath line-up was on the horizon. “That obviously meant the end of our particular project,” Dio explained in a statement.
Interestingly, in a review of the second farewell show, the LA Times claimed that “Ozzy’s camp never explicitly said that this would be the singer’s final tour — just that it was his last under his solo billing. In other words, he’ll be back in the context of a new band. And they never said that there’d definitely be a Sabbath reunion, but they certainly encouraged fans to expect that”. Dio was right, too. In 1997, the original Black Sabbath were back together.
As Dio departed, Black Sabbath needed a frontman for the shows. Luckily for them, fellow Brummie and heavy metal legend Rob Halford had just left Judas Priest, so he was on hand to step in. “Sabbath had Ronnie in at the time,” Halford told Metal Hammer in 2022. “Sharon (Osbourne) wanted to bring Ozzy on stage with Sabbath at the Costa Mesa arena, which is like the O2 with the roof off, sits about 20,000 people. We’d just come off-stage at some other show and the phone rings and it’s Tony, he asks if I can help – ‘Sharon wants Ozzy to come in and do some work with us in a few days time and Ronnie isn’t very pleased. He doesn’t want to do it, so we talked with him and he’s asked if you wouldn’t mind stepping in and helping us out?’. ‘Well… yeah’. Brummies, you know – whatever you need. He sent me the setlist, and I got all my albums out and started listening to them, not that I had to listen to them anyway because it’s always in my head.”
As a longtime fan of Sabbath, Halford also took the opportunity to influence the band into playing fan favourites, including ‘N.I.B.’. Halford explained: “He calls me back a couple days later and I’m like, ‘Tony, would you consider doing a couple of songs you might not have done for a while?’ and he’s up for it”.
Halford concluded: “So we got to do stuff like ‘N.I.B.’ and closed with ‘(After) Forever’, because there were a few tracks that hadn’t seen the light of day in a good while. On the way to California, I rented a little studio for us in Phoenix, came in, and everybody was already set up. We ran through the set once, and then it was off to California. I’d gone to do one show, but it ended up being two. Not that I minded – we’re mates, and mates help each other out.”
Elsewhere, when speaking to SiriusXM’s Mark Strigl in March 2023, Halford revealed that the reason for playing two shows with Sabbath was that Ozzy actually had a problem with his throat the first night, so he couldn’t perform.
After recalling being contacted by Sabbath when Dio refused the shows, he said: “This is just what we do for each other in bands. Ozzy wasn’t feeling too well with his throat, and I get a phone call from Sharon… And the same deal. ‘He’s got this bronchitis thing. Can you step in for the show? ‘Yeah, sure. Which one?’ ‘Tonight.’ I’m, like, ‘Tonight?’ ‘Yeah. Can you do the show tonight?’ So I did. I did the Priest set, had a shower, got changed, ran out and did the Ozzy thing with Sabbath. So that’s happened two or three times.”
“Priest and Sabbath go back forever,” Halford added. “And so we still have this beautiful friendship and relationship that’s endured within and without the music. Priest and Sabbath, we started it all.” Reflecting how important Halford helping them out was, Tony Iommi told Revolver in 2005: “At first we were worried, because people expect Ozzy, but if Rob hadn’t helped us out, there wouldn’t have been a show at all.”
If Halford hadn’t stepped in and facilitated Ozzy Osbourne joining his old bandmates, the 1997 reunion might not have happened when it did, or at all. Watch Rob Halford performing with Black Sabbath below.