Experience Black Sabbath as You Never Have Before

December 1, 2017 at 9:58 am

Nolan Stolz

Dr. Nolan Stolz has turned a nearly lifelong enjoyment of the music of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath into fodder for a book that was released Nov. 8.

Stolz, an assistant professor of music and coordinator of commercial music at the University of South Carolina Upstate, has penned “Experiencing Black Sabbath: A Listener’s Companion.” There will be a presentation and book signing featuring Stolz from 6-7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Hub City Bookstore.

The book was not written exclusively for scholarly readers, Stolz said.

“I avoid jargon so that it’s readable by the general public, but there’s enough of a musician’s perspective to give greater depth and understanding of the music at hand,” he said.

Considered to be one of the leading pioneers of the heavy metal genre, the members of Birmingham, England’s Black Sabbath began playing under that name in 1969. The band underwent many lineup changes in the intervening years, but continued to deliver its signature thunderous sound until this year, when the members officially disbanded.

Stolz said he’s been a fan of the band since he was 13, and learned of it through an unusual source – an MTV cartoon series.

“I was a jazz drummer and I was interested in rock music,” Stolz recounted. “I was watching ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ and they were chanting the riff of some song. I wondered what it was and I found out it was ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath. Then there was another one, and it was ‘Electric Funeral’ by Black Sabbath and I said ‘oh, I better check out Black Sabbath,’ so then I went and bought that album. I was shocked to hear how much jazz influence there was in the drummer’s playing. I didn’t know what to expect, and I hear all this jazz drumming, and that was something that I really related to.”

The book, which would come much later, was three years in the writing and is part of the Listener’s-Companion series produced by publisher Rowman & Littlefield. During his research and writing, Stolz was able to interview several Black Sabbath members, including drummers Malcom Cope and Bobby Rondinelli, bassist Laurence Cottle, keyboard player Jezz Woodroffe, lead singer Tony Martin, and early manager and influencer Jim Simpson. He also visited the band’s hometown of Birmingham.

Even with such resources, Stolz said, it was often difficult to ferret out the facts about the band’s history.

“Once the book idea came about, then I really had to do an intensive study of their entire catalogue, from their demos and the first album all the way to their most-recent album. Really, every song they ever did in the studio for a release is covered in the book,” he said. “There’s also a lot of research involved, sometimes just to figure out an actual timeline. There’s a lot of miss-told stories and incorrect dates and facts that are out there. Sometimes I would spend three hours on just one sentence, because I could not quite verify what I needed to. There was a ton of work involved in that respect.”