Those most familiar with Ozzy Osbourne as the befuddled tattooed rock star dad in MTV's now iconic family reality series The Osbournes would enjoy a three decade time travel trip back to the days when he was a founding member of Black Sabbath,a band that for many, defines the soul of heavy metal music. Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and Osbourne took the late 60s blues-rock sound of artists like Cream and Vanilla Fudge, slowed the tempo, let the bass throb and emphasized screaming guitar solos, macabre lyrics and tortured voices to create this innovative sound. In the late 60s, the teens called their original jazz blues band Polka Tulk, then Earth, and they played throughout Europe before changing their name to Black Sabbath,based on a song of that name inspired by a novel by British occult writer Dennis Wheatley. Recording classic albums such as their self-titled debut and Paranoid (both 1970), the line-up remained unchanged until 1973 when Rick Wakeman, the keyboard player for Yes, was enlisted to play on Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath in 1974.
By 1977 personnel difficulties within the band were beginning to take their toll, and the music was losing some of its earlier orchestral, bombastic sheen, prompting Osbourne to depart for a solo career in January 1979. He was replaced by ex-Savoy Brown member Dave Walker, until Ronnie James Dio accepted the job. Dio had been a central figure in the early 70s band Elf, and spent three years with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. However, Dio's tenure with the band was short, and he left in 1982 following a disagreement over the mixing of Live Evil. The replacement vocalist was Ian Gillan.
By 1986, Iommi was the only original member of the band, which now consisted of Geoff Nichols, who had been the group's keyboard player since 1980 while still a member of Quartz, vocalist Glenn Hughes bassist Dave Spitz and drummer Eric Singer. Singer had been a member of the Lita Ford band, and Hughes worked previously with Trapeze and Deep Purple. In 1986 the unexpectedly bluesy-sounding Seventh Star was released, but in the first of a succession of personnel changes, Hughes left the band to be replaced by Ray Gillen, an American singer who never recorded with them. Tony Martin was the vocalist on 1987's powerful The Eternal Idol and 1988's Headless Cross.
Osbourne's attempts to re-form the original line-up for a 1992 tour faltered when the others demanded equal shares of the spoils. In 1994 a tribute album, Nativity In Black, was released, which featured appearances from all four original members in various guises, plus Megadeth, White Zombie and other modern metal bands. Spurred by the new interest in the group, the Powell, Iommi and Nichols line-up, with Tony Martin returning as singer and Neil Murray on bass, completed Forbidden in 1995. In December 1997 the original line-up of Butler, Iommi, Ward and Osbourne re-formed to play two live shows at the Birmingham NEC. The group's double album of live recordings, featuring two new studio tracks, broke into the Billboard Top 20 in November 1998. Osbourne had cemented his high pop culture profile long before The Osbournes by creating the popular heavy metal road tour Ozz-Fest with his wife/manager, the former Sharon Arden, daughter of British rock impresario, Don Arden.