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Bill Ward Band Concert Review – April 17, 1997

Posted on Apr.17, 1997 under Bill Ward

This review originally appeared in Issue #535 of the Black Sabbath Mailing List on April 17, 1997.

Date: Thu, 17 Apr 1997 2:00:00 -0500
From: Charles Begian-SC2163 (
Subject: Bill Ward LIVE in Phoenix

Sometimes, things happen for a reason.

I missed my Tampa to Phoenix flight on Sunday, so I had to take the Monday afternoon flight. Because of that, I was driving back from Phoenix airport a bit after 8PM on Monday night, when “Sweet Leaf” came on the radio. Pleasantly suprised that the Phoenix rock station, KUPD-FM, was playing something other than “Iron Man” or “Paranoid”, I turned up the radio. When the song finished, the DJ came on and said something about “getting you in the mood for Ozzfest… oh, and by the way, Bill Ward is playing tonight in Phoenix at the Mason Jar…” BILL WARD!! I almost drove off the road! Hurried to my apartment and dropped off the luggage. A quick check of the Yellow Pages gave me an address for the Mason Jar Nite Club. Armed with that and a Phoenix map, I hit the road. Some 27 miles later, I arrived at the Mason Jar. The rest of this post is my report to you, esteemed Mailing List Readers, of what I saw and heard.

The Mason Jar Nite Club turned out to be a small bar on the north side of Phoenix. The sign outside listed the names of two local bands, plus the “Bill Ward Band”. Arriving at 9:15PM, I got a seat at the second row of tables, about 10 feet from the mike stand (if you’ve never seen a performance in a small club, I highly recommend it – you get to see the band up close without getting crushed against a stage barrier – and you’ve always got someplace to rest your beer – but, I digress…). There were about 40 people in the place, with more coming in. Being that this place serves alcohol, there weren’t any under-21 fans there. I would place the average age at about 28. Suprisingly, some of the people I talked to didn’t know who Bill Ward is – they thought the “Bill Ward Band” was just another local band. They would soon be enlightened.

The first opening band took the stage late, and played too long. Believe they were called “Pure Grain” or something like that. The second band was better, but I didn’t catch their name. Bill Ward Band was due to start at 11:15, but due to the opening act being late, it was 11:45 before they would take the stage. By then, the crowd had grown to about 60-70 people (which pretty much filled the place).

While their equipment was being set up, it became obvious that there was going to be a *lot* of talent on that stage. I counted ten(!) different guitars, two drum kits (the larger one was in the center, at the back of the stage, with a smaller one on the right side of the stage) and A MANDOLIN! The PA system was playing various tracks from Master of Reality, in (what seemed to me like) random order. A chair was set up at center stage. The house lights dimmed. The crowd began to make that great noise which can only be described as a mixture of raw energy and anticipation. There is movement at side stage, and then…

Instead of Bill, out walks a young musician in a white tuxedo. He is carrying a cello(!). Calmly, he sits in the chair at center stage, and as the stage lights begin to glow, he begins to play. At first, he played a few bars of something that I (not knowing much about cello music) didn’t recognize. The crowd grew silent for a moment, puzzled by what was happening, but listening with anticipation for something they could connect with. They didn’t have long to wait. The cello player began playing the opening riff to “Iron Man”. The crowd went wild! He played it slowly at first, progressively becoming more aggressive. It was the perfect way to set the tone for the evening – the music that followed wouldn’t necessarily be like Sabbath, but it would be played by musicians that were true professionals, and with proper respect paid to Bill’s Sabbath roots. The cellist finished playing, and left the stage with much well-deserved applause. More on him later.

The Bill Ward Band then took the stage. The band lineup was a bit different than what Joe has listed on his site for “When the Bough Breaks”. I can confirm that Ronnie Ciago was on the main drum kit, and I believe Keith Lynch was on lead guitar, but Bill also had a second guitarist (who later played that mandolin) and a bass player (Paul Ill?). Bill introduced the band at the end of the show, but the crowd was making so much noise that I only heard Ciago’s name for sure.

Bill took the mike, and the band opened with (Mobile) Shooting Gallery. Bill never stops moving during this song, right side, left side, center stage – all the while, his eyes are darting back and forth across the crowd. He seems a bit nervous during the first song, but this quickly passes. As the show progresses, he steadily builds steam – audience applause seems to give him energy.

The next song is something from the new album “When the Bough Breaks” (due out in the US April 29). I notice that the band is tight. Bill goes over to the small drum kit, and begins “beating the skins”. He is about 15 feet from me now, but I can clearly see that something more than drumming is taking place. Bill gets a fierce look in his eyes, something like a growling dog that is ready to pounce. He is in his element. For those of you that might be wondering if Bill can still drum – I’ve seen it! He can still play – and with a vengance.

The Bill Ward Band’s set lasts about an hour, followed by two encores, for a total of about 1:15. Most of the set is from the new album, notably a great version of “Children Killing Children”. He also did an *acoustic* version of “Bombers Can Open Bomb Bays” from the “Ward One” album (I was hoping they would do “Tall Stories” from that album, but no such luck… maybe they’ll add it to the setlist this summer).

Some notes on the performance:

As I said, the band is tight. All of them did a good job (Ciago especially) but I would have liked to hear a solo or two from the others.

Physically, Bill does not look like an athlete. He is approaching 50, and it shows. However, he had no trouble completing the show. He had some water between a couple of songs, but that was it. He never left the stage, and never stopped performing at any point (he was always doing *something*, either singing or playing drums). I was paying special attention to this, as we all know the problems he has had to overcome in the personal life. He sang all the songs for the entire show, and never sounded hoarse, or out of breath. He did sweat a bit though (but no more than a certain ex-bandmate who is at a similar age and in similar physical condition :).

Between songs, a fan yells out: “Black Sabbath!” Bill looks up, and smiling, responds: “God bless you!”.

The band played two encores. The first was “It’s Alright”. Bill introduced it by saying, “This next song I did with the Sabs, well (pause) a long time ago”. The second encore was from the new material, but I didn’t catch the name of it.

At the end of the show, Bill thanked the crowd, explaining that the band was just “taking its baby steps”, and seemed to be pleased that they had gone over so well with the audience.

After the show, the band went back into a dressing room. The cellist was standing by the door, still in his tux. I chatted with him for a moment, complimenting him on his performance. Found out that his name is Chris Lancaster (“I’ll give you my card so you won’t misspell my name”). Chris was very personable, as was everyone associated with the show, from the band to the guys from Mungus Shine Entertainment. Hope that Chris goes out on the regular tour – he’s well worth seeing.

At this point, the Mungus Shine guys come by and say that Bill will be out to sign autographs in a few minutes, and that the line was forming outside (the club owners were trying to get people cleared out, it was almost 1:30AM). My sincere thanks to the Mungus Shine crew. At all times, they treated the fans with respect and courtesy. They seemed to be genuinely interested in making Bill accessible to us, and promoting the band without raping our wallets (the posters were $4, and they gave away some pictures of the band for free. I also saw at least one person with a CD-single from the soon-to-be re-released “Ward One”).

There were approximately 20 people waiting outside when Bill came out. He sat in the back of car, sitting on the back of a lowered tailgate. He had a towel on his head, and a jacket draped over his shoulders. With his long hair, he looked something like an old prophet, sitting with his legs crossed, addressing the faithful. He signed all kinds of things for people – one guy had 3 Sabbath LPs signed – another had his girlfriend take his picture sitting next to Bill. Everyone was trying to talk to him at once, asking all sorts of questions. Someone asked where they were playing next. He said that they were going back to L.A. (which would have been on Tuesday) and then back in the studio. There will be a tour, but no details are firm yet. He was signing the cover of the album “Black Sabbath”, when I asked where the picture was taken. Was it his farm? He said that no, it was not his farm, and he really wasn’t sure where they took the picture. Finally, my turn came for an autograph. What
do you say to a Sab? While he signed my poster, I said something about him going through a lot of hard times, and thanked him for not giving up. He smiled, and said, “no, we never give up. Rock ‘n roll, y’know”. I wanted to talk to him more, but there were other people waiting, so we shook hands, and he said “Pleasure meeting you, Chuck”. I was struck by Bill’s politeness towards people, and his total lack of pomposity or “rock star ego”. Soft-spoken and good-natured, he projected an aura of calm – a man who after a long and arduous personal journey, is finally at peace with himself. He didn’t need to impress anybody that night – he’d been there and done all that before. Rather, he was a musician, sitting on a tailgate in a parking lot in Phoenix, making and playing music because that’s what he loves to do.

This summer will find many of us at one of the Ozzfests, paying steep prices to hear 30 minutes of what Sharon Osbourne tells us we want, while wondering “Where’s Bill?”. I’ll tell you where Bill will be. He’ll be playing to a smaller crowd somewhere, in a smaller venue for a smaller price…

Somewhere, Bill will be giving it all, and asking for no return.

-Chuck Begian

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