Ozzy Osbourne turns 75: First Black Sabbath manager opens up about Brummie legend's early years

The first manager of the world-famous band - Black Sabbath - has opened up about Ozzy Osbourne's early years in Birmingham right before the rocker is set to turn 75. 

As Brummie legend Ozzy Osbourne prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday this weekend (December 3), Black Sabbath’s first manager Jim Simpson took a seat on the band’s famed heavy metal bench in Birmingham created by Westside Business Improvement District (BID) to reminisce about their time together 55 years ago. 

Across the road from the bench is the O Bar on the corner of Gas Street, which hosts Jim’s latest version of Henry’s Blueshouse - the same Tuesday night event that first put Ozzy on stage in 1968 at The Crown pub on Station Street. This is where blues band Earth turned into heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath - which now consists of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward.

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Jim still hosts live music on Westside’s Broad Street three nights a week as well as planning next July’s 40th anniversary of the Birmingham Jazz Festival, which he founded and directs.

Jim said: “The Ozzy I see now on film it’s hard to relate him to the Ozzy I knew well but then he probably feels the same way about me right now!”

Under Jim’s management, the legendary band released their debut eponymous album in February 1970 and followed it up with Paranoid six months later in September 1970. However, Jim lost control of the band when the single was No 2 and the album was No 1, but Black Sabbath’s former manager considers he managed Ozzy’s two finest moments.

For Jim, Ozzy’s best vocal performance still is the one in Paranoid. “I like the way he roars into Paranoid at 200mph,” said Jim. “And I think the greatest track that they recorded was the [opening] song Black Sabbath off the Black Sabbath album. That terrific introduction with that rainstorm, the thunder and the lightning and the band coming in. Really great. That’s my favourite track, but Paranoid for me runs a close second.”

Jim revisits Ozzy’s old home in Aston

Jim outside Ozzy's house (Photo - Graham Young)Jim outside Ozzy's house (Photo - Graham Young)
Jim outside Ozzy's house (Photo - Graham Young)
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Jim revisited Ozzy’s former two-bedroom home where he had three older sisters and two younger brothers, and he couldn’t believe the number of cars parked on the now one-way street compared with 1968. 

“This is where we first signed Ozzy’s contract – his mother [Lilian, 1916-2001] and toolmaker father [John Thomas ‘Jack’ Osbourne, 1915-77] had to sign it because he was under 18.

Jim added that eventually, they "all walked out on their contracts after a couple of years [which produced the Black Sabbath and Paranoid albums] but at least we had something to go to court with."

Jim said: “Being here brings back a lot of memories, but it somehow doesn’t quite feel the same as it did back in 1968. It was a two-way street back then and was always well kept. People think Aston was ‘rough’, but it wasn’t. It was a perfectly nice place to live and Ozzy’s parents worked hard. It wasn’t opulent, but it was a very nice and comfortable place to be, though there wasn’t any central heating – nobody had that in those days.”

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“It was carpeted and neat in the way that people used to keep their houses. Their home was a normal household, normal family nothing like the wild man of Ozzy we’ve heard about in subsequent years.

“His dad was very interested in how we were going to make Ozzy famous! They were very civilised, if rather bewildered by it all. And confused as to why their John was going to be a rock and roll star as we all believed. But they got used to it, I think.

“I don’t think Ozzy’s bedroom would have posters but I was never invited to see it. I don’t think I ever even used their toilet. We just sat in the sitting room and drank tea with his mother.”

What was Ozzy like in the early years?

1968 - First picture of Black Sabbath by Jim Simpso1968 - First picture of Black Sabbath by Jim Simpso
1968 - First picture of Black Sabbath by Jim Simpso

Jim said: “Ozzy was a simple, straightforward guy and by simple, I don’t mean stupid. I mean uncomplicated. He was fun to be with and always questioned me about the old blues guys.

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“Ozzy was never very confident in what he could do. All the other guys could play an instrument and pick it up and make a noise. He wasn’t a trained singer, he just decided to be a singer and he was never quite convinced he could get away with it.

“So he used to come round to my house and listen to these old blues records with singers like Jimmy Rushing [1901-72, vocal range – baritone to tenor] and Jimmy Witherspoon [1920-97– known as a ‘blues shouter’] and he got interested in their backgrounds.

“Ozzy was always thirsting for information, he was a very open and trusting kid… asking questions all the time about the origins of music. He liked learning and he’s a very good learner.

What was Jim and Ozzy’s bond like?

Jim hugs Ozzy on Black Sabbath bench (Photo - Graham Young)Jim hugs Ozzy on Black Sabbath bench (Photo - Graham Young)
Jim hugs Ozzy on Black Sabbath bench (Photo - Graham Young)

Jim said: “The last time I saw him, he gave me a hug and said: ‘We would never be here without you, Jim’. In his book, Ozzy says I was the most honest man he’d met in the music business.”

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“Ozzy is a very loyal man. The last time I saw him [when he became the first recipient of a Westside BID’s Walk of Stars Award in 2007], I was having tea with him and his two aunties and that was an experience in itself.”

However, he misses the old Ozz. Jim said: “I’d like to see him tonight over a calm glass of wine. I’m sure all of the old times would come back.”

The band used to visit the former manager’s home in their early days where Ozzy would listen to his record collection of blues greats and worshipped Jimmy Rushing from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Jimmy was one of Ozzy’s big influences in the early days when he was getting used to singing the blues stuff. Ozzy concentrated everything on getting that voice from the pit of his stomach somewhere, an exercise on its own.

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“He listened a lot, but I’m sure he didn’t practice by standing in the corner of the room singing long notes into the corners to build up his lung capacity. He just got up there and did what nature gave him to do.”

How did Ozzy carve out his own style?

Jim Simpson on the Black Sabbath bench (Photo - Graham Young)Jim Simpson on the Black Sabbath bench (Photo - Graham Young)
Jim Simpson on the Black Sabbath bench (Photo - Graham Young)

Jim said: “The band were there and he just learned to ‘shout’ above them. Like Jimmy Rushing, he had this voice that started somewhere in his stomach and it came out, in the nicest possible way, as a bellow.

“It was a big voice, which a lot of the great blues singers also had. Again, they were untrained but just decided to be singers. It was what Ozzy did but he was very much lacking in confidence and needed to be bolstered all the time and told he could do it. The other guys in the band rather sneered at him, looked down at him a little bit because he couldn’t play an instrument.”

However, Ozzy got more confident over time and contributed more. Jim said: “As he grew up, he became the main man in Sabbath and, after a while, everyone began to see that.”

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Ozzy Osbourne and his wife - Sharon - moved back to the UK to their countryside mansion after more than 20 years in California, US. Sharon revealed that she wanted Ozzy to have his privacy as he battles his health struggles in peace. The Patient No. 9 singer has been battling injuries and Parkinson's disease and has cancelled all live stage performances for the forseeable future.

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