Unearthed Demo Could Be A Lost Ronnie James Dio-Era Black Sabbath Song

By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta

March 9, 2021

A newly unearthed song demo purported to be from 1979 could be a long-lost Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath song.

The demo was shared by Gary Rees, the stepson of Sabbath's late-keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.

The song might not fit the vibe of a classic Black Sabbath track, but it undoubtedly features lead vocals by Dio. Rees says the cassette tape contained other late-'70s material recorded during preparation for Sabbath's 1980 mid-career masterpiece Heaven and Hell.

In the video description, Rees underscored the fact that he has no additional information beyond "speculation" based on evidence on the tape.

His stepfather Nicholls originally joined Black Sabbath in 1979 during bassist and co-founder Geezer Butler's brief departure from the band. During the period of flux with Butler's departure and drummer and co-founder Bill Ward's health issues, Nicholls was hired to be either a second guitarist or bassist in the band.

When Butler, Ward and guitarist and co-founder Tony Iommi realigned around Dio for Heaven and Hell, Nicholls moved to keyboards and remained in the band through the 1990s.

Listen to "Slapback" via the player above.

Rees is understandably cautious about suggesting which musicians, beyond Dio and Nicholls, are featured on the tape. That left the rest of the personnel to be debated in the comments section until or unless Iommi, Butler or Ward other clarity on the session. (Nicholls passed away in 2017.)

Commenters mostly agreed that, as there are no keys, Nicholls is likely playing bass. The drumming sounds an awful lot like Ward's typically heavy-handed playing.

Most of the debate centers around whether Iommi is playing guitar.

Iommi is the only member of Black Sabbath to have appeared on every one of the band's studio albums. While the riffs on "Slapback" don't sound like classic Black Sabbath, many replies pointed out that the guitar arrangement has a similar vibe to some lesser-known moments on 1978's Never Say Die!

Black Sabbath's two studio albums with Dio have just been reissued in a super deluxe package, including rare and unreleased recordings, B-sides and live material.

For more details on the new packages, go here.

Photo: Getty Images

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