The Real Reasons Bill Ward Quit Black Sabbath

When Black Sabbath recorded its final studio album, "13," in 2013 and rode off into the sunset after concluding their "The End" farewell tour in 2017, fans were glad that three-fourths of the original lineup — singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler — were back together despite the myriad lineup changes that plagued the group for much of the 1980s and 1990s. However, there was one OG Sabbath member missing from those farewell efforts, and it was their powerful and innovative drummer, Bill Ward, who didn't take part in either endeavor — Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk sat behind the kit for "13," while Tommy Clufetos, who plays for Osbourne's solo band, handled live drumming duties during Sabbath's final years as a band (via Ultimate Classic Rock).

The drama behind Ward's 2012 exit from Sabbath has been well-documented; for one, he declared in 2015 that he "will not participate in any musical undertakings until a righting of the wrongs spoken against me has been achieved." And while we shall also be revisiting this departure and the circumstances behind it, any discussion of Ward leaving Sabbath should start from the time he first quit more than three decades prior. This all happened during a rather interesting time in the band's history, one where Ronnie James Dio had just established himself as Ozzy's replacement on vocals.

Alcohol drove Bill Ward to quit Sabbath in the early '80s

Bill Ward's first departure from Black Sabbath came quite abruptly, as he apparently walked away from the band after muttering a quick goodbye over the phone to Ronnie James Dio — no pre-composed statements or anything to that effect, just a simple "I'm off then, Ron." But why did he choose to leave a band that had just found its second wind with the 1980 album, "Heaven and Hell," and was busy touring behind that release?

Recently, Tony Iommi corroborated Ward's no-fanfare exit in a February 2021 interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, recalling that the drummer suddenly left after a show in Denver without giving much notice. "It really shocked me because I'd known Bill long before the others, really," he related. "I played with Bill for two or three years before we ever got together with [Ozzy Osbourne] and [Geezer Butler]. It was a hell of a shock."

According to Iommi, Ward chose to "run away" from Black Sabbath because his drinking had gotten out of hand and he was no longer happy with the band. Weeks later, Ward himself admitted to this during a guest appearance on "The Eddie Trunk Podcast" (via Ultimate Guitar), explaining that he'd reached a point where drinking "became more important than anything else." However, he also revealed another reason why he decided to quit Sabbath in the middle of what was a very important tour for the group.

Ward says he was having difficulty adjusting to a new frontman

In the aforementioned interview with Eddie Trunk, Bill Ward elaborated on his past battle with the bottle and how it affected him toward the end of his first stint with Black Sabbath. But he had some interesting comments about the other reason behind his departure — as it seems, he wasn't used to playing Sabbath songs with someone other than Ozzy Osbourne singing them. As such, he had "a lot of difficulties" adjusting to life on stage with Ronnie James Dio. 

"I'm not talking about personal front about Ronnie, it just was so different and so difficult for me to accept and to think that that was the norm — that was the new norm — especially when we did songs like 'Black Sabbath,' and things like that," Ward clarified, per Ultimate Guitar. "I played them as best as I could on stage, so I was having difficulty with that. I think my biggest fault was that I wasn't being honest with anybody at all. I was drinking more, and I wasn't being sincere."

Ward would eventually return to Black Sabbath in time for the recording of 1983's "Born Again," an album that's since become infamous for its atrocious cover and the unfortunate presence of Deep Purple's Ian Gillan as Dio's replacement on vocals — great frontman, but arguably not the best fit for Sabbath. Despite those issues, the drummer looked back fondly on "Born Again," recalling to Trunk that he recorded his tracks during the early stages of his sobriety and got along quite well with his bandmates during the making of the album.

Ward's final departure from Sabbath was quite the messy one

As it turned out, "Born Again" would be the last Black Sabbath album that Bill Ward played on (via Ultimate Guitar). He quietly left the group soon after "Born Again" hit record stores, but would reunite a few times with his old bandmates. Suffice to say, there was nothing quiet about the last time Ward quit Black Sabbath.

Originally, the plan was for Ward to rejoin Iommi, Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne for what was supposed to be their final album and farewell tour, but the veteran drummer's return fell through due to contractual issues, as he felt the deal to bring him back wasn't a fair one. In a statement he issued in May 2012 (via Ultimate Classic Rock), he went into greater detail, effectively confirming that he wouldn't be part of the tour because he wasn't happy with the limited on-stage role he was offered. "I believe I'd been offered no more than three songs to play while another drummer presumably played the rest of the show with Black Sabbath," he explained. "I was not willing to participate in that offer. I was not prepared to watch another drummer play a Sabbath set, while I was to play only three songs."

Despite the years of bitter back-and-forth statements between Ward and his former bandmates, including Osbourne's claim that Ward was in no physical shape to fully participate in Sabbath's 2013 tour, he told Eddie Trunk in 2021 that he still has hopes of reuniting with Osbourne, Iommi, and Butler to record yet another studio album, as cited by Louder.