Why Geoff Nicholls Left Black Sabbath

Ozzy Osbourne. Tony Iommi. Geezer Butler. Bill Ward. Geoff Nicholls? Yes, one of the longtime members of metal pioneers Black Sabbath was literally behind the scenes for much of his tenure as the band’s keyboardist. Per Blabbermouth, Nicholls started playing with Sabbath on their 1980 album “Heaven and Hell” and continued touring and recording with the band until 2004. He left the group when he was replaced by keyboardist Adam Wakeman — a member of lead singer Osbourne’s solo band — for Black Sabbath’s 2004-2005 tour with the Ozzfest music festival. Nicholls wasn’t always credited as a full member of the band and would often play keyboards from backstage or in the stages’ wings out of sight of the audience. Perhaps his camera-shy nature was because after the 1980s, some people didn’t want to associate keyboards with heavy metal.

As reported by AllMusic, Nicholls was born in Birmingham, England in 1948. He started out as a guitarist and joined the psychedelic pop band the World of Oz in 1968. He went on to play with soft rockers Johnny Neal & The Starliners, who had a hit single with “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” Dissatisfied with these bands’ poppier sounds, Nicholls found his niche when he joined Birmingham rock band Bandylegs, which went on to become Quartz, one of the original New Wave of British Heavy Metal outfits along with Black Sabbath. In fact, Quartz shared management with Black Sabbath and toured with them, and Iommi produced Quartz’s first album in 1977. 

Geoff Nicholls played with Black Sabbath for 24 years

According to Rolling Stone, Black Sabbath recruited Geoff Nicholls in 1979 just as Ozzy Osbourne was fired and replaced as frontman by Ronnie James Dio. Nicholls joined first as an additional guitarist but soon became the band’s keyboardist. He briefly replaced Geezer Butler on bass when Butler temporarily left the group, but upon Butler’s return, Nicholls stayed on keyboards off and on for nearly 24 years. Nicholls was intermittently an “official member” of the band from 1985 until Osbourne’s return as lead singer in 1996, and he stayed on as an unofficial member for another eight years. Per Blabbermouth, in addition to Black Sabbath, Nicholls played on another Sabbath singer’s post-Sabbath project, Tony Martin’s Headless Cross, as well as both of Martin’s solo albums.

Nicholls died of lung cancer on January 28, 2017, and tributes poured in from his former Black Sabbath bandmates. Tommy Iommi wrote a particularly emotional Facebook post in which he mourned the loss of his friend and bandmate: “I’m so saddened to hear the loss of one of my dearest and closest friends Geoff Nicholls. He’s been suffering for a while now with lung cancer and he lost his battle this morning. Geoff and I have always been very close and he has been a real true friend to me and supported me all the way for nearly 40 years. I will miss him dearly and he will live in my heart until we meet again. Rest in peace, my dear friend.”

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