Long before famed music impresario Lou Pearlman created famed boy bands like The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, he left a more lasting and indelible impact on the world of music by creating the most famed heavy metal band in history. Black Sabbath, the brainchild of the teenage Pearlman, initially came into being as what he liked to call a “heavy boy band”. Years later, they are metal legends.
Pearlman, who is currently serving 25 years in federal prison for conspiracy and money laundering, recalls the early days of the group fondly.
“I remember thinking to myself that if I had a little bit of front money and four out-of-work British musician looking guys, I could really strike it rich. All the stuff coming out at the time seemed really dark, so I figured if I created an evil version of The Beatles it might catch on. Throw in a little satanic imagery, some hip shaking grooves and wham…bam….Magic Sam…we got ourselves a number one hit record.”
Pearlman discovered the band outside of an unemployment office in Workington. He offered them 20 dollars and a warm place to sleep for the week if they’d agree to take some photos pretending to be a band called Sabbath (Pearlman later changed the name to Black Sabbath because it sounded ‘even more evil’).
There was only one problem, none of the men had ever played an instrument.
Lou, whose uncle was Ray Pearlman an IBM employee who developed a punch card computer system that wrote and played music in the late 1960s, borrowed the system and within two hours penned the entire first Black Sabbath record.
“The music sounded great, but the computer couldn’t simulate a voice that sounded right. I thought about it and realized Mick Jagger couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles on it. I just went in and asked the boys who could yell the loudest. Ozzy raised his hand. The rest is history!”
Pearlman gave Ozzy a steak and a bottle of Thunderbird wine in exchange for the vocal tracks. Pearlman edited them into the music (using the alias Rodger Bain in order to not have his fingerprints all over the band’s work) and sent it to a friend of his at a label known as Vertigo. Within a few months, the album reached number 23 on the Billboard Top 200 list.
For the band’s early years, Pearlman was pulling most of the strings. He carefully orchestrated a menacing, sinister image for the band and had them take lessons to learn their instruments in order to help heavy boy band music (later known as heavy metal) catch on. He even created a convincing back story about the members of the band being parts of earlier projects with bizarre names like Earth and The Polka Tulk Blues Band.
In an odd turn of events, Pearlman, who gained a reputation for allegedly scamming bands out of their just due, was himself robbed of his rightful place in the annals of heavy metal history. The band cut ties with Pearlman, who at that time was going by the name of Incognito Johnson and running a series of tanning parlors in Arizona, in 1974. His name was removed from everything associated with the band and members of Black Sabbath have claimed to have no idea who he is.
Pearlman, who is expected to be released from prison in 2029, believes that he will one day be rightfully acknowledged for his role in creating heavy metal.
“Look, I know I’ve probably done a few bad things in my life. Ponzi schemes, releasing music that was unfit to be played in Guantanamo Bay torture chambers….hell, I even stole a blimp once! But, at the end of the day, I deserve to also be remembered as the guy who brought the world the greatest boy band of all-time, Black Sabbath.”