Black Widow is a band that puts the “cult” in occult rock. Pre-dating Black Sabbath and embracing the psychedelic flavour of the Age of Aquarius, their 1970 record “Sacrifice” spawned the oft-covered classic “Come to the Sabbat.” At the height of their popularity, Black Widow’s elaborate live stage show included re-enactments of diabolical rites. Tensions within the band led to a change in creative direction, but after decades apart, original members Clive Jones and Geoff Griffith resurrected Black Widow and released 2011’s “Sleeping with Demons,” a hard rock celebration of all things dark and wicked. In spite of a tenacious battle with cancer, Clive is prepping for a return to the studio and a fresh batch of Black Widow tracks. OccultRock.com got to speak to Clive about the band’s legacy as well as what the future holds.
OR: Over the course of the band’s existence, Black Widow has written songs that cover a number of topics and themes, but you’re most famous for your occult-themed music. How do you feel about the fact that Black Widow is, for many fans, a band defined by its links with the occult?
CJ: That’s exactly what Black Widow should be! We were certainly the first band in the UK to touch the subject of black magic.
Coven in the USA did the same type of thing and met with the same problems we did, usually from the radio stations who were afraid to play the records. I’m a friend of Jinx Dawson from Coven, and it would be great if one day we can work together.
Black Widow went further, of course, and did what was at the time a shocking stage show to go with the music.
When Black Widow left the black magic theme and became an ordinary rock band, it was against some of the band members’ wishes and it turned out to be a disaster. That’s why the new album “Sleeping with Demons “ returns to the black magic theme we loved so much.
Any Black Widow album in the future will deal with black magic, but remember that black magic has many disguises and can also be fun on the surface while dark underneath.
OR: What inspired the evolution from the soul/R&B of Pesky Gee! to Black Widow’s occult psych/prog rock and theatrical presentation?
CJ: Pesky Gee! Was great fun at the time we loved playing all the soul numbers and playing those clubs but that scene was starting to die so we thought about changing our music. Our drummer Clive Box came up with the idea of a black magic show, and a lot of background work went into the change as we needed to be authentic and use the correct words and actions for the stage show.
We worked with a stage producer on the show and first performed it at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester where we were from, it was a great success.
CJ: Well that song was written by myself and the guitarist and as soon as we were working on it, we knew it was something special; it was different but also had a commercial feel to it. As soon as the management heard it, they knew it would be the single. It was actually wrongly titled "Astaroth" to start with, but of course everyone was calling it “Come to the Sabbat.” In other countries it often gets titled “Come to the Sabbath.”
Over the years I have had many versions sent to me—I have about fifteen at the moment; some good, some not so good, but I’m always proud to know that someone has covered the song.
It’s actually noted as the first song Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden ever bought and he still often plays it on his radio show!
OR: Is there any truth to Wiccan High Priest Alex Sanders’ involvement with Black Widow’s music and stage shows? If so, can you tell us how the band came to meet and work with Sanders?
CJ: Alex and his wife Maxine were introduced to us by our management. Alex made sure everything was authentic with the words and the stage show and even told us that we could summon up a demon in certain circumstances! Maxine even helped us when one of the girls we used as the sacrifice was taken ill and she is often seen naked in some of our pictures.
Sadly, Alex passed away a few years back but I was in touch with Maxine and she gave her blessing to the new album we have spoken about meeting up again. I hope this will happen soon!
OR: Do you think there’s a connection between the late-60s/early 70s cultural atmosphere and the current cultural atmosphere that accounts for the popularity of occult-themed hard rock?
CJ: Not really. The bands I have seen that are practising the occult on stage don’t really have a connection. Somehow a lot of them don’t even dress the part and the music is poor (just my opinion).
There is a band called Ghost that is doing some sort of occult show, but it really does not work. They wear costumes but don’t act the caricatures they are playing; they forget that they are now in the world of theatre. The singer wears a mask all through the show—you can’t do that as it’s the eyes and expressions that give you the presence on the stage. I would like to advise them but it seems they don’t make contact with anyone—hah! Their music is OK but not that great—just my opinion again!
OR: Black Widow was on hiatus for several decades before the release of 2011’s “Sleeping with Demons.” What inspired you to re-form the band and create new music?
CJ: Well I have done many things since the first line up of Black Widow. I’m mainly known for being lead singer with the crazy rock band Agony Bag and our single “Rabies Is a Killer” is very popular on YouTube. They’ve tried to take it down a few times but so many people put it back up, they now don’t bother! Take a look you will see why.
I always wanted to release another Black Widow album. I have many things that were in my vaults that came out as albums a few years back and I still have a few never-released songs that may get released at some time.
I was never happy with how Black Widow ended. We had so much more work to do with the black magic idea, so when by chance I met up again with Geoff Griffith who was the bass player in the original band, we both had the idea to do another album going back to our black magic roots.
We set to work, ignoring the fact that Geoff now lived in Thailand even though he did have a great studio over there, and we both wrote our songs. Geoff’s were more like the original Black Widow and I guess mine were a bit heavier like Agony Bag.
I also wrote the song “Hail Satan” that was based upon “Come to the Sabbat” as there had never been a song like “Sabbat” since, so I used the same format and now there is!
We are thrilled with the album it touches different parts of black magic. Like I said earlier, black magic can also be fun and that’s the real scary part. I think that’s more shown in the song “Party Time for Demons” from the new album.
OR: How did you come in contact with Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin? What was it like to work with him on “Sleeping with Demons?”
CJ: I simply traced Tony on Facebook. He did not know a lot about Black Widow but did know of the connection between Black Sabbath and ourselves as we shared the same manager many years back.
Tony and his wife Carol came over to visit and we played him the album plus a few other songs. He was keen to be involved, but unfortunately most of the songs were in the wrong key for his vocals. We shared the lead on “Hail Satan” and it worked very well. Tony had his own studio so there was no problem with recording.
We keep in touch and Tony has been over to see me since I was diagnosed with cancer. He’s a great vocalist and a great guy. I’m sure we will be working together again but Tony is involved with many projects at the moment.
OR: What was it like returning to the studio with your former bandmates after your time apart?
CJ: Well, the album was just myself and Geoff with a few guests. Kay Garret, our original singer from Pesky Gee! and Black Widow, came in to help—she had not been in the studio for many years but she has a great voice. I wrote a song for her called “Even the Devil Gets the Blues” and she gave a great performance on that track.
The early Black Widow was not a nice band to be in. We had a couple of guys who thought they were God’s gift and were bullies in the band. They threw some guys out the band and made bad decisions. They brought drugs into the band and it became no fun at all. No one from the original band will work with them again (they know who they are). They have done a few interviews but don’t tell the truth about the band’s past.
Bands have to all pull together—it’s a hard business. Black Sabbath all pulled together and that’s why they are where they are now.
OR: How do you feel your experiences and creative work in the intervening years influenced the new record?
CJ: Like I said, I guess my writing was more in the style of Agony Bag and heavier than the original Black Widow but bands move on. You can’t expect them to sound like they did many years before! If the Beatles were going now they would not sound like the 60s songs they used to write.
I have been asked to guest on many artists recordings and I like doing that. Cancer permitting, I hope to release many albums I have even written a musical “Metal Heart” that I hope to one day get off the ground--it’s not easy in this climate.
OR: “Sleeping with Demons” finds the band exploring a number of musical styles, from hard rock to boogie to the blues. Can you tell us about the songwriting process that led to this eclectic album?
CJ: Yes there are many styles in “Sleeping with Demons” from dark to fun, from prog to heavy, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing!
One of the reasons for that is because we were on different sides of the world and some of the musicians like Paolo “Apollo” Negri were from Italy and we had never met. Paolo is a big fan of Black Widow and wanted to help out, and he also just happens to be one of the best keyboard players in the world so we were very happy to work with him. One complaint about the new album is that there were not enough solos on the album—that’s something we will correct on the next one. But personally I think it’s the best Black Widow album we ever released.
OR: Can you share what’s next for Black Widow?
CJ: There is a lot about to happen for Black Widow but until it’s signed, I can’t say anything specific. We are all ready to go with a new album and more guests. Black Widow is a cult band and many musicians are ready to help out. I’m not sure if we will tour at the moment—I have to get the all-clear from the doctor but it’s certainly one thing we want to do and I’m sure we will do something different as usual.
As the Guardian quoted about us “they very much remain the Godfathers of Occult rock” and that can’t be bad!