Jan 28, 2017: Black Sabbath Keyboardist Geoff Nicholls Dies

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Geoff Nicholls (Photo from his Facebook page)

Although he wasn’t one of the four core members who founded Black Sabbath in 1969, keyboardist Geoff Nicholls was an essential component of the metal band’s sound for a quarter-century, 1979-2004. Nicholls died January 28, 2017, after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 68.

Tony Iommi, Sabbath’s guitarist, posted, “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. Tony”

Born February 28, 1948, in Birmingham, England, Nicholls played lead guitar in bands called Colin Storm and the Whirlwinds, the World of Oz and Johnny Neal and the Starliners in the late 1960s. He had been playing with a band called Quartz when he came to the attention of Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne; Nicholls was then brought in to Sabbath, originally as a second guitarist. He switched briefly to bass at a time when Sabbath’s original bassist Geezer Butler was temporarily not working with the band, then finally to keyboards.

Geoff Nicholls with Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi

Nicholls first recorded with Sabbath on 1980’s Heaven and Hell album and was featured on all of the band’s subsequent albums through 2013’s 13. His status within the band was sometimes considered official and other times not—although he performed with the group on tour he was sometimes relegated to the back or side of the stage—but Nicholls’ role within the band was never less than vital.

Nicholls’ involvement with Black Sabbath as a major contributor ended in 2004 when he was replaced by keyboardist Adam Wakeman. In more recent years, Nicholls had been playing keyboards with former Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin in his band Tony Martin’s Headless Cross.

Watch a 45-minute Sabbath clip from 1980 with Nicholls on keys

Related: Black Sabbath’s first U.S. tour, 1970

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