Ernie "C" Cunnigan has defended his production on BLACK SABBATH's "Forbidden" album, saying that he wanted to "dry" the band's sound up a little bit and make it "more personal."
The 1995 LP, which features guitarist Tony Iommi alongside singer Tony Martin, drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Neil Murray, is often regarded as the SABBATH's worst studio recording. Upon its release, it was lambasted by critics and fans alike for its poor production. The album even featured a guest appearance by BODY COUNT frontman Ice-T on the opening track "The Illusion Of Power".
During a recent appearance on "The Official Danko Jones Podcast", Ernie was asked how he ended up helming "Forbidden" in the first place.
"On Ice's first record, he sampled [SABBATH's] 'War Pigs'," the BODY COUNT guitarist said. "And Tony [Iommi] got a whiff of it and he started listening to it and he said he liked it. And then he heard that I produced those first records that we [BODY COUNT] did, and he just gave us a call. And also, Miles Copeland helped out. Stewart Copeland's brother ran I.R.S Records. Miles helped get it together. Tony listened to the sample on there, and then he started listening to our records and said, 'I like that.' Miles came and said, 'I can get him [to produce your next album].'… So we were in England and Tony came to our hotel. He said, 'I would like you to do our new record.'"
According to Ernie, producing SABBATH was a "cool" and "good experience. It was a rock and roll experience that you can just say, 'Well, I did a BLACK SABBATH record, and I'm done,'" he said. "And it also made me say, yeah, I really don't wanna produce bands that are already established. It's good to produce young people that are listening. But when you're so set in your ways…"
Ernie said that he didn't feel any pressure trying to make a SABBATH album that would stand alongside the band's classic efforts. "I didn't pay that much attention to it," he said. "I was more LED ZEPPELIN. I loved SABBATH and this and that, but I wasn't a 'die-hard die-hard.' I wasn't intimidated… And the thing about that was that was the time when the vinyl was out, and I told them, 'I'm gonna dry the sound up a little bit.' Those records from the '80s were big[-sounding] records. [They sound like] you're playing in a tunnel. So I told them, 'We're gonna dry it up a little bit.' 'Cause the vinyl was dry — that's what made the vinyl sound. It was so dry and in your face. It's not a big tunnel. That was the VAN HALEN stuff — the one guitar in the one ear. It's big and large, but if it had been dried up, I don't think it would have been that popular. There's something to that era that lends to you almost seeing 'em on a stage and you're back in the seats. And then when NIRVANA came along, it made it more personal, like you're sitting down with someone… NIRVANA made it more dried up and in your face, [like] we're gonna sit down and come to my garage and listen to my band."
Asked how Ice-T's guest appearance on "Forbidden" came about, Ernie said: "[That came] from me. I just said, 'You wanna get Ice to rap on here?' And [Tony Iommi] was, like, 'Yeah, let's get him on here.' Tony was open — he was open to that. He was just trying to do different things."
BLACK SABBATH started working on "Forbidden" in Par Street Studios in Liverpool, England in 1994 and completed most of the recording sessions over a 10-day period at Devonshire Studios in Los Angeles.
Iommi recently confirmed to The Midland Rocks that he was remixing "Forbidden" for future release. "I never liked the final mix and sound of it — none of the band did actually — so I've been working on that," he said. "I'm taking my time, and there is no rush with it. It will be done when it's done. But it's been good to go back and pull it all apart and start to put it back together again."
Asked what the problem was with how "Forbidden" sounded at the time of its release back in 1995, Iommi said: "Well, we weren't involved with how it ended up sounding like it did. It was produced by Ernie C from the band BODY COUNT and he also got Ice-T to appear on it on the opening track and they were from a totally different background to us. So he came in and did a good job at the time, but I just felt that, without changing any of the songs, there was an opportunity to go back and bring out some of the sounds and make it more what people would expect SABBATH to sound like. I met up with Tony Martin recently and I'm sure he will listen to what I have done with it at some point, but at the moment it is just myself and [engineer] Mike Exeter who have been working on it."
Iommi went on to say that the upcoming "Forbidden" reissue doesn't necessarily mean that other albums from SABBATH's Tony Martin era — such as "Tyr" or "Headless Cross" — will also get the remix treatment.
"It was definitely that album that kind of irritated everybody," Iommi explained. "I was never happy with the guitar sound and Cozy was definitely never happy with the drum sound. He would go on and on about it. So I thought it would be nice to do it for him in a way."
In a 2011 interview with Gibson.com, Martin stated about "Forbidden": "Well, 'Forbidden' is I want to say 'crap,' but it's actually not. The songs worked really well in rehearsals, and then things started to get political, and I got wind of an Ozzy [Osbourne] reunion [with SABBATH] — not from SABBATH directly, of course. But before that came, there was a meeting at the SABBATH offices in London to which we were summoned to discuss the possibility of doing a RUN-D.M.C. type of album. I thought it wouldn't work, and voiced that. Cozy Powell thought it wouldn't work. I was never sure that most of the others were convinced, but we were kinda steered into a 'rap SABBATH' album. Then I was told that Ice-T was gonna be doing it and they couldn't or wouldn't tell me if he was doing the whole thing or just one track... and I still didn't know the answer to that when I was in the studio singing the tracks. They said they were gonna take it and see what Ice-T wanted to do. So it has a distinct ill feeling about it. The album eventually didn't really work, although some fans love it. And it was the penultimate album to my being removed from the band, the last album to be released being 'Sabbath Stones', a compilation album, which kept my name in the band to span 10 years and six albums."
SABBATH completed its last major tour in February 2017 with two shows in Birmingham, closing out the quartet's groundbreaking 49-year career.
The trek was the band's last because Iommi, who was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011 and is currently in remission, can no longer travel for extended amounts of time. But he has said he would not rule out special events or one-off shows.