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Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler: I Was Doing the Devil Horns Hand Gesture Long Before Ronnie James Dio

"I showed him the devil horns sign, and he started doing it from there"

Geezer Butler Ronnie James Dio devil horns
Geezer Butler (photo by Amy Harris), Ronnie James Dio (via hologram tour poster)
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    The late Ronnie James Dio has long been credited for popularizing the devil horns hand gesture that has become a universal symbol for metalheads and rock fans. However, in a new interview, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler says he was flashing the devil horns long before Dio, and was even the one who introduced the gesture to the singer.

    “I’ve been doing that sign since — I’ve got pictures of me doing it since 1971,” Butler told SiriusXM’s Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk on Monday (March 8th). “And I always used to do it in the breakdown in the song ‘Black Sabbath’ — just before it goes into the fast part at the end, I’d do that sign to the audience.”

    In 1979, Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. According to Butler, when Sabbath hit the road to support their 1980 album Heaven and Hell, the singer asked the bassist about the devil horns gesture.

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    “On the first couple of ‘Heaven and Hell’ tour shows, Ronnie was saying, ‘When I’m going onstage, everybody is doing the peace sign to me, and that’s an Ozzy thing. I feel like I should be doing something back to them.’ He says, ‘What’s that sign that you do in ‘Black Sabbath’?’ And I showed him the devil horns sign, and he started doing it from there and made it famous.”

    For his part, before his passing in 2010, Dio had credited his Italian grandmother with introducing him to the hand symbol. “It’s not the devil’s sign like we’re here with the devil,” he explained to Metal Rules in 2001. “It’s an Italian thing I got from my grandmother called the ‘Maloik.’ It’s to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it.”

    At one point, Gene Simmons tried to trademark the horns, claiming he popularized the hand symbol. However, the KISS singer-bassist holds his thumb out (more like sign language for “I love you”), as opposed to placing it across the middle and ring fingers.

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    Asked in the new interview why he let Dio get the glory of becoming synonymous with popular hand symbol, Butler replied, “I didn’t really think much of it. As I say, I’ve got pictures of me doing it in 1971. And it was just an alternative to Ozzy’s peace signs, I was doing it. And if you look at [The Beatles’] ‘Yellow Submarine’ album cover, John Lennon’s cartoon character is doing it, in 1966 or whatever it was. So it’s an old sign. I was just doing it ’cause [occult writer] Aleister Crowley used to do it.”

    According to Butler, Dio didn’t just borrow the hand sign from him. “There’s a lot of things that he nicked off me that he claimed that he was the originator,” Butler continued. “But he made it famous, so I didn’t care. The [Dio] album title Sacred Heart — that’s where I used to go to school. And he called one of his songs ‘One Foot in the Grave’. I jokingly said, ‘We should call the album One Foot in the Grave.’ And then when he left [Sabbath], he called one of his songs that. He was very naughty about things like that. And when I did an autograph, I’d write ‘Magic’. So Ronnie started writing ‘Magic’ as well. In fact, he called his [Dio] album Magica. He was very naughty about things like that.”

    Butler said he let most of it slide, but did confront Dio about the devil horn sign. As for proof that the bassist did in fact flash the devil horns long before Dio, along with posting the audio from the interview, host Eddie Trunk also shared a photo of Butler using the hand symbol in 1971. Check out both the audio and picture below.

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