GEEZER BUTLER: “I was using “devil horns” hand gesture years before RONNIE JAMES DIO
Geezer Butler has once again said that he was using the so-called “devil horns” years before Ronnie James Dio adopted it as his own.
The late BLACK SABBATH and RAINBOW singer is frequently recognized for making the hand gesture mainstream — a staple at rock concerts for decades. However, Butler claims that Ronnie actually got the idea to use it after watching his onetime SABBATH bandmate make the sign at every concert.
“I always did it in the song ‘Black Sabbath’,” Geezer told The Rock Experience With Mike Brunn in a new interview. “That was my thing. From 1968 onwards, I was doing the devil horns. And when Ronnie joined the band, on our very first live gig, everybody was doing the Ozzy peace signs to him,” referring to original SABBATH singer Ozzy Osbourne, whom Ronnie replaced, “and Ronnie just didn’t know how to respond. And he saw me doing the devil-horn thing in the song ‘Black Sabbath’. And a couple of nights later, he says, ‘I can’t do Ozzy’s V-sign thing. Do you mind if I borrow what you’re doing, the devil-horn thing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ So he did it in every song and made it his. He made it popular.”
Butler previously discussed his use of the devil horns in a March 2021 interview with SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk”. At the time, he said: “I’ve been doing that sign since — I’ve got pictures of me doing it since 1971. 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. And on the first couple of ‘Heaven And Hell’ tour shows, Ronnie was saying, ‘When I’m going on stage, 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.”
Asked why he had never publicly revealed before that he was responsible for showing Dio the devil horns, Butler said: “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 ‘Yellow Submarine’ album cover (from THE BEATLES), 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 (English occultist) Aleister Crowley used to do it.”
According to Geezer, the devil horns isn’t the only thing that Ronnie took credit for that he didn’t come up with on his own. “There’s a lot of things that he nicked off me that he claimed that he was the originator,” Butler told “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk”. “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.”
Asked if he ever confronted Ronnie about it, Geezer said: “Nah. Only about the devil horn sign.”
Ronnie wasn’t the only high-profile rocker to take credit for the devil horns. Back in June 2017, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a trademark on the hand signal fans and rockers alike hold up during shows, in which the index and pinkie fingers are extended, the middle and ring finger are curled into the palm, and the thumb either sticks out from the hand like an errant branch from a tree or is also curled into the palm. Gene claimed the gesture was first used in commerce on November 14, 1974, which corresponds to KISS‘s “Hotter Than Hell” tour. He wrote in his signed declaration that he believes “no other person, firm, corporation or association has the right to use said mark in commerce, either in the identical form or in such near resemblance.” Less than two weeks later, Simmons withdrew the application.
Most music fans slammed Simmons for the trademark request, saying the symbol has become ubiquitous and means different things to different people.
During an appearance on the “Talk Is Jericho” podcast, Simmons said that his version of the hand gesture is actually “I love you” in American Sign Language, with the thumb extended, rather than the thumb holding two middle fingers close to the palm as popularized by Ronnie James Dio and used by everyone from rock stars to chefs as a salute of musical inclusiveness and triumph since the ’70s.
“When (KISS) first started doing photos in 1973, in the last century, I was doing an homage,” he explained. “I didn’t know what to do with my hands… ’cause I had wings (as part of my costume) and I wanted to show the wings. So you spread your arms, kind of like a Christ-like pose, but I didn’t know what to do with my fingers. So I did what an artist named Steve Ditko did with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, both of whom did the hand signal. So when Spider-Man shot the webbing, he would do the two middle fingers. And the eternal Vishanti doing the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, that’s Doctor Strange. So I was just giving an homage to Steve Ditko, and it caught on. And so when we were playing live, I wanted to wave back at the fans who were just, like, ‘Wow, you guys are kind of hot shit,’ but I’m holding the pick in my hand. So I’m trying to hold up both my fingers. And so they all started to do that. To this day, whether you’re going to a soccer match in Ukraine or in Africa, or wherever, the fans may not even think about Gene Simmons, but they’ll do a version of those outstretched fingers and stick their tongue out without knowing why. It’s become the thing. I don’t care if you’re Rihanna or Chubby Checker, everybody does that stuff, although they may not realize it started with the powerful and attractive Gene Simmons.”
Asked why he eventually decided to withdraw his application to trademark the gesture, Simmons told “Talk Is Jericho”: “The uneducated, the uninformed and the otherwise passionate got so hot under the collar that I just didn’t think it was worth it.
He continued: “People from the peanut gallery, and I love ’em… But the idea that everybody’s opinion is worth the same as everybody else is… I don’t wanna say ‘bullshit,’ but it’s uninformed. You know, your car breaks down and some guy walks up and says, ‘Here’s what’s wrong with it.’ That’s one opinion. The other guy that walks over is a mechanic who works on cars all the time. Both those opinions are not equal. One is more important because it’s based on resume and qualification, and the other one is based on popcorn farts — he knows nothing. Well, your opinion is worth nothing, ’cause it’s based on nothing and no experience. Mostly people that have opinions express them just because they have no qualification or resume.
“So, it just wasn’t important enough for me to go do that, ’cause everybody’s doing my hand gesture anyway — whether it’s the Dalai Lama or the Pope. I win.”
Simmons added: “But, truly, when somebody criticizes you or whatever, take a moment to think about, ‘Gee, I wonder what they’ve done.’ In other words, it’s not what somebody says — who’s saying it? If I get criticized as a bad person, as an example, by somebody standing next to me, that’s not the same as the Pope or my rabbi or somebody in a ethical position of power. I might still object, but that’s a qualified opinion.”
Copyright lawyer Ronald Abrams told Forbes that it’s unlikely Simmons would have succeeded in his attempt to trademark the “devil’s horns” symbol, explaining that such hand gestures can’t be trademarked unless they are part of a logo. Trademark attorney Michael Cohen with Cohen IP Law Group in Beverly Hills, who deals with trademark, patent and copyright infringement cases, concurred, telling the Los Angeles Times that it would have been very difficult for Simmons‘s application to be approved because the gesture has become “genericized.”
Gene‘s KISS bandmate Paul Stanley said that he had no idea why Simmons attempted to trademark the hand gesture, telling the Loudwire Podcast: “Well, you know, Gene elicits some very strong reactions from people. And what he does he does for the reasons that only he knows. So I can’t really say that I have really any thought about it. It was really something that he wanted to pursue, and the reaction was how people felt about it. So I don’t know why he pulled it, and I don’t know why he started it. I really have no… I haven’t asked him.”
During an episode of her show “The Talk”, Sharon Osbourne slammed Simmons for the trademark request, accusing the rocker of “trying to make money from posters and t-shirts.” She said: “He’s crazy. He’s trying to get money from the merch where you see this (gesture) on merch, but actually this (symbol), in Italian, which has been going for hundreds of years, means ‘the devil.’ That’s what it means. And so kids at concerts have been doing it for years and years and years. And in ’74? Where were you in the ’60s when they were doing it, kid, because they’ve been doing it forever.”
Ronnie James Dio‘s widow Wendy also criticized Simmons for attempting to trademark the hand sign. She told TheWrap: “To try to make money off of something like this is disgusting. It belongs to everyone — it doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s a public domain, it shouldn’t be trademarked.”
Ronnie himself said his Italian grandmother often invoked the horns to ward off the malocchio (the evil eye),bad luck or malevolent spirits.
“Gene Simmons will tell you that he invented it,” Ronnie once said. “But then again, Gene invented breathing and shoes and everything else.”
“Into The Void: From Birth To Black Sabbath – And Beyond”, the biography of Geezer Butler, was released on June 6 in North America via HarperCollins imprint Dey Street Books. The book will arrive in the United Kingdom on June 8.