January 28, 2017 – Geoff Nicholls was born on 28 February 1948, in Birmingham, England. He started out as a guitarist in his early teens, and his idols included Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Django Reinhardt. He also became proficient on the piano and organ, but never entirely forsook the guitar, and he became a serious admirer of Jimi Hendrix’s playing from 1966 onward.
Geoff Nicholls played lead guitar in several Birmingham bands such as Colin Storm & the Whirlwinds, The Boll Weevils, The Seed, starting in his teens. In 1968, Nicholls was recruited into the short-lived second lineup of the psychedelic pop band the World of Oz, succeeding David Kubinec on keyboards, as well as adding a second guitar to their sound on some songs. Following their split in the spring of 1969, he joined Johnny Neal & the Starliners, a cabaret-type act that was enjoying a good run of success in live performances, and even had a single out (“Put Your Hand in the Hand”) at the time on Parlophone. The group was busy enough, and made numerous television appearances, even winning a competition on the showcase Opportunity Knocks, but their brand of soft pop/rock wasn’t what Geoff had in mind for his career, nor the music he wanted to be playing.
Nicholls’ problem was solved with the formation of a group originally known as Bandylegs, made up of some of the top unsigned players in Birmingham, including Mick Hopkins and Malcolm Cope. A heavy metal outfit with impeccable credentials and an even better sound, they subsequently changed their name to Quartz (NWOBHM) and quickly came under the same management that handled fellow Birmingham outfit Black Sabbath (who, by that time, had already an international following). Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi over the years formed a close friendship with Geoff Nicholls and Quartz toured with Sabbath. When by 1979 Ozzy Osbourne was fired from the band and it was not even clear if they would continue as Black Sabbath, Nicholls joined the latter group as a full-fledged member, initially as a guitarist but quickly switching over to keyboards.
He briefly switched to playing bass when band co-founder Geezer Butler left the lineup, but returned to the keyboard spot following Butler’s return and the decision to keep the Sabbath name, and he subsequently worked on every one of their albums and tours for the next 25 years. He was credited as keyboardist on every Sabbath release from that time until 13 (2013), although he was not an official member until 1986. He remained an official member until 1991, then regained member status from 1993 to 1996. He was an unofficial member once again since the reunion with Ozzy Osbourne in 1997.
Although his main role with Sabbath was on the keyboards, Nicholls also played some rhythm guitar on the reunion tours, e.g., during Iommi’s solo in “Snowblind” and a few tracks during the Headless Cross (1989) and Forbidden (1995) tours. He generally managed to stay very much in the background however, which is somewhat surprising considering his longevity with the band, and the fact that he was on every album from Heaven & Hell forward.
Nicholls’ involvement with the band ended when Adam Wakeman (a member of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band) was chosen to play keyboards during Sabbath’s 2004 and 2005 tours as part of Ozzfest, while Scott Warren (Dio) handled keyboard duties on the 2007 Heaven & Hell tour.
Until his death, Nicholls played keyboards for English drummer Cozy Powell’s solo projects and former Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin, in his band Tony Martin’s Headless Cross. Nicholls had previously performed on both of Martin’s solo albums and their support tours.
Geoff Nicholls died on January 28, 2017 of lung cancer at the age of 68.