Geezer Butler Claims He Showed Ronnie James Dio the ‘Devil Horns’ Gesture
The "devil horns" gesture has become synonymous with heavy metal, popularized by the late vocalist Ronnie James Dio. But in a new chat with SiriusXM host Eddie Trunk on his Trunk Nation program, Dio's onetime Black Sabbath bandmate Geezer Butler claimed that Dio got the idea to use the gesture from him.
Butler told Trunk (as transcribed by Blabbermouth), "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."
The bassist recalls, "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."
Butler says he never really said anything prior because he didn't really think much of it, but he always felt the gesture was a "alternative" to Ozzy's peace signs during shows.
The bassist though doesn't lay claim to be the originator. He explains, "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 [English occultist] Aleister Crowley used to do it."
Butler added that Dio "nicked" several things off him that he took credit for and then made famous, but he never really cared. He explained, "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 album Magica. He was very naughty about things like that."
The "devil horns" origins have been the subject of great debate over the years. KISS' Gene Simmons tried to file a trademark claim on a similar gesture (which more closely mirrors the sign language use of "I Love You") in 2017. At the time, Wendy Dio called Simmons move to try to trademark a sign so widely used as "laughable," though also calling it "disgusting" that he was trying to profit off of it.
Ronnie claimed to have taken the move from his grandmother, who constantly used it to ward off the evil eye. Simmons claimed that his gesture, while different than the traditional "devil horns," was uniquely of his design regarding entertainment purposes.
Meanwhile, the Simmons trademark attempt also drew the ire of occult rockers Coven who laid claim to using the gesture as early as 1967. The band's vocalist, Esther "Jinx" Dawson, stated in a social media posting that she used "the sign of the horns" in late 1967 and she also shared a black and white photo of her doing so. There are also "devil horns" signs on the band's 1969, 1971, 1974 and 2013 albums as well. She added, "I never trademarked MY sign because it was meant for all to do."