Keyboard player Geoff Nicholls enjoyed a four-decade career in rock, in genres ranging from psychedelic pop to heavy metal -- he was best known in the latter field, as the longtime keyboard player for Black Sabbath (1979-2004). Born in Birmingham, England, in 1948, Nicholls played in several local bands starting in his teens, from the mid-'60s onward. He started out as a guitarist in his early teens, and his idols included Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Django Reinhardt -- the first band he ever joined was an early-'60s outfit called Colin Storm & the Whirlwinds, in Birmingham. 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. 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 Nicholls had in mind for his career, or 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 and quickly came under the same management that handled fellow Brummie outfit Black Sabbath (who, by that time, had an international following). Quartz toured with Sabbath, and by 1979 Nicholls had 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 he subsequently worked on every one of their albums and tours for the next 25 years. Nicholls also contributed on the guitar as needed, but he generally managed to stay very much in the background, which is somewhat surprising considering his longevity with the band, and the fact that he was on every album from Heaven & Hell forward. He also played behind Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin and drummer Cozy Powell on their respective solo projects. Nicholls died in January 2017 at the age of 68.