On a foggy April morning in 1982 a phone rang in Ireland. The caller was Jet Records' boss David Arden, and his call was very important. He was on the lookout for somebody to replace guitarist Randy Rhoads, who had died only a week before. Ozzy Osbourne had decided on soldiering on to finish the tour that had been interrupted by Randy's tragic death.
The whole Rock-community had been shaken by the news. The idea of going on a big-production world tour had lost a little of its luster.
Ozzy had been shaken especially badly. In his mind, Randy's fatal accident was a sign that his own career was about to go up in smoke. His manager (and wife) Sharon Arden thought otherwise. She was sure that her husband's career had gathered strong momentum, which was too good to simply let it fade away. They had invested heavily into staging and filming this tour. Ozzy simply had to keep going to fend off the danger of bankruptcy. So they decided to carry on, right after Randy's funeral. This wasn't an easy decision to take!
Would you have the guts to step in for the world's greatest guitarist?
On the other end of the phone line was Irish guitarist Bernie Torme, who agreed to fill in with some trepidation. Bernie was a great player, but leaning mostly towards the Blues. Randy had been a different player altogether, fusing classical techniques and voicings with Hard Rock. He was well ahead of his contemporaries in terms of musical style, as well as playing technique.
Bernie had to step in cold. His first gig with Ozzy was on the next day at the legendary Madison Square Garden.
When Bernie arrived at the venue, he was informed that his guitar and his pedals had gotten stuck in customs. He had been going over Ozzy's set and Randy's parts on the flight over to America on his Walkman. He was well aware of the fact that he wouldn't be able to carbon-copy Randy's playing, but he would do his best to keep the show on the road.
When Bernie showed up, the mood at the rehearsals was miserable. When he met with Ozzy for the first time the singer sat slumped in his dressing room, crying.
Ozzy's production team had been trying to get customs to release Bernie's equipment, but to no avail. So the tour manager rushed into a music store and bought a Fender Stratocaster for Torme. It may have been a great instrument, but probably not the best possible choice for balls-out Hard Rock riffing and lead playing.
At soundcheck Bernie faced more problems. The stage was humongous and Randy's amps were hidden far away, behind the show's sets and props. The drummer played on a gigantic riser, which made it difficult for the rest of the band to play in time.
The biggest problem, though, proved to be Randy's pedalboard. Randy's board had been customized and tailored to his own, very personal playing style and needs. Bernie had problems getting the effects to work properly, some pedals had seemingly developed a life of their own.
Bernie tried hard to keep a positive spin on the whole situation, thinking that perhaps Randy would help him from the Beyond. Still, the situation was highly upsetting – Bernie longed to play with his own guitar and effects. Everything seemed wrong, starting with the wrong guitar and ending with the macabre situation as a whole: Here he was, the same set list, the same stage, the same equipment, but the wrong man on guitar.
Bernie has described the events surrounding his short stint with Ozzy as traumatic, but he has also said that he was paid extremely well for these six gigs, and that he had needed the money. Bernie has also always stressed that Ozzy had treated him very fairly, so probably the experience hasn't been all bad.
Guitarist number next
Looking for a more final solution, the band got in touch with one of Randy's personal favourites – Brad Gillis. Gillis played in a similar style to Randy himself. Gillis can be seen and heard on Ozzy's 1982 output, both recordings that had already been agreed on before Randy's untimely death.
In June 1982 the band videotaped a full show, while in September they recorded a live LP, which was released later in the same year. The video tape, though, was locked away in the archive's vaults. It was only released decades later on DVD, after an unauthorized copy started making the rounds on the Net.
The video gives you a very good idea of Ozzy's massive live show, and of the standard of his band at that time. Gillis holds his ground with verve, but most fans would probably rather see Randy up there on stage on a well-shot DVD.
Randy's playing on Ozzy's first two solo albums is a cornerstone of Hard Rock history, which keeps on inspiring young guitarists. In addition to Brad Gillis, many famous names have mentioned Randy Rhoads as one of their main influences; these include Dimebag Darrel, John Petrucci, Nuno Bettencourt, George Lynch, Alexi Laiho, Zakk Wylde, Paul Gilbert and Buckethead, among countless others.
There are plenty of very accomplished guitarists around, but a huge part of Randy's legendary status lies grounded in the fact that he was also a great songwriter. Songs tend to become far greater hits than the instrumental music of many other guitar wizards.
Thanks to his stint with Ozzy, Randy's music has already reached millions and will continue to live on. The songs live on in people's memories. Personally, I cannot imagine Rock guitar as an art form without giving Randy a large share of the credit. Yet, three years before his death Randy Rhoads was a practical unknown. How did Randy get to join Ozzy's band?
British Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath were in serious trouble. Their singer Ozzy Osbourne's and their drummer Bill Ward's drug intake had become so excessive that conducting meaningful recording sessions was virtually impossible. The band had to make hard decisions in order to survive. Ozzy got kicked out first.
Black Sabbath had been sharing a house during their stay in the USA. This left Ozzy homeless. Black Sabbath's manager, label boss' Don Arden's daughter Sharon, accommodated Ozzy at the Le Parq Hotel, where Ozzy went about to nurse his sorrows with masses of drugs, alcohol and pizza.
The blinds in his suite's windows stayed shut for the better part of six months. During this time Sharon fell in love with Ozzy. She also started realizing that there was still plenty of star-potential left in the singer. To spite her dad, Sharon started managing Ozzy, setting many wheels in motion. The “iron lady” threw the windows wide open, and the pair started looking in earnest for suitable musicians for Ozzy's own band. In October they hired bassist Bob Daisley (ex-Rainbow). Although Ozzy wanted to have a mostly British band, he was also determined to check out what the US West Coast had to offer in terms of musical personnel.
Randy Rhoads had already grown into a local phenomenon in Los Angeles. His mother, Delores Rhoads, ran her own music school, where Randy was teaching the guitar. In the evenings he was tearing up LA's club scene with his band Quiet Riot.
As the result of a chain of coincidences, Randy ended up in Ozzy's band. Randy was really no fan of Black Sabbath's music, he thought the band were a joke. Still, the petite young guitar slinger went to meet Ozzy, after some persuasion from a friend. The evening ended with Ozzy falling asleep on the couch of a Santa Monica hotel, but not before making a favourable impression on Randy.
In later years Ozzy has said about his guitar auditions that all other hopefuls were trying to emulate Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, but that Randy Rhoads had his own, classically-influenced style that set him apart. He was quite unique on the LA scene, but he would also go on to set the rest of the world on its ear later on.
It's a long road to Britain
First, Randy had to get a passport and the required work permits. The young guitarist had just turned 23 and hadn't set foot in an airplane before, let alone been abroad. In England Randy met his new employer again, who turned out to be relatively sober.
Randy got to stay with Ozzy in Staffordshire in the English Midlands. When you've lived in sunny California for all of your life, the British climate will come as somewhat of a shock for you. Randy had to buy warmer clothes to keep himself comfortable.
Ozzy, Bob Daisley and Randy started writing songs for their first album. The band was christened Blizzard of Ozz, and everybody was very excited about the project.
Ozzy's and Randy's first song was a ballad, called “Goodbye to Romance”. The track shows strong traits of Ozzy's adoration of the Beatles, as well as of Randy's classical influences. In the lyrics Ozzy tried to put his feelings regarding his break with Sabbath into words.
No drummer, yet
In December 1979 the band had come up with enough strong material for Sharon to take the bold step of booking studio time. They had been short of a drummer, until they came across another proven player, Lee Kerslake (ex-Uriah Heep). With Kerslake on board the Blizzard of Ozz band gelled.
The band started intense rehearsals prior to the upcoming recording sessions. Max Norman who was to record the album met with the band during the rehearsals. The band took a break for Christmas, which allowed Randy to fly home to his family. He also found time to update his equipment for the upcoming, all-important recording sessions.
Going up the country
Ozzy's severance payment from Black Sabbath was used to finance the studio sessions. The 90,000 pounds were quickly depleted, though, mostly due to Ozzy's large drug intake, so a month of studio sessions was all Sharon and Ozzy could afford.
The band set up for sessions at a residential studio, called Ridge Farm, in March 1980 in the southern English country side. The weather was starting to get warmer, and the hippy vibes at the studio worked well for the fledgeling band. The studio's owners liked to smoke grass with their customers, which lead to a positive atmosphere and to fruitful sessions.
Ridge Farm had been built into an old barn. The band had first chosen Chris Tsangarides, who had worked previously with Judas Priest and Gary Moore, as their producer, but they quickly ran into problems with him. So the band put the studio's young engineer, Max Norman, in the hot seat after a few days, and proceeded to produce their debut record themselves.
Recording the guitar tracks
Randy was noticeably nervous during these first sessions, but his perfectionism started to show early on, too. He started amassing overdubs. All guitar solos, as well as much of the rhythm parts were tripled. The main tracks were panned centre, with another two tracks – panned hard left and right – fattening up the sound. His overdubs were most-often played with amazing accuracy. The band used no click, and drummer Kerslake played in a very laid-back pocket. This resulted in a hard-to-imitate kind of swing. Randy's classical leanings can be heard in the structure of many of his solos, which are often like little songs within the songs. The solos are mostly built around their own chord sequences, distinctly different from the rest of the song. Most other Hard Rock soloists of the time used to simply roll off pentatonic lines over the verse riffs.
Randy used two guitars during the first Ozzy-sessions: His iconic Polka Dot V, built by Karl Sandoval, and a 1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom.
A comparatively large share of the album's guitar tracks were played on nylon-string and steel-string acoustic guitars, showing off Randy's talent for arrangements. One of my favourite tracks is “Revelation (Mother Earth)”, a true milestone in 1980s Rock-guitar playing!
This song was also one of Randy's personal favourites, growing from a minor key ballad into a track of apocalyptic dimensions. At five minutes in, the song reaches its climax with Randy's fantastic riffs and his solo. If you haven't heard this track before, you should listen to it immediately. It has served as an inspiration to many other guitarists. Here are a couple of examples from Randy's disciples:
Is this a band or a solo artist?
With the record in the can, Sharon set about to find a suitable label to release the record. In the end “Blizzard of Ozz” was released in the UK in September 1980. The band members, especially Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, were quite disappointed that the LP was marketed as an Ozzy solo album by the title of “Blizzard of Ozz”, instead of the band effort it really was.
New decade, new waves
The record seemed to have come out just at the right time to ring in the new decade. Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple started looking somewhat old-fashioned and out of date. Punk and New Wave had become the new rage, but “Blizzard of Ozz” seemed to be able to bridge the generation gap when it first appeared.
The band clearly had a thing going for itself. They proved an infectious mix of British groove, a well-established and easy-to-recognize singer, and a fresh US West Coast guitar style. The record-buying audience lapped it all up willingly.
A UK tour
After a couple of clandestine warm-up gigs the band's first tour commenced on the 12th of September at Glasgow's Apollo. The UK tour was a great success with sold-out houses. Nevertheless, the band's finances were still strained, and the band had to live hand-to-mouth. They travelled in a small coach and stayed at cheap hotels.
In spite of this, spirits were high, and the band took a well-deserved break for Christmas. After a whole year in England Randy flew to the USA to spend time with his family.
During his Christmas vacation Randy met with Grover Jackson, the main man behind Charvel Guitars. Together they quickly came up with a new V-style guitar for Randy. Grover came up with a special headstock, while Randy stipulated “shark fin” inlays and named his new baby the Concorde. Grover Jackson decided to put his surname on the new instrument, because it deviated strongly from the established Charvel models. The Concorde is a through-neck guitar, while Charvels sported mostly bolt-on necks.
Randy selected a fat profile for the neck and asked Grover to put the pickup selector on the rim of the guitar, near the neck joint. Like the Sandoval, the Jackson also featured a vibrato bridge. The guitar was finished in just two months and sent to Randy in England, just in time for the next recording sessions.
The second recording sessions
Randy returned to England in January 1981, with the next set of sessions already on the horizon. Ozzy had started to attract a considerable amount of attention from US record labels. Sharon had a US tour planned and tickets were already selling quickly. The band decided to record their second album before going on tour, so that the LP would be ready for release (and maximum impact) when the band were on the road in the USA. Quite an ambitious plan for an up and coming young band manager…
Diary of a Madman
Sharon and Ozzy had booked time at the same studio they used for the first album's sessions. The band knew the studio and the engineer, so the sessions got off to an easy start. Randy was satisfied with the sound on the first album, and tried to replicate his tone during the new sessions. The band had six weeks to record the new LP.
Randy's playing had taken a big leap forward over the last tour. His rhythm playing was even more precise and to the point, while his lead tone had become ever-more distinct. Randy managed to make the most of these sessions.
He also managed to make his presence felt a lot more on the second album. The chord progressions were more interesting and intricate. His classical leanings reached a pinnacle, rewriting the rulebook on Heavy Metal guitar-playing a couple of times during these sessions. There's an especially interesting part at around 2'30” in “Over the Mountain”, seamlessly welding together modern riffs and classically-influenced melodies.
Randy borrows from classical music
It is often the case when recording an album that the best songs receive the most attention, while leaving “lesser” compositions for the tail end of the sessions. This is how Ozzy's band did it, too.
The album's title track (and closer) “Diary of a Madman” is one one the record's most polished tracks. The song was very important to Ozzy, and he requested a classical choir and a string quartet. Randy played acoustic guitars during the track's memorable intro.
This song's guitar parts have been influenced by Cuban guitarist Leo Brouwer's classical guitar piece Etudes Sencillos VI. Randy must have studied this piece, no doubt, as the guitar parts are extremely similar.
The tour's around the corner
Not all songs received such lavish treatment. Some lead guitar parts had been recorded under time pressure, something that always left Randy dissatisfied. Probably the weakest track on the LP is “Little Dolls”, with a solo that sounds like a guide track. According to engineer Max Norman the solo was, indeed, a keeper, but time constraints meant that Randy couldn't add any double tracking (or other studio trickery) to it. The end result sounds weak, and tends to fly by almost unnoticed. We are left to guess whether Randy would have added harmony lines or triple tracking. The solo starts at 3'10”.
On the other hand, Ozzy tended to give Randy enough time where it mattered most. One of Randy's masterpieces on the second album is “Flying High Again”, which took him three days to record. Here the 24-year-old guitar wizard gets to shine at the height of his abilities. His lead starts at 2'19"
Invading the US
The band's debut album “Blizzard of Ozz” was released in the USA in March 1981. “Crazy Train” had been selected as the single, and it got massive airplay. Thanks to this the record sold by the truckload.
A meeting between Ozzy and executives of his American label had been set up. Ozzy's appearance didn't go down too well: He turned up legless drunk and bit off the head of a live pigeon. Some executives were in shock, others were angry. Only the phenomenal success of his record saved Ozzy from being kicked off the label immediately.
The LP got rave reviews, and clocked up sales in excess of six million units. The band had become world-famous, and guitarists everywhere were intrigued by the new hotshot on the scene. Next to EVH, Randy Rhoads became the idol of a whole generation of Rock guitarists overnight.
Storm clouds ahead
Bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake started becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their lot as mere sidemen. All the media attention seemed to focus on Ozzy, as well as on his mercurial, young guitar slinger. Trouble was also starting to brew up in regard to some of the writing credits for the band's material.
In Ozzy's mind, the two guys were nothing but a bunch of complainers, who had been whining about something or other almost from the beginning. Sharon and Ozzy felt they had to take swift decisions in advance of the release of the second album. Kerslake was let go in favour of ex-Black Oak skins-man Tommy Aldridge. Bob Daisley did not agree with this change, which is why he, too, got kicked out of the band. In his place Ozzy hired Randy's old bandmate Rudy Sarzo.
It is this new line-up which is visible on all of the promo material for the soon-to-be-released album “Diary of a Madman”, regardless of the fact that it had been the original line-up that had actually played on the LP. The new line-up went into rehearsal overdrive, making sure they all knew the material of both albums for their upcoming long tour of the USA.
This change of line-up happened in April 1981, just a couple of weeks prior to the only professionally filmed TV-appearance of Ozzy's band.
Ozzy and the boys got to play four numbers off the Blizzard of Ozz album on a late-night TV-show called “After Hours”. Ozzy clearly had problems with his voice and didn't seem very “together”. Randy, on the other hand, was on form and played like the Guitar God he was. The band's set from the show has long been treasured by Ozzy and Randy fans, and can also be viewed in different versions on YouTube.
A tour without end
The first leg of the US-tour lasted from April through July, and turned the band into a well-oiled machine. In May 1981 they recorded material for a live-album, which would only see the light of day in 1987, then called “Tribute”. I was 15, and this album was very special to me. “Tribute's” setlist contained material from Ozzy's first two solo albums, along with a sprinkling of Black Sabbath-classics. For me the best bits were the left over takes of Randy's classic track “Dee”, which see him chatting away in a relaxed mood, during the recording of the song he had written for his mother Delores.
The ghosts of the past
Over time Randy got increasingly fed up with having to play old Black Sabbath-numbers every night. In his view, Ozzy's old material differed too much from his solo albums. Iommi's riffs were distinctly different to Randy's own style (different, but brilliant – says the ed.). Regardless, each Ozzy show ended with a rendition of “Paranoid”. Randy ground his teeth, but soldiered on, because he knew the past was an important part of his boss' fame, and the fans liked to hear the old hits as well.
Ozzy can't keep up
After the second leg of their US-tour (which concentrated on the southern states), Ozzy's band made the jump to Europe to continue touring. After playing only seven gigs in Germany everything came to a sudden halt. Ozzy's upcoming tour of the UK had to be cancelled, because of total exhaustion on Ozzy's part. Six months of relentless touring (along with a steady intake of “refreshments”) had taken their toll.
New year, next tour
The second album, “Diary of a Madman”, is released in time for the Christmas market on both sides of the pond. The band members spend Christmas at home, before setting off for their next tour, starting on December 30th, 1981, in the USA. The new setlist leaned heavily on the new album's material. The stage sets were massive, and the tour's shows had been sold out four months in advance.
Randy had ordered a new guitar from Grover Jackson – a black Randy Rhoads-prototype. This time around Grover had changed the body outline, making the guitar clearly different from a straight Gibson Flying V copy. This guitar was to become the template for the iconic Jackson RR series.
Randy also acquired a professional-quality classical guitar, a handmade Spanish instrument that he reportedly spent the better part of 5,000 US-dollars for.
The bigger the better
Ozzy and Randy had two LPs in the Billboard Top 100, with both records selling in the millions. Ozzy decided to go all-out on the staging of his live shows. Sharon and he designed, and commissioned, a massive gothic castle-set, which cost them 250,000 dollars.
There were trolls on stage, a huge staircase, and a gigantic mechanical hand, among other things. The whole crew was clad in clothing inspired by the Middle Ages, and both sides of the stage were connected by hidden paths inside the sets. The lighting and pyrotechnics were massive, too, of course. The whole show was a definite mind-blower, but also led to some interesting problems.
All amplifiers had been set up in, or behind, the sets, far away from the musicians. Randy had great problems in achieving any musical feedback at all. Drummer Tommy Aldridge had been placed on a gigantic drum riser, which made it very difficult for the band to keep time.
There had been a well-chosen addition to the band's line-up, when keyboarder Don Airey (ex-Rainbow) was taken on board. He and Randy got along like a house on fire, and quickly started to develop the band's arrangements further. The additional freedom to try out new chord voicings, and Airey's experience and playing style inspired Randy greatly, and kept him from getting bored.
Hooked on the classical guitar
Randy decided to take guitar lessons again in January 1982. At first he planned to take a guitar teacher with him on tour, but this proved very problematic to do, which is why he decided on finding suitable instructors in each of the cities the tour visited. Randy started jotting down his new classical compositions onto paper, but even his mother Delores had problems understanding his new direction. Would Randy have taken the classical path full-time if he had lived?
One of Randy's favourite composers had been baroque composer Johann Pachelbel. Pachelbel had had a much more folksy approach to his music than Cuban musician Leo Brouwer, who had inspired part of the song “Diary of a Madman”. You can hear the baroque master's influence in Randy's song “Dee”, and many of his solos.
Randy started thinking seriously about giving up Rock music for good, in favour of studying for a degree in classical guitar. As if to stop him from following through with his plan, Guitar Player awarded Randy the Best New Talent Award. In the video below you can see Randy accepting the award together with Ozzy and Sharon. This is also the only clip featuring an interview with Randy.
Ozzy messes up
While Randy pondered the possibility of going classical, his boss lived the Rock-star life to the hilt.
During the tour of '82 the audience often threw stuff onto the stage – dolls, mascots, toys, anything. In January Ozzy grabbed something he thought was a rubber toy, and bit off its head as a joke. Turned out is had been a live bat Ozzy had just killed, and he was quickly whisked off to hospital for a rabies shot.
In April Ozzy made a severe error of judgement, when he decided to pee on the Alamo Memorial. The Texas authorities naturally got their knickers in a twist over the incident, and banned Ozzy, his band, and his whole entourage from entering the State of Texas.
An old record deal comes up
Even though Ozzy had been kicked out of Black Sabbath acrimoniously, he was still bound by an old record deal he had made when in the band. Ozzy's new label decided on a settlement deal with his old record company: Ozzy was to record a live-album featuring only old Black Sabbath-material for his former record company, completing his old deal in the process, and allowing him to concentrate on his career as a solo artist in the future.
Randy was, of course, less than excited at the prospect of having to play yet more Black Sabbath-songs. Learning all the “new” material would be a hassle, sure, but he was also aware of what such a project might do to his stature and image. After trailblazing with two LPs chock-full of neoclassical stuff, rerecording old Sabbath-numbers felt like taking a step backwards and cheating the band's fans. Besides, Ozzy's two solo albums had done far more for the singer's career than his whole stint as an original member of Sabbath.
Randy's had enough
Two years of Rock-madness with Ozzy were enough for Randy. He informed his boss that he would be available for one final studio album, but that he would quit the band after that.
This conversation was taking place aboard the tour bus. Ozzy lost his temper and hit Randy. Everybody had by then become used to Sharon's and Ozzy's protracted arguments among themselves, but this incident further dampened everyone's spirits. The band dragged itself through the first leg of the tour, before taking a short break for ten days.
The calm before the storm
Randy went home to have three of his wisdom teeth removed in a painful operation. Instead of relaxing comfortably at home, Randy's time off was taken up by convalescing after the surgical procedure. Still, the break had seemed to work wonder for band morale. Everybody seemed more relaxed, the music grooved, and life looked much better.
When the band was en route to an important gig in Florida the coach broke down. It was towed to a garage, where it turned out that there were a few light aircraft parked in the back yard. The bus driver got the bright idea of taking one of the planes for a few little spins to shorten everybody's time, while waiting for the bus to be repaired. On the first round the bus driver was joined by Don Airey and the band's tour manager Jake Duncan. Next to go for a short spin were make-up girl Rachel Youngblood and Randy Rhoads. The Osbournes were still asleep on the bus.
The pilot tried to scare Ozzy and Sharon by coming in extremely low over the coach, but he came in too low. The plane clipped the roof of the bus and crashed into a building right next to it. All three aircraft passengers were killed instantly. The victims were burned up almost beyond recognition in the fire that followed the crash. Randy could only be identified through his dental records, and the jewelry he had worn that day.
A great talent was gone. His mother Delores was informed of Randy's death on the same day. No doubt that hearing the song “Dee” will have always been a bittersweet experience from that day on. Her tears were shared by all the millions of Randy-fans across the world.
17.9.2014 Kimmo Aroluoma (Translated by Martin Berka)
The author is one of Custom Sounds’ owners, and an incorrigible guitar and gear enthusiast.
I had meant to end this post with Zakk Wylde's version of “Dee”. The contrast of this bearded guy playing such a delicate piece of music in a room filled with Randy Rhoads posters seemed very poignant. But because Sharon's lawyers had already started filing writs, even before this article was posted, I decided on recording my own cover of the tune. I hope you enjoy this special mix of impulsiveness, a Spanish Flamenco-guitar, old strings and built-in computer microphones. All rise for Randy!
Randy´s temperamental pedalboard (17.9.2014)