Randy Rhoads: Guitar God Who Saved Ozzy Osbourne's Career But Died At 25
British musician Ozzy Osbourne and American musician Randy Rhodes (1956 - 1982) perform at the Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois, January 24, 1982. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Randy Rhoads, the guitar prodigy on Ozzy Osbourne's early solo albums, rocked hard and died young. The bizarre airplane accident that took his life is without a doubt the most senseless of senseless rock 'n roll deaths. It's hard to imagine Osbourne doing so well -- he'd been kicked out of Black Sabbath, after all -- without a musical enabler like Rhodes. Like Eddie Van Halen, Rhoads helped change the course of guitar playing in he 1980s. He brought a classical flare to hard rock and hair metal that's been imitated but never replicated.
The thing that tends to be ignored in every story about Rhoads' life is how kind and gentle he was. His offstage life was a complete 180 of how he was onstage with a guitar in his hand. Rhoads lived anything but a "Crazy Train" lifestyle, which is why his death from a plane crash in 1982 was so shocking.
Randy Rhoads was born to play guitar
Randy Rhoads was a southern California boy at heart. He grew up in Santa Monica with two siblings and a single mother. With no stereo at home, Rhoads started writing his own music on a classical guitar at the age of seven. He studied music theory with his mother and quickly started playing electric guitar, outplaying his teachers until he had no choice but to start a band.
Throughout high school Rhoads played with various cover groups made up of kids his age, but when 15 year old Rhoads saw Alice Cooper in 1971 everything clicked and he realized how to dress, how to look, and how to put together a rock group that could actually be a hit.
With Alice Cooper in mind, Rhoads put together the band that became Quiet Riot, although they were initially called "Little Women." The group was a local hit, but even though they signed a deal with CBS/Sony their first two albums were only released in Japan. As more and more friction entered the picture, 23 year old Rhoads was offered a chance to audition for Ozzy Osbourne.
Rhoads got the gig of his life while tuning up
Ozzy Osbourne was kicked out of Black Sabbath in 1979, supposedly for being an unreliable alcoholic, but he says that at the time everyone in Black Sabbath was off their heads and they just wanted an excuse to get rid of him. So Ozzy went to Los Angeles where he started putting together a band with members of Rainbow and Uriah Heap, but he needed a guitarist, someone who could inject life into his sound.
When Rhoads arrived at the the practice space for the audition he was just doing it as a favor for a friend, but he didn't want to ruin things with Quiet Riot. Whether he knew it or not his entire life was about to change just based on tuning up and running scales. He told Guitar World:
I had never looked for auditions or gigs outside of what I was doing. Besides, I thought I would hurt my band. When I did go down, there were all these guys with Marshall stacks. I brought along a tiny practice amp. I started tuning up and Ozzy said, 'You've got the gig,' I didn't even get to play! I had the weirdest feeling because I thought 'He didn't even hear me yet.
Blizzard of Ozz
Rhoads traveled to England in November of '79 only to be turned away at Heathrow Airport for a lack of a work permit. What was meant to be his glorious first moments of working with the singer of Black Sabbath ended up with the guitarist handcuffed and on a plane back to America. Once he touched down in the States Ozzy called him to apologize and had his manager sort everything out. Rhoads was back in England on November 27, living with Ozzy, and writing their first album.
"Blizzard of Ozz" was recorded quickly at Ridge Farm Studio with Rhoads and bassist/lyricist Bob Daisley beating out songs with Lee Kerslake on drums. While the album has the heavy metal sound associated with Los Angeles in the '80s, when the album was released in the UK in 1980 it was Rhoads' neoclassical guitar that was the most recognizable, specifically on "Crazy Train" and "Goodbye To Romance."
According to Rhoads, as soon as the band finished the record they went out on tour and hit England as hard as possible to keep the memory of Ozzy alive. The record performed well, but they really wanted to take America by storm.
Rhoads changed Ozzy's life
On tour and back in the studio to record the follow up to "Blizzard of Ozz," it was clear to everyone that Ozzy was reinvigorated thanks to Rhoads. Ozzy's manager and soon to be wife, Sharon, noted:
As soon as he found Randy, it was like night and day. He was alive again. Randy was a breath of fresh air, funny, ambitious, just a great guy.
Rhoads was patient with Osbourne and the duo worked together to create some of the most memorable hard rock songs of the era. While speaking with Guitar World shortly before his death, Rhoads says that he would have liked to explore his guitar playing a bit more before recording a second album but there was just no time. The group had to go into the studio and bang out whatever they could come up with:
Directly after making Blizzard, we did a European tour, came back and did Diary. There was no break. I didn't have time to sit back and think about 'What do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish?' Therefore, I was really short of ideas that I was interested in pursuing... Some parts of this record make me cringe from a guitar standpoint.
Classical guitar called to Rhoads
Life on the road with Ozzy wasn't easy. The singer's dependence on drugs and alcohol was just as bad, if not worse, than it was while he was in Sabbath. Many nights ended with shows being canceled or running incredibly late because Ozzy was either hung over or totally off his head. By all accounts Rhoads loved Ozzy but he was getting tired of the unpredictability.
People around Rhoads said that he often spoke about quitting the band once his contractual obligations came to an end so he could earn a degree in classical guitar. His desire to leave the band was exacerbated after he was informed that the band's label, Jet, wanted the band to record a live cover album of Black Sabbath tracks. Rhoads didn't think it made sense to look to the past while they were creating forward thinking heavy metal. The album was eventually recorded by a replacement band following the death of Rhoads but when the possibility was broached to the guitarist he knew that he was done with Ozzy.
Rhoads died a senseless death
Rhoads played his final show on March 18, 1982, in Knoxville Tennessee. The next day the band was due to play in Orlando, but during a stop off in Leesburg, Florida to fix the air conditioner on their bus Rhoads and the band's seamstress agreed to take a ride on a single-engine Beechcraft F35 plane piloted by bus driver Andrew Aycock.
Osbourne, Sharon, bassist Rudy Sarzo, drummer Tommy Aldridge and keyboardist Don Airey were asleep in a tour bus as the plane made multiple passes over the bus, but on the fourth pass Aycock clipped the bus, spun out into a tree and crashed into a neighboring house. The heat from the plane's explosion was so hot that it burned Rhoads so badly he could only be identified by his jewelry.
Aycock tested positive for trace amounts of cocaine, while Rhoads only had nicotine in his system. After less than only ten years as a professional guitar player he career came to an end in a horrific incident. Shortly after Rhoads' death Osbourne told Guitar Player:
We had a great rapport together. We loved each other very dearly. I swear to God, the tragedy of my life is the day he died.
Tags: Guitarists | Heavy Metal | Ozzy Osbourne | Randy Rhoads | RIP (Famous Deaths)
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