Randy Rhoads: Thirty years ago today, a tragic accident took the life of a legendary guitarist
The 1980s did not start well for Ozzy Osbourne. After being kicked out of Black Sabbath, the Prince of Darkness holed up in an L.A. hotel room, planning to remain as drunk as possible until his money ran out, and then probably move back to England to work as a laborer. He met future wife Sharon Arden by stealing $500 from her to purchase a profound amount of cocaine. Arden cursed out Osbourne, furious at the loss of money, but then took pity on him (he was crying, soaked in urine and supernaturally intoxicated) and agreed to help revive his career.
Photo by Rudy Sarzo Randy Rhoads, backstage in 1981.
Auditions for a new band were arranged. Osbourne was very drunk, but can still recall the day a shy blonde kid came in, Arden telling Ozzy the boy was in a band called Quiet Riot. "He plugs in his amp and starts doing these finger exercises," Osbourne remembers in his autobiography I Am Ozzy. "I almost cried he was so good." Osbourne was overcome with drink and passed out before the blonde kid had finished playing, but once it was over, Arden told him he had gotten the job.
The kid was Randy Rhoads.
Rhoads had become a fixture of the L.A. music scene in the mid 1970s. His band, the Whore, performed at parties at night and practiced in Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco during the day. The band evolved into Quiet Riot and began performing alongside Van Halen (many rock historians note the influence Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen had on one another) and landed a deal with Japanese CBS/Sony. Unfortunately, the deal prevented the outfit from releasing its first two albums Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II in the US. So when the opportunity came to join the former Black Sabbath singer's new solo project, Rhoads jumped at the opportunity.
The "finger exercises" that Osbourne had observed in Rhoads were the classical scales that Rhoads had been practicing since a young age. Combining classical guitar playing with metal had been lightly touched upon by '70s guitarists like Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore, but had yet to really catch on. The members of Quiet Riot never cared for Rhoads' flirtation with the centuries old style, but Osbourne and his band were enamored with it and encouraged Rhoads to utilize it as much as possible. The sound would later become known as neo-classical metal (or "shredding") and would dominate the guitar playing of 1980s metal records.
Osbourne discovered a similar creative synergy with Rhoads. In VH1's Behind the Music: Ozzy Osbourne, Osbourne laments the songwriting process he had previously endured with Black Sabbath, stating that the band wouldn't involve Osbourne in the creative process, coming up with the music and simply telling the shy singer with an inferiority complex to just sing something atop what they'd done. "Randy was a teacher; he had a lot of patience. We would bounce off each other," Osbourne remembers. He would later state in his autobiography that with Rhoads it was "the first time I ever felt like an equal partner in songwriting."
"Randy really built up Ozzy's confidence," Sharon Osbourne recalls. "The two became close friends, and it was the perfect relationship. The perfect partnership."
The collaboration paid off with the album The Blizzard of Oz. Featuring singles "Mr. Crowley" and "Crazy Train," the album would go on to quadruple platinum status, followed up quickly with Diary of a Madman, which Osbourne describes as his "favorite," and features much of Rhodes innovative style of playing.
In 1981, Guitar Player Magazine presented Rhoads with an award for "Best New Talent." In an interview the shy young man, surrounded by drunken band mates, was clearly humbled by the honor, and said...
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