Randy Rhoads was on a fast track to being hailed by critics and fans as the greatest rock guitar player of all time. He recorded two seminal multi-platinum albums with Ozzy Osbourne in just two short years. The guitar virtuoso was named Guitar Player magazine’s best new talent of 1981. His masterful ability to bridge rock and classical techniques helped him forge a groundbreaking style of guitar playing as evidenced in his jaw-dropping six-string work on songs including “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley,” and “Flying High Again.” And then it all came to a crashing halt on March 19, 1982, when Rhoads, 25, was killed in a plane crash in Leesburg, Fla.
But his legacy lives on — and authors Steven Rosen and Andrew Klein have documented Rhoads’ life and career in the new book “Randy Rhoads” (Velocity Publishing, $99). Featuring memorabilia and hundreds of rare photographs, this beautifully designed coffee-table book chronicles an oral history of Rhoads’ life through those who knew him the best.
Below, please enjoy this excerpt of Chapter 9 from the book “Randy Rhoads,” by Steven Rosen and Andrew Klein, titled “I Don’t Know Who Or What I Am.”
Ozzy and Randy departed for America in April 1981 to begin rehearsals for what would become a 20-month trek across the country. There, they’d hook up with the new rhythm section: Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo. Keyboardist Lindsay Bridgwater had also been hired for the first leg of the U.S. tour. This cross-country juggernaut would take in more than 100 dates in every city from Denver to Davenport, including multiple stops in Canada.
Randy Rhoads was an unstoppable force when he first flew back to America, bristling with unbridled energy. Yes, he’d had to weather the strangling sensation of watching two of his bandmates booted from the group, but all of that was behind him. It was a new tour, and he was back home with his friends and family.
Once back in Burbank, Rhoads reconnected with his Quiet Riot friend, Rudy Sarzo. He’d arranged for the bass player’s audition, but Rudy had passed on that first invitation because he wanted to remain with Angel. A second call came, and this one he heeded.
“When Sharon Arden called the first time and asked me to audition for the band, I turned it down,” Sarzo explained. “Out of nowhere I got a second call the next day that I wasn’t expecting, and it was Ozzy. He said that they had auditioned a bunch of bass players, and Randy said that I was the guy they were looking for. Now with a change of heart, I was ready to accept it and agreed to audition for them. The following day, Randy picked me up and we went over to Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills, which is where I met Ozzy and Sharon for the first time. We gathered in the bar area of the restaurant, and I instantly felt very much at home with them.
“Ozzy was very animated and likeable; we talked for hours. I felt that Ozzy really wanted me in the band and was hoping that my audition would go perfectly. Randy came over the following day to pick me up for the audition and my first day of rehearsal. We went over the material together in advance. He wanted to make sure I knew all the nuances and all the important parts. They wanted the songs to be played just like the record.”
Sarzo established an easy rapport with Ozzy and Sharon. A soft-spoken Cuban-American with a sincere smile, he was the recipient of their largesse, including pay raises and a free car. He went from sleeping on Kevin DuBrow’s floor to residing in a guest house on Don Arden’s Beverly Hills estate.
Tommy Aldridge was also a seamless fit. Born in Nashville, Tenn., and a veteran of bands like Black Oak Arkansas, and a three-year stretch from 1978 to 1981 with Pat Travers, he had been on Ozzy’s radar when things started to fall apart with Lee Kerslake.
One of the main reasons he accepted the singer’s offer was because he’d heard this phenomenal kid playing on Osbourne’s two albums, and he wanted to share the stage with him. During a lunch break on the first day of rehearsal, newbie Tommy Aldridge didn’t waste any time in introducing himself. He approached Randy and remarked how honored he was to be playing with him. The guitarist was embarrassed by the statement and started to blush. At that precise moment, Aldridge realized this cat with the screaming Les Paul was one of the most self-effacing and modest musicians he’d ever met.
Randy, Rudy, and Tommy formed an instant fellowship. Ozzy was still drinking and there was always turmoil between he and Sharon, so the three amigos spent a lot of time together. Randy was still the practical joker, and since Sarzo was the most easygoing, he was usually on the receiving end of these playful shenanigans. The bass player didn’t mind, because it was all in good fun.
When they started the American tour, Rudy looked out over an endless sea of twinkling cigarette lighters. He felt the massed breaths of thousands and thousands of fans screaming, “Oz-zee! Oz-zee!” It was a sight he’d never experienced before. Though it was also Randy’s first U.S. tour, he had already survived the spectacle of the U.K. tour and had his sea legs beneath him. On those early dates in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, when Rudy felt his knees buckling and his hand fumbling about the fretboard, all he had to do was glance over at his old friend. Randy would light up with that electric smile, stare back at Sarzo and send him a look that said, “It’s OK, Rudy. You can do this. We can do this.” The bass player would flash back his own grin, find his footing, and rock those four strings like he’d been on that stage all his life.
Lindsay Bridgwater also owed Randy a great deal in steering him through these murky waters. The keyboardist was completely lost when it came to performing onstage, and the guitarist guided and encouraged him. Because keyboards played such a minimal part in the music, Ozzy always hid his keyboard players in concert [“They’re so fucking ugly, that’s why I hide them”] and Bridgwater found himself dumped behind several Marshall stacks.
Because he thought he was missing some of the accents and hits, being so removed from the rest of the band, he slowly inched forward. Though the music still felt the same way as it did when he played with Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, he was aware that Aldridge was a much busier and more parts-oriented drummer than Kerslake. In order to play off those rhythmic cues, Lindsay rearranged the position of his keyboards onstage to achieve more of an ensemble feel.
Wanting to help Lindsay and Rudy transition into the live situation said a great deal about Randy’s makeup. It was an extension of the humanist in him, that professor/psychologist character residing inside his heart that found joy in passing on what he knew and in caring about others. He never allowed the monster of celebrity to devour his moral fiber.
The Blizzard Of Ozz tour began on April 22, 1981, in Towson, Md., and the Towson Center, the 5,250-seat athletics arena. Six days later, the caravan pulled into Rochester, N.Y., for a televised taping at the After Hours show. When the band first learned about the session, they didn’t take it seriously, because it seemed like such a low-key event. Lindsay had misread the schedule about departure time from the hotel and had to run a block before catching up with the bus. Sharon flayed him, and by the time the coach reached the station, it was all he could do to unclench his fingers and place them upon the keys. Everybody thought they were taping a promo at a local station in order to drive ticket sales. The original plan was to finger sync against pre-recorded tracks, but instead, a last-minute decision was made to play live. This was a small studio, and trying to recreate the sound and dynamics they’d been generating in much larger venues was not an easy task. There were no monitors since the band was originally going to play along with the tracks, and there were no rehearsals.
The band twice performed four songs: “I Don’t Know,” “Suicide Solution,” “Mr. Crowley,” and “Crazy Train.” When it was over, Randy was disappointed because he couldn’t find his sound. Though he admitted to playing poorly, a sentiment shared by Tommy Aldridge, this remained a pivotal performance because it was virtually the only professionally-shot footage ever taken of Randy Rhoads with Ozzy Osbourne. Any guitarist watching these recorded performances would have been thrilled in achieving those guitar tones, but not Randy. He was a consummate perfectionist.
“When we first heard about it, we thought it was a joke,” Sarzo mused. “We fulfilled the commitment because somebody at Jet Records obligated us to do it. We didn’t take it seriously because we thought it was a major goof. We were in a very small studio and we weren’t even supposed to be playing. We seemed loud only because the room was so small and it wasn’t acoustically designed for a heavy metal band to be performing in there.”
As the tour proceeded, Randy’s visibility rose. The process was a gradual one, like drops of water filling a glass and then overflowing. You couldn’t so much see it as you could feel it. The musician had no sense of what was happening, could not put a name to it, but he did embrace it. Fans now wanted to take photographs with him and get his autograph, and he happily obliged. With Ozzy, the allure was simple to define: He was a rock star. He used to be in Black Sabbath, and everybody wanted to be close to that. But Osbourne was unapproachable in the way many big stars are; they breathe different air.
Randy’s attraction was more difficult to define; fans wanted to be close to the person, not the persona; they wanted to touch his face, not the facade. They saw the images in magazines and watched that larger-than-life character up on the stage, but they didn’t seem to care about any of that. Well, they did, of course, since they came in droves to the concerts to witness the ritual rising of the phoenix, the sonic soaring that took place nightly as Randy ascended to new heights of glory and guitar greatness. Still, what seemed to really matter to them was looking past the mask to find the man.
After staring into his eyes, orbs as blue as Leslie West’s licks, they started to uncover a quiet, unassuming and complex character with the humility of a religious man, and a bad comic’s sense of humor. They loved that person, because he was real and they could hold him, and he wouldn’t disappear in a puff of stage smoke or a blaze of flash pots. In searching deeper and parting the curtains, they finally found Randy, and he was just like them. Well, not exactly. He laughed, worried and cried; loved Chinese food and smoked cigarettes; and was concerned about the perfect haircut. But when he danced with his guitar, something happened. This skinny-waisted guy, thin as a .010 gauge guitar string, became Hercules unleashed when he strapped on the Les Paul. He elicited cries of joy and shouts of delight. The genuine “Wizard of Aahs, the great and powerful Aahs.’”
“Before Ozzy’s band came to America, Randy didn’t know he was famous,” Lori Hollen explained. “A large group of us used to pick Randy up from the airport when he would come home for a visit. I used to make buttons that said, ‘Welcome home, Randy.’ I will never forget seeing him get off the plane. He would exit the plane holding his guitar case, and we would scream because we were so excited to see him. We would then go back to his house, have a party and eat eggs rolls. He had a thing for egg rolls; Chinese food was his absolute favorite. When he would come home for breaks, he always tried to make some time to get away and go down to the beach. I would often go with him. One day, he and I were going home from the beach and we approached a stop sign. The car in front of us had a bumper sticker that read ‘Randy Rhoads Rocks.’ We looked at each other and he said, ‘Do we know that person?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so’ and he said, ‘Well, he has a bumper sticker that says ‘Randy Rhoads Rocks,’ he must know me, right? I said, ‘I don’t think we know him, Randy, but you are famous now.’ He was so blown away that somebody took the time to get a bumper sticker with his name on it, and we didn’t know who that person was. That was the first time I am aware of that he realized he was famous.”
Randy’s mom heard the sonic boom of the Rhoads rocket. Phone calls from fans started coming in inquiring about where the Quiet Riot albums could be purchased. Once the world beyond Sunset Boulevard discovered Randy Rhoads, it couldn’t get enough of him.
Although Randy came home whenever he could, the touring schedule didn’t allow for much time off. It was hard on Jodi (Raskin-Vigier, his the-girlfriend), who still received letters and postcards from the road, but she was well aware that he was doing what he was born to do. She now saw his name in magazines, as well as the records in the music stores; and it didn’t surprise her one bit.
“Sometimes when we would be in a grocery store,” Vigier explained, “fans would come up and recognize him saying, ‘Oh, you’re Randy Rhoads; you play guitar for Ozzy Osbourne’ and ask for his autograph or picture. It was really quite something for him to experience that. He was such a great person and gave so much to so many people. His new-found fame was obviously something I wasn’t used to, but it seemed fitting for him; it felt right because we always knew the day would come.”
Seven gigs after the Rochester date, the band had a day off in Buffalo, N.Y. Down days were rare, and whenever he had the chance, the guitarist would become a regular tourist and see the sights. He’d done the same thing during the first U.K. leg of the tour, taking little day trips around the country to soak up the culture. Randy spent time with Lindsay when they were off-schedule and the keyboardist enjoyed their moments together. In Randy, he saw an excitable kid looking to experience more of a city than its airports and hotels. They took a bus trip around Boston and a helicopter ride around New York City that included a bird’s-eye view of the Statue of Liberty.
“Lindsay and I went to Niagara Falls, which is about 20 minutes from our hotel,” Rhoads said. “We went there on a sightseeing bus. Joe Perry opened for us, and we were taking his draw. He couldn’t sell many tickets, so he decided to play on our bill. It was really weird, because I spent five years teaching his music to my students, and now he is our opening act. Boston is the prettiest city; there was so much to see, and it is beautiful when driving through Massachusetts. Unfortunately, I missed seeing the sunshine when we were driving through the country because I was asleep. It reminded me of England. The gig we did in Boston was great. What a night! Afterward, there was total craziness. Lindsay, the poor guy is getting so much crap from everyone. They got him drunk, and then after he passed out, they shaved his eyebrows again and cut off his bangs. Ozzy urinated on him, and then they took his clothes and forced him to walk through the lobby of the hotel wearing only a ripped shirt and tennis shoes.”
At this early stage, Randy seemed pretty well-adjusted to life on the road, balancing the rigors of performance with the rewards of celebrity like signing autographs, taking photographs with fans and doing interviews. Pete Mertens, his guitar tech, realized that journalists were turning up at every show to talk to him and take photographs of his guitars. Album signings in stores always revolved around Randy and Ozzy, and the bulk of the media coverage always centered on these two. Sarzo has admitted that much of the press thought Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake were still in the band; nobody was even aware of the change. The flame in Randy’s candle was burning brighter but he was never blinded by it, nor did he ever allow it to hinder him in his one main pursuit—playing the guitar.
“It was common for us while we were on the road to go to fans’ houses,” Sarzo recalled. “We would run into somebody at the mall and they would say, ‘Want to come over to our place?’ We would go, just so that we would have something to do. We wanted to be anywhere other than a hotel room. Every single day, if we weren’t playing, we were at a happy hour drinking gin and tonic or vodka tonics. Being on the road was not a very productive lifestyle; it’s basically the same thing over and over every day. So whenever there was a chance to break away from the routine, we grabbed it. One night, we were at a club in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and a girl came up to Randy and asked him to come back to her place and give some words of encouragement to her boyfriend because he was having a tough time in the local southern Florida music scene. Randy said yes, and I went along with them. We went there and hung out for hours talking about music, and it was so great because as we were pulling up to the driveway of their house, the guy was playing the ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ record. He was completely blown away when he saw Randy Rhoads walk into his house.”
On June 27, 1981, the tour pulled into the guitarist’s own backyard. The Long Beach Arena was the 39th date on the tour. Almost 10 years earlier to the day, on July 11, 1971, Randy watched Alice Cooper perform there, his first concert and a turning point in his life. It couldn’t get any more perfect if you were writing the script. For Randy, this must have felt like he had climbed the highest mountain. Returning to his hometown as a conquering hero, a vanquisher of everything that stood before him. This must have been the true realization of his dream. All of his friends were there, and they finally got to see who he became.
“By the time we played the Long Beach Arena, Randy was already enjoying his success,” Rudy Sarzo explained. “Because he was a part of the process from the very beginning. We didn’t come back home thinking that we were rock stars, because we knew we were just players in Ozzy’s band. But Randy was getting a completely different level of attention than Tommy and me. He recorded and composed the songs on those great records, so it was fitting that he would draw more attention.”
Randy sent a limousine for his family. The guitarist rode with them, and for the 60-minute drive south from Burbank to Long Beach on the 405 Freeway, everybody would have been animated and excited. This was the first time any of them would see Randy play with Ozzy, and whatever they expected, their imaginations would fall far short of reality. Sitting in the corner of the expansive, slick, black interior, a seasoned pro by this time and accustomed to the lush splendor of the stretch, Randy’s smile would have lit up the darkened limo.
They arrived early for sound check, where Randy noodled with his pedal board to eliminate any stubborn ghosts or gremlins. Save for the crew and Long Beach Arena staff, the house was empty. Kelle remembered sitting out among the empty seats while his brother ran through the settings. It must have sounded like the very voice of God coming down from the ceiling, the mute of Randy’s strings shaking the rafters, and the thunder of his power chords vibrating the arena’s foundation.
If Randy turned it up a notch for the hometown crowd, no one would be surprised. When the lights dimmed and his family saw him first take the stage, they may have experienced a strange sensation of, “This is my son; this is my brother. I know him, but I don’t know that person up there.” They saw the spectacle of raised lighters and experienced the adrenaline-fueled moment before the first note was struck. Randy knew his family was out in the crowd somewhere, and he would have reached a little deeper inside himself, ripping through the deadliest arsenal of guitar riffs anyone had ever heard.
Following the show, everyone returned to Don Arden’s home in Beverly Hills. There, among platters of catered food and top-shelf alcohol, Randy would have been feted, celebrated and complimented on his performance. He would have been exuberant because it had all gone right, and he’d performed to his own high expectations. Delores would look in amazement as her son showed her 150 pairs of Sharon’s designer shoes.
She’d see a second show several days later on July 2nd at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, Calif. There, with her daughter and granddaughter, she’d watch the band run through a pre-show rehearsal. She’d smile, something deep inside of her was comforted, knowing that this was her son’s time. He was glowing. Everything he’d worked so hard for was now his for the taking. Randy’s father, William, was also brimming with pride when he too got the chance to see his son shine on the big stage. When the tour found its way to New Haven, Conn., on August 2, Randy opted to stay at his dad’s house, rather than in the hotel with the band. Mr. Rhoads got to spend one-on-one time with his son, as well as attend the sound check. After the concert, William hugged his son Randy goodbye. This would be the last time they would see each other.
Diary of a Madman Tour
The band began the Diary Of A Madman segment of the tour by rehearsing at Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, a mammoth 10-acre production facility located at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Las Palmas Avenue in Hollywood. Here, the new stage set was road tested and included pyramids, multi-level platforms, turrets and hydraulics.
Tommy Aldridge was set atop a massive riser with steps leading down to the stage below, and two balcony/turret areas framed the area. It looked like the front of a medieval castle. A major step up from the Blizzard Of Ozz set in terms of detail and complexity, it took a little bit of time for the band to ease into all the working parts.
There was another new addition, or more accurately, the return of Don Airey. Once again, Lindsay Bridgwater was given his pink slip in favor of Airey. At first, the keyboardist demurred, thinking his employment with Rainbow was secure, but in a fit of pique, Ritchie Blackmore started pulling everything apart. Ozzy wanted him back, and Don said he’d only return if he was onstage with the band. The singer said no, he was going to be placed offstage behind the amplifier cabinets. Airey said he wasn’t interested. Five minutes later, Ozzy called back, told him he could join the band onstage. Don then flew to Los Angeles. Airey would perform inside the stage right battlement where he could see and hear the band perfectly.
Dec. 27, 1981, was the first day of rehearsals, and it didn’t go well. Randy was very ill and could do little more than huddle inside a blanket, shivering and smoking cigarettes. The power was out and the PA didn’t work. None of the moving pieces functioned properly, and the entire time Sharon Arden stalked about the stage like the proverbial queen of the castle.
Randy regained some of his strength, and toward day’s end, he, Rudy and Tommy jammed a bit. Airey was doubled over with awe and thought they sounded like Cream. By the next day, the kinks had been worked out, and the band started running through the set. Any trepidation Don Airey originally felt was gone the minute the band broke into the first song. Hearing Randy play truly inspired him, and that wasn’t an easy thing to do, because he’d just come off the road playing with Ritchie Blackmore.
“Entertainment Tonight” came by to film three songs from one of the rehearsals, though Ozzy had tried to veto the idea. He felt it was too early in the process and cameras shouldn’t be allowed in. Still, they were present and provided another rare piece of professionally-shot footage. The Cow Palace in San Francisco provided the venue for the first stop on the Diary Of A Madman tour. Everything that could go wrong on that Dec. 30, 1981 gig, did. A kabuki curtain, timed to drop during “Over The Mountain,” went untriggered. The AC power malfunctioned, and without power, the relays would not release it. The drum set was placed under a pyramid stairway, and when Ozzy rose from his throne at the outset of the show, the drums were supposed to be hydraulically elevated. They started rising, but Ozzy’s chair was still attached. Adding final insult to injury, some genius in the production crew had the brilliant idea of throwing liver into the crowd from a giant sling-propelled hand. The theory was that liver would magically transform into liquid blood if hurled at a high enough velocity. During the Cow Palace show, the liver was still frozen and some fan was bombarded with five pounds of
rock-hard meat. After that night, the giant hand was never again used to toss raw flesh, but became a platform for Ozzy to sit on.
Nothing worked at the Cow Palace, but it wasn’t a total loss. Randy Rhoads was awarded the Best New Talent Award from Guitar Player magazine that night. At the time, Guitar Player was the Holy Grail of all things guitar. Upon learning that he’d won the award, he was ecstatic, nervous and speechless all at the same moment. The band had been selling records and concert tickets, and that was important. Winning the Best New Guitarist Award was, well, everything. Recognition from a magazine like Guitar Player was about the highest honor any musician could receive. The magazine had sent photographers to shoot the ceremony that found Randy typically low-key and humble.
“Since I’ve started this tour, great things haven’t stopped happening,” Rhoads admitted. “It gets to the point where you don’t know how to handle any good news anymore. You dream of things, of being in a band and getting the chance to do it. Getting the award was really great; it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When they told me, I thought they were joking because Sharon always jokes with me anyway. She called me one day and told me, and I just didn’t believe it. I’m real proud and honored, and I don’t want to stop here, you know?”
Why would he? The train was rolling at a bullet’s speed, and there wasn’t an obstacle in sight. There was one, though, in looking back, but it still seemed impossible. A day after the Cow Palace debacle, Randy, Don and Jodi were in a car, heading for the airport. Airey was reading a newspaper that contained a negative review that singled out Randy by calling him an “overrated guitar player.” Only the night before he’d won this prestigious award, and yet when he heard those words, his head dropped to his chest in absolute melancholy. From that point forward, a pall fell over the car. As if on cue, the sun scurried behind a cloud, the sky darkened, and for one electric moment the world balanced on a pin. For some reason, Don turned quickly around in his seat and watched as a huge airplane tire dropped from the sky.
Looking like some monster doughnut, it bounced dangerously along the freeway, and only missed the car by inches. It did smash into the car behind them and then disappeared. Everybody was frightened into silence and could only stare straight ahead, seeing nothing. Cars kept zipping by, and the world kept turning, but everyone in the car felt it, if just for a second … an icy shiver running up and down the spine.
Despite the falling tire episode, Randy seemed really happy during these opening shows. The Diary tour returned to Los Angeles for the New Year’s Eve show at the Sports Arena, but playing in cities like Duluth, Minn., and Chicago in the dead of winter wasn’t particularly comfortable. Temperatures regularly dipped below zero, and factoring in wind chill variables, they’d sometimes be facing readings of minus 50 degrees. In Duluth, the bus froze 20 yards from the backstage door, so the band had to run the final 60 feet. It was a mad dash to avoid frostbite. The production trucks also broke down, so the band played without the castle. Don Airey remembered that show as being the first time they just showed up, set up and played.
It didn’t matter if hell itself had frozen over; Randy was going to play his guitars. He’d arrive at the venues, sometimes at 10:30 in the morning, looking for his instruments. Chris Dale, staging supervisor, would have found a room backstage for Pete Mertens to set up Randy’s guitars. The room would always be warmed up with a portable heater and prepared with a pot of hot tea. All the guitars would be set up and arranged on stands, sitting there obediently like soldiers awaiting orders. Randy would show up and play classical guitar most of the day, bothering no one, asking for nothing, and welcoming you into the room if you happened by.
Life on the road was tough, and when Randy couldn’t get away for some little excursion somewhere, he’d find the local music store and give an impromptu seminar. Mertens recalled one session that took place in Greensburg, Pa., on February 2, 1982; it had been recorded and has since made the bootleg rounds. Randy was always doing stuff on a whim.
During the first leg of the U.K. Blizzard Of Ozz tour, the English band Budgie opened the shows. Guitarist John Thomas had seen Rhoads doing his tapping routine and was desperate to learn how he did it; Randy obliged by giving him several lessons between sets. During that same English tour, Ozzy remembered staying at a hotel with a small piano bar lounge. He saw Randy ask the pianist if he could accompany him on guitar. The piano player encouraged his participation so Randy ran up to his room, grabbed his Les Paul and practice amp, and the solo act became a duet.
Which isn’t to say that Randy didn’t sometimes join in nonmusical activities. He was, after all, a dyed-in-the-wool prankster, and he appreciated a well-played joke. At a San Diego show on January 4, the band stayed at the Four Seasons. In a scene reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s television-tossing days back in the height of that band’s destructive period, Randy had tied an expensive duvet to an easy chair. Reckoning there was too much furniture in his room, he pushed the item from the window in hopes that it would float gently to the ground. It didn’t.
The comforter acted like a parachute for a few seconds, then the heavy chair plummeted downward, where it landed right in the middle of the pool. Don Airey saw this strange object descending past his window, and when he poked his head out and looked up, there was Randy howling like a little kid who’d just pulled a fast one. Everybody was tossed out of the hotel moments later, but it had been worth it. Ozzy rarely participated directly in these crazy stunts, preferring his alcohol and alone time.
Osbourne was a pleasant drunk and not abusive. Though he was drunk much of the time, Don Airey in particular never saw him drinking before a show, forgetting a lyric, or missing a cue. He might still be drunk from a previous night’s binge, but there was never alcohol consumed prior to a performance.
After the first four or five shows, everybody traveled on a privately-hired bus. Sharon laid down a rule that there was no drinking backstage, but beer was allowed on the bus. Friendships bloomed, video game competitions developed, and the easy camaraderie of living in close quarters with other human beings for an extended period of time was established. Randy wasn’t much of a gamer, so he’d quietly retreat to the back of the coach and practice his guitar or write a letter to Jodi. Don Airey was a trained musician, so the pair would spend time together, with Randy asking questions about certain pieces of music and how the rhythm was played in various phrases. His contribution was turning Airey on to Pat Metheny and the movie, “Carrie” — they both enjoyed Pino Donaggio’s macabre score — that they watched several times. There was a scene near the end of the film where a hand reaches up from beneath the ground and was accompanied by this very strange and eerie chord. Airey worked it out and played it the next day at sound check; Randy thought that was the greatest.
His education barely missed a beat while he was on the road. He found guitar instructors in various cities, and because he was pressed for time, the instructors would come to his hotel or backstage and give him a lesson. More often than not, Randy was a more accomplished classical player than the teacher coming to visit him. He was never rude, curt, or dismissive, and he never thought he had wasted his time. Many times, it was simply the routine and familiarity of it, looking for calm amid the chaos. On more than one occasion, Don Airey would hear a piece of a Bach fugue come drifting into his adjacent room and he knew Randy was practicing or taking another lesson. It was a sublime moment amid the electric carnage the band wreaked every night. Classical guitar was something Rhoads could do on his own. This was something of his own that he could control, shape and turn into anything he wanted. There was no fitting into a costume or gyrating on a stage; no enduring the drunken brawls that often broke out between Ozzy and Sharon; and no pressure from always having to be a rock star.
As much as Randy tried to hang onto a little piece of sanity amid the madness, the craziness of the tour was escalating. Ozzy had brought out John Allen, a little person with a humpback, to be a part of the big stage show. “Little John,” as everyone called him, would be dressed as a monk, splashed with fake blood, and become the singer’s onstage punching bag. He appeared through an opening in the middle of the stage and would hand towels and water to Ozzy, who booted him in the ass, manhandled him and hung him from a noose suspended 30 feet in the air. One night, the truss malfunctioned, and the little man was stuck dangling over the stage. When Chris Dale climbed up, Little John had already begun trying to free himself with a pocketknife. Chris unclipped John from the apparatus, and he then fell the entire distance to a fall pad placed on the floor below. During one performance in Corpus Christi, Texas, Little John was throwing liver into the audience, and a huge slab of frozen meat — they still hadn’t figured out how to defrost the stuff yet — came sailing back on the stage and literally coldcocked him when it smashed into his skull. He was taken directly to the hospital. A raging alcoholic who could not hold his booze, Little John became so drunk one evening on the bus that Pete Mertens stashed him underneath the coach in the luggage compartment. He forgot about him and left him there for hours, having to endure temperatures of minus 10 degrees. Everybody agreed that it was a miracle he wasn’t killed.
Ozzy’s own drinking and drug taking had not stopped. One of Sharon’s main functions was making sure the singer showed up at the gig early enough so that she might spend several hours trying to sweat the booze out of him. Her methods included physical exercise and pots of black coffee. At a stop in Des Moines, Iowa, after running through the ritual pre-show drying out period, Ozzy was well into his set when someone tossed a bat on stage. Little rubber bats and various toys were always being thrown at him. He picked up one of the fake creatures, put it in his mouth and chomped down hard. The Veterans Memorial audience roared its approval. He picked up another one, stuck it between his lips and as his teeth came together, he spit it out in disgust. He mouthed, “It’s real” to Tommy Aldridge, and when they’d retired backstage following the close of the show, the drummer joked with his singer by telling him all bats carry rabies. Ozzy said the bat was dead, but Tommy said it didn’t matter because the rabies lived on. Sharon, never one to miss a press op, phoned the Associated Press that Ozzy Osbourne had just bitten the head off a rabid bat, and was currently being rushed to the hospital. He did undergo a series of very painful rabies injections.
Still vivid in the public’s collective memories is the incident when Ozzy put a live dove in his mouth and severed its head. Sharon had planned a meeting with the CBS record executives to build a fire under them in supporting the upcoming “Diary Of A Madman” album release. Seated in a conference room, she had orchestrated the release of a couple of doves hidden in Ozzy’s jacket pocket much the way a magician hides his birds. The idea was for the doves to fly around in a gesture of peace and accord. Ozzy grabbed the birds, stuffed one of them in his mouth, and decapitated it. With blood dripping down his chin, he tossed the beheaded body to the floor. Ozzy became more famous for biting this bird in two than for anything he ever did musically.
Rachel Youngblood was a woman who had been brought out on the road to maintain the band’s wardrobe and to function as Sharon’s assistant and go-to person. She had previously worked in the Arden’s home for many years and had proven herself to be a valuable and loyal employee. Rachel suffered from a heart condition and didn’t enjoy flying, but when Sharon asked her to come on the road, there wasn’t a second’s hesitation. When Randy came offstage, completely drained after giving everything he had, he would throw his sweat-drenched clothes on the floor and crawl off in the corner. Bringing him a bathrobe, Rachel would gently chide and affectionately tease him about leaving his stuff strewn about the tour bus.
Randy’s credo was simple: “I don’t want to be satisfied with myself. Once you are, where are you going to go?” That was an essential question and one he still couldn’t answer. Every show became an all-out marathon, running at top speed from the curtain’s rise through the encore. His performances were almost flawless, and he constantly pushed himself to execute an arpeggio just a little cleaner and articulate a riff during his solo segment with a bit more finesse. Operating at such a high level was taking its toll. Every concert had an ebb and flow, a rhythm all its own, but Randy was jacking up the stakes every night to eliminate any lesser moments. He must have been compensating for something, trying to fill an emptiness and feeding some craving that wouldn’t be satisfied. He probably didn’t know exactly what that feeling was, or where it was coming from. A lot of people in Randy’s shoes would have turned to drugs or alcohol, but he wasn’t wired that way. He found solace in the simple things like the respite that his classical guitar provided. But he was still lost as this beast inside him was growing hungrier and growling louder, and it had to be confronted.
“It seemed like the farther Randy got away from home, the tougher it was for him,” Rudy Sarzo remembered. Being in unfamiliar territory was not what he wanted. He also didn’t want to go onstage every night and play the same set; he was more into being creative. Basically, he had to paint the same masterpiece every single night. The worst thing you can do is be as great today as you were yesterday. You’re always looking for that magic moment to come out of somewhere, and there’s only so many of those that you can have in a single night.”
Maybe that’s what it was — looking for the magic within the drone of the everyday. Randy had mastered the music and wanted more. He needed more. One evening, in thinking the answer resided at the bottom of a bottle, Randy got completely wasted. He never drank to excess and hated himself when he did. The next morning, feeling like his head was in an anvil, he wanted Rudy to document the moment. “Do me a favor?” he asked. “Take a picture so I can remind myself of how I look when I’m hung over.”
Jodi also recognized his unhappiness. Randy still wrote to her religiously and talked about doing something different. Somewhere along the way he had lost himself. When he tried to put himself back together, he came out as someone else, and he didn’t like that person. The audiences still cheered, and he continued to play brilliantly, but something was missing. The dream wasn’t what it seemed.
“Somewhere along the way, he just stopped being himself,” Jodi explained. “He was not happy at all. He needed a break, and he really wanted to be at home and play classical guitar exclusively. He mentioned going back to school and doing other things. He was starting to feel very unhappy playing with Ozzy and the band, and he became extremely uncomfortable. I know for a fact that he wanted to do something different with his life.”
Because Randy always kept in contact with his friends, they knew about his deteriorating situation with Ozzy. On his last visit home, he talked with Jan McGuire, who immediately saw his distress and felt the hurt inside him. Jan learned that Randy wanted to leave the band and study classical guitar full time. Ever the student, he didn’t think he could truly call himself a guitar player until he’d mastered that style. He was afraid and confused and reluctant to open up. But he was obviously fearful for the future, and for the first time in her life Jan saw her ex-boyfriend under intense duress.
Whether Randy actually broke down in front of his bandmates was unlikely. But they all saw how ill at ease he was, and the desperation growing inside him. Don Airey recognized the syndrome immediately, that of the unknown, the underdog suddenly thrust into the limelight. The person he once was, was disappearing in direct proportion to the world’s perception of him. That is, the harder he tried to hold onto Randall William Rhoads, human being, the faster he morphed into Randy Rhoads, rock star. He despised that role, the man in the spotlight, and he wanted it turned off. Quite frankly, he wanted it to end. It had been just over three months since he was quoted as saying “Five years from now, I would love to have people know me as a guitar hero.” But in those three months, his reality had been radically altered. His devotion to family and friends had never waned, and he now longed for them more than ever. Life as a traveling musician had grown wearisome and soul crunching. Watching Ozzy and Sharon constantly at battle left him shell-shocked, and he had had enough. Two-and-a-half years away from the people he loved had finally taken its toll. In letters and postcards, he wrote of his misery and growing depression with his circumstances. He wanted to come home, and it was time to get out.
“Everything happens so fast in this band,” Randy realized. “I haven’t had enough time to think what I want to do. I practice less than I did because I don’t have the time. I can’t sit down in a hotel room and practice. I still have my past in me. I am trying to accept all this, but I don’t have my feet on the ground at all. I don’t know who I am or what I am. What it does is make you totally frightened and humble. You don’t understand it. Everything comes at you so fast. Obviously, now it’s just go, go, go. There are no breaks or anything. When I do get a long break, I want to go back to teaching and take lessons again. If I get a month off, I am going to take lessons. I want to keep bettering myself.”