The short career of guitarist Randy Rhoads
by Randy Luckie
Randy Rhoads flashed into our lives, those of us who love rock music, that is, in a big way in 1981 when he appeared on Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo album, “Blizzard of Ozz” (US release) after being put out of Black Sabbath in 1979. I was fortunate to have attended the March 17, 1982, Atlanta date of the Diary of a Madman Tour at the Omni. The show, Ozzy, and the opening act, UFO (who I loved, but the bass player was so messed up he kept falling down on stage!), were terrible, to be honest, but Randy was one of the best guitarist I ever saw, even among that ordeal, he shined like the star he was. Sadly, Randy was killed on March19th, only two days later, in a plane crash in Leesburg, FL.
Randy, at age 16, and bassist friend Kelly Garni formed a band named “Mach 1” in 1973 that became “Quiet Riot” in1975. That ’75 line up consisted of Randy, Kelly, vocalist Kevin DuBrow and drummer Drew Forsyth. The band became a very successful club circuit band, often opening for acts like Van Halen before either band had a record deal. This line up was never able to land a US record deal, though in 1977, they landed a deal with Sony, but only for release in Japan. They recorded two alums, Quiet Riot (’77) and Quite Riot II (’78) as Japanese releases only. Randy became increasingly unhappy that Quiet Riot couldn’t land a US deal which opened him up to even considering auditions outside of Quiet Riot.
Then, in September of ’79, Ozzy Osbourne had been in L.A. in late 1979 auditioning musicians for his new upcoming project and on the last few days before he was to return to England, Randy was called in and with his Les Paul and a practice amp went through some warm ups and then Dana Strum, future bassist with Slaughter, who had coaxed Randy into the audition, came from the control room and said he got the gig. Randy didn’t meet Ozzy until the next day, as Ozzy had been drunk and never left the studio control room during Randy’s audition. Sometime later, Randy lamented, “I just tuned up and did some riffs, and he said, ‘You’ve got the gig’; I had the weirdest feeling, because I thought, ‘You didn’t even hear me yet!'”
Randy ended up jamming with Ozzy, Strum and drummer Frankie Banali for a few days before Ozzy went back to England. The management behind Ozzy had determined only British musicians would be in the band but Ozzy lobbied and won, for Randy, a place in his new project. Ozzy then fired the guitarist they had been working with in England, opening the door for Randy. Randy’s first visit to England didn’t go so well, as he spent the night in a holding cell before being sent back to the US because his working papers to the UK weren’t in order.
The project eventually consisted of Ozzy, Randy, bassist Bob Daisley, formally of the band “Rainbow” and drummer Lee Kerslake, from the band Uriah Heep, both during the ‘70’s. The band entered the studio in 1980 to record Blizzard of Ozz.
Thankfully, in this setting, Randy was encouraged to play what he wanted, unlike in Quiet Riot, where the efforts had been to build around Kevin Dubrow’s vocals instead of Randy’s phenomenal talent. In result, again, thankfully, two things happened; First was by Randy saying to Ozzy, ‘…all metal songs use E-A chord structures…let’s try to change that…’ Randy was suggesting a sonic departure from the norms of the day, in which Ozzy responded by declaring each song on the album would be in different key signatures, as a rule. Then, second, Randy was able to bring in his classical roots into the mix creating a unique sound which helped propel Blizzard of Ozz, and the to come Diary of a Madman into Rock and Roll History. Blizzard of Ozz was a huge hit in the US with two singles, Crazy Train and Mr. Crowley.
However, the strains of the R&R life took it’s toll on the band and Randy. Randy had already given notice that he would fulfill his contract (to Jet Records) but would be leaving the band. As an insight, while other members of the band spent days trying to recoup from excessive lifestyles, Randy would find a classical tutors in whatever town they were in and further his own pursuits. Consider this excerpt from writer Randy Perry at http://www.ozzyhead.com/randbio.htm
… Randy would have a classical guitar tutor in each city the band played. It became common knowledge that Randy wanted to quit rock and roll temporarily so that he could attend school to get his masters in classical guitar. Randy also wanted to take advantage of some of the studio session offers he was receiving…
Also, the management of Ozzy was insisting on doing a live recording of all Black Sabbath songs for release. Both Randy and Bob Daisley opposed the idea as a step backwards in view of the success of Blizzard and Diary releases. This, along with Ozzy’s personal problems and inconsistent behavior, sometimes leading to show cancellations, are some of the reasons Randy seemed poised to make some changes.
–Years later, Osbourne said in his autobiography that he could not understand why a musician as talented as Rhoads would want to get involved with a “bloated alcoholic wreck” like himself.Osbourne,Ozzy (2011). I Am Ozzy. I Am Ozzy. p. 134.
After a show on the 18th in Knoxville, TN the band embarked on a road trip headed to Orlando. The band was scheduled to play the 20th at the Rock Super Bowl rock festival at the Tangerine Bowl stadium in Orlando. Early on the 19th, one of the buses had a mechanical failure near Leesburg, Fl, just east off I-75, where you would take the FL turnpike to Orlando,which was only about 40 miles away. The property where the entourage parked for repairs had a small airfield.
During the down time, one of the tour bus drivers, also a part-time private pilot, decided to take a plane and fly some of the band and crew for fun.
The NTSB report, in part, says…
Accident Number: MIA82FA078
Date & Time: 03/19/1982, 1000 EST
Aircraft: BEECH F35
Injuries: 3 Fatal
THE PILOT, WHO WAS A ROCK GROUP DRIVER, TOOK AN AIRCRAFT FROM THE HANGAR WITHOUT PERMISSION TO JOYRIDE MEMBERS OF THE GROUP. DURING THE 2ND FLIGHT, THE AIRCRAFT WING HIT THE BUS DURING ONE OF SEVERAL LOW PASSES OVER THE AREA. THE AIRCRAFT THEN HIT A TREE AND A RESIDENCE. A POST CRASH FIRE OCCURRED. THE PILOT’S LAST MEDICAL CERTIFICATE WAS DATED 11/16/79.
Probable Cause and Findings
Occurrence #1: IN FLIGHT COLLISION WITH OBJECT
Phase of Operation: MANEUVERING
1. STOLEN AIRCRAFT/UNAUTHORIZED USE – PERFORMED – PILOT IN COMMAND
2. (C) JUDGMENT – POOR – PILOT IN COMMAND
3. (C) BUZZING – PERFORMED – PILOT IN COMMAND
4. (C) CLEARANCE – MISJUDGED – PILOT IN COMMAND
5. (F) OBJECT – VEHICLE
6. (F) OBJECT – TREE(S)
7. (F) OBJECT – RESIDENCE
Medical Certification: Class 2 Invalid Medical for flight
The report states one pilot and two passengers(all onboard) sustained fatal injuries. The tour bus driver/pilot, Andy Aycock, was 33 at the time. The report doesn’t name the other two passengers, but they were Randy Rhodes, (25), and band make-up artist Rachel Youngblood (58). The plane wing hit one of the buses, then hit some pine tree tops and then crashed into the garage of a near-by home. Later Toxicology reports showed that the pilot, Andy, had cocaine in his system. Randy’s only showed nicotine. Too, the report points out that Andy wasn’t currently certified, medically, to fly.
This event ended the very short time for Randy Rhoads on earth. In that short time, the man left a mark on music that is still looked at as something stunning. There isn’t a lot of video of the guy, as this time period is before the MTV generation really took hold, especially for metal music. However, his style is still considered tops of the game. It was innovative and new sounding. You don’t hear an Ozzy tune from either of the albums and mistake it for Black Sabbath in any way, it was…different. Yes, there were other guitar innovators out there, but this was unique, and that largely due to Randy Rhodes. From author Joel Mciver’s 2011 biography, CrazyTrain: The High Life and Tragic Death of Randy Rhoads, the forward is by Zakk Wylde, where he wrote this:
…I always tell people that the true mark of a great musician is that you don’t just hear them – you feel them. Randy was all that and so much more.