The Wizard of Oz – Randy Rhoads (1956-1982)

Saturday 31st August 2013

Randy Rhoads in 1981

After writing about Steve Marriott a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed doing immensely, I knew that I’d have to do a similar thing on the subject of Randy Rhoads. I’ve been playing guitar since the late 1970’s. I don’t rate myself as anything more than average, but I’ve always had a handful of heroes – guitarists who I love to hear play, and who’s playing I clumsily attempt to emulate, in my ham-fisted way. The names of these guys can vary, depending on what I’m listening to at the time, but a few players are up there constantly – Jimmy Page, Brian May, Les Paul, Yngwie Malmsteen, and sitting up there at #1 in my list – the late, great Randy Rhoads.

This tiny guy (he stood at barely 5 feet tall) only had a short career before his death in a light airplane crash robbed the world of his talent, and he isn’t very well known today outside the guitar playing fraternity, but his playing was a huge influence on my 6-string efforts, and on the guitar work of millions of others. He left us precious little – 2 albums with Quiet Riot and 3 (one of them posthumous) with Ozzy Osbourne – to remember him by, but today, over 30 years since his passing, his playing is still considered relevant and his playing style is dissected, studied and marvelled at by guitarists worldwide.

Randy had a great love of classical music and used his understanding of musical theory to combine classical scales such as Harmonic minor, Melodic minor and Diminished with the staple scales used in Rock – the Pentatonic and blues scales. This combination, in the hands of a genius such as Randy, created a unique style that was to become known as “Neoclassical”, and was to be taken to its extremes (and beyond, some may say) by virtuoso guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, but Randy was right there at the start.

Sure, he may have ‘borrowed” a few ideas from his contemporaries such as Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie Van Halen, but thats how music evolves – as Ozzy himself has said “We’re all thieves” . . . .

When I first picked up a guitar I immediately wanted to play like Jimmy Page. In the 70’s Jimmy was THE man – in my opinion a Google search of “Guitar God” should lead to a photo of him onstage in his flares, wringing those screaming rock/blues solos from the neck of his Les Paul. I’d spend hours clumsily picking the intro to “Stairway To Heaven”, even though doing so was liable to get me thrown out of Musical Exchanges in Birmingham, where I’d hang out on Saturdays, playing all those guitars that I couldn’t afford, before returning home to plug in my tatty old Stratocaster copy.

Then I heard the first Van Halen album – specifically the tracks “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me”. WOW – I’d never heard playing like that. I immediately tuned my guitar to E flat and set about copying Eddie’s licks, not quite note-for-note, but as close an approximation as my hands could manage.

Then in 1981 I got hold of an album by Ozzy Osbourne, who’d recently parted company with Black Sabbath. I’d never been a big Sabbath fan – I preferred bluesier stuff like Led Zeppelin, so I half-heartedly placed the album on the deck of my music centre, and dropped the stylus onto side one, track one. The instant I heard the intro to “I Don’t Know” I was hooked – this was something else. It was hard and heavy, but extremely musical, and that guitar work was extraordinary – here was a great rock band with a virtuoso lead guitarist. Over the next few weeks I almost wore out the grooves on that album – “Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard Of Oz” – there wasn’t a bad track on it. Even today every single track still sends shivers down my spine, and I just HAVE TO listen to the opus in its entirety.

“Diary Of A Madman” was released soon afterwards, and the same happened. Phenomenal playing, great songs. I couldn’t touch this guy, but I plugged away, stealing a lick here, a few notes there. I wanted to be Randy Rhoads – I still do . . . . .

Randy With His Gibson Les Paul Custom...

Randy With His Gibson Les Paul Custom…

In July of 1981 a mate offered me a ticket to a gig that was gonna take place on August the 1st at the Port Vale football ground – half a dozen or so bands, headlined by Motörhead and Black Sabbath. Cool, I thought – Motörhead were one of my favourite bands, and I never missed an opportunity to see them live. Then a few days before the gig was due to take place Sabbath dropped out and it was announced that their spot would be filled by . . . . . Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz – YAY ! ! ! – my chance to see Randy with my own eyes, see if he could play this stuff live . .  . .

I vividly remember Ozzy running onto the stage to the Carmina Burana (or the “Old Spice” music as we knew it) – he ran up to the mike and screamed “I’M HERE, I’M F**KING HERE ! !”. Then Randy launched into the intro riff to “I Don’t Know” – to this very day I’ve never seen or heard such a heavy riff – the man was a monster of a player, even though his guitars almost buried his tiny frame. My memories of the rest of the set are sketchy – I remember Ozzy dragging Randy backwards across the stage by his hair as he played a solo – Randy didn’t miss a single note. I also remember that polka dot “V” guitar, and the white “RR” guitar . . . . .

Ozzy & Randy, Port Vale August 1981

Years later I bought an Ozzy photo book. Inside there were several shots taken at that Port Vale gig, including one of Ozzy & Randy, seen from the rear of the stage. I flipped when I spotted myself in the crowd :

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The sad end to Randy’s short life is documented well in his Wikipedia entry, so I’ll not repeat it here. Guitar players come and go, and players constantly argue over who is the best, who is the fastest. Vai, Satriani, Gilbert, Malmsteen et al are all phenomenal players, but its all about Randy Rhoads to me. He was, is and probably will always be my favourite player. The live “Tribute” album, released in 1987, is my all-time number one rock album – I’m proud to say I can play the guitar lines from every track absolutely note-for-note. I should hope so, I’ve spent over a quarter of a century trying . . . .

Who knows what Randy would have achieved, had he not stepped on that plane. It is well documented that he wanted to quit rock music to study classical guitar. I like to think he’d have gotten that out of his system, then returned to doing what he did best – loud, fast, tasteful, beautiful heavy metal guitar. We’ll never know.

Randy with the tools of his trade . . .

Saluté, Randy – Rest in Peace. Your playing is an inspiration to me every day.

Randy’s Grave, San Bernardino, California

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About stevieboy378

In my 50th year. I'm a keen cyclist, walker, photographer, musician, TV watcher, XBox gamer, and all-round couch potato....
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2 Responses to The Wizard of Oz – Randy Rhoads (1956-1982)

  1. All Rhoads Lead To Randy says:

    Az Michel Legrand said in writing the title of the James Bond flick: Never Say Never about knowing what RR woulda ended up doing. I think a stretch of Zappa-esque stuff but the thing iz.. he’z doing it and we will get to dig it in eternity. Your writing about Randy wuz inspirational, I too saw him in the flesh.. February 11th 1982 Market Square Arena in Indianapolis Indiana. OzzY picking him up just az the cover picture of ‘Tribute’ depicts. You & I will join RR in the next dimension az brothers my friend!

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