Awesome Totally Awesome - Blizzard of Ozz

Recording Blizzard of Ozz & Diary of a Madman

It’s a long way back in time now, but the man who helped Ozzy Osbourne record two of the greatest albums in metal history still has a pretty good memory of how they were made back in the early 1980s.

And, just prior to starting the recording of Blizzard of Ozz in March 1980, producer Max Norman, admits he didn’t recognize Ozzy.

“I didn’t recognize him at first. I thought he was a roadie,” said Norman on a recent Eddie Trunk podcast. “I didn’t say much and he really didn’t say much. The rest of the band showed up and the equipment showed up and we got started.”

In fact, Norman – the de facto producer of Blizzard and Diary of a Madman – wasn’t even supposed to be the guy behind the board on those first two Ozzy classics, which featured the late, great guitar virtuoso Randy Rhoads, bassist/songwriter Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake.

Chris Tsangarides (UFO, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest) was originally brought in to produce the Blizzard of Ozz album, but it wasn’t working out with Tsangarides, so Ozzy asked Norman if he could engineer the record, which was laid down at Ridge Farm Studio, located in the village of Rusper, near the Surrey/Essex border. Norman had helped set up the studio and became the in-house engineer, so he was very familiar with the layout and equipment.

“The first mistake (Tsangarides) made was he put the drums downstairs in what we called the stone room,” said Norman. “That was because of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” with his big drum fill. At that point everybody was trying to make stone rooms …. to make this big huge drum sound. Unfortunately this stone room was too small. It was only a 7-ft ceiling and it was parallel to the floor, so it was a bad idea to put drums in there. It was almost impossible to make it sound good. It wasn’t sounding that good and Chris would just pull all the faders down and just rebalance, and he would keep doing that all the time. But that kind of infuriated me coming from a live background, you never wanna pull the faders down and start again. You can’t do that because you’ve got people listening. You learned to incrementally improve the balance that you have. And that’s the way I’d always learned, so that was a little foreign to me that he would keep doing that.”

Awesome Totally Awesome - Randy Rhoads Max Norman

Norman Finds Right Sound For Blizzard of Ozz

Having helped build the studio, Norman wanted it to be successful and sound good, so he rebalanced the board when Tsangarides was out of the room, hoping the producer would notice it sounded better. But Tsangarides never did, so Norman stopped rebalancing. Then the band would come into the control room, listen to some takes and they realized Norman had been cleaning up the sound. From there, they took Tsangarides out of the picture and asked Norman to take over because they liked the sound he was getting much better.

The basic tracks were recorded live, including a guide [track] with all four people playing (Ozzy singing) in the same room. As long as they had a good bass and drum track, they would take it from there.

At first Norman didn’t realize just how amazing Rhoads was on guitar. But over time he came to realize the kid from Santa Monica was pretty damn good.

“At the time it was a bit like slowly unfolding flower,” recalled Norman, who is now retired from the music business. “As Randy started to play I’m like ‘Oh, this guy is good’ because you’re always relieved when you’re in the studio that somebody can actually play what they’re supposed to be able to play. He was a very quiet guy. Very self effacing and worked hard all the time. It took a little while to realize what Randy was because at the beginning you’re working on the rhythm and backing tracks.”

Norman was sold when it came time for Rhoads to record his guitar solos. When it came time to lay down the solos, Rhoads would be in the studio alone with a two-track remote to record when he wanted to, as Norman would make a two-track mix and run 15 copies of that onto a two-track recorder.

“He would sit on the studio floor with a couple of big speakers and just roll it back to the beginning, hit play and start practising doing these (solos). We would go up to the pub and have a couple of beers,” said Norman, adding Rhoads recorded the actual solos in the control room.

Rhoads was meticulous. He would systematically work through the solo, write down stuff and make notes.

Once he’d gotten a solo down, Rhoads would want to double track it. Norman was awed, given how complex some of the solos are, but Rhoads would say not to worry and then double the solo. Then the guitar virtuoso would triple the solo – note for note in exact replica. In fact, every guitar solo on both Blizzard and Diary of a Madman is triple tracked by Rhoads, which is very uncommon.

Every guitar solo on both Blizzard and Diary of a Madman is triple tracked

Norman recalls that after the initial solo was constructed and recorded, Rhoads would usually quickly play the other two copies.

Interestingly, Rhoads did have some first take solos and Norman said those are generally the outro solos on the long fading Ozzy songs like “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” from Diary.

And all of Ozzy’s vocals are double tracked as well.

Awesome Totally Awesome - Ridge Farm 1980

Diary of a Madman Brings Fuller Sound

Fans will know the big difference in the sound from the first album to Diary of a Madman in 1981. They had more time to record the second album (Blizzard was done in three weeks), and the studio had some better equipment, including a Lexicon 224 Reverb and more memory in the AMS delay so they were able to “expand the space” on Diary.

“Everyone thought that Blizzard was a good record, but it was very rough and ready. Just sort of, you know, almost like a bunch of rough mixes. In fact a couple of the songs are rough mixes,” noted Norman. “So with second record, I knew how Randy was going to work. I knew how Ozzy would do the vocals, so we knew it was a better dovetailing of being able to work with each other. We had a few more toys to work with, so we wanted it to be more grandiose. It had forethought as far as production, whereas the first one was basically ‘hit the record button’, you know.”

Many fans wonder if there are any leftover songs or recordings from those first two albums and, as far as Norman knows, there are none. However, Daisley has what he calls “The Holy Grail” – a treasure trove of recordings from band rehearsals covering the period from December 8th, 1979 to March 23, 1981. Look for him to release these one day.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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