Awesome Totally Awesome - Randy Rhodes

The Life & Times of Guitar God Randy Rhoads

It’s been 36 years since virtuoso guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash, yet his legacy is stronger than ever today.

Rhoads never did many interviews (everyone wanted to talk to Ozzy) during his brief time in the spotlight as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist from late 1979 until his death on March 19, 1982, but, by all accounts, Rhoads was a super nice, quiet-spoken and down-to-earth person.

Unlike most of his peers at the time, Rhoads didn’t drink much and never used drugs – a rarity in 1980.

The single, driving force in Rhoads’ mind was to always become a better musician and guitar player, a principle that guided him even when he was a kid, learning his craft as a seven year old at the music school in North Hollywood (called Musonia) founded by his lat mother, Delores. He was trained early on in folk and classical guitar, and soon got interested in electric guitar.

His schooling on the electric six-string came from an instructor at Musonia named Scott Shelly. Shelly soon approached Delores and told her that he could no longer teach Randy, as Rhoads’ knowledge of the electric guitar had surpassed his own. That shows how dedicated he was to playing and constantly striving to learn more and get better. Rhoads, who grew up in Burbank, Calif., also received piano lessons from his mother to build his understanding of music theory.

His quest for knowledge, no doubt imparted on Rhoads by his mother and father, who was also a music teacher and left when Randy was a year old, led Rhoads to want to teach music to others and share his knowledge.

So when he was 16, Rhoads started teaching at his mother’s school and also formed a band that would become the first incarnation of Quiet Riot.

Quiet Riot became a successful band on the L.A. music scene, releasing two albums in Japan, but they didn’t land a recording deal in the U.S. when Rhoads was in the band (they would eventually with CBS in 1982). Quiet Riot’s failure to land a recording gig in the States was frustrating for Rhoads and part of the reason he ended up in Ozzy Osbourne’s band.

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From Obscurity to Blizzard of Ozz

In Sept. 1979, Osbourne was in the process of forming a new band after he was booted from Black Sabbath. Bassist Dana Strum (future Slaughter bass player) was helping Ozzy find a guitar player and asked Randy if he wanted to audition for the Ozzy gig. Randy said yes and got a call to meet Ozzy in his L.A. hotel room on the day before the former Black Sabbath frontman was scheduled to fly back to England.

The story goes that Randy showed up to audition with his Les Paul and a tiny practice amp. Rhoads began warming up, while a wasted Ozzy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Ozzy recalls saying: “Either this is one of the best things I’ve ever heard in my life or these drugs are really good’. The drugs were good and so was Rhoads, who was only warming up for two minutes, according to Delores.

Back in England, Osbourne met former Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley, who would be a key songwriter on Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, in a pub. The two got on really well and decided to record together. Ozzy’s label, Jet Records, wanted an all-English band and were against having the American Rhoads join the quartet, which was called Blizzard of Ozz, no doubt in homage to Ozzy’s penchant for white powder. Ozzy insisted on Rhoads as his guitarist and manager Don Arden finally gave in. With drummer Lee Kerslake in the fold, they recorded ‘Blizzard’ and then ‘Diary’, the only two studio albums Rhoads would work on with Ozzy.

Despite becoming a renowned guitarist and making it big on the music scene, Rhoads didn’t want to be that guy. He didn’t enjoy playing metal music (even though when you watch him live with Ozzy, he is carrying the band and absolutely into what he’s doing). In fact, after the Diary of a Madman tour, Rhoads had planned on quitting. Not only did he want to go back to California, make solo records and teach guitar, he was also disillusioned with Ozzy’s new manager, Sharon Arden (whom Ozzy subsequently married), the daughter of Don Arden.

After the band recorded Diary in 1981, Sharon promptly fired Daisley and Kerslake, a move that angered Rhoads who was close with both of them.

And just before his death, Randy told many people he was going to leave the band and get his Masters Degree in music and become a teacher.

But it all ended for Rhoads at age 25, when he was a in a small Beechcraft F35, single-engine plane piloted by Ozzy’s tour bus driver Andrew Aycock in Leesburg, Florida. Makeup artist and seamstress Rachel Youngblood was also a passenger as Aycock tried to ‘buzz’ Ozzy’s tour bus. He succeeded in making two close passes, but botched the third attempt. At about 10 am, after being in the air for approximately five minutes, one of the plane’s wings clipped the top of the tour bus, breaking the wing into two parts and sending the plane spiraling out of control.

The initial impact with the bus caused Rhoads’ and Youngblood’s heads to crash through the plane’s windshield. The plane then severed the top of a pine tree and crashed into the garage of a nearby mansion and burst into flames. Keyboardist Don Airey was the only member of the band to witness the crash, because the rest were asleep in the bus. Rhoads was killed instantly, as were Aycock (36) and Youngblood (58). All three bodies were burned beyond recognition, and Randy was identified by dental records and personal jewelry.

Awesome Totally Awesome - Randy Rhodes Memorials

Rhoads Legacy Lives On

Despite his oh-so-short time making records, Rhoads’ legacy is still so strong today

His style of playing basically ushered in a new brand of heavy metal that drew plenty of its inspiration from his interest in classical guitar, blending classical modes with an aggressive rock sensibility and very advanced technical ability. Aside from ‘Diary’ and ‘Blizzard’, Randy’s playing on the live Tribute record truly showcases his wizardry.

While Rhoads was especially influenced by David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, he has influenced several generations of guitar players including Zakk Wylde, Tom Morello, Dimebag Darrell, Buckethead, Paul Gilbert and Mike McCready, to name a few.

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

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