Guitarist extraordinaire Randy Rhoads burst into mainstream rock and roll with the release of Ozzy Osbourne’s debut solo album, 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz. His timing was unassailable: This was the height of the “guitar hero” era, and Randy’s playing on “Crazy Train” and other songs brought him legions of followers. He delivered an even more magnificent performance on Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman, with its enduring hard-rock classic, “Flying High Again.” Tragically, Randy perished in a March 1982 plane crash midway through the Diary of a Madman Tour.
To celebrate Randy’s life and accomplishments, I’ve posted my complete 1982 interviews with members of his family, Ozzy Osbourne and his band, Rudy Sarzo from Quiet Riot, engineer/producer Max Norman, and Grover Jackson, who built Randy’s distinctive guitar. Portions of these conversations appeared in my November 1982 Guitar Player cover story, Randy Rhoads Remembered, but they’ve never before been published in their entirety. Let’s begin at the beginning, with Randy’s mother, Delores Rhoads, who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year. Our conversation took place on August 5, 1982.
I hope that speaking about Randy isn’t too unpleasant for you.
Oh, I want to do it for Randy!
Could we start at the beginning?
When and where was he born?
Randy was born on December 6, 1956, at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.
Does he have brothers and sisters?
Yes. He has one brother, and he sings. His real name is Douglas Rhoads, but he goes by the name of Kelle Rhoads when he performs. And his sister is Kathy. Randy is the youngest.
What was your husband doing when Randy was born?
Well, he has always been a music teacher in public schools. And still is, although he lives in Connecticut now. We’ve been divorced for many, many years. Actually, Randy was 17 months old when he left. I raised the three children by myself.
You have a music store?
It’s Musonia in North Hollywood. We started building that in 1949.
What was the first kind of music Randy heard?
Well, he was so young. He started actually playing when he was about six and a half and started taking lessons in my school. See, Musonia is mainly a school, plus a music store combined.
When he was a kid, did he have records or a TV set?
No. We didn’t have TV until quite a bit later, and this is one point he used to bring out [laughs] when he was interviewed before the accident, when he was still alive. We didn’t have stereo because we couldn’t afford all the luxuries, due to the fact that I was raising the children. He always felt that he had to develop things on his own, because all the other children, they would listen to the records. Well, he didn’t have records at that time to listen to. So he just had to do things on his own. There was not a lot of music to listen to, actually. I was always on the classical side, naturally. I did play professionally for a short while, and I also taught music in the public schools. My main instrument is trumpet.
Did you teach trumpet?
Oh, I’ve taught trumpet for many, many years. But I didn’t teach trumpet to Randy, no. He didn’t play trumpet ever. Guitar was really his only instrument. Now, he did play a little piano, because I taught him some piano. He played limitedly on piano, but enough that he could work out harmonies and chords and use it in writing songs.
Could you describe what Randy’s early playing and learning was like?
We had an old Gibson acoustic, which belonged to my father. And Randy picked that up. He just loved that from the very first, as soon as he was large enough to hold it and do something. He just would play around with it on his own. So then I had a guitar teacher in the school at that time, who was a pretty good rock player. I guess rock was just beginning to come up at that time. So Randy studied with him – not too long really – and the teacher came to me and said, “He knows everything I know! I can’t teach him anything more.” [Laughs.] He says, “He’s learned everything and gone beyond me already.” Randy just loved it so much. He played all the time. He never put it down. He was so devoted, so dedicated. In all the years I’ve been teaching – and that’s a good many years – I’ve never seen a student who just loved it as much as Randy. He just loved it! He was dedicated. And he never put it down.
In his early teen years, when he’d be talking on the phone – you know how these teenagers do – well, he’d hold the phone with his shoulder and practice at the same time [laughs], because he just played all the time. He loved it! I’ve always had little groups for the students to participate in. I had one that wasn’t a rock group. It was just a straight little band, like a school orchestra, and Randy played in that. I have a picture of him [see above], and the guitar is almost larger than he. But he loved it, just because it was playing. Anything, you know, to play. Then of course a little later, in his early teens, he and his brother got together because his brother played drums at that time. And they formed a little group, as neighborhood kids do. They always get their little group together.
What was the name of it?
Oh, boy, that’s a good question! [Laughs.] I’d have to ask my older son about that. I don’t remember offhand, but they had a lot of fun. And they put on little shows at my school, and they just thought that was so great.
Was Randy playing an electric guitar by then?
Oh, yes.The first electric guitar that he played on – I still have it – was an old Harmony. It was one of those large, semi-acoustic Harmony guitars with f-holes. It was way, way back. Oh, golly, I guess he was about eight when he started playing that. That was just because that was the only thing available in my school that he could play.
Was he learning how to read music at this time?
Well, I did teach him a bit of reading music when I taught him piano. This was after he’d started playing guitar. The teacher in my school, I’d say his music reading was very limited. He did teach him the scales and all – Randy could read all the scales and chords. Actual music reading per se, he had a bit of that when I taught him some piano. But that was after he was already pretty good on the guitar [laughs]. Of course, then in the last few years, he was very, very strong into classical music and was studying classical guitar and, of course, learning to read everything. He was studying a lot about harmony and theory. He had learned a lot on his own, and then he went further into this field. As a matter of fact, he was going into this field very, very heavily at the time of his accident. He would call me and ask questions.
Being on the road was a problem for him. He didn’t know what to do with his time, and he wanted to further his music. So he really had started on something that I think would have been extremely great. He would have combined something in the way of classical and rock that probably would have been unique. He was studying the modes extensively, had written them all out and recorded them, and was going into it in a very serious way. The last eight or nine months while he was on the road, if he had a big city where there was a really good classical guitarist, he would get together with the person and really relate in a serious way about music. Then he was giving some seminars himself in some of the large music stores, when the time allowed it – when they had a stopover long enough. So he was really going into this heavily.
He was a teacher too, wasn’t he?
Yes, he taught in my school for many years. And he always said that was one thing that built him up so strong, because he played so much with his teaching. You know, playing for the students and with the students. And he did play with them a lot, which encouraged them so much. He was a very successful teacher because he could relate well with the students, and he had his own way of presenting this, even in the rock field. He had worked out his own pattern of going about it, which was a bit different than the ordinary teacher, going from one guitar player to another. And he always, again, gave credit to way back when he was young and didn’t have records to listen to and he worked these things out on his own. So he really was a very good teacher, very successful. He built up a large group of students.
Of course, his really good playing, which inspired the students a great deal. I talked with my older son about this, and I said, “You know, there are so many good guitar players, because it’s such a popular instrument, but one thing: The minute I heard Randy playing anyplace, knew it was Randy, because it was so alive.” It was with such feeling that he played, and he had a brilliant sound, and his technique was so fast. He really played so tremendously fast. He could make that guitar sound just like a great concert violinist. And that amazed me, always, because I’ve been in music a long time And I’m not just saying it because he was my son – but I analyze it as a musician, and having heard many players. Randy had such a live, inspiring sound! And that inspired the students. And Randy was such a kind, warm person. I have tons of letters and cards, even from just fans who never met Randy but just heard him play. He related that warm, kind feeling, apparently, to everyone, because these fans have all written so much to me. And they just say that he was such a wonderful person.
Where did Randy live when he was very young?
We’ve always lived in the same house, in Burbank.
He went to First Lutheran Day School?
Yes, up through sixth grade, and then he had to go to John Muir.
So he was raised in a religious environment?
What were his interests outside of music?
Well, his music was his whole life. He just wanted to do that, and he did it, and he played a lot. By the time he was 12 and 13, his little group was playing for parties and picnics in the park, all the little local things. Down on the Burbank Mall. He was playing a lot by the time he was 12. And I used to go with him. I would go and load up the equipment [laughs] because I didn’t want them at that age to be going around alone. So I’d always go and wait around and then load it up and bring it home.
Were they mostly doing cover tunes?
I suppose so, yes. Then when Alice Cooper became so big, he and my older son, that was the big thing – they were so interested in Alice Cooper. [Laughs.] That’s way back, of course. But then their taste changed immediately as they grew. But Randy was just so in to playing all the time.
Was that his aspiration all along?
Oh, my goodness, yes! He was determined in everything he did. Now, when he went to Burbank High School, he decided that school was not that necessary. The only thing he wanted to do was play – he wanted to play all day. And I said, “Randy, you have to finish your education! You have to!” So about halfway through, I went to the board of education and asked special permission for him to go to adult school, which he could attend at hours that were convenient for him and not interfere with his playing. And that’s the way he finished school, because there was just nothing else in his life but playing. He was so dedicated to it. And as I say, that’s what built up his tremendous strength and flexibility. He had extreme flexibility on the instrument.
Now in his later years, his big hobby was those very, very small-scale model trains that they make in Europe. They’re very tiny. He had a lot of layouts of that, and he would make those little models, the little houses and all. I think that relaxed him from playing and tension, because he got into that more when he was on the road with Ozzy.
Was Randy in other bands before Quiet Riot?
The little neighborhood group changed with different people, and it grew to be better and better. That’s the way all these kids get started. And then came Quiet Riot. They were really a popular local band here in the L.A. area. They became very popular. They had one manager which they made a couple of albums with, which I guess you know more about than I do, actually.
Yes. And they were released in Japan. They were supposed to tour, but that never did materialize. I guess the management was not as good as it should have been. But nevertheless, they played a great deal here in L.A. I guess they played four or five nights a week, every week, and they were very popular. Of course, as with all bands, they were trying to get signed. They were writing their own songs. Randy wrote all of the music, and the singer wrote a lot of the lyrics.
Was he still living at home?
Oh, yes. He’d been living at whole the whole time. He was still living at home even with Ozzy. He wasn’t home that much, because he was on the road so much, and he was in England. They made their albums in England, so he lived with Ozzy for a while when he first went with Ozzy. And he was in England a great deal of the two-and-a-half years.
So right before he got with Ozzy he was playing with Quiet Riot and teaching during the day.
Oh, yes. He would teach during the day and up to the time that he’d have to leave to go play, which was around 7:00 at the latest. They didn’t play as often on Monday or Tuesday, because most of the gigs were later in the week, starting about Thursday and especially on the weekends. And then they had to hold one evening for rehearsals, which was usually on Wednesday. And then on the days he didn’t play, he would teach heavy schedules. So he taught more on certain days. And then I tried to lighten it up on the days that he would play. He always taught on Saturday, but we would start early so he could get through early. So it was a pretty heavy schedule.
How did Randy get into Ozzy’s band?
That’s kind of a funny little story. I always thought that Randy would get a chance to go into something big. That was my personal feeling. I used to ask Randy, “What if someone did come along who was really big and ask you to go?” Well, of course, he said, “I’d have to take that opportunity.” Ozzy was looking for a lead guitar player. He wanted to start this new group. He had been to New York for weeks and weeks, couldn’t find anyone. He’d been in L.A. for weeks and weeks, and he was just ready to go back to England and say, “Well, forget it. I can’t find who I want.” A local bass player that knew Randy said, “Why don’t you listen to Randy Rhoads?” So they called Randy, who was teaching that day in my school. He had a late schedule – he was teaching until about 10:30. And he said, “Oh, it won’t come out to anything, mom. I won’t even bother to go down.” I said, “No, Randy. You want to meet people like this. Even if it doesn’t materialize, it’s good for you to meet people, especially Ozzy, who’s been in the business for years and years. You go and talk with him. Who knows?” Well, he was reluctant, so I almost insisted that he go on down. So he told them, “I can’t get down there until at least midnight, because I’m teaching until 10:30.” And usually he’d run over, so he said, “It could be 10:45 before I get out of there. I’ve got to go home, and then I’ve got to go clear over across town to meet Ozzy.” So they said, “That’s alright. We’ll wait for you.”
Well, he took his little amp – he just had his little practice amp. He went with the idea, “Well, this is probably not going to be anything anyway.” So he took his little practice amp and he went down. When he came back, I said, “Well, what happened?” He said, “Golly, I don’t know! I only played about two minutes, and Ozzy said, ‘You’ve got the job!’” And Randy said, “I don’t know what I got, but I got something!” [Laughs.] And he said, “He said he’d call me in two weeks, but he has to go back to England tomorrow. He probably won’t even call.”
Well, by golly, he did call – exactly two weeks, when he said he’d call. And he said, “We’re getting things together, Randy. Are you ready to come to England?” And Randy’s saying, “Oh, oh, oh! I can’t go right now!” He was just flabbergasted. He said, “I’ve got a cold right now, I can’t leave until I feel a little better.” That was one little problem Randy had always – he was inclined not to be too strong. Even as a baby, he had respiratory problems. He had pneumonia when he was playing in Quiet Riot because he was overworked, overtired. Always susceptible to colds. That was always one thing we worried him so much about, because many times he played with a fever of 104. I always was so worried about him. I was concerned, but he just wouldn’t give up. I mean, if he was supposed to play, he would play!
Anyway, Ozzy said, “I’ll call you back.” It was a while before he called back – like two-and-a-half weeks – but anyway, they finally got it together. In the meantime, they made Randy get his passport and clear everything. It all happened so fast. Randy even had that in an interview once. He said, “Everything happened so fast for me that I couldn’t get myself together with all the thoughts, because it just was like a whirlwind.” So then he went to Ozzy’s house and lived with Ozzy, and they started writing the first album. They got into it really strong with just the two of them. And then they auditioned people for the rest of the band and got it together. And then, of course, they recorded the first album [Blizzard of Ozz] and went on tour in England at first.
When did they make Diary of a Madman?
It was in the winter. It was in January or February when they started the second album. Let’s see. Randy went over there in October or November when he first went with Ozzy, and they worked in his house through December and January, and then they recorded that. I guess it was the next years that they started working on the second album. I know it was very cold over there, because Randy was so miserable with the cold. He said, “We can’t get out. We have to just stay in, and it’s so confining. All I do is write music all day, and then we go in and rehearse and record it to see what we want to change.” He said, “It’s like being in prison!” [Laughs.] It was a hard album for him, because Ozzy wanted certain things, and Ozzy was not the easiest person to work with because he drank a lot, and then he would get upset. He’d take it out on Randy. Actually, Randy did all of the writing. He really worked hard. He wrote all of the music – I don’t care what anybody says!
Was Randy’s trip to England his first time out of the country?
Oh, yes. For sure. We did traveling in the United States – I tried to make it a point to take them. We went across the country to New York. This was before Randy’s teens. We rode on the train a lot – we loved that. I think that was what prompted Randy to have that hobby later. Randy and I later took trips to Chicago. I owned some property through my family back in Illinois, and we went back there a couple of times on the train. Went on down to New Orleans. That was kind of interesting to Randy, music-wise. We stayed in New Orleans for a few days. We traveled to the Grand Canyon and to New Mexico – I had friends there. So we did a lot of train riding. And that was all, I would say, between the ages of eight and sixteen or seventeen.
Would he take a guitar with him?
Oh, yes! Oh, I should say! And carry it – he never left it anyplace. I mean, we had to carry it on the train, when we walked. I remember when we had a little bit of a layover in Chicago and he was carrying that guitar. We walked up to go to a drugstore, and some really creepy-looking characters started to follow us. I thought they were gonna try to steal the guitar! We ran to get back into the station to just protect the guitar.
Was this your dad’s old Gibson?
I think he had a better, newer acoustic guitar by that time. It was in a big case. He never had any real great guitars until he was playing with Quiet Riot. At one of the rehearsal studios that they played in – it wasn’t real great, but it was a rehearsal studio – the man that owned that bought Randy that white Gibson Les Paul that he’s played all these years. He bought that for Randy, and that was the first really good guitar that Randy ever had. He loved that guitar!
After he went to England, how long was it before you saw Randy again?
Oh, boy. I went over to England to see him, just before they went on tour. I think he had been home once before that. They made the album the first part of that year, and that summer I went to England. They were to go on tour, and the day I left, they left. This was around the first of September. I think he had been home once. Oh, I remember what happened: After he and Ozzy had worked for a few weeks, Randy had to come home to clear a lot of business things he had with Quiet Riot. They let him come home – that was it. That was before they started to record. He was to clear all the business things here, and they were to get him a work permit and arrange all the things so he could go back into the country and work there in England. Somehow Jet [Records] slipped up and they didn’t have the work permit. When Randy flew back to England, they didn’t clear it with the customs, and customs took Randy and put him in the place where they retain people that don’t have proper papers. And they sent him back the next day to the United States – that poor kid! He was exhausted. And he stayed overnight and had to go down to the local musicians union and clear things with the union. And the only way they cleared it immediately was because I was a life member of Local 47. So they put it through real fast, and then he got on the plane and went right back. He was exhausted! Oh, boy, that was some experience.
Did he like touring Europe?
Well, he did like traveling and seeing new places. That was always fascinating to him. Even as a kid, he had looked forward to that. When we’d travel on the train, he said, “You know, mom, I imagine what it’s gonna be like if I ever get to tour. I kind of think when we go on the train like this, it’s gonna be exciting to go different places.” But it was hard for him to be away from home. He was very close to home and family, and it was difficult for him to be away. He liked it, he loved it, it was what he wanted to do, and he knew he had to do it, but he missed home a lot. I’ll say that.
Then he toured America.
He enjoyed being a little closer to home. When he was in this country, he felt like, “Gee, I’m near home. I’m only a few hours away.” You know, when you’re in foreign countries, it’s hard when you don’t know the money exchange. It’s hard especially like in France and Germany when you don’t speak the language – and they didn’t always treat the Americans too great. He had a little problem in that respect in those countries. But when he got back to the United States, he felt, “Gee, I’m on familiar ground.”
Were both albums released by the time he got back?
They made a couple of United States tours. They went back and forth to the United States. They toured the United States and kind of backlapped and went back again. They came across and went back. Then they took a little break, and then they toured up through Canada. And then of course they were on another tour of the United States.
What was it like when Randy played Los Angeles?
He was looking forward to that so much, because it was his local scene. The first time was at the Long Beach Arena – that was a year ago this past June. Oh, he was really looking forward to that. And he had so much trouble with his equipment, he was just beside himself. They had played in San Diego the night before, and he didn’t get home until about 5:00 A.M. because he was having trouble with his pedalboard. And that pedalboard was a special board that was made in England, and nobody – no one! – not even the greatest repairmen in this country could figure out how to repair it.
It must have been a Pete Cornish board.
He had it made – it was a custom-made board. And he was so upset! He came in at 5:00 A.M.; he was exhausted. He’d been trying all night to get someone to fix that thing. And he couldn’t. He was just so upset. I said, “Look, Randy, you played many, many years without that pedalboard. You just give it all you’ve got. You just get out there and don’t worry about the pedalboard.” He had to play the concert without the pedalboard, and he was so upset because he felt that that really added a great deal. I said, “My goodness! You’ve played for years and years. Get out there and give it your heart, like you always do.” Randy was always a bit of a worrywart – he wanted everything to be so perfect, and he worried about everything. He just always wanted it to be just right. So he always was a concerned, worried person. [Laughs.] He was a perfectionist.
It’s amazing how he became so popular so quickly.
I just can’t believe it – in such a short time. There have been so many letters and calls. I still get long-distance calls from people, and they just want some little connection with Randy, and I’m that one, I guess, because I am his mother. They just want something. They just almost beg for it. They just want to talk with me or just know a little something about him personally. It’s just unbelievable. I know that neither he or I realized at the time that he was making such a name for himself. He was trying to establish himself, which was a little bit hard because Ozzy was the star and had been in the business for so many years. So Randy wanted to establish himself for himself, and I don’t think he realized that he was really doing that in a much greater way than we could even possibly imagine.
When was the last time you communicated with Randy?
He had to leave on Monday, and he was killed on Friday. And he was sick, again. He just had one week home – well, it was ten days, actually – and he had all three of his wisdom teeth pulled. He had trouble with one wisdom tooth on the road, and he got very ill and had to come home. They pulled the thing while he was on the road, and evidently the doctor – he was so ill, I don’t know what the doctor did to him with that one wisdom tooth. So he had another flare-up just before he came home, with another wisdom tooth. So the minute he got home, we went to the oral surgeon. The surgeon said, “You might as well have them all out, because you’re going to have trouble. They’re very impacted.” So he had three wisdom teeth pulled, and that was rough! He was miserable, really miserable. And then at the end of the week he caught another cold – typical Randy. And when he left that morning, he was so sick. He had fever, and oh, he just looked so bad. And I said, “Please call me when you get there, Randy.” And he did. [Begins crying.] And that was the last time I talked with him. [Long pause.] That was Monday night before he was killed.
Did Ozzy go to the funeral?
Oh, yes! They all did. All of the band, and they were pallbearers. All the important people from Jet Records were there too – Don Arden [Sharon Osbourne’s father] and Sharon. The old members of Quiet Riot. Of course, Rudy [Sarzo] was in both, because Randy got Rudy into Ozzy’s group. So Rudy, naturally, represented both Quiet Riot and Ozzy’s group.
Where is Randy buried?
He’s buried in San Bernadino, in Mountain View Cemetery. San Bernadino is my home town. I was born and raised there. I had him buried there because that’s where I want to be.
What does his gravestone read?
Randy Rhoads, and by special permission I had a small bronze guitar on one side of the name and the “RR” signature that he used – you know, it looks like a Rolls-Royce emblem – I had that made in bronze to put on the other side. They’re very strict up there. They don’t want anything extra on [the gravestones]. But because of the unique situation, we got it approved. I know he would have wanted that because a little guitar and the other were kind of his symbols, you know.
Did someone play acoustic guitar at the service?
Yes. My teacher, Arlene Thomas. She’s been with me for years, and she was teaching there when Randy did. They were very close friends. Arlene is just a beautiful singer, and she did the singing for the funeral. She also plays guitars – she teaches all the folk and classical in my school, and she also teaches voice. She sang and did an acoustic guitar solo.
Was Randy on any albums besides Ozzy’s and Quiet Riot’s?
Ozzy’s producer, Max Norman, told me yesterday that there are many recordings of Randy in concert with Ozzy.
Oh, really? Oh, great.
Who knows – maybe there will be another record.
Well, I’m glad you told me about that. That’s very interesting.
Would it be possible for me to talk with your son Kelle?
Oh, yes! That would be great, because he is singing now. As I say, when they started out he was playing drums, and then in later years he switched over to singing. It would be fine if you would, because he’s forming a band right now, and they want to call it Rhoads in memory of Randy, to try to do something to carry on the name somehow. He has a regular day job – you know how musicians are, they can’t support themselves on just music – so he has his regular day job. I’ll give you his phone number [dictates number].
Thanks a million for the interview, Mrs. Rhoads.
All right. You’re welcome.
Thanks to photographers Neil Zlozower and Jon Sievert, and to Mrs. Delores Rhoads for the use of the B&W photos from her personal album.
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© 2010 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This interview may not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission.