Randy Rhoads and Rudy Sarzo played side-by-side in Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne’s band. A skilled Cuban-born bassist, Rudy initially auditioned for Quiet Riot near the end of Randy’s tenure. They became friends, and Randy recommended him to play on Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman tour. Both musicians appear on Ozzy’s live Tribute album.
Since then, Rudy Sarzo has enjoyed a storied career. After Randy’s death, he played on Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil. He joined the reconstituted Quiet Riot for the multi-platinum Metal Health album and continued with the band through 1985. He then spent seven years in Whitesnake and recorded and toured with Quiet Riot from 1997 to 2003. Since then, he has toured with Yngwie Malmsteen, Ronnie James Dio, and Blue Oyster Cult. Outside of music, Rudy’s a self-confessed computer geek and 3-D digital animator. His 2008 book Off the Rails: Aboard the Crazy Train in the Blizzard of Ozz details his experiences with Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne. Our interview took place in August 1982, a few months after Randy died.
When did you first meet Randy?
I met Randy back in late 1977. When I joined the band Quiet Riot in 1978, I started playing with him. They already had a couple of albums out on CBS Sony. By 1978 they had management and everything, but they were just playing locally. And their record deal with CBS Sony was just in Japan. So by the time I joined the band, we didn’t have an American record deal. That’s one of the reasons why it broke up.
What were your first impressions of Randy?
I thought he was an excellent guitar player – totally excellent. I went to audition, and that’s how I met him. But at that time I was paying attention to a lot of things, not just one person in particular. It didn’t hit me how good he was until I’d played with him more.
How would you describe the difference in Randy’s playing with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne?
Day and night. Let me put it this way: The band Quiet Riot was working very hard to get a record deal. When we were in L.A. trying to get a record deal, we had to be ourselves, but also try to please the record labels. So we were more pop-oriented rather than when he joined Ozzy. Ozzy told him just to go all the way and be totally himself, be totally out on his playing. Be the best Randy Rhoads he can be, not just try to please record companies. So his playing was totally himself. When he was with Quiet Riot, it was a little bit restrained because of the material.
What guitar did he use with Quiet Riot?
The white Les Paul. That’s the one he mainly used. It was cream-colored, a foam-white Les Paul, a beautiful guitar. He also used a polka-dot guitar made by a guy named [Karl] Sandoval. He got that one real late in the band – I would say about four or five months before he departed to join Ozzy.
There was an album called Quiet Riot with Kelly Garni on bass.
As a matter of fact, on both albums, Kelly Garni is on bass. They just used my picture on the second album because by the time that the album was finished and ready for release, Kelly had been out of the band for four to five months.
Did Quiet Riot break up when Randy quit the band?
Do you happen to know what were his favorite cuts on those albums?
Oh, I don’t know. It’s very hard to say. I think he was proud of everything he did. In other words, he would never put it down. People would tell him, “Okay, look. Do this and do that.” And he would say, “Okay, sure. No problem.” And then he would go on and do whatever he felt like doing. He never really compromised that much, but it was the material that had to be played that was compromising for him.
With Quiet Riot.
Yeah, exactly. Not so much with his own playing. But still he had to play along with the songs. But if we would do something with a pop flavor, he would come out and just do a blow-your-head-off type of a lead on top of that. He never really compromised.
Did Quiet Riot do much travelling?
No, we didn’t. We went from Oxnard to Riverside – that was the extent. It was mainly a Starwood band. We really had no interest in touring without a record deal.
Did you open shows for anyone?
Not really. We were mainly doing a weekend at the Starwood, mostly. Before I joined the band, they did do some shows with, like, early Journey when they didn’t have a singer, and I think Black Oak. There was a club down here called the Golden West Ballroom or something – this is way before I joined the band.
Did the band have much of a following when you came onboard?
Oh, yeah, it was an outrageous following! It was great, great. And with Randy being, I would say, the focal point of the band – you know, the one the kids would like to come and see. If you’d go out into the audience, you’d see a bunch of little kids with his haircut, wearing little polka-dot bowties and polka-dot vests, trying to look like him. And then in other bands, there were a lot of clone Randy Rhoads guitar players going around.
Was Randy responsible for you joining Blizzard of Ozz?
Sure. I would say he was 99% responsible [laughs]. Let me put it this way: He did as much as anybody else could do about getting somebody in. I still had to get up there and play. I had to be capable of playing. But he did as much as he could.
You were on the second Ozzy album but not the first?
I was on none of the albums.
You’re not on the second album?
Yeah. My picture’s in it [laughs]. I tell you, by the time that album was finished, the old bass player was kicked out about five months.
He was a progressive guitarist. By that I don’t mean as a style, like fusion. I mean, if you write a song today, every day he’ll progress on the song and play it different and different. It would still be the same song, but he would elaborate on it. By the time you record an album, you haven’t played anything live yet. First you write the songs, and then you go in the studio. And then by the time the album is done, you start touring. And then every day – whether it’s because of the way that you feel or you just get bored with certain parts – you make them different. For example, there’s going to be a live album put out with Randy on it. It’s coming out at Christmas as a tribute to him. And you’ll hear the difference of him playing live as compared to the album. It’s totally different. It’s like more. He does everything, like an attack. He blazes you with his guitar. Totally.
Did he like to jam?
Did he play a lot by himself in his spare time?
Yes, he sure did. What I mean by jamming, he wasn’t like gathering around with a bunch of people and sitting down and jamming. The jams would actually be writing. He would not jam, he would write. The jams would turn into songs. It wasn’t like, “Let’s just play in one key and do this and do that.” The most unusual thing about Randy was the fact that coming from this part of L.A., he didn’t have to find it a necessity to survive financially – as did many other bands – by playing copy material. He didn’t have the background of a lot of players who, just to make money, have to go out and do disco music or do some Steely Dan or do some blues or something. Randy didn’t need that because he was working by teaching at his mother’s school. He had been teaching for about ten years at his mom’s school, and he had a whole bunch of students. So instead of having to go out and play clubs for finances, he would just teach. That’s how he made money. He made excellent money teaching – he had at least about 80 to 90 students that he had to fit each week. He had a super-busy schedule. From teaching, he would come directly to rehearsal.
What were Randy’s main influences?
His influences were late-’60s, early-’70s English rock guitar players. He didn’t have any R&B influence or anything, so it’s totally English. And classical music because of his schooling. His mother had a lot to do with that, teaching him and influencing him with classical music. So by the time he got to England, he was not like a typical American guitar player who had had the influence of R&B music and country music, because he’d never played that.
Were there any particular players he admired?
Yeah, let me tell you who they were. He really admired Gary Moore and Eddie Van Halen. Those were the top two guys he really, really admired.
What would he play on the tour bus?
Classical guitar. Okay, last year he got voted the best new performer of 1981 [the Guitar Player Readers Poll Award for Best New Talent]. That could either do two things to a young guitar player: He could either say, “Hey, I’ve made it. Forget it, I don’t need to get any better at this.” Or he could do the totally opposite. Randy just went more into his playing. Like, for example, on days off, we would be in the middle of Anytown, U.S.A. When we would get there to the hotel in the morning, from travelling at night, he would open up a telephone book, look up music schools, and he would go and take classical guitar music lessons. And he was coming along incredibly well.
Would he tell them what he wanted to learn?
Yeah, he would come with his books and ask questions about reading classical music and fingering positions and pieces and stuff like that. He would do that. Of course, in a lot of places he would go to the wrong school and he would have to face some young, 18-year-old girl teacher, and she would totally freak out when she’d find out who he was. Actually, many times he wound up giving them lessons. But he would pay for it [laughs].
How did Randy take the acclaim he started getting with Ozzy?
Very humble. The more recognition he would get, the better he would want to get. An incredibly humble guy. If for any reason anybody would ask him for an autograph or tell him any compliments, he would just smile real shy. That was his nature.
His mother told me that when he was feeling pressured from being on the road too long, he’d go out and collect trains.
Yeah, yeah. He had a Z-scale train collection. As a matter of fact, the last time we were in Germany, he bought a whole bunch because they’re made there. These were miniatures. He would get off the road – I never saw him do this, because of course this is private – and he would get together with his girlfriend and go to his house. He lived with his mom at the time. He’d get his trains out, put his hair up in a ponytail, and get little boxes of Chinese food and put them all in a row. And he’d sit there and play with the trains, and that’s it [laughs]. Very, very simple guy, you know – very humble.
Was he much of a partier?
No, not really. Nah. Yes and no. I don’t know. He was very moody. Let me tell you something – he stopped really partying hard when he realized that people were paying attention to what he was doing. Like on the last tour we were doing, he was totally serious. None or very little drinking. He was just devoting all of his time to staying in his room, practicing, whether it was electrical guitar or classical guitar. At the beginning – you know, the first tour – it was more of a party and getting crazy, stuff like that. He had a unique sense of humor.
Do you have favorite memories of Randy?
Yeah. From day one, everything. Actually, it was great. It was great. We all still think about him in our own way because everybody did different things with him, had different memories of him. But we all remember him in a real, real, real special way.
Anything you’d care to add, Rudy?
I was just driving here on my way to Jet Records and turned on the radio, and “Crazy Train” was on. I was listening to it. You know, he’s the kind of a player that every time you listen to a song, you hear new things, different things. Not to take credit away from, let’s say, Brad Gillis’ playing with us, but there was only one Randy.
To learn more about Rudy Sarzo and purchase his book Off the Rails, visit his official website, Rudy Sarzo. Thanks, Rudy, for encouraging me to publish this.
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© 2010 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This interview may not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission.