It’s been 31 years since guitar legend Randy Rhoads, of Ozzy Osburne, fame died (along with Ozzy seamstress/hairdresser Rachel Youngblood and asshat, wanna-be stunt pilot/bus driver Andrew Aycock) in a small plane crash in Florida on March 19, 1982.
In those three decades, the complexion of the metal world has changed countless times, with generations of new blood bringing new attitudes and putting their own spins on their art.
One thing that has remained constant, however, is the emotional impact of a well-played, distorted riff or lead.
Nowadays it seems that every band coming out of the woodwork has a shredder. For many of them, the foundation, the blueprint they follow was written by Rhoads’ work with Ozzy on “Diary of a Madman” and “Blizzard of Oz.” Rhoads’ work on those two albums had an impact that lives on past his all too short 25 years.
Many guitarists point to Jimi Hendrix as one of the prime innovators of the art of electric guitar. And while Hendrix may have revolutionized the way electric guitar was played in the late 1960s, it was Rhoads who took the Voodoo Chile’s influence even further, adding another ingredient to the prevalent blues-basedformula – classical virtuosity. Simply put, without Hendrix, hard rock would have been a very different thing, without much of the flavor that his colorful showmanship and blues-on-steroids music has added to subsequent generations of rockers.
Without Rhoads, heavy metal would have also been very different, without much of the classically influenced flair he brought. There were others before him who brought their classical leanings, guitarists such as Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Uli Jon Roth of the Scorpions and Steve Howe of Yes, but Rhoads just seemed to hit on the right combination of technical playing with hook-laden radio friendly riffs.
In the early 1980s I was already firmly ensconced in the world of hard rock, with bands such as Bad Company, Thin Lizzy, Foreigner, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin all earning a lot of spin time on my Emerson turntable. In sixth grade, however my world was rocked when I attended a school dance and the DJ played “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne. I was obviously familiar with Ozzy’s work with Black Sabbath, who at the time were considered the pinnacle of hard rock – or acid rock as it was sometimes labeled. But there was just something about Ozzy’s new band and the opening riff of that first single that combined with searing fast lead fills, and a hammer-on laden solo, that peeled my eyebrows back. It wasn’t long before I set out to the local record store to pick up “Blizzard of Oz” the first Ozzy album.
At the time there were several bands (most notably in England where the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, including bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Diamond Head were taking off) playing under the moniker of heavy metal. I had not heard any of them, so for me it was all about Ozzy. That first album set the template for me, and a large part of that was due to Rhoads’ playing on such songs as “I Don’t Know,” “Suicide Solution” and “Mr. Crowley.”
It wouldn’t be long before I would immerse myself fully into the English heavy metal bands, as well as the newest generation of American metal bands, such as Quiet Riot, Dokken, Ratt and Motley Crue, but “Blizzard of Ozz” lived on my turntable with no competition for weeks.
After “Blizzard” Ozzy and Rhoads again conspired to bring another groundbreaking album “Diary of a Madman.” That album took the original formula used on “Blizzard” and improved on it, with better songwriting evident on such classics as the title track, “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” and “Flying High Again.”
Sadly, by the time I was fully able to sink my teeth into “Diary” Rhoads was already gone.
On March 19, 1982 while on tour the Ozzy contingent stopped in Leesburg, Florida. Rhoads, along with Youngblood, and with aforementioned douchebag Aycock, climbed into a Beechcraft Bonanza F-35 light plane for a joy ride that turned tragic when the plane clipped the tour bus while buzzing it and spun out of control into a tree and then a house, where it burst into flames. All three people in the plane were killed instantly.
I don’t remember where I was when I first heard about Rhoads dying. All I remember is being sad that their would be no more music coming from those nimble fingers. Except for a live album and some sub-par Quiet Riot albums that he played on before Ozzy, there is no cache of Rhoads material out there. Now, 30 years later, just like in the case of Hendrix I often wonder what kind of music Rhoads would be making nowadays. By most accounts, he was taking lessons with classical guitar teachers while on tour and plotting a future career as an acoustic classical guitarist. I like to think that had he made this move, he would eventually made his way back to metal.
For me, going back and listening to those first two Ozzy albums are like traveling in a time machine. I remember emotions, circumstances and people that were around me when I first heard them. I also remember going nuts trying to figure out just how the hell he was able to make that Gibson Les Paul run through a Marshall amp sound so much different than the 100s of other guitarists out there running the same rigs. I listen to those albums now and I’m amazed at how fresh they still sound, despite being nearly three decades old.
Rhoads’ influence can be heard all over the metal world however, on work from guitarists such as Slipknot’s Mick Thomsen, Dokken’s George Lynch, Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho and former Ozzy guitarist and Black Label Society leader Zakk Wylde. So although it was an all too brief moment, I’m glad that Rhoads was around long enough to make music that impacted my life and colored my taste in music forever. Tonight I raise my glass to toast Randy and so should you.