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Taken from Forbes (Oct 12, 2020)

Exclusive: Ozzy Osbourne And Tom Morello Pay Tribute To Guitar Hero Randy Rhoads, 'A Shooting Star'

by Steve Baltin

Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads, January 24, 1982. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
British musician Ozzy Osbourne and American musician Randy Rhoads (1956 - 1982) perform at the Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois, January 24, 1982. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Ozzy Osbourne recently celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his seminal solo debut, Blizzard Of Ozz, which was feted with an expanded deluxe edition that includes seven previously digitally unreleased live tracks showcasing the work of Osbourne's late guitarist, Randy Rhoads.

The guitarist, who was tragically killed in a plane crash at the age of 25 on March 19, 1982, was on the cusp of becoming the next guitar icon. His work on Blizzard Of Ozz and the follow-up, Diary Of A Madman, made him an instant star in the rock world. And in the subsequent 38 years he has become a legend to the many diehard fans Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello calls "The believers."

Osbourne tells me of Rhoads meteoric rise and tragic demise, "He came in like a shooting star and went out like a shooting star."

In separate conversations over the last two weeks I spoke with Osbourne and Morello, who has cited Rhoads as his favorite guitarist, about what made Rhoads so special, his legacy, his influence and much more.

And nearly four decades later they still speak with absolute reverence of the man, Osbourne calls, "The truest musician I ever met."

"What was so unique about Randy Rhoads is he had all of the kind of Eddie Van Halen histrionics, chops and tapping, but it was cut with what was clearly an advanced classical music pedigree without giving an inch to metal rock riffs awesomeness," Morello says. "There's never been anything like it."

Steve Baltin: You started playing in 1981 at age 17. So it was concurrent with when Randy was exploding on the scene. Do you remember when you first heard him?

Tom Morello: Absolutely, I was in a car with three friends down the block from my mom's house. We just pulled in. It was at a time when we were actually the only house in the neighborhood that had MTV, so we were just basically going to have an MTV-watching event. We had the radio on and "Crazy Train" came on the radio. I could not believe what I was hearing. It was this cavalry-charged riff that was like the greatest riff I had ever heard. And then clearly it was Ozzy singing, but it wasn't Black Sabbath. And then the guitar solo came. I was in a car with three new wave fans who wanted to get out of the car and go wait for Kajagoogoo to come on the TV. And I was like, "Everybody just shut up, shut up" (Cracks up). I listened to the song to its end trying to keep them hushed so I could appreciate whatever that magical thing was that had just occurred. And then ran out and bought the cassette. And Randy blew my mind.

Baltin: What were those songs for you when you first listened to Blizzard Of Ozz that just blew your mind?

Morello: It was kind of top to bottom. It was probably between "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley," which has two of the greatest rock solos in one song. It was unbelievable. There's never been a guitar player like that, who had all of that, the underpinning abilities of a classical virtuoso, but unapologetic jamming. He jammed with the fever and furor of an Angus Young, but also had the ability to Arpeggio like Paganini.

Baltin: Most artists don't like to look back. So is it strange to look back on the Blizzard Of Ozz reissue.

Ozzy Osbourne: I can't believe it's been 40 years. Forty years, it's like, "F**king hell." You know what's even more weird? I was with Sabbath for 10 years and people are longing for Sabbath, which I feel honored by. But it seems like I was with Sabbath for a lot longer than 10 years.

Baltin: In the documentary you found a new Randy solo. So what was it like to hear new playing from him for the first time in nearly 40 years?

Osbourne: I met people in my life that sometimes, I don't know if you've experienced this, when they pass, I sometimes think he was too good for this place. Yes, world-class mate. When people say, "Who is the truest musician you ever worked with?" That would be Randy Rhoads. It was great working with him. We were made for each other.

Baltin: Did you ever see Randy live?

Morello: No, but back in the day, before Tribute came out, I looked everywhere. There was no sort of internet resource. I looked everywhere for live recordings because the way he would improvise within the structure of the solos of the song was so inspiring to me. Randy Rhoads was the poster I had on my wall when I was practicing eight hours a day. And the allure was not just that he was a great player and wrote some songs that I loved. It was that he self-identified first and foremost as a musician, not as a rock star. And reading about his life on the road on days off he would humbly take classical guitar lessons in whatever city they were in in the midst of this Ozzy Osbourne arena tour. And I recognized that, like the desire to and achieve as a musician, not just get high and play some songs and there are groupies. Here was a guy that had a point of view that he really deeply cared about music and that was very attractive to me because I deeply cared about music too.

Baltin: Just to put it in context who were the other guitar players you admired before him? And what differentiated him from the others?

Morello: The list would certainly be Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen was a force of nature, I enjoyed Ted Nugent's guitar playing, Joe Perry's guitar playing, the riffs of Tony Iomni especially, Angus Young's sort of ferocity on the instrument. I was no less of a fan of those guitarists when Randy Rhoads came out, but it really increased my focus. And when I was practicing, putting in my 20,000 hours on the instrument he was the principal inspiration.

Baltin: The legend is it was instant when you met him. Is that true?

Osbourne: When I met him and I heard him play I was f**king out of my face. I remember saying something like, "Either this is the best time I ever had or you're the best guitar player I've ever heard." So he came back to my apartment the next day and he was only, he weighed like 98 pounds. Guy looked like a doll, but boy could he play the f**king guitar, man.

Baltin: What made him different from everybody else?

Osbourne: After Eddie Van Halen, god bless his soul, everybody in the '80s was doing that finger tapping stuff. And every solo in these hair bands was like, "Woo, woo, woo." But Randy would do that, but also he wouldn't stay on that. He would move to a blues feel into a classic feel. He was a very versatile player.

Baltin: Talk about how his diversity freed you up as a musician to be able to write with any style.

Osbourne: What happens with these metal bands, I f**king hate that, "Okay, we all gotta do this and play that." Everyone just does the same, but Randy would challenge himself. Every day when we were on the road, I swear to god I'm not making this up, remember the Yellow Pages phone book? He would pick the Yellow Pages up and find a local guitarist to come around to his hotel and give him a classical guitar lesson. That was Randy Rhoads, man. Randy was just a special guy, And every year on the anniversary of his death I send flowers to his grave. I'll do it for the rest of my life.

Baltin: Do you remember the first song you heard him play?

Osbourne: Yeah, the first song he wrote with me was "Goodbye To Romance." I had the melody. He says, "Where I have heard that song before?" I said, "Sit down, we'll work it out."

Baltin: So you had the chemistry right away?

Osbourne: We lived together. He came and lived in my house in England and then we had an apartment together in London, two apartments together in London. I was the f**king crazy guy and he'd come around from my last bout of whatever the f**k I was doing. I'd barely wake up and he'd be sitting there having a classical lesson. One day I'm coming around on the couch in his apartment and I hear him talking to somebody, I go, "Who the f**k's that?" He goes, "Meet my mom, Oz." His mom was there and she goes, "Where's Ozzy?"

Baltin: For people just getting into his music what are the entryway tracks?

Morello: He found his footing with the Ozzy records, Diary Of A Madman and Blizzard Of Ozz. And then the Tribute record, those are the three. The Tribute record is particularly awesome because you get to hear Randy Rhoads confidently rocking these Sabbath anthems. And for a fan of Sabbath I was like, "What? My favorite guitarist is now playing my favorite Sabbath songs? This is beyond belief." And then sort of taking his own take on the Tony Iomni solo, that was mind boggling. The hardest song, the most difficult time I've ever had, learning a song was "Diary Of A Madman." There was a music shop in Highland Park, I eschewed music lessons because I was kind of punk spirited and wanted to do it all myself. I was like, "I gotta learn 'Diary Of A Madman.'" I must have spent 15 trips to the same guitar teacher trying to figure out the complex chords and timing of the song and the guitar orchestration of it that was so beautiful and stirring and powerful. It's a good day when that one comes on. I lose my mind.

Baltin: Did you finally learn it?

Morello: I did. The chords in that song, which are very unique, kind of classical arrangement of chords, have informed my playing since that day. And they have sprouted up in some Audioslave songs.

Baltin: Ozzy told me Randy was going to leave the band to go back to school. How did his devotion to music inspire your diverse range of interests?

Morello: In a sidebar, Randy Rhoads was not just a great guitar player. He not only revived Ozzy Osbourne's career, he revived Ozzy Osbourne. And gave him a reason to rock and a reason to live. And coming out of probably the greatest heavy metal band of all time in Black Sabbath , to find a musical partner that could help build a catalog with the greatest hard rock songs of all time, that's a miracle right there. But like I said, I was impressed with Randy's constant quest for betterment as an artist. Obviously from Quiet Riot, he had hard rock/metal in his bones, which shows in all of his work with Ozzy. But there was more to it than that. And it's a cliche to say, "Oh my gosh, what might he have been involved in during subsequent years." And, for me personally, one real tragedy is the way my life has played out if he were alive today I'd probably know him (laughs). I've had the good fortune to meet a lot of my guitar heroes. I'd probably know him and that makes me sad.

Baltin: What would you say to him if you got to meet him?

Morello: He's probably not a person I could ever consider a peer and if he was open to it...I visited the place where he used to give lessons, the room where Randy taught and set up exactly as it was when he give his last guitar lesson. And if he were open to it I would love to jam with him. Or better yet, sit back, play some rhythm guitar and just watch that guy go.

Baltin: What would be the song you would most want to jam with him on?

Morello: It's just crazy cause just anything. I was so riveted to his stuff. First of all just effortlessly watching him play the soaring, beautiful melodies on those records note for note was great. But watching him improvise against a Chopin chord progression would be pretty phenomenal or rocking "Voodoo Child." Those would be my two.

Baltin: We as a society tend to attach mythology to those who die too soon and there does seem to be a different mythology around Randy. For those who get it they swear by him.

Morello: Oh, absolutely, no doubt about it. It is a tribe of believers and, for me, it was a very easy choice what to decide to name my first bon son, it was gonna be Rhoads off the bat.

Baltin: How much of the attraction for you was his devotion to the music and also that he had the nerve, as a young guitarist, to say to Ozzy, "Knock it off, let's go play music."

Morello: Yeah, that all fits. I'm a person that's never done a drug in my life. So just hearing that is very inspiring. I'd much rather jam than lose my mind in the kind of stereotypical rock star behavior. And Randy epitomized that. There's a pure artist creating some of the greatest guitar rock and roll music of all time. When he linked arms with Randy Rhoads it elevated his artistry 1000 fold.

Baltin: Do you have a different appreciation for that time looking back on it?

Osbourne: No because instinctively you know. I've been in the game long enough, I've been in the game 50 years, I know instinctively whether someone is f**king around or someone is really good. And Randy was beyond really good. He f**king freaked me out he was so good. I couldn't believe this power was coming out of such a little man. Like Angus Young, he's a little guy, but, f**k, can he play guitar.

Baltin: Any idea what Randy would be doing if he lived?

Osbourne: I don't know where he would be. I'm not gonna say he would be out there forever because on that last bus journey it was like five o'clock in the morning, he was doing this classical thing on the front of the bus and he said to me, "I want to quit rock and roll." I said, "What?!" He said, "I've experienced it, I know what it's about now. I'm a success at that, I want to go to UCLA and get a degree in classical." I said, "F**king hell, the way we're going you'll be able to buy UCLA by the end of the tour."

Baltin: What do you remember about his live playing?

Osbourne: Can you imagine what it would have been like if there had been all these cameras and film back then? There's very little footage of him. He was an incredible player live. Him and Eddie Van Halen were the best guys in town at the time. There was a very healthy rivalry between the two of them. Eddie was a really great guy. They did the '78 world tour with Black Sabbath and to see Eddie play guitar was like...he made it look so f**king easy, Eddie Van Halen. He was a very nice guy as well, I liked him, I loved him.

Baltin: How does he influence your work?

Morello: I hear him in almost everyone of my guitar solos, even the ones that are not even related to notes that sound like him because it was the composition of the songs. He composed those solos like a classical composer as opposed to a guy just jamming over a beat. And they have a narrative arc to them. And I hear that very much in my solos. Also, my nine-year-old is a guitarist and I taught him "Crazy Train" beginning to end. That's a song I've played in bands and whatnot, but I've really studied it to get it absolutely right for him He learned the version off of Tribute. And just the recording genius on the studio record, how he triple-tracked the solo, which gives this a quality is that unlike any guitar solo that we heard on record before and cemented his place in history. I believe it was working with Ozzy that unlocked the depth of his genius.


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