Music Over 40: Randy Rhoads, gone too soon
Some stars burn too bright to last ...
Rock and roll is dangerous business. Even in the beginning. From "the day the music died" (Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens) to the "27" club (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison) this beast we call rock music has always had an appetite. The late seventies saw the premature demise of Keith Moon, Ronnie Van Zandt, John Bonham and Bon Scott. The eighties and nineties saw Freddie Mercury, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robin Crosby, Shannon Hoon, Andrew Wood and Brad Noland succumb to both vice and circumstance.
Perhaps the most lamentable was the March 1982 death of one Randall William Rhoads in a fluke airplane accident (Though the tragic bus crash in 1986 that claimed Metallica's Cliff Burton at 24 is a close second). The diminutive 25 year old was heralded as guitar genius, spoken in the same breaths as Eddie Van Halen, his potential compared to the that of the legendary Hendrix.
In the blink of an eye on March 19, 1982 he was gone.
Though he had gained some notoriety with his early work in the first incarnation of Quiet Riot, his short, but brilliant, tenure as newly solo Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist made him famous. Though only 24 when Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of A Madman were recorded, his technique and composition were already light years ahead. Though not the first to use classically influenced structures in his playing (Ritchie Blackmore was arguably the first with Deep Purple and then Rainbow), but he certainly expanded on these influences.
Blizzard is a good introduction to Rhoads, with tracks such as Crazy Train, I Don't Know, Suicide Solution and Mr Crowley the most obvious examples of his dynamic playing and fluid soloing.
Diary is a truly epic piece of music from a guitar standpoint. Over The Mountain has its distinctive stutter step attack and other-worldly solo. Flying High Again has a tight groove with a full palate of guitar accents. Both You Cant Kill Rock and Roll and Diary Of A Madman have some gorgeous acoustic moments, killer solos and monster riffs to anchor the songs. S.A.T.O. is an underrated gem with some Rhoads best playing on either album.
The posthumous release, Tribute, only adds to the legend with fiery live readings of the Blizzard material with some Sabbath and Diary tunes thrown in for good measure.
His solos were always heavy on the tremolo and he always seemed to speed up or slow the tempo at the right time to keep you on the edge of your seat.
He was a musician's musician. Already incredibly gifted at a young age, he was always willing to get better. His talent helped bring Ozzy back from the depths of hell and his death almost put him out of the business. Though Oz has had some great talents on the guitar since, none of them could match the combination of talent, imagination and charisma Randy Rhoads had.
Sadly, though you can find almost anything on Youtube, quality video of Randy playing live is hard to come by. One clip you can find is worth watching. It is from the 30th anniversary Blizzard/Diary collectors box set. On it you can see Ozzy in a present day studio listening to a lost solo from Randy. What appears to start as the riff from I Don't Know morphs into an impressive one minute solo jam. The look on Ozzy's face as he listens is priceless.
Blizzard and Diary are must haves for any fan of virtuostic, bombastic guitar. Thanks to these two albums, the legend of Randy Rhoads will never truly die.