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This article was originally published in issue #49
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It may be over 30 years since we lost Randy Rhoads, but the legacy of this amazing guitarist still lives on. In this issue, Jamie Humphries offers a unique Randy Rhoads Tech Session showing you how to capture that incendiary style and this personal tribute to a guitar hero whose influence is still very much with us.
The 1980s saw huge developments in guitar playing, with Rock guitarists moving away from Blues orientated playing by including more advanced scales, arpeggios and techniques to their playing arsenal. Stand-out players from the early '80s include Edward Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, George Lynch, and the late Randy Rhoads. Randy had a very short career, bought to an abrupt end by a tragic accident, but his guitar playing has had a profound influence on modern Rock guitar. Cited by the likes of Dimebag Darrell, Kirk Hammett, and Paul Gilbert as a major influence, Randy fused classic Rock with classical inspired runs and arpeggios, and although not associated directly with the genre, can been seen as an early pioneer of neo-classical guitar.
Randy himself drew influence from a wide range of guitarists from a broad array of genres, including the likes of Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Leslie West, Mick Ronson and Charlie Christian. He also cited many classical guitarists and composers; Randy was equally accomplished on classical guitar as he was on the electric guitar.
Randy Rhoads grew up in California, the youngest of three children, hugely inspired by his mother, Delores Rhoads, who set up her own music school called Musonia in North Hollywood, where she also taught piano. Randy began learning classical guitar at the age of seven, and studied at his mother’s school. His mother also taught him piano and music theory. After a while Randy showed an interest in the electric guitar and asked his mother if he could start taking lessons. She agreed and he began studying under the tuition of Scott Shelly, an electric guitar tutor at his mother’s school. After Shelly informed Delores that he didn’t have anything else to teach him, and that Randy has surpassed the tutor's knowledge, Randy continued his electric studies on his own, according to his mother he immersed himself in very long intense practice sessions.
Randy formed the band Violet Fox with his older brother Kelle on drums and his best friend Kelly Garni on bass. The band would perform Rock shows at the Musonia School, following Randy and Kelle’s performances with the Musonia school band; the deal was that they were allowed to put on a Rock show if they performed with the school band. The band also performed at backyard parties, and was an ideal vehicle for Randy to apply his fledgling guitar skills, as well as form the foundation for his first notable band.
While in his mid-teens Randy graduated early, allowing him to take on the position as guitar teacher at his mother’s school. Other notable teachers at the school include guitarist George Lynch, and bassist Rudy Sarzo. Whilst teaching guitar at the school, Randy would be performing in the LA clubs at night with the band Little Woman, which he had formed with Kelly Garni. Following some line up changes the pair settled on Kevin DuBrow on vocals and Drew Forsyth on drums, now adopting the name Quiet Riot. The name came about after the late Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt had said he wanted to call a band Quite Right, and with the pronunciation being misunderstood due to his English accent, the band's name was coined.
Quiet Riot gained notoriety around LA, and with a large following they became one of most popular live acts on the Hollywood scene. Along with Eddie Van Halen, Randy was fast becoming one of the most talked about guitarists in LA, displaying his training and knowledge with his classical inspired runs and arpeggios, as well as his fiery Blues based licks and tapping arpeggios. Randy recorded two albums with Quiet Riot, “Quiet Riot I” and “Quiet Riot II”.
Randy was heading for stardom, and in 1979 the planets were aligned correctly, because Randy was approached to audition for ex-Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne’s new solo band. Randy had become disillusioned with Quiet Riot, and as well as feeling restraints on what he could play with in the band, he was also unhappy with the fact that they could not secure a record deal for the US; their two albums being released in Japan only. Rhoads was approached by a mutual friend of both his and Ozzy’s, bassist Dana Strum, asking if he would be interested in auditioning for the position of lead guitarist in Ozzy’s new band. Randy headed down to the singer’s hotel, who, in a drunken state, (Ozzy?! Never - Ed) was totally blown away by Randy’s playing. Randy simply turned up, and started warming up through a practice amp - at which point Ozzy offered him the job on the spot! Rock legend has it that Randy was shocked by this revelation because he didn’t even really play, he was simply warming up, and he didn’t even know what job he had been offered!
The partnership of Ozzy and Randy is one of those partnerships that goes down in Rock history like Edward Van Halen and David Lee Roth, Slash and Axl and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. For many, including Ozzy, Randy saved Ozzy as well as launching his own solo career. Ozzy encouraged Randy to be himself, and play whatever he wanted. This new found musical freedom enabled him to establish his distinct voice in Rock guitar, blending neo-classical riffs with Pop-Rock hooks and progressions.
Ozzy’s solo debut album Blizzard of Ozz was released in 1980, and is a land mark Heavy Metal album. With Rhoads being responsible for much of the writing on the album, such stand out tracks include “Crazy Train”, “I Don’t Know”, “Mr Crowley” “Revelation Mother Earth” and “Suicide Solution”. The album showcased Randy’s tight, driving riffs and flamboyant virtuoso guitar style, catapulting him into the guitar spotlight, and being heralded as one of the greatest heavy metal guitarists in the world. The album also featured the sensitive classical solo piece “Dee”, which Randy composed for his mother; early references of this track can be heard in recordings of Randy’s solo spot with Quiet Riot.
The follow up album, Diary of a Mad Man, was released in 1981, and once again showcased Randy’s awesome neo-classical flavoured guitar work. This album included such stand out tracks as “Over the Mountain”, with Randy’s signature driving rhythm guitar riff, “Flying High Again” and “S.A.T.O”.
Sadly, Diary of a Mad Man was to be Randy’s final recording. Following a show in Knoxville, the band was heading for a festival in Orlando Florida. On March 19th 1982 they made a pit stop at a millionaire's house for bus repairs. On the property there was an airstrip and light aircraft. Bus driver and pilot Andrew Aycock convinced Randy and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood to let him take them up in one of the small planes. Aycock attempted to “buzz” the tour bus, to scare the Ozzy and the remaining band members sleeping on the bus. After two passes he attempted the manoeuvre again, but clipped the bus sending the plane crashing into the mansion house and bursting into flame. Following an autopsy, it was discovered that Aycock had traces of cocaine in his blood, whilst Randy was totally clean. All three tragically lost their lives in what was nothing more than a stupid stunt.
Randy has had a huge impact on the world of music, not only with his guitar playing but also for his compositions. It's hard to say what Randy would have achieved if he had not been tragically taken so early, but it’s well documented that he had informed Ozzy that he wanted to end his career in Rock music and go back to studying classical guitar. His mother Delores had said in interviews that Randy wanted to study for both a degree and masters in classical guitar.
Randy is timeless, and still now 35 years on from his tragic death, his legacy still lives on. His guitar playing still has a huge impact on modern Rock guitar, with his achievements being recognised to this day.
Rand's Signature Gear
Like so many American guitarists in the past, Randy started out playing a Harmony but soon graduated to a Fender Strat and thence, in the early 1970s, to a Gibson Les Paul, a model he would often come back to. For some years Randy used a distinctive custom polka dot painted Karl Sandorval Flying V. It is unclear, but he may well have used this guitar on Blizzard of Ozz. In 1980 or '81 the V was supplanted by a pair of Grover Jackson's Charvels - a Concorde and a Concorde 2, both fitted with Seymour Duncan pickups. There is still debate about precisely which Marshalls Randy used, but suffice it to say he used two 100 Watt heads when he joined Ozzy (Marshall issued a randy Rhoads tribute model at one point) through Marshall 4x12s containing not the usual Celestion speakers, but Altecs.
His array of pedals (modest by today's standards) included an MXR Distortion +, an MXR 10 band EQ, an MXR Stereo Chorus, an MXR Flanger, a Roland volume pedal, and a Vox wah pedal.