Ozzy Osbourne Interview: The Good, The Bad & The Ozzy
GW What were Randy’s weaknesses as a player? Was there any aspect you had to help him with?
OZZY He didn’t really have any weaknesses. I was the one that needed work. I had just come from Sabbath and Tony Iommi was a bit of a tyrant. His attitude was that I was the singer, I was allocated a space, and if I couldn’t come up with anything then I was screwed. Whereas Randy would work with me. Randy had patience because he was a guitar teacher. It was potentially a very frustrating situation for him because I couldn’t play a musical instrument. But he was always supportive and would say things like, “Try bending a note here,” or “Try this key.” It was a bit like going to music school. Randy was very instrumental in bringing me out of me. The first two Ozzy albums are by far the greatest things I’ve ever done. He was too good to last.
GW You and Randy had chemistry.
OZZY Yeah, and now I think it’s gone, but you never know. I was never sure whether my work with Sabbath was any good. I used to think it was all too ordinary, but it seems to have stood the test of time. You never know what you got till it’s gone.
GW You must have had more confidence when you found Jake E. Lee.
OZZY Not really. I knew a guitarist had to look good and have a good attitude, but other than that…Randy was the exception. He was from somewhere else.
Randy came to me one day and said, “I’ve had enough of this rock and roll stuff, I want to get a degree in music from UCLA.” I said to him, “Why don’t you wait a few years and get some money and success behind you. You can always get a degree when you’re 90, if you want.” But he wanted to study right then and there. He started spending hours practicing and writing out his own formulas—diads or niads or whatever you call them. Day in and day out, whatever spare time he had was spent plucking on his flamenco guitar. He was a musician in the true sense. The instrument was an extension of his personality.
When we were recording Diary of a Madman he would disappear into the studio for days. I’d ask him what he was doing and he would say, “I’m working on this solo and I still can’t get it.” Finally, it would come to him and he would call me and say, “listen to this.” It would always tear my head off.
That’s the difference between guitar players: there are guys who’ll go wingly-wangly up and down the fretboard, and some have emotions and others don’t. Randy and Eddie Van Halen were at the winning post, and everyone else is a close second. I mean, this Yngwie Malmsteen guy must have the capability to do some amazing things, but it’s too cold; it’s too much for the mind to take in. And watching Steve Vai is like watching a good mechanic strip down an engine in three seconds and rebuild it. He makes things run perfectly, but there’s no nice little errors that make things sound human.
GW Okay, but what about Jake?
OZZY Well, Jake was fine for the first three days; then he wanted to take over. Randy wasn’t like that; he was one of the cool guys. I wouldn’t say Jake and I got along, but I wouldn’t say we didn’t get along. But in the last few years he became very reserved and it was hard to communicate with him. We lived together in a house in Beverly Hills and we never spoke! It wasn’t because we didn’t like each other. We just didn’t have anything to say.
It was similar to the relationship I had with Tony Iommi. We’d get together to rehearse, write a mediocre song and then go our own way. It’s not the relationship I wanted with Jake, but a festering cancer set in. I wouldn’t have it. If I ask, “What do you think of that?” I want a reaction. If it’s negative we’ll try something else, that’s not a problem. But Jake would shrug his shoulders, raise an eyebrow and walk away.
The word “band” means a band of men—an army, a platoon, a unit. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If there is a communication breakdown— hey, that’s a great name for a song—you’ve got no unit.
To be fair, Jake did have a fantastic presence and he was a great guitar player.
GW What made Zakk stand out?
OZZY This is a bizarre story, but it’s the God’s honest truth. It was a bad period for me because I was sick of auditioning people— drummers, bass players, keyboard players…you name it. Now it was time to audition yet another guitar player. The spark had gone out of it, probably due to my various battles with drugs and alcohol. I had a lot of personal hang-ups about a lot of things, plus I was tired. I asked the guys who were in the band at the time to put out the word that I needed somebody and to have people send me résumés. I auditioned about 50 guys. Some of them were hilarious. I asked one guy to play something in a specific key. He said, “I think it would be better in another key.” I said, “No it wouldn’t. Just play it in the key it was written in.” He protested again and I just thought, What the hell am I doing here? I’m jet-lagged to the max, arguing with some idiot guitar player.
Then there were all these Eddie Van Halen clones on steroids. They played like Van Halen while standing on their heads and hopping on one leg. On guy even played like Eddie while eating a fucking sword!
One morning I was confronted with a mound of tapes and I remember picking one up out of thousands and saying, “Look here, a Randy Rhoads clone.” It was a picture of some guy with long blonde hair playing a Les Paul Custom. I couldn’t even bring myself to listen to his tape. I tossed it back in the pile and forgot about it.
Then about six months later, my drummer, Randy Castillo, walks in and says, “I found this great guitarist from New Jersey, and his name is Zakk.” I walked into the audition and I knew I had seen him before, but I couldn’t remember where. He plugs in and plays my whole catalog, note for note. I then asked him to play something of his own and he played some acoustic stuff and some classical stuff. He had a bounce and a spark about him. Then I realized where I saw Zakk before: he was the Randy Rhoads clone in the photo, the one tape I had picked out of thousands. Only it turned out that he wasn’t a Randy clone at all. Randy would’ve looked like an ant next to Zakk.
There were lots of benefits to choosing Zakk. He had followed my career and he knew my songs better than I knew them myself. We knew it wouldn’t be hard to break him in.
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