Ozzy Osbourne: To Hell and Back
“I remember we had to cancel a show in Bakersfield, California, because Ozzy pretty much couldn’t play the gig,” Gillis recalls. “We told the audience that he had food poisoning and that we’d taken him to the hospital, but really he was just passed out in the back of the bus. He was drinking a lot in those days and dabbling in other things, and we helped him out as much as we could by being supportive. And things were going good for him. All the shows were sold out and the records were selling, but he was still depressed over Randy’s death. He needed real help to pull him through this.”
Around this time, Sharon and Ozzy were desperately trying to break free from the financially constricting contract Ozzy had with her father and Jet Records. “My father used to take 90 percent and give the artist only 10 percent,” says Sharon. But Arden wouldn’t budge, aware that letting Ozzy go would mean losing millions of dollars in potential income. A vicious legal battle between Sharon and her father ensued, and while the two had not exactly seen eye-toeye since her departure from his company a few years earlier, this power struggle led to the final break in their relationship—professionally and personally. Eventually, after paying Don Arden $1.5 million for Ozzy’s contract and delivering one last album to fulfill the artist’s contractual obligations to Jet Records—1982’s live Speak of the Devil, which featured only Black Sabbath songs recorded on the current tour—Ozzy and Sharon’s dealings with her father and his company were over. While this was considered a victory within the Osbourne camp, it’s clear that certain scars still have not healed. Asked if her father is still alive today, Sharon’s icy response is, “Yes he is, unfortunately.”
Not long after the release of Speak of the Devil, with the successful world tour winding to a close, Gillis felt that the time had come to leave Ozzy’s band and return home to pursue a career with his own band.
“When Night Ranger finally got a record deal, I had to make a choice,” he recalls. “I had spent many years with those guys, and I was more comfortable in a band situation than being a sideman. So I told Ozzy, and he was cool about it.”
“I’m forever indebted to Brad because he put his own project on hold so he could come out and help me on the tour,” says Ozzy. “And when he was ready to leave, I said, ‘You should go with your heart, Brad, because you don’t owe me a thing. If anything, I owe you.’ ”
* * * * *
For the fourth time in little over three years, Ozzy was in need of a new guitarist. Again, he enlisted the help of Dana Strum, the man responsible for introducing Ozzy to Randy. Strum handpicked 25 guitarists from around the L.A. area and sent tapes, pictures and bios of each to Ozzy. One of the candidates was 24-year-old Jake E. Lee, who’d been sitting idle since leaving his band, Rough Cutt, three months earlier.
“George Lynch [of Dokken] actually got the gig before I did,” recalls Lee. “He went on the road with Ozzy’s band for about two weeks to watch and learn the material. I figured that George had it, but then Dana called me and said that Ozzy wanted to audition me and Mitch with the band. So a few days later, we went to S.I.R. Studios in New York for the audition. Mitch went first, I went second, and after I played Ozzy came up to me and said, ‘If you want it, you got it.’ Then George walked in, and Ozzy turned to him and said, ‘You’ve lost the gig. It’s his,’ and walked away. I’ve seen Ozzy fire a couple of people, and it’s never pleasant.”
Though they would work together for only a few years and eventually part under not-soamicable circumstances, it was clear that Ozzy Jake E. Lee. Their first album together, 1983’s Bark at the Moon, showcased Lee’s fiery shred ability and penchant for wah-wah-saturated leads and razor-sharp metallic riffing, making him the ideal successor to Randy Rhoads and an important figure in the evolution of Eighties rock guitar. His flashy showmanship both as a player and performer radiated a confidence that quickly endeared him to Ozzy’s fan base—though Ozzy himself was hardly tickled by Jake’s cocksure attitude.
As one might expect, Jake, too, has less-thanfavorable recollections of his time working with Ozzy: “He was fucked-up and drunk most of the time—pretty much for the whole four years I was with him. He would guzzle whole bottles of cognac—I never saw anyone drink like him. It created a lot of communication problems between Ozzy and the rest of the band. There were plenty of nights where he’d knock on my hotel door at three o’clock in the morning, get me out the tape recorder, and he’d start trying to tell me about this idea he had for a song, but it would be all mumbling and incoherent. And he’d get really pissed off at me because I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to do.”
Ozzy’s drug and alcohol consumption were at an all-time high during his years with Jake E. Lee, sending his health into decline and his weight into the stratosphere. (He ultimately reached 220 pounds, which, he says, was “all from beer.”) In the liner notes to his 1986 album, The Ultimate Sin, Ozzy thanked “all friends at the Betty Ford Centre.”
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