Ozzy Osbourne: To Hell and Back
“When Randy first walked in, I thought he was a guy in drag,” recalls Sharon. “He was so beautiful and so little.” While these were hardly the physical attributes Ozzy was looking for in a guitarist, Randy walked into Ozzy’s L.A. hotel room, fired up his Charvel guitar and let loose with a blazing fury of classical runs and hard-edged riffing. His physical grace and demonic speed floored Ozzy, who, despite being in a “delicate” condition, almost immediately knew that he had found the last piece of the puzzle. With his band together, it was time for Ozzy to show the world that he could be an even more potent performer on his own than he was during his years with Sabbath.
He had a lot of help. It wasn’t long before Ozzy and Randy became close friends, something Ozzy had lacked during his Sabbath tenure. Their relationship was even stronger when it came to work: feeding off each other’s distinctly different musical sensibilities—Ozzy’s flair for coming up with good hooks, Randy’s disciplined virtuosity—they made a magical duo. “Since Randy was a guitar teacher, he had a lot of patience and would give me the time to come up with ideas,” says Ozzy. “Whereas Black Sabbath would just say, ‘Okay, here’s a riff. Put a vocal line here.’ ”
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Though Ozzy was still far from clean and sober at this point, he did have more fire than booze in his belly. With Randy at his side, Ozzy regained his confidence and, in March 1980, recorded his debut solo album. Released in September of that year on Don Arden’s Jet Records label (distributed through CBS), Blizzard of Ozz quickly became a benchmark album for Ozzy. Despite its creepy Sabbath-esque cover image depicting a red-caped, demon-possessed Ozzy wielding a crucifix, Blizzard of Ozz was a markedly different animal from anything by his former band, offering a cleaner and more sophisticated alternative to Sabbath’s trademark sludge. But it did rock in a serious way, proving to be a far tighter and more substantial effort than anything Sabbath had done in years.
Young female metallers who had no use for Sabbath’s monolithic brutality suddenly gravitated toward Ozzy’s melodic, radio-friendly hooks on songs like “Crazy Train” and “I Don’t Know,” while the guitar community embraced Randy’s blistering neoclassical fretwork and gothic pop compositions. Blizzard of Ozz spearheaded a new era in metal and put Ozzy at the top of his game. Ultimately, it sold more than four million copies.
His good fortunes continued the following year with the release of Diary of Madman, also on Jet/CBS Records. For this album, Blizzard drummer Kerslake and bassist Daisley were replaced by Tommy Aldridge, formerly the drummer with Black Oak Arkansas, and Rudy Sarzo, who had played in Quiet Riot with Randy. To some, Diary—with its thunderous opening track, “Over the Mountain,” and the Rhoads showcase “Flying High Again”—was an even stronger album than its predecessor. It posted equally impressive sales figures.
“When we were recording, he would disappear into the studio for days,” Ozzy says of Rhoads. “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.”
By this point, Ozzy and Sharon were inseparable, as business partners and lovers, but there remained one enormous impediment to their happiness: Ozzy was still married to Thelma Riley, a local Birmingham girl with whom he had two children, Jessica and Louis. As time wore on, Ozzy and Thelma’s relationship grew strained, no doubt due to Ozzy’s long stretches away from home and his continued substance abuse. “I was taking drugs so much I was a wreck,” recalls Ozzy. “The final straw came when I shot all our cats. We had about 17, and I went crazy and shot them all. My wife found me under the piano in a white suit, a shotgun in one hand and a knife in the other.”
The Diary of Madman tour was a smashing success, but Ozzy’s excesses were nearing dangerous proportions. The heavy metal hero, adored by millions of youngsters, rapidly degenerated into every mother’s nightmare.
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It wasn’t uncommon for Ozzy to spend an entire night after a show drinking, which is what he did one night in January 1982, while on a tour stop in San Antonio, Texas. Sharon, in an effort to keep Ozzy confined to the hotel, hid all of his clothes. At 7 a.m., frustrated by his captivity, Ozzy put on one of Sharon’s dresses and a pair of high heels and headed outside. Some time that morning, he stopped to urinate on an old wall. It turned out to be part of the Alamo, site of a legendary 1836 battle between Texans and the Mexican army. Ozzy was promptly arrested and barred from playing in San Antonio for the next decade.
During a concert later that month in Des Moines, Iowa, a fan hurled a dead bat up on stage. Thinking it was a toy, Ozzy picked it up and bit off its head. He was rushed to the hospital after the show as a precaution and had to receive preventative rabies shots for the next few weeks. Diary of a madman, indeed.
For a period of five years, Ozzy’s life had ping-ponged between tragedy and triumph—the death of his father, his firing from Black Sabbath, his resurgence as a heavy metal icon, his ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol, and so on. But it all paled in comparison to the catastrophe that struck on March 19, 1982, the day his best friend and musical inspiration, Randy Rhoads, died in a freak plane crash in Leesburg, Florida. Sharon recalls the events surrounding the incident:
“It was an overnight drive to Orlando, where we were scheduled to play at the Rock Superbowl XIV festival with Foreigner and UFO. We had to go past the home of the bus driver, Andrew Aycock—he lived at this place called the Flying Baron Estates. The buses were kept there, and he needed a couple of spare parts. We pulled into this area, and there was a small landing strip with some small aircraft. There was a big green field, three houses and the airfield.
“Ozzy and I were asleep on the bus. There was also [bassist] Rudy Sarzo, [drummer] Tommy Aldridge, Randy, Ozzy, a tour manager named Jake Duncan, [keyboardist] Don Airey, the bus driver’s ex-wife and Rachel Youngblood, who was a 58-year-old lady who took care of all the band’s clothes and cooked for them. She was a great friend of ours.
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