Ozzy Osbourne: To Hell and Back
“It was about nine in the morning. Don Airey and the bus driver were awake, and they saw the planes. It turns out that the bus driver was also a pilot, even though none of his paperwork was in order. We also learned later on that he had been in a previous crash where a young boy was killed. Anyway, Don asked the driver, who apparently took one of the planes from the compound without permission, to take him up for a ride. So they go up for a while and land. Don then comes back in the bus and wakes everybody else up to go on the plane. Well, nobody else would go except Randy and Rachel. They went up, and the bus driver’s ex-wife was standing outside the bus, watching. And then, before you knew it, the plane came down and went right through the bus and into one of the houses.
“Ozzy and I woke up, the back of the bus crushed down on us, and we had no idea what was happening. I ran to a nearby house to call for help, and it turned out that the owner of the house was also the owner of the plane. He and his wife just sat there, not offering to help and refusing to believe that a house across the way was on fire.
“It was just a horrible scene: The house was on fire, airplane pieces were scattered all around, the bus was destroyed and there was blood and bodies everywhere. There was nothing left—the pilot died, Rachel died, and Randy died. Instantly.
“The whole thing will always be a mystery to us. Randy was terrified of flying! What would make him go up there? Ozzy and I will wonder about it until the day we die. In my opinion, there was more going on. In the autopsy report, they found cocaine in the bus driver’s system, a considerable amount, and of course he had been fighting with his ex-wife. I think for that one instant, while flying, he looked down at his ex-wife and said ‘forget this,’ and tried to kill her. Why Randy and Rachel—who, incidentally, didn’t even like each other—had to be on that plane, though. It was just a horrific day.”
Though Ozzy prefers to not discuss the bizarre circumstances surrounding Rhoads’ death, he is quick to acknowledge Randy’s brief but undeniable impact on the rock guitar community: “He was an exceptional musician, a dedicated guitarist, and he was always fun to be around,” says Ozzy. “He could be so shy, but then people would hear him play and he’d blow them off the face of the earth. If he were still here with us, he’d be at the forefront of what guitarists were doing. He’d be the leader. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.”
Though clearly devastated and uncertain of his future as a solo artist, Ozzy made immediate plans to return to the road. For one thing, he needed the money that a lengthy summer tour would generate (“After selling 5.5 million copies of the first album, Ozzy only received $15,000 in royalties,” says Sharon, referring to Ozzy’s unfavorable contract with her father’s record label). For another, it was a form of instant therapy to help him cope with Randy’s death. “Getting back on point,” says Sharon. “If we had stayed home and done nothing, the band would have fallen apart. I never would have been able to get Ozzy back onstage again.”
Says Ozzy, “When Randy got killed, I said to Sharon, ‘I can’t keep doing this.’ And she said, ‘Yes you can. If Randy was alive, this is what he would want you to do.’ So I decided the best thing to do would be to get back out on the road. And it wasn’t the most amazing show, but we did it.”
* * * * *
Finding a suitable replacement for Rhoads was not an easy task for Ozzy. First to be approached was ex–Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, who was also managed by Sharon, but he declined. Michael Schenker volunteered, but his asking price was too high, especially in view of Ozzy’s financial troubles. Then, as singer Ian Gillan disbanded his own outfit, Gillan, to join Black Sabbath, Gillan’s guitarist, Bernie Tormé, was tapped by Ozzy to replace Randy on the tour. But Tormé, a disciple of the Hendrix school of blues-based rock guitar, was clearly not the right man to fill Rhoads’ stylistic shoes. “Bernie was okay, but Randy wasn’t dead a month, and it’s a hard thing for any guitarist to be in that position,” says Ozzy. “I wouldn’t have done it.” After a few weeks, Tormé told Ozzy he was planning to leave the tour, and Ozzy found himself once again in search of a new guitarist.
Longtime Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis tells how he, at the time a 24-year-old Californian, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as Randy’s second replacement. “I was with the band Ranger before we were Night Ranger, and we were looking for a record deal. But we weren’t doing very many gigs, so just to keep busy I put together another rock band called the Alameda All Stars. We played around California, and during the shows we would do two Ozzy songs, ‘Flying High Again’ and ‘Mr. Crowley.’ About two weeks after Randy died, a friend of mine who also knew [Ozzy’s drummer] Tommy Aldridge told Tommy about me, and Tommy told Sharon and Ozzy. Next thing I know, I get a call from Sharon asking me to fly out to New York for an audition. I had about two days to learn the entire set list. I thought it was going to be a rigorous audition process, but when I got there, it was just me.”
For the next five days, Gillis traveled with the band, watching the shows, learning the set and practicing for 10 hours a day. Finally, with Tormé about to leave, Ozzy asked Gillis if he was ready. Their first show together was in Binghamton, New York, “one of the scariest nights of my life,” says Gillis. “I pretty much pulled off every song that night except ‘Revelation (Mother Earth),’ which starts off slow, then picks up speed somewhere in the middle— and I came in one verse too early. Ozzy looked over at me after realizing that I was in the wrong section, and I quickly had to recover and find my place. After that show, everyone congratulated me for doing a good job, and Ozzy came over to me and said, ‘We won’t screw up on “Revelation” anymore, will we?’ And I said, ‘No we won’t!’
“But it was tough in the beginning for me. A lot of the fans out there were holding up ‘Randy Lives!’ signs and giving me the finger and stuff. But they came around eventually.”
* * * * *
In July 1982, Ozzy and Sharon were married in Maui, Hawaii. Gillis recalls the celebration: “That was a trip. They had a little Hawaiian band playing at the reception: a couple of acoustic guitars and a two-piece drum kit. And we got up and did ‘Paranoid’ on acoustic guitars, with Rudy Sarzo playing an upright bass and Ozzy singing in his little wedding outfit!”
With his new marriage, the successful continuation of the tour despite Randy’s death and both Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of Madman climbing back up the charts, things were clearly going well for Ozzy. Yet, despite all the good fortune in his life, Ozzy’s drinking and drug abuse had once again spun out of control.
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