Ozzy Osbourne: To Hell and Back
“There was one show that I’ll always remember,” says Jake. “It was at some outdoor festival somewhere, and Ozzy and Sharon had gotten into a big argument before the show, and she took off with the kids on the tour bus. Ozzy drank so much that day that he was totally fucked up by showtime. He put on one of Sharon’s dresses, some high heels and a big, flowery sun bonnet and put on some lipstick. We started the first song, and halfway through Ozzy just quit singing. Then he started telling the audience about how he and Sharon had had a fight, and that she had left him, and what was he going to do? The tour manager was off to the side of the stage, yelling at me to start the next song, so I did. And Ozzy got real pissed. He made me stop playing, and then he started telling the story again. A couple of the road crew guys came out and took Ozzy off the stage, and the band left, too. I don’t think the crowd was too pleased about it.”
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On March 19, 1987—exactly five years after Randy Rhoads’ death—Ozzy released the Tribute album, a collection of never-before- heard live music (from a 1981 Canadian performance) featuring the late guitarist. “After Randy’s death, I just wanted to hold on to the material,” remembers Ozzy. “It was locked away in a vault. I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t want to even know about it. When we found the recording years later and listened to it, it only took about a minute and we were devastated. It was that good. Any initial fears or worries we had about putting the record out were put to rest that fast. People just had to hear it, hear Randy play. That’s all I could think. This is actually the only official recording of us live with Randy. That’s why it’s special.”
Soon after the release of the Tribute album, Jake E. Lee was relieved of his position in Ozzy’s band. (“Ozzy started telling people that I didn’t want the Tribute album to come out, but that was never true,” says Jake. “I think it was just his way of trying to justify firing me, because there really didn’t seem to be a reason.”) Ozzy was in need of a guitarist yet again. Only a few months would pass before he would make yet another discovery, this time a 19-year-old unknown from New Jersey: Zakk Wylde.
With his bell bottoms, Confederate-flag guitar and screeching shit-kicker licks, Wylde was a fresh face on the guitar scene, a grungy, unbridled combination of Rhoads’ skill and Lee’s flashiness, yet clearly his own player. Though Zakk ceased being an official member of Ozzy’s band in 1995 (“He was negotiating with Guns N’ Roses, had his Pride and Glory project going and said he wanted to tour with me,” says Ozzy. “He obviously didn’t know what he wanted to do, so I made up his mind for him.”), his trademark squeaks and squeals and churning metal riffs grace the last three Osbourne studio albums, No Rest for the Wicked (1988), No More Tears (1991) and Ozzmosis (1995). Today, Ozzy is taking a wait-and-see approach as to which musicians he selects for touring and recording. “I’m at a point in my life now where I don’t have to have a permanent band,” says Ozzy. “The beauty of being Ozzy is that it doesn’t matter who I get up there with, as long as I get up there.”
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It’s been 30 years since Ozzy first picked up a mic with Black Sabbath, a dizzying career in which he has frequently scaled the heights of heavy metal stardom—and hit rock bottom just as often. “I haven’t sat on my ass all these years picking up royalty checks off a conveyor belt,” says Ozzy. “I’ve worked damn hard to get where I am.” Today, he has few battles left to fight. Drug-free since 1991, Ozzy continues to lead a healthy lifestyle that includes an intense daily workout regimen (his weight is back to its normal 165 pounds). He even recently triumphed over one of his last remaining vices: nicotine. “I’ve done all kinds of drugs, but cigarettes are one of the most addictive things I’ve ever put into my body.”
His annual Ozzfest tour continues to be one of the highest-grossing summer packages, knocking Lollapalooza from its perch as the festival du jour. Ozzy is currently putting the finishing touches on a new project with a reunited Black Sabbath: a live recording of two shows the band played last December in its hometown of Birmingham, England. The album, set for release this fall, will also feature two new studio tracks, a possible sign that a full Black Sabbath reunion album is on the way. “It’s so nice,” says Ozzy, “especially after all the hostility, the anger and the bad things we’ve said about each other over the years, to come full circle and be friends again.”
His career is on track, his financial status and family life are secure, his health is no longer in question and he’s even reconciled with his former sparring partners in Sabbath. Clearly, the madman side of Ozzy Osbourne has been laid to rest, along with a few headless winged creatures and a houseful of shotgunned cats. He’s survived all his battles and come out on top, at ease with the many misfortunes it’s been his misfortune to endure…well, almost.
“I have no real regrets,” says Ozzy, “except that I wasn’t up to keeping Randy Rhoads from getting on that plane. I’m no superman, no person from another planet. I’m just a lucky guy.”
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