Randy Rhoads: All Aboard!
Originally printed in Guitar World, March 2006
In an excerpt from his forthcoming autobiography, bassist Rudy Sarzo recalls his crazy life on the road with Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhoads and assorted midgets and meats.
On the morning of December 5, 1981, we flew from London to Los Angeles to prepare for the upcoming Diary of the Madman U.S. tour. Ozzy Osbourne and his manager, Sharon Arden, who later became his wife, stayed at the Ardens’ estate while Randy Rhoads got to spend some much needed time at home with his family and girlfriend, Jody. Meanwhile, drummer Tommy Aldridge, keyboardist Don Airey, the crew and I made the Beverly Hilton Hotel our home for the next few weeks.
A couple of days after our return, we began our preproduction rehearsals at Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood. Originally built as a back lot for Metro Pictures, in 1915, the studio has been used for some of the most popular movies and television shows—from I Love Lucy to Hogan’s Heroes. We’d chosen Ren-Mar for our rehearsal space because it was among the few facilities in town whose ceilings were high enough to accommodate our full and massive production, the heart of which was a medieval castle replica that would be our backdrop during most of the tour.
We had already spent time at London’s Shepperton Studios, another famous movie studio, where the Beatles occasionally shot videos for their singles; but at Shepperton, we rehearsed in the looming shadows of the staging’s bare frames. Walking into Ren-Mar for the first day of rehearsal there, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming sight of the completed castle set. It was much bigger than I’d imagined—so big, in fact, that the six foot-high stage had to be removed, otherwise there would have been no room above to hang the lighting rig.
The castle’s façade was astounding to look at. The centerpiece of the set was a simulated stone arch with a stained-glass window that measured more than 20-feet high and served as the backdrop for the drums and a series of special effects during the show. The arch was embellished with iron crosses and flaming torches that accentuated the gothic motif. The center structure was flanked at each side by similar arches with exact reproductions of medieval balconies, gates and portcullises. These three arches were connected by two ivy-covered faux stone castle walls that measured six-feet wide by five-feet high. The center of the set was an eight-step-high staircase that doubled as a massive seven-foot drum riser, as well as the platform from which various impressive special effects would emerge during the show.
Seeing a full-blown stage set—let alone one as large as this—up close was awe inspiring. I could almost hear the audience’s reaction.
“I just know this is going to suck! I can’t fuckin’ hear myself!” Sitting high atop the towering drum riser, Tommy Aldridge was fuming. The platform consisted of a metal grid designed to make him and his kit appear to float above the stage. Unfortunately, it was so high that the sound from his monitor wedges, placed behind him at floor level, dissipated before it could reach him. Tommy yelled down to the monitor engineer: “This drum riser’s so high I’m getting a nosebleed!”
Far below him and several feet away, Randy Rhoads craned his neck to get a view of Tommy. “We’re gonna need binoculars just to see your cues!”
“I don’t know how in the hell I’m going to be able to hear you guys from up here,” Tommy complained. “I can barely hear myself.”
Randy concurred. “I can barely hear myself with all of the amps hidden by the stupid castle.” Concerned that our amps would look out of place in the set, Sharon had decided to position them behind the castle. As a result, Randy’s sound was muffled and lifeless.
“I don’t know how we’ll be able to play like this,” Tommy said, as he threw his sticks down in frustration. “Somebody get Sharon on the phone.”
Two hours later, Sharon arrived.
“What’s the problem?” she asked. She seemed more stressed than usual. After all, she was handling every detail of an extremely ambitious arena tour, and doing so while keeping Ozzy’s mood swings in check.
“Well, for starters,” Tommy griped, “why are my drums sitting on top of this metal grid? I have no coupling with any solid structures. It’s like I’m floating on air.”
“That’s because your drums are going to be raised by a forklift at the beginning of the show,” Sharon explained. “It’s all part of the intro we have prepared. You’ll get the whole idea when we have our run-through during soundcheck.”