Randy Rhoads: All Aboard!
As show time approached, the intensity backstage built to a fever pitch. The inclusion of Little John required last-minute changes that added extra duties to our already strained road crew.
At long last, it was time to go onstage. As we took our places behind the three Kabuki curtains concealing the stage from the audience, the deafening roar of the sold-out crowd filled the 10,000-seat arena and sent a chill through every nerve in my body. From my vantage point inside the portcullis on stage right, I could see no one in the band, only the red velvet throne perched high on top of the massive drum riser. Inside, a nervous Ozzy waited for his cue.
An edited version of the acoustic guitar intro to “Diary of a Madman” blasted through the P.A. Next came the heavy guitar riff cue, the signal for the curtains to drop to the group and Ozzy to release the cords that held the throne’s roller blinds in place. Hearing it, Ozzy materialized onstage. The curtains, however, remained up.
Confused, Ozzy wobbled off the throne. Grabbing a four-foot black plastic cross at the foot of the drum riser, he began shaking it at the curtains, as if summoning them to come down. Backstage, chaos ensued as Sharon began yelling at production designer Simon Woodruff and the crew raced to fix the problem before the intro music ended. When the music finally stopped, the curtains remained in place, and the cheers from the audience turned to thunderously hostile boos.
As the crew desperately ran in all directions, Sharon exasperatedly tugged at one of the sheets, attempting to bring it down on her own. The jeers from the crowd grew to a deafening pitch. Finally, a crew member climbed to the top of the lighting rig and dropped each of the three curtains one eyelet at a time, slowly revealing the stage to the agitated crowd. Our coup de theatre had been ruined.
I feared that recovering from such a debacle would be difficult if not impossible. But as soon as Tommy ripped into the drum intro of “Over the Mountain” and the flash from white sparklers flew across the stage, we left the unfortunate episode behind and got on with the show. Playing my fretless maple Fender Precision, I was conscious of my given perimeter of the stage and did my best within my boundaries to project to the back of the venue.
Settling into the performance, I was impressed by how great the stage production and the band looked. Ozzy wore a medieval jumpsuit and jacket made of red chain mail, accentuated by a studded leather belt and codpiece. Randy looked like a textbook rock-guitar god, dressed in black leather and studs—Sir Lancelot strapped with a Les Paul. Tommy, a total creature of comfort onstage, wore matching white tank top and tights while his drum tech stood behind him in plain sight of the crowd, dressed in an authentic, black, hooded executioner’s outfit. Don, playing from the castle balcony behind me, got into the full spirit of the Gothic theme and wore one of the hooded monk’s robes that a crewmember had refused to wear. I wore black leather pants and a suede top with a studded belt and knee-high red leather boots.
As we began the next song, “Mr. Crowley,” the stage went dark and Don broke into his eerie keyboard intro. His backlit silhouette spread across the stage while Ozzy stood center stage inside a cone of overhead lights. Pillars of smoke that rose from beneath the monolithic drum riser further enhanced the production, which climaxed with spectacular pyrotechnics.
As we pounded out the intro to “Crazy Train,” the castle was bathed in bright white lights to complement the song’s uptempo feel. It gave the audience its first glimpse of the intricate details of the impressive stage set. The lights were brought down for the moody “Revelation (Mother Earth),” then raised again as we segued into “Steal Away,” the bright overhead lights accentuating the intro riff.
Immediately after the song ended, Little John appeared onstage from a tiny trap door in front of the drum riser dressed in a brown, hooded monk’s robe. He offered Ozzy a drink from a goblet. Ozzy then introduced him to the crowd and proceeded to playfully kick him off the stage back in the trap door. Some of Little John’s other comic relief antics included going onstage to wipe the floor and pick up debris while Ozzy chased after him. Ozzy continued his antics during the guitar solo in “Suicide Solution,” grabbing Randy by the hair and pretending to lift him off the ground. Meanwhile, I played my Music Man Sabre bass upside down while I banged my head in a trance.
From “Suicide Solution,” we segued into Randy’s guitar solo. As we exited the stage, the spotlights focused on Randy, leaving the castle softly lit in the background so that all eyes could fall on him during his spectacular solo. As his solo concluded, we came back onstage and segued into an instrumental passage that linked his solo to Tommy’s. Randy and Don played the instrumental’s riff in unison, something that added a rich texture to the sound. Tommy’s drum solo included all his signature techniques, including a crowd-pleasing, barehanded drum solo finale accentuated with pyro explosions. Immediately after he took his bow, we reprised the instrumental passage as Ozzy returned to the stage.
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