Randy Rhoads: Hollywood Knights
Originally printed in Guitar World Magazine, March 2006
Kelly Garni recalls his wild-and-crazy teenage years with Randy Rhoads, his best friend and Quiet Riot bandmate.
Years before he came to international fame as Ozzy Osbourne’s virtuoso lead-guitar wunderkind, Randy Rhoads prowled the backstreets of the late-Seventies Hollywood rock scene. His most notable role was a member of Quiet Riot, a group that, after his departure, went on to hair metal fame in its own right. Back when he was Quiet Riot’s guitarist, Rhoads’ partner in crime – sometimes literally – was his childhood friend, bassist Kelly Garni.
The two grew up together in sunny Burbank, California. Rhoads taught Garni how to play the b ass, and the two honed their chops in countless backyard bands before making their move to the sunset strip.
In those days, Burbank was a sheltered suburb. Neat green lawns and tidy little shops clustered along streets kept clean and crime-free by a Mormon-dominated local government. Just a few miles away lay the glittering temptations of Hollywood, whose rock scene was rife with drugs and decadence. Prostitutes openly strutted their stuff on the grimy sidewalks of Sunset and Hollywood boulevards in that pre- AIDS era, while transvestite hookers, leather boys and other rough trade catered to different tastes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Randy Roads and Kelly Garni were two wideeyed adolescents when they first started sneaking over the hill into this modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Anytime anyone had a car, we’d go into Hollywood,” Garni recalls. “One time, a whole bunch of us were packed into Randy’s girlfriend Jan’s car. One of the guys threw a beer bottle out the window at one of the gay hustlers on Selma. A cop was right behind us: pulled us over, dragged everybody out of the car, handcuffed us, took us to the Hollywood jail and charged us with assault with a deadly weapon. Because we were underage, they called our parents to come down and get us. They told ’em, ‘Get your son a nice short haircut and you won’t be having problems anymore.’ ”
These days Garni lives just outside Las Vegas, that other great Sin City, where he makes his way as a professional photographer. While the top of his head is usually covered with a bandana and black cowboy hat, a few strands of blond hair still hang down to about neck length. (Apparently, the advice of the Hollywood police didn’t stick.) Though he never made his name as a bassist, Garni enjoys an unusual celebrity today. In the years since Randy Rhoads’ untimely death in 1982, a devoted cult of hero worship has grown up around the image of the late guitarist. Among this cult, Garni has become a key object of veneration as a disciple of the fallen blond angel who could make the silver strings sing like no other. Garni is John the Baptist to Rhoads’ Jesus; Mohammed to his Allah. He is Randy’s best friend, closest confidante and most intimate musical associate. Recently, when Garni fell into financial difficulty, several Randy fans banded together on the web site randyrhoads.tk and scraped up the money to help Garni out. It wasn’t an entirely unselfish act: the faithful were afraid Garni’s money problems would lead him to sell his collection of Randy Rhoads memorabilia: yellowing photos, old band flyers and scraps of notepaper passed in school hallways that he has carried and treasured throughout his journey in this life.
Garni has had as much a role as anyone in promoting the curious “choirboy” image that has stuck to Rhoads in the years since the heavy metal guitarist’s passing. Among the faithful, Randy is mainly remembered as a good boy who helped his mom at her music school and assiduously practiced his scales. Accurate or not, it is by no means the whole story. Rhoads had a wild side, too, and like anyone in rock and roll, he was drawn to the music’s inherent rebelliousness. He chafed against authority and was frequently in trouble at school. Garni knew this Randy Rhoads as intimately as he knew the noble knight of the burning arpeggios.
“We never really got to enjoy our school very much,” Garni recalls. “We didn’t fit in. I went to Burbank High School for three days before I said ‘forget it,’ and essentially dropped out. Randy had basically the same situation, but his mom was a little more aggressive about it and found an alternative kind of school. It was called ‘continuation,’ part of a school reserved for doper kids, kids who got into a lot of trouble or otherwise didn’t fit in, kids who were gay or violent… whatever their problem was, they got sent over to that school.”
Garni soon joined Rhoads in continuation. “You could get a high school diploma. It was just a whole lot easier.” The program was run by a preacher named Mr. Beech, “a very nice, quiet, authoritative man who encouraged music in me and Randy and even let us bring our instruments to school,” says Garni. “But despite Mr. Beech’s good intentions, there were times when we still couldn’t resist the urge to cut school if somebody had a car and said, ‘Let’s go into Hollywood today.’ There were a number of times when we got arrested for truancy.”
By then, the cops knew the young duo quite well. “And they were very familiar with the ‘clientele’ at continuation school,” says Garni. “They’d keep us in jail for an hour or two to scare us. Then we’d get driven back to school in a police car. The whole school would rush to the windows. They’d all come outside and applaud when we got out of the police car.”
GUITAR WORLD What was the first band that you and Randy had that made it out of Burbank?
GARNI It was called the Whore. Randy and I were all of, like, 13 years old. We had a singer named Glen and a drummer named Rick Hack who went to high school with Randy’s girlfriend Jan. That was how we met him. He later ended up in a loony bin of some type. Our gig was at a massage parlor–turned-bar in Hollywood, on the Sunset Strip. The owner had turned it into a bar because he had to go straight—the cops were harassing him—but the girls still worked there as “waitresses.” The place was called the L.D. Rogers Club, and their advertisements said, “Turn on and Come.”
GW The club was at 6910 Sunset, which was definitely down on the dicey end of the boulevard.
GARNI Totally. But hey, we were on the Sunset Strip! For a couple of 13-year-old kids, that was pretty good.
GW You must have received quite an education.
GARNI We had kind of an affinity for prostitutes. We used to hang out in Hollywood, and they were all over. We thought it was kind of cool to just sit there and talk to hookers: “How’s it going? How’s tricks? Ha, ha, ha.” Here we were, these two little boys. They thought it was cute. They let us hang around and talk to them until they found something more, um, profitable to do.