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.
GW And from there you went on to play the legendary Rodney’s English Disco, ground zero for the L.A. glam scene.
GARNI Yeah, Rodney Bingenheimer [L.A. rock scenester and influential DJ] was actually a good friend of mine and Randy’s. We had a band called Smokey that was kinda the house band at Rodney’s English Disco. One of the acts we opened for was Shaun Cassidy [bubblegum pop star and brother of Partridge Family singer and teen idol David Cassidy]. Me and Randy were about 13 and 14. Smokey was the name of the lead singer. He was a really girly looking guy. Very glam. He was very, very tall, wore all black leather, had beautiful hair and a beautiful face. Really a pretty boy.
GW What kind of material did you do with him?
GARNI I would describe it as hard rock. Very Stooges-like.
GW Did you write your own stuff?
GARNI Yes, we did, and Smokey had some song called “Leather” that he claimed was a big hit somewhere—I think maybe he was from Detroit or something—so we had to learn that. On the flyer we have from a Smokey gig, it says “Hear ‘Leather’ performed live.”
GW Did you ever record anything with Smokey?
GARNI We did, actually. Smokey had a boyfriend named EJ who was a sound engineer, and I remember doing some recording with him in a house—maybe four-track or eight-track stuff. Whatever happened to that recording I have no idea. It would be incredible to have something like that. Who knows, maybe Smokey or EJ will read this.
GW I wonder if Rodney would know.
GARNI That’s a possibility. Rodney was really good to me and Randy. When we first got with Smokey, we didn’t have a place to rehearse, and Rodney let us use his club. We used to keep all the amps down there; Rodney had a killer P.A. in the place. We would go there during the daytime and set up. We had free reign of the bar. He basically gave us the keys to the place; he wasn’t even there. After rehearsal, we’d go home and get all dressed up—all Hollywood-ed out—and come back that night and hang out. It was really an incredible place. The girls were amazing, all dolled up in their little hot pants and miniskirts. Most of them were, like, 12 or 13, but they looked like they were 25. You’d walk in the place, look in the VIP booth and there’d be Led Zeppelin sitting there, or Lou Reed, Bowie, Sweet, T-Rex, Slade…all the glitter bands. That was the big hot spot.
GW Did you get to meet any of those bands?
GARNI We weren’t allowed to go up and talk to them in that booth—you left them alone—but later on, when Randy and I were in Quiet Riot, we got to meet Robert Plant and John Bonham. It was at the Starwood, where Quiet Riot was kind of the house band. Plant and Bonham came there to see a band called Detective that they’d signed to their label, Swan Song. [Actor/Power Station vocalist] Michael Des Barres was the singer in Detective, and they had Tony Kaye, the keyboard player from Yes. The L.A. Times said that we blew Detective out of the water that night. So we were in the dressing room and in comes Robert Plant. He was really nice to us, kept telling us, “Great show. You guys are really great.” We were thinking, So how about signing us then? Then in came John Bonham, totally drunk, being carried by two guys almost as big as him. He just kind of nodded and waved, “Good job, great show,” and then they carried him out.
GW Speaking of the L.A. Times, how was Randy with journalists?
GARNI Real good. He was a good speaker. And funny, too. He’d be real serious, but if he saw an opportunity to mess with the guy’s head, he’d do it. He loved being funny. In any kind of serious situation, he’d be particularly prone to get out of line. In Quiet Riot, we’d always be called in for meetings with management, where we’d have lawyers explaining all this paperwork to us. We didn’t understand any of it. We were just kids; it was all we could do to keep awake. So Randy would start making faces and doing things with his hands. He liked to pretend he was shaving while people were talking serious to him. He’d pantomime that he had a razor and he’d rub it under his chin and all.
GW Sharon Osborne told me Randy had a wicked sense of humor and liked to play pranks on girls in particular.
GARNI Really pretty ones, yes, especially if they had any kind of attitude. If they acted like, “Boy, I’m too hot for you,” they became an immediate target for Randy. He wasn’t intimidated or impressed with beautiful girls. Most guys get kinda tongue tied around a pretty girl. They don’t know what to say. Randy wasn’t like that because he didn’t care. He wasn’t trying to nail ’em or anything. He didn’t want a date with them.
GW So there was a kind of power there.
GARNI Yeah. He would say things that would embarrass a girl like that, and do things to her, like write something on a piece of paper and tape it onto her back without her knowing it. And when she’d be walking around the room, he’d point it out to everybody.
GW At that age, when a guy’s hormones are erupting, how was he able to be so indifferent to the allure of beautiful women?
GARNI Well, he never hurt for girlfriends. There were always girls around that he could have anytime he wanted, and he knew it. Way before Quiet Riot, back when we were in junior high school, he had little going-steady-type relationships that didn’t last for long—I mean we’re talking two or three weeks—and they were always with very pretty girls. One was Theresa Pope, who became the actress Theresa Russell. That was in the eighth grade. They’d go to Disneyland, walk around, hold hands, go on a couple of rides and, at the end of the night, maybe kiss. And that was pretty much it.
GW That’s all, huh?
GARNI Well, Randy did have a fling with a girl who was in the next grade up. That was something more. Her name was Cookie. She was a big blonde with real big boobs. She’d developed way before her time, and she would often wear tops that accentuated that. It was very common for her to get sent home to change into something less revealing. But she’d never learn. She was a really pretty girl, but a little on the rough side; sort of a trailer park kind of girl. She had an older boyfriend, who would drop her off at school everyday on his motorcycle. He was sort of a badass kind of guy, but this girl thought the world of Randy; thought he was real cute; flirted with him constantly. And finally, he did have a dalliance with her that went a little further than holding hands and kissing.
GW This would be Randy’s “first,” then?
GARNI I believe so. I’m almost positive. I can’t really tell you for sure, because he was so embarrassed about it he wouldn’t go into great detail. But he gave me enough detail to let me know he definitely did some exploring; he got some education. This was still the eighth grade. And then her boyfriend found out about it and was gonna beat Randy up. So now not only did we have to worry about the jocks beating us up ’cause we had long hair, we also had to worry about this hoodlum guy with a motorcycle.
GW Could Randy hold his own in a fight?
GARNI Randy was a hell of a fighter, and I should know: I fought him a whole lot of times. He was small, but he was fast, and he had really strong, solid arms. He was all muscle. I attribute that to years and years of carrying amps.
GW What was the worst fight you two ever had?
GARNI That would be the one that led to me not being in Quiet Riot anymore. One night, I stole a huge amount of liquor from the Rocket Club in Hollywood, which had caught on fire. The next day I called Randy and said, “Hey, I got all this booze. Come on over.” So he comes over with a good friend of ours named Ken McNair. It was maybe one or two in the afternoon. We started drinking, emptying bottles. We drank way too much and got very, very drunk. Then Randy and I started arguing about Kevin DuBrow, the lead singer in Quiet Riot. It’s no secret that I was very unhappy in Quiet Riot at that time because of Kevin. So, totally drunk, I start telling Randy, “Kevin’s gotta go. He’s an asshole. This used to be our band and he’s taken over. Everybody says he sucks. We’re not going anywhere and it’s all his fault.” And Randy says, “No, we have to keep him. He’s gotten us this far.” We were right in the middle of recording our second album. In fact, as Randy and I were arguing, Kevin was at the Record Plant in Hollywood, recording vocals.
So it gets to be about eight at night. We’ve been drinking all day—and Randy could drink. I’m saying, “Kevin’s kicked out of the band.” Randy’s saying, “No, he’s not.” And I say, “Then get out of my house!” He says, “Make me!”
At this point, he was sitting across the room from me on a couch with Ken. Unfortunately, back then, I was very into guns. I had a handgun in the chair where I was sitting. I pulled out the handgun and fired a shot over Randy’s head. Now, where I lived in Van Nuys, in the middle of the barrio, shooting off a gun didn’t cause anybody any alarm. You heard guns going off all the time. But it was a really big deal to Randy. It made him really mad that I’d shot at him. He got off the couch and charged me. I knew there was gonna be a fistfight over this, so I threw the gun to the side, ’cause I knew I didn’t want that in the fight.
And we just went at it. We beat the hell out of one another. Randy had a long fingernail on his thumb. He raked that across my forehead and opened up my whole head from temple to temple. Blood just poured out of the cut. That got me real mad. I wailed into him and pretty much beat him damn-near unconscious. Ken finally got us separated, dragged Randy into a car and got him out of there.
GW What was with Randy and that thumbnail? It’s often mentioned in stories about him. Did he use it to pick the guitar?
GARNI The nail was on there for a lot of reasons. Yes, he did use it for guitar a little bit, but mainly he just liked the way it looked. We grew up with bands like the New York Dolls and Alice Cooper, and those guys all did things like growing their nails long. Effeminate stuff. Randy had certain feminine qualities in that he wasn’t really a macho guy. Some people say, “Oh, he grew that nail so he could use it for cocaine.” That’s ridiculous. The pinkie is the nail you grow if you’re gonna use it for cocaine. It’s pretty hard to turn your thumb in such a way as to get a load of cocaine on it; the wrist angle is all wrong. So that theory goes to hell in a handcart.
And by the way, I still have that thumbnail of Randy’s. He busted the nail off when it raked it across my head. My girlfriend and I found it in the house next day. I’ve saved it all these years. It’s kinda spooky.
GW Wow, so you almost murdered Randy Rhoads.
GARNI I know. But that’s not the end of the story. After Ken got Randy out of my house, I felt real bad that we had gotten into a fight. And to my drunken mind, the whole thing was Kevin’s fault. So I was gonna make him pay. I called him up at the Record Plant and said, “I’m coming down there. I’m gonna fuckin’ kill ya. I got a gun. I’m on my way.” [DuBrow says he never received this phone call.] So I took my gun in a shoulder holster, put my jacket on, went outside and got in my car totally bombed. I’d only gone 50 feet before I realized that I was way too drunk to drive. I somehow managed to get the car around the block and get back to my house. But by the time I pulled up to the curb, the LAPD was right behind me with their lights flashing. I stumbled out of my car, opened up my jacket. Next thing I knew I was face down on the ground, handcuffed, with a bunch of guns pointed at me. I woke up the next day in jail with a terrible hangover, charged with three felonies. The day after that, Quiet Riot’s management called me and told me I was out of the band.
GW Did you and Randy fall out over this?
GARNI Not at all. He called me up the next day. He thought it was funny. It was always that way. If we got into a fight, the next day everything was fine. We would laugh about it. What wasn’t so funny this time is that I was kicked out of the band. Randy even said, “If you ask me to, I’ll leave too. I don’t want to, but we’ve been together all these years. We did start this band. I’d rather play with you than anybody else.” But I told him, “You know what? I don’t even want to do this any more.” I had grown tired of the whole thing. I’d had enough of Kevin, Hollywood, struggling with the band and not getting anywhere. The funny thing is that Kevin and I are now good friends. We often joke that we’re gonna clone Randy using DNA from his thumbnail and start Quiet Riot again. But that fight has had all kinds of long-range effects in my life. Years later, the first time I met Ozzy Osbourne, he tried to come at me over it.
GW When was this?
GARNI When Randy came through Las Vegas on his first tour with Ozzy. I met Randy down at Caesar’s Palace. Ozzy and the whole band were down there. Randy introduced me to Ozzy, and the first thing he said to me was, “You’re the son of a bitch that tried to shoot my guitar player!” And he got up like he was gonna make a move on me. Only he was too drunk to do it. These two big roadies had to help him get up. I just stood there; I didn’t know what to do. With the roadies there, I was really outnumbered. But Randy just shoved Ozzy back on his barstool and said, “No, no, no. He’s my best friend. You don’t do that.”