Randy Rhoads: "I started tuning up and Ozzy said, 'You've got the gig.' I didn't even get to play!"

[L-R] Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

The late Randy Rhoads made his first appearance in Guitar World magazine with the May 1982 issue, which featured Adrian Belew on the cover. The story, which ran with the headline "Randy Rhoads Stumbles Into the Spotlight: A Cinderella Story," was written by John Stix and starts on page 50.

Below is the complete interview with a brief gear list near the end.

It's impossible to predict what the spotlight will do to a person once he sees it coming his way.

In the early '70s Roy Buchanan went from being a revered bar band player to "the finest unknown guitarist in the world." Under the spotlight, his star refused to shine. The hype had been ours, the media's - not his. America's back porch proved to be too big for this easygoing blues picker.

It's too early to tell how guitarist Randy Rhoads will fare, but so far his reaction to center stage is quite relaxed. The hype is, mine, not his, but still it's a far cry from giving guitar lessons at eight dollars a half-hour, which is what Rhoads was doing before ex-Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne tapped him to join the Blizzard of Ozz.

A sincere and altogether amiable person off-stage, Randy's head is still swimming about what people are saying about his stage performance. Debuting in huge arenas hasn't boosted his ego so much as made him "frightened and humble."

[L-R] Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads

(Image credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

"It's totally strange," says this twenty-four-year-old native of Burbank, California, who has been practically adopted by the British music press. "I've still got my past in me. I'm trying to mature into all this, but I don't have my feet on the ground at all."

Randy's reaction to all this hoopla seems strange until you realize he fell into it by accident. And In true People magazine style, he says he owes it all to his mother.

“She was the one who pushed me all the time," he says with affection. "She even helped me with my equipment."

Like Eddie Van Halen, Randy is fueled by his love for the instrument more than any great desire to be a rock star. In fact, Randy admits to not having rock and roll dreams as a youngster.

I loved the guitar right from the beginning, but when I started liking rock, Elvis Presley was my only idol

"I loved the guitar right from the beginning," he says with a gleam in his eyes. "But when I started liking rock, Elvis Presley was my only idol. I was seven and too young to know anything about lead guitar. To this day I still don't have a guitar idol!"

It might have been different if he had a record player at his disposal, but he didn't. The absence of any sustained contact with the gift licks of John Mayall and Yardbirds alumni make Randy a rare bird in the hard rock jungle.

"That must be a frustrating way to learn," he says in retrospect. "What are you gonna do if you learn a lick. How are you gonna use it in your own songs?" 

Randy Rhoads didn't drop by from another planet. The blues jams so common to all of us are also part of his history. The difference is, he didn't use Clapton and family as a reference. Instead, he says, "As a teenager I went back to taking guitar lessons and studied classical guitar."

Randy Rhoads

(Image credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

As his playing progressed, Randy's Les Paul could be heard teaching in his mom's music store in Burbank, and on the local stages with his group, Quiet Riot. Randy's style emerged by combining these two parallel paths. 

As best evidenced by Mr. Crowley from the Blizzard of Ozz collection, Randy's gifts include an awesome technique coupled with a composer's disciplined approach to soloing.

He just may be the Allan Holdsworth of hard rock. Hammered notes pour from Randy's instrument, as he abandons the barrage of spitfire riffs embraced by most hard rockers. Crowley also displays his ability to construct a classically influenced solo from long lines while maintaining a lava-like heat.

My solos are more like rolling scales than the call-and-response of blues riffs

Incongruous as it may sound to fans of Beethoven and Brahms, the classical approach is a heavy metal tradition. From their earliest recordings, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Leslie West and Ritchie Blackmore have all given more than a casual tip of the hat to western classical music. (Remember Beck's Bolero?)

"There's an answer to that," explains Rhoads. "Most heavy metal is not very melodic in nature. It's often minor in tone so you can use a lot of minor thirds in your lead breaks. That automatically sounds classical. 

"Leslie West was one of my favorites because he used classical ideas with feeling. He was melodic but mean. My solos are more like rolling scales than the call-and-response of blues riffs. Quiet Riot played songs with a lot of changes. I used to analyze the progression and look over my possibilities. If I didn't like what was available, I'd play as weird as possible."

His ability to focus, dissect and share information made Randy a popular and busy teacher. Through his students, he was finally exposed to the classic electric guitarists of the '60s and '70s.

"I learned more by teaching the guitar than by doing anything else. Students would come up with chord progressions and ask what kind of lead they could play over them. More often they wanted to learn note-for-note solos from their favorite players. That's when I started to learn other people's licks."

On the technical side Randy had his students practice hammering up and down the neck, going through all the frets with four fingers by hitting each string once. For the right hand he advised a lot of double picking.

"The main thing though is to take it as it comes. Don't try to do too much too soon. You've got to get to know your own style."

I wish I could take time and come up with something that nobody else has done. But that's gonna take a few years yet

Randy feels uncomfortable with all the praise that's been coming his way, including my own. After sharing my astonishment that he didn't go through the imitation/innovation stage common to most players, he responds unpretentiously.

"I wish I could agree with you," he says. "Everything happens so fast that I haven't had enough time to think about what I want to do. I have my own personality on the guitar but as of yet I don't think I have my own style. For instance, I do a solo guitar thing in concert, and I do a lot of the same licks as Eddie Van Halen. Eddie is a great player, but it kills me that I do that. 

"For me it's just flash that impresses the kids. I'm trying to make a name for myself as fast as I can. I wish I could take time and come up with something that nobody else has done. But that's gonna take a few years yet."

[L-R] Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads

(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

The release of Ozzy Osbourne's Diary Of A Madman is something of an enigma for Randy. Coming out at the end of '81, Diary was already in the can before their first American tour to support Blizzard. So Randy's newest recording is really old, and from his standpoint, not the best he has to offer.

He explains: "On the first album none of us had played together, so it was everything at once. We were putting the band together, writing the songs and being in the studio all at the same time. 

There was an exciting energy on Blizzard Of Ozz. We turned everything up to ten and if it felt good we'd play it. We also had time to choose the best parts and record when it felt right.

Some parts of this record make me cringe from a guitar standpoint. In fact, on Little Dolls I never got to take a real solo

"Directly after making Blizzard, we did a European tour, came back and did Diary. There was no break. I didn't have time to sit back and think about 'What do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish?' Therefore, I was really short of ideas that I was interested in pursuing.

"On Diary we put a lot more energy into the songwriting. So the songs are happening but my guitar playing isn't. We were in a hurry to get over to the states and tour behind Blizzard, so Diary was rushed. We only had time to get a song's basic form before we had to record it.

"Some parts of this record make me cringe from a guitar standpoint. In fact, on Little Dolls I never got to take a real solo. What you hear on there is actually the guitar track. It's a dummy solo I laid down where I was later supposed to put a real one. But I never got time to do it. A lot of my things on Diary lack feeling. It sounds a bit ordinary to me, like just sort of play anything you can think of."

Not without some bright moments, Randy points with pride to his work on Over the Mountain, You Can't Kill Rock and Roll and the title track.

His current concern, however, is learning how to grow under the spotlight. He's suddenly found himself at or near the top of popularity polls. When he looks over his shoulder to see who's watching, he's aware that it's getting damned crowded. Randy is genuinely surprised.

"I'm totally shocked that it happened. It changes the whole thing. Now I've got to get it together. It's a pressure where you've always got to be better than yourself, which is a difficult thing to be. The main thing I'm going through right now is figuring out how to get back to being a musician, more than being in a popular band. I just want to get back to being a player and get away from the distractions of success."

Right now I'm bored with my playing. I'll pick up the guitar and it seems like it's all the same thing

An incessant learner, Randy is devising a way to do just that. To help him formulate new source material, he is thinking of bringing a classical guitar tutor on the road.

"I feel that a lot of my style is leaning toward more melodic playing. When I was taking classical lessons it gave me a lot of ideas to turn into leads. Everything is totally different for me now. I was used to taking lessons and teaching all day long. I had constant musical input. New ideas were going in and out of my brain all the time. Being on the road so much, a lot of that input has stopped and I worry about it.

"I was thinking of trying to teach myself classical guitar, but you know you do everything wrong. I want something to keep me alert to my playing. I need some responsibility that will keep me going until I stumble on new ideas. 

"Right now I'm bored with my playing. I'll pick up the guitar and it seems like it's all the same thing. I think, 'okay, you've got to sit down and play everyday and you will stumble onto new things, and you will improve.' It's just that right now it's hard to put myself in that frame of mind, while I'm on the road. A classical tutor would be my commitment to keep at it."

Session and guest recording is another avenue that Randy would like to explore.

"I was thinking that one of the great things for me would be to play on other peoples' records. It would be nice to be known for playing in different areas. Ozzy Osbourne is about as heavy metal as you can get, and a lot of people don't know me for that reason. But I would like to play some light jazz things. I was never into heavy fusion music, I'm thinking more on the acoustic melodic side.

"At this point my weakness is my sound. I rely on it one hundred percent. I don't go on stage with a lot of confidence. If the sound isn't right I'll get paranoid. I'm still learning what to feel on stage. It's totally different than playing in a club. If my sound isn't right it would totally blow me away."

Randy's stage sound is shaped by three Marshall 100-watt heads powering six four by twelve inch cabinets with Altec High-powered speakers. Starting with the clean sound of the Altec's Randy's thick tone is produced by adding heavy midrange EQ and an MXR Distortion Plus. Other outboard devices include the MXR Equalizer, Chorus and Flanger, a Cry Baby Wha and Korg Echo Unit.

When I did go down [to the Ozzy Osbourne audition], there were all these guys with Marshall stacks. I brought along a tiny practice amp

One person he blew away in the positive sense was Ozzy Osbourne. Randy's is a Cinderella story. It seems that about two and a half years ago, Ozzy Osbourne was auditioning guitar players in the L.A. area, looking for a centerpiece for his new band. Alerted to the situation by a bass player who had already made the rounds, local guitar teacher Randy Rhoads balked at the idea.

"I had never looked for auditions or gigs outside of what I was doing," he recalls. Besides, I thought I would hurt my band. When I did go down, there were all these guys with Marshall stacks. I brought along a tiny practice amp. I started tuning up and Ozzy said, 'You've got the gig,' I didn't even get to play! I had the weirdest feeling because I thought 'He didn't even hear me yet."'

With the success of Blizzard and Diary, hearing Randy Rhoads should no longer be a problem for anyone.

[L-R] Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads

(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

A Randy Rhoads Axology

Randy currently has three guitars in his performing front line. There's a '64 Gibson Les Paul with stock pickups and Schaller pegs and a Flying V made by Carl Sandoval with Fender hardware and a DiMarzio Distortion Plus in the treble position and a PAF in the neck spot.

The third instrument is a white semi V by Charvel, which features all Charvel parts and Seymour Duncan pickups. His home collection is rounded out by a '57 Black Les Paul with three pickups and a T.V. model, SG-shaped Les Paul with gold pickups and a Bigsby tailpiece.

New additions include three Charvels Randy has been waiting for. One, which he helped design, may soon join the first line. For that he chose Seymour Duncan Distortion pickups and a straight tailpiece without vibrato. Another of the new guitars is an experiment with the Floyd Rose bridge and tailpiece.

"I put small frets on all my guitars," he added, "and use GHS strings, either 10's or 11's. My picks are medium. And though I use all the gadgets you mentioned, the MXR Distortion Plus is the only one I use a lot. In this band I don't need a lot of gadgets, the sound is always thick."

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