Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book: Off The Rails by Rudy Sarzo

One of the saddest tales of Rock and Roll will always be the senseless death of Guitarist Randy Rhoads in March of 1982.

There are a lot of Randy fans across the globe, myself included, but what did we really know about him? There’s of course the basics, the beyond gifted musical soul who helped form
Quiet Riot with Kevin DuBrow in the late 70’s. A masterful, classically trained guitarist who taught at his Mother’s California music school. His plucking from relative obscurity (outside of Los Angeles and Japan of course) to join Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz. His two records with Ozzy that sound as vital and innovative today as when they first hit record store shelves almost 30 years ago. And unfortunately, his untimely death.

‘Off The Rails’ is a tribute to Randy written by bassist Rudy Sarzo. Rudy of course is world known for his work with Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Blue Oyster Cult and Dio, but he too was plucked from obscurity to join Ozzy’s first post Sabbath touring band. Actually it was Randy who recommended Sarzo for the job thus changing the Cuban’s life forever.

I’ve read a lot of rock books in my time. I’m from the school that each and every book tends to do one of several things to the reader. Some might go straight for the throat (‘
The Dirt’) some might expose the core of the “media creation” (‘Heavier Than Heaven’) and some deliver a great subject, but their own opinion tends to muddy things up a bit (‘And Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica’) I had yet to read a book so respectful and yet so brutally honest about the subject and it’s main cast of characters. ‘Off The Rails’ is that book.

The main characters here are an authors wet dream. Ozzy Osbourne (we’re talking the real Ozzy not the stepping in dog shit, mumble jumble, shaky jake TV Ozzy), Sharon Arden (Osbourne), Don Arden,
Tommy Aldridge, Randy, Don Airey and more.
Throughout his days with Ozzy and Randy, Sarzo was smart enough to keep a journal and the results are nothing short of phenomenal. ‘Off The Rails’ takes you on the ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ and ‘Diary of a Madman’ tours. From rehearsals to the gigs to bus rides to the days off, Rudy’s memory serves us all rather well. There’s such a refreshing feel to the story as it’s one not too many people really know.

Throughout the years we’ve all been inundated with countless Ozzy stories, the dove, the bat,
the Alamo, psych wards etc. However to be “there” at the very beginning when every day was a make or break situation for the fledgling group is about as exciting as it gets.

The real meat and potatoes however is Randy Rhoads, the person. Sarzo’s acute memory of the relationship between the two band mates truly opens the vault. The reader gets to see a side of Rhoads you may have never known to exist. The guitar player everyone in the crowd wanted to be was a quiet, introspective and often a second guessing type of person. Dealing with all the big rock and roll circus stuff seemed to take its toll on Randy and his decision on his future with Ozzy as well as Rock/Metal Guitar.

There are so many things I’d like to be able to mention here, but feel it would lessen the experience of reading this book. I do have to mention how warming it was to read of Randy’s interactions with his fans. From his giving guitar lessons in the street to after hour hangouts with those who respected his playing, Rudy’s words help bring Rhoads to life. Sarzo it seems was as in awe of Randy as his followers. One has to be reminded though, that at the time of his death Randy and the band was still for the most part a struggling one. Some day’s they’d draw 12,000 people and then the next night 1,200.

In building an audience, something they obviously did beyond their wildest dreams, another included “bonus” is the inclusion of critic’s show reviews. Not sure whether to laugh or cry at these. The old saying the more things change, the more they stay the same? Well rock writers even back then were rather clueless. While the majority singled out and praised Randy’s prowess of his instrument, most also had a field day attacking Ozzy. From his stage presence to wardrobe to everything in between they were rather ruthless. However reading these reviews 25 years + after the fact, it’s safe to say Ozzy has had the last laugh.
Sarzo’s recollection of the dynamics between the Blizzard band, crew, support acts (including
Motorhead, Def Leppard, Girl, Waysted etc.) and managers/record label suits puts the reader in a “fly on the wall” position. There are several moments in the book where I was beside myself just blown away at the situations the band found themselves in. Of course Ozzy and Sharon’s exploits across the World are now legendary, but amazingly enough back in 81/82 times were so, so different. Could you imagine walking into a hotel room when Ozzy and Sharon are literally beating the shit out of each other?

Speaking of Sharon, although that “woman” has done some really unforgivable things, there’s a certain amount of “respect” she earned from me after reading this book. She was a chip off the old block and learned from one of the most ruthless managers, ever, her father. She called the shots, plain and simple. Reading of the trials and tribulations of the Heavy Metal touring circuit in its infancy and her tenacity, well it too gave me a “warm” feeling inside. The respect factor, it's only based on her pushing Ozzy to the brink for over 30+ years.

The March 19, 1982 chapter is one that I wish was never written. As with any subject where the outcome is death, you read it and maybe re-read it hoping something will change. You wish Metallica’s bus would’ve broke down. You wish someone had taken Bon in for the night. You wish Ronnie, Steve and Cassie would’ve been sitting in the back of the plane…you wish Randy had a guitar lesson scheduled that morning.

What I’m trying to say is ‘Off The Rails’ is about the closest thing to an honest Randy Rhoads/Ozzy Osbourne biography we’ll ever read. It chronicles the most essential period of Ozzy’s post Sab career. Ozzy can’t remember a thing from these days, and Sharon will try to block you from remembering and no one, not even me is waiting for the
Don Airey book. I’m very thankful to Rudy for opening his heart and mind for writing this and answering the eternal question…

“So, what was Randy Rhoads like?”