Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most memorable rock songs of all time. What many may not realize is that its genius lies in Randy Rhoads’ driving arpeggio guitar chords, which perfectly complement the song’s theme of a “crazy train.”
Rhoads was a legendary guitarist whose career was cut tragically short. He had formed the band Quiet Riot, where he dazzled audiences with his fiery guitar playing. However, he left Quiet Riot to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band, where he invited his close friend and fellow bandmate Rudy Sarzo to play bass.
Tragically, Rhoads died too young in a plane crash, which nearly claimed Sarzo’s life as well. In recent interviews, Sarzo, like so many others, laments the loss of a guitar player with such extraordinary potential.
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A Previous Close Call
For fans of Randy Rhoads, the story of his tragic plane crash is well-known, but his little-known earlier brush with danger in the band he co-founded with Rudy Sarzo sheds some light on why he ultimately left Quiet Riot.
Kelly Garni, Rhoads’ bandmate in the early days, struggled with addictions, and in particular, alcoholism, which was not uncommon in the scene of the time. When they hired Kevin DuBrow as their vocalist and he quickly became the band’s main attraction, Garni developed a strong dislike for him.
One night, in a drunken state, Garni decided he wanted to get rid of DuBrow permanently, and he confronted Rhoads about it. However, Rhoads, who appreciated DuBrow’s talent, refused to take sides. This infuriated Garni, who was heavily intoxicated.
In the ensuing altercation, Garni fired his gun at Rhoads, but the shot missed and hit the ceiling. Rhoads fought back and got the upper hand. Garni, already defeated, then plotted to kill DuBrow, who was rehearsing at a nearby studio. However, he was stopped by police on his way there for drunk driving and was arrested.
Garni was later kicked out of the band, but the incident perhaps showed Rhoads the need to leave Quiet Riot for his own safety. It’s chilling to think that Garni’s actions could have potentially led to two victims, and it’s a reminder of the darker side of the rock and roll lifestyle.
The Audition That Sealed Fate
During his time with Quiet Riot, Randy Rhoads had become increasingly frustrated with the band’s lack of success in securing an American recording deal and felt he had greater potential.
When Ozzy Osbourne was forming his own band after leaving Black Sabbath and began holding auditions for guitarists, Rhoads showed up with his iconic Gibson Les Paul. According to Rhoads, he tuned up and played a few chords before Ozzy offered him the gig, despite not having heard him play properly yet.
Ozzy’s recollection of the audition was hazy due to his intoxication, but he was impressed by Rhoads’ playing. However, Rhoads himself was not particularly interested in auditioning and only did so to appease his manager.
After the audition, he sought advice from his mother and ultimately decided to join Ozzy’s band. Ozzy himself later expressed surprise that someone as talented as Rhoads would want to tour with him, given his reputation as a “bloated alcoholic wreck.”
Randy Rhoads’ Dreams Of Another Life
Ozzy could see it, Randy Rhoads was a true musician. Honing his skills with classical guitar before delving into the world of metal and rock. While many may attribute his success to luck, those close to him knew that his talent was the result of hard work and dedication.
By 1981, Rhoads was nearly ready to leave Ozzy’s band during a period when the drummer and bassist were both let go from the band. He was adamant about making the band about the music, not the egos and drinking. However, this allowed him to bring in his friend Rudy Sarzo to join the band.
Reports from Sarzo and other bandmates at the time suggested that Rhoads had planned to leave the band once his contractual obligations were fulfilled. He seemed frustrated with Ozzy’s substance abuse struggles and how they affected their touring.
Rhoads had already left Quiet Riot for similar reasons, and he was focused on the music itself rather than the egos that surrounded him.
Sarzo and Ozzy both confirmed that Rhoads had intended to pursue a classical guitar degree at UCLA after leaving the band. Rhoads continued to study whenever he could on tour, and it’s likely that he would have achieved his degree had he survived the tragic plane crash.
The Final Straw
In 1982, Rhoads decided to depart from the band in pursuit of his academic aspirations after a disagreement arose during a recording session.
The management team of Ozzy’s solo band proposed the idea of recording a live album of Black Sabbath covers, which Rhoads viewed as a compromise of their artistic integrity and a step in the wrong direction. Along with his bandmate Tommy Aldridge, Rhoads refused to participate in the live sets.
Osbourne, who was often intoxicated and confused, took this as a personal betrayal and even suggested replacements such as Frank Zappa to taunt Rhoads. In a drunken stupor, he fired the entire band, but later woke up with no recollection of the incident and rescinded the decision.
However, the tension was enough for Rhoads, who agreed to complete the live album on the condition that he could leave the band after its completion.
A One Way Flight
Rhoads played his last show with Ozzy at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum before the band departed for Florida the following day. On the tour bus later that night, Rhoads expressed his concerns about Osbourne’s substance abuse, fearing for his friend’s safety and the risks that it posed.
According to reports, Rhoads warned Osbourne:
You’ll kill yourself, you know, one of these days.
The next morning, the bus stopped to fix a malfunctioning air conditioning system, with Osbourne, Sarzo, and Aldridge still asleep inside. The bus driver, Andrew Aycock, who was also a private pilot, decided he would take one of the planes from the nearby airstrip for a joy flight.
On his first flight, he took Ozzy’s tour manager and keyboardist as passengers and then attempted to “buzz” the tour bus by flying low to the ground to create a loud noise and wake the rest of the band up.
Rhoads and the tour makeup artist, Rachel Youngblood, were hesitant to join Aycock on his second flight, as Youngblood had a heart condition and Rhoads was afraid of flying. Rhoads had initially asked Sarzo to join him, but Sarzo chose to stay in bed.
Duncan, the tour manager, convinced Rhoads to come on the flight by promising that they would take it easy and only circle the property a few times, allowing Rhoads to take some photographs from the sky.
Despite his assurances to Rhoads, Aycock made several attempts to “buzz” the tour bus during the flight, with the first two attempts missing the mark. On his third and final approach, Aycock misjudged the timing of his turn and the wing of the plane clipped the tour bus, tearing the plane in two.
Randy Rhoads, Rachel Youngblood, and Andrew Aycock were killed upon impact and the plane came to rest after crashing into a nearby mansion and setting it ablaze.
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Sarzo’s Final Thoughts
According to Sarzo, on the night of Randy’s death, he went to a nearby church while staying at the hotel. Inside, he found Ozzy crying at the altar and screaming ‘Why? Why?’.
Sarzo describes feeling a sense of shock and hopelessness that he had never experienced before and hopes to never feel again.
The loss of Rhoads was a tragedy, and Sarzo reveals in a recent interview that he couldn’t continue with the band without him, eventually going back to Quiet Riot as a tribute to Rhoads.
Throughout his career, Rhoads had maintained a relatively sober lifestyle, rarely drinking or using drugs. It is an ironic tragedy that his sobriety meant that he was awake and able to board the ill-fated plane that led to his death.
Check out this video by OzzFest of Ozzy Osborne listening to a Randy Rhoads guitar solo on the master tape for the first time in over 30 years.
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