Randall William "Randy" Rhoads (December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982) was an American heavy metal guitarist who played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot. He died in a plane accident while on tour with Osbourne in Florida in 1982. A devoted student of classical guitar, Rhoads combined his classical music influences with his own heavy metal style. Despite his short career, Rhoads, who was a major influence on neo-classical metal, is cited as an influence by many guitarists and is included in several "Greatest Guitarist" lists.
Rhoads was born at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. The youngest of three children, he had a brother named Doug and a sister named Kathy. Doug, who performed under the name "Kelle", is also a musician. Their parents, Delores and William, were both music teachers. In 1958, father William left the family when Randy was 17 months old and remarried, and all three children were subsequently raised by Delores, who also opened a music school in North Hollywood in 1949 called Musonia to support the family. Delores had received a bachelor's degree in music from UCLA and had played piano professionally.
The Rhoads family did not own a stereo and the children created their own music at home to entertain themselves. Rhoads began taking folk and classical guitar lessons at approximately age 7 at his mother's music school. He soon became interested in electric guitar and began taking lessons at Musonia from an instructor named Scott Shelly. Shelly soon approached Delores to inform her that he could no longer teach her son, as Rhoads' knowledge of the electric guitar had exceeded his own. Rhoads also received piano lessons from his mother to build his understanding of music theory.
Rhoads met Kelly Garni while attending John Muir Middle School and the two became best friends. According to Garni, the pair were unpopular due to "the way we looked". "Every time we showed up for school it was usually problematic so we pretty much avoided it. We weren’t nerds, we weren’t jocks, we weren’t dopers, we were just on our own". Rhoads taught Garni how to play bass guitar, and together they formed a band called "The Whore", rehearsing during the day at Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a 1970s Hollywood nightspot. It was during this period that Rhoads learned to play lead guitar. "When I met him he didn’t know how to play lead guitar yet at all. He was just starting to take lessons for it and really just riffing around", said Garni. With this band, Rhoads spent several months playing at backyard parties around the Los Angeles area in the mid-1970s. The pair formed a cover band called "Violet Fox" (after his mother's middle name, Violet), with his older brother Kelle on drums. Violet Fox, who were together for approximately five months, staged several performances in the "Grand Salon" at Musonia, Delores Rhoads' music school. Among their setlist was Mississippi Queen by Mountain, and songs from the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. After Violet Fox dissolved, Rhoads formed various other short-lived bands such as The Katzenjammer Kids and Mildred Pierce.
Rhoads' brother states that a 1971 Alice Cooper concert the pair attended was a defining point in the guitarist's life, saying "I think that kind of showed him what he could do with his talent." Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper and Mick Ronson were two early rock influences on his playing.
At age 16, Rhoads and Garni formed the band Little Women. At approximately the same time, Rhoads began teaching guitar in his mother's school during the day and playing live gigs at night. He graduated from Burbank High School, participating in a special program that allowed him to condense his studies and graduate early so he could teach guitar and pursue music full-time. Recruiting Kevin DuBrow as lead vocalist, the band soon changed its name to Quiet Riot. The drummer Drew Forsyth, had periodically played with Rhoads and Garni in the past.
Quiet Riot quickly became one of the most popular acts on the Los Angeles club circuit, and by late 1976 were signed to CBS/Sony Records. Rhoads' "polka-dot theme" became the visual focal point of the band, as many fans began showing up at Quiet Riot shows wearing polka-dot bow-ties and vests, emulating what the guitarist wore on stage.
While the band had a strong following in Los Angeles, Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II were released only in Japan.
In 1979, ex-Black Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne was in Los Angeles, attempting to form a new band. An acquaintance of Osbourne's, future Slaughter bassist Dana Strum, contacted Rhoads to see if he was interested. Rhoads, disillusioned with Quiet Riot's inability to land an American recording deal, discussed the possibility of joining an already established band with his mother Delores. When she asked him if he would accept "an offer like this one", the guitarist replied "Of course!" Rhoads got the call for the audition just before his final show with Quiet Riot in September 1979. The day before Osbourne was scheduled to return to England, Rhoads walked into the vocalist's Los Angeles hotel room with his Gibson Les Paul guitar and a practice amp and started warming up. Osbourne immediately gave him the job. Osbourne was very drunk, and passed out during the audition. Rhoads recalled later, "I just tuned up and did some riffs, and he said, 'You've got the gig'; I had the weirdest feeling, because I thought, 'You didn't even hear me yet'". Rhoads, Osbourne, Strum, and drummer Frankie Banali subsequently spent a couple of days together before Osbourne returned to England.
Upon returning to England, Osbourne was introduced to ex-Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley by a Jet Records employee named Arthur Sharpe in a pub, and the pair hit it off and decided to work together. Unhappy with the guitarist they were initially working with, Osbourne mentioned to Daisley that he had recently met a talented young guitarist in Los Angeles by the name of Randy Rhoads. The new group's management intended to keep the lineup all-British and was reluctant to hire an unknown American guitarist, but manager David Arden eventually relented. Rhoads flew to England on the 27th of November, 1979, and met with Osbourne and Daisley at the Jet Records' offices in London. The trio traveled by train to Osbourne's home, Bulrush Cottage, which also housed a rehearsal space. It was here that Rhoads lived with Osbourne, his then-wife Thelma, and their two children, during his first weeks in England. Years later, Osbourne said in his autobiography that he could not understand why a musician as talented as Rhoads would want to get involved with a "bloated alcoholic wreck" like himself.
After a short search, drummer Lee Kerslake completed the new band, then known as The Blizzard of Ozz. The group headed into the studio to record their debut album, titled Blizzard of Ozz. Rhoads's guitar playing had changed due to the level of freedom allowed by Ozzy and bassist Bob Daisley and he was encouraged to play what he wanted. His work with Quiet Riot has been criticized as being "dull" and did not rely on classical scales or arrangements. Propelled by Rhoads's neo-classical guitar work, the album proved an instant hit with rock fans, particularly in the USA. They released two singles from the album: "Mr. Crowley" and the hit "Crazy Train". Osbourne said years later, "One day Randy came to me and said that most heavy metal songs are written in an A to E chord structure. He said, 'Let's try to change that' ...so we made a rule that almost every number that we recorded on an album was never played in the same key."
Following a UK tour the band recorded another album, Diary of a Madman. During a break before leaving for their first US tour, both Kerslake and Daisley were suddenly fired by Sharon Arden, the band's manager and Osbourne's future wife. For the US tour, ex-Black Oak Arkansas drummer Tommy Aldridge and bassist Rudy Sarzo - who had been Rhoads' bandmate in Quiet Riot - were hired. Diary of a Madman was released soon after in October 1981, and since Kerslake and Daisley were already out of the band, Aldridge and Sarzo's names and photos appeared on the album sleeve. Disputes over royalties performance, and other intellectual property rights became a source of future court battles. Kerslake has maintained that Rhoads almost left Osbourne's band in late 1981 due to his displeasure with the firing of Kerslake and Daisley. "He didn't want to go (on tour with Osbourne). We told him we were thrown out. He said he was going to leave the band as he did not want to leave us behind. I told him not to be stupid but thanks for the sentiment," the drummer later recalled.
Around this time, Rhoads remarked to Osbourne, bandmates Aldridge and Sarzo, and friend Kelly Garni that he was considering leaving rock for a few years to earn a degree in classical guitar at UCLA. In the documentary Don't Blame Me, Osbourne confirmed Randy's desire to earn the degree and stated that had he lived, he did not believe Randy would have stayed in his band. Friend and ex-Quiet Riot bassist Garni has speculated in interviews that if Rhoads had continued to play rock, he might have gone the route of more keyboard-driven rock, which had become popular through the 1980s. It was at this time that Rhoads was beginning to receive recognition for his playing. Just before his death Jackson Guitars created a signature model, the Jackson Randy Rhoads (though Randy had originally called his white pinstriped V "the Concorde"). Rhoads received one prototype—a black offset V hardtail that is the base for today's RR line of Jackson guitars—but died before the guitar went into production. Rhoads also received the Best New Talent award from Guitar Player magazine. While on tour with Osbourne, Rhoads would seek out classical guitar tutors for lessons whenever possible.
Rhoads played his last show on Thursday, March 18, 1982 at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. The next day, the band was heading to a festival in Orlando, Florida. Osbourne recalls his final conversation with Rhoads that night on the bus involved the guitarist admonishing him over his heavy drinking. The last thing Rhoads said to him that night was "You'll kill yourself, y'know? One of these days." After driving much of the night, they stopped in Leesburg, Florida, to fix a malfunctioning air conditioning unit on the bus while Osbourne remained asleep. On the property there was an airstrip with small helicopters and planes. Without permission, tour bus driver and ex-commercial pilot Andrew Aycock took a small Beechcraft F35 plane registered to a Mike Partin. On the first flight, Aycock took keyboardist Don Airey and tour manager Jake Duncan. He then landed and a second flight took to the air with Rhoads and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood aboard. During the second flight, attempts were made to apparently 'buzz' the tour bus, where the other band members were sleeping. Aycock succeeded in making two close passes, but botched the third attempt. At approximately 10 AM, after being in the air for approximately five minutes, one of the plane's wings clipped the top of the tour bus, breaking the wing into two parts and sending the plane spiraling out of control. The initial impact with the bus caused Rhoads's and Youngblood's heads to crash through the plane's windshield. The plane then severed the top of a pine tree and crashed into the garage of a nearby mansion, bursting into flames. Keyboardist Don Airey was the only member of the band to witness the crash, as the rest were asleep in the bus. Rhoads was killed instantly, as were Aycock (36) and Youngblood (58). All three bodies were burned beyond recognition, and Rhoads was identified by dental records and personal jewelry. According to Sharon Osbourne, who was asleep in the bus and awoken by the crash, "They were all in bits, it was just body parts everywhere". Though all were quite distraught, the remaining band and crew members were forced to remain in Leesburg for an additional two days, until preliminary investigations were completed. Rhoads's brother-in-law flew from California to Leesburg to identify what remained of the guitarist's body.
The band were scheduled to perform at an outdoor festival called Rock Super Bowl XIV later that day in Orlando. Though the event was not canceled, promoters offered refunds to all ticket holders.
Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, who had recorded Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman with Rhoads and had been recently fired from Osbourne's band, were together in Houston, Texas with Uriah Heep when they heard news of the accident. "I was already sitting at the bar when Bob Daisley came into the bar", Kerslake recalled in 2002. "I turned and looked at Bob and said, 'Fuck, you have gone all white. What is wrong?' Bob said, 'Lee, there was a plane crash this morning and Randy was in it... and he is dead.' That was it. Oh God, to hear that - I just turned and cried my eyes out. Bob and me were crying our eyes out over him, cause we loved him. He was such a lovely guy."
It was later revealed after autopsy that Aycock's system tested positive for cocaine. Rhoads's toxicology test revealed only nicotine. Osbourne later said that Aycock had been doing cocaine all night prior to the crash. The NTSB investigation determined that Aycock's medical certificate had expired and that his biennial flight review, required for all pilots, was overdue. It was later learned that Aycock had been the pilot in another fatal crash in the United Arab Emirates six years earlier.
Rhoads's funeral was held at the First Lutheran Church in Burbank, California. Pall-bearers at the funeral included Osbourne, Aldridge, Sarzo, and Rhoads's former Quiet Riot bandmate Kevin DuBrow. On his coffin was a photo of the guitarist as well as a photo of himself on stage with Osbourne in San Francisco. Rhoads is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino, California.
As a tribute to Rhoads, Marshall Amplification released the 1959RR at NAMM 2008. The amp is a limited-edition all-white Marshall Super Lead 100 watt head modeled after Randy's own Super Lead amp. Marshall engineers looked extensively at Rhoads' actual amplifier and made the 1959RR to those exact specifications, right down to the special high-gain modification Randy specifically requested when he visited the Marshall factory in 1980.
Jackson Guitars released an exact replica of Randy's original white "shortwing" V. Randy's original guitar was handled, photographed, and measured extensively by Jackson's luthiers to produce the most precise replica possible. The guitar comes with black gaffer's tape covering the top wing and the back of the guitar, just like Randy's. Only 60 of the guitars were manufactured, each with the symbolic price tag of $12,619.56, which is Rhoads's birthday. In 2010, Gibson Guitars announced a new custom shop signature guitar modeled after Rhoads's 1974 Les Paul Custom. In April 2011, author Joel McIver announced the publication of the first fully comprehensive Rhoads biography, Crazy Train: The High Life and Tragic Death of Randy Rhoads, with a foreword written by Zakk Wylde and an afterword by Yngwie Malmsteen. In June 2012, Velocity Publishing Group announced a comprehensive Randy Rhoads biography, written by Steven Rosen and Andrew Klein, and containing over 400 pages of material.
May 31, 2011 marked the 30-year anniversary and re-master/release of Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Both albums have been remastered and restored to their original state with Bob Daisley's bass and Lee Kerslake's drums intact. Blizzard has 3 bonus tracks – "You, Looking at Me, Looking at You", "Goodbye to Romance" (2010 Vocal & Guitar Mix), and "RR" (Randy Rhoads in-studio guitar solo). Originally, Diary was to include long fade out versions of "You Can't Kill Rock and Roll", "Tonight", and "Diary of a Madman" (2010 Re-mix version), but were not included in the re-issue. The Legacy version of Diary of a Madman includes a second CD called Ozzy Live, a live album pulled together from multiple performances on the 1981 Blizzard of Ozz tour. This performance features the same line up as the Tribute album. Also included exclusively in the special box set are the 180 gram vinyl versions of the original albums, an expansive 100-page coffee table book and the DVD – Thirty Years After the Blizzard, which includes unreleased Randy Rhoads video footage.
Producer Kevin Churko, who mixed the 2010 Ozzy Live CD, has stated that Epic Records has "a lot more in the vault" for future releases of Rhoads's material with Osbourne, as many of the band's live performances from that era were recorded.
Older brother Kelle is also a musician while older sister Kathy operates a vineyard.
Rhoads was an avid collector of toy trains, and traveled around England in search of them when he first arrived from the United States to record Blizzard of Ozz in 1980.
Ozzy Osbourne has said that Rhoads did not use drugs and drank very little, preferring Anisette when he did drink. Osbourne says that while Rhoads didn't like to party, he made up for it by smoking heavily, saying "He could have won a gold medal in the Lung Cancer Olympics, could Randy Rhoads."
According to his brother Kelle, Rhoads was a "fairly devout" Lutheran.
Musicianship And Influence
Rolling Stone Magazine lists Rhoads as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Rhoads has been on the covers of many guitar magazines and has influenced many guitar players, including Dimebag Darrell, John Petrucci, Brad Gillis, George Lynch, Michael Romeo, Alexi Laiho, Mick Thomson, Paul Gilbert and Buckethead.
Rhoads' talent was not always met with such praise during his lifetime. J. D. Considine of Rolling Stone was critical of his playing, referring to Rhoads in his review of Diary Of A Madman as "a junior-league Eddie Van Halen – bustling with chops but somewhat short on imagination".
Rhoads was influenced by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as a child and would imitate their performances with his brother Kelle in the family garage. His biggest influences as a guitarist were Leslie West, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Charlie Christian, and John Williams.
Shortly before leaving Quiet Riot in 1979, Rhoads presented hand drawn pictures of a polka-dot Flying V-style guitar to Karl Sandoval, a California luthier. The guitar Sandoval built for Rhoads became one of the guitarist's trademark instruments.
Rhoads used a relatively simple setup, with a small number of guitars, effects and favored amplifiers. He preferred GHS .011 gauge strings.
- Gibson '74 Cream Les Paul Custom
- Karl Sandoval "Polka Dot" V
- Jackson Black Rhoads w/ Fixed Bridge
- Jackson White "Prototype" Concorde
- 1950s Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty (used for photographs only)
- Fender Stratocaster
- GHS Boomers, 10-11 Gauge
- Dunlop Crybaby Wah
- RE-201 'Space Echo'
- Volume Foot Pedal
- Korg echo
- Distortion +
- 10 Band EQ
- Stereo Chorus
Guitar rig and signal flow
- A detailed gear diagram of Randy Rhoads' guitar rig for Ozzy's 1981 "Diary of a Madman" Tour is well-documented.
- Dimarzio Super Distortion/ PAF On Karl Sandoval's Flying V.
- Super 74(Bridge) on Gibson Les Paul Custom.
- Seymour Duncan Distortion/Jazz Model on Jackson's.