Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Review - Off The Rails - By Rudy Sarzo

This week I finished Rudy Sarzo's book, Off The Rails. Put together by the heavy metal bassman himself while on the road, Sarzo says he wrote the book to answer a question he is asked daily, which is "What was Randy Rhoads like?" (Rhoads was Ozzy’s Osbourne’s songwriting partner and guitar player on his first two solo albums, and was killed in a plane crash in 1982, immediately granting him ‘dead legend’ status)

What emerges from page one is that Sarzo is not your archetypal partying stereotype 80s metalhead. He is thoughtful and observant and he even has a pretty deep seated belief in God, which is kind of a shocker given that he started his career with Ozzy and currently plays with Dio!

Actually, Sarzo met Rhoads in the original version of Quiet Riot, which made the rounds of LA clubs in the late 70s in search of a record deal that never came. The Quiet Riot that found success in the 80s (with Sarzo but not with Rhoads, who had already passed away) was re-formed by singer Kevin DuBrow, with Rhoads' approval on resurrecting the name.

But when Rhoads got the gig with Ozzy post Quiet Riot, he suggested Sarzo and the rest is history. Rhoads' first (and only) two albums with Ozzy had already been written and recorded when Sarzo joined, although Sarzo is pictured on the Diary of A Madman sleeve.

Anyway, the book goes into the year and half Sarzo toured with Ozzy and Rhoads and of course covers the tragic airplane accident that took Rhoads' life in March 1982.

Walking away from the book, I had two primary impressions. First, Ozzy was a train wreck from day one, and Sharon Osbourne was a manipulative nightmare from day two. Although she treated Sarzo and the band very well at the time.

But Ozzy was a raving alcoholic during this period. This was the era where he bit the head off the dove in the record company offices, bit the head off the bat onstage, and peed on the Alamo in Texas. From a couple of (rare) lucid conversations with Ozzy recounted by Sarzo, Ozzy was basically a very sad guy. He felt like part of the machine and was pretty much a lost soul. Once Rhoads died, he got much worse.

My second impression was that Rhoads was a very dedicated guitarist who was as into classical guitar as much as hard rock. Instead if getting wasted on tour, he would pop open the Yellow Pages and find a classical guitar teacher so he could take a quick lesson to keep growing in his skills. He was generous with his time with fans who would ask him how to play certain solos, and seemed very gracious and cool.

Rhoads had in fact already told Ozzy that after one more album and tour he was going to move on, to take further classical instruction.

Sarzo kept an extensive journal, which helped him write the book. That is great, because he pulls out a lot of detail. Remember, this all happened before 80s metal was around. For example, he talks about meeting Def Leppard on the band's first American tour (small clubs, no hit records yet).

But Sarzo also falls into the "school of using your journal as a reference" by listing tour dates a bit too frequently. "On March 12 we played at the Fruit Bowl in Somewhere, followed by two shows at the 1,200 capacity Turd Center in Anytown." And on and on. It's interesting at first but I found myself skipping those paragraphs as the book went on.

The primary thing Off The Rails accomplished for me was that it made me want to check out Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of A Madman again. Sadly, the recently re-released CDs of those albums are bastardizations. Sharon erased the original bass and drum parts and replaced them with rerecorded bass and drums from Ozzy's band at the time of the re-releases.

This was due to some kind of legal haggling with original bass player Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake. I think that is pathetic (see "Sharon was a manipulative nightmare from day two" above). To do that to these classic albums is unforgivable and I will never buy them. Luckily I have the vinyl.

But I digress. Sarzo did a great job laying out a detailed picture of who Randy Rhoads was. Prior to reading the book, I didn't really care. But now I see that his death was the tragic loss of a stellar musician at the front end of a life long devoted career that could have given us all much greatness.


jeremy said...

Hey Paul

I just finished Heaven and Hell by Don Felder of the Eagles. You should check it out.


Mike Budd said...

Have a listen to the live Blizzard of OZ for the real Randy experience. It shows that he was really being held back during the sessions for the first 2 albums.

I was fortunate to have the unforgettable experience of seeing Randy on the Diary tour January 23 1982 at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison Wisconsin.

Dr. John said...

Love the intro drum lick to "Over the Mountain" from Diary. I always thought it was Tommy Aldridge but I think it was the other drummer you mentioned. Even though I could never pull it off at full speed, it was one of the few drum licks I tought my drum teacher in high school.

What does this have to do with Sarzo? No frickin' idea... :-)

Jokin' 13 said...