Updated: Mar 5
Randy Rhoads was the guitarist on Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo records. Randy Rhoads death occurred tragically in a plane crash shortly after the release of the second album as Bob Gulla ( 200 p.161) wrote “ If his time in the spotlight was short, his influence was long, continuing”. He receives praises not only from guitarists but also from other key figures in the hard-rock scene like Ronnie James Dio (1985) and Tommy Aldridge. Aldrige (1990) said that he was the best guitar player he has ever played with (and that is coming from a drummer who has shared stage with the likes of Pat Travers, Gary Moore, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen among others) .
Randy Rhoads has been called a “legend” by many. But is he really such a relevant guitar player? This essay will explore his legacy and will see how far does his influence reach.
The most obvious reason behind Randy Rhoads recognition is his particular approach to rock guitar. Some of his solos have become legendary and a must learn for any rock guitarist. As Rudy Sarzo explains (2008) “(Randy Rhoads) took the art of guitar soloing into new reals by writing individual musical passages within songs”. Suarzo also points out how his blend of classical music and pop sensibility layered the foundation for a new generation of heavy metal.
How to play the guitar like Randy Rhoads?
As Rhoads repeatedly states in an interview with John Stix (Rhoads, 1981) his main concern was always coming up with original and interesting ideas as opposed to just doing flashy licks to impress the audience. Rhoads continues - “For instance, I do a solo live, and I do a lot of these things that Eddie Van Halen does, and it kills me that I do that”. This can be hear in his solos in the two studio albums he recorded with Osbourne. As Zakk Wylde describes it (Ozz Fest, 2011a) , his solos are “a composition within a composition”.
Let’s take as an example " Crazy Train " since it is one of his more celebrated solos and song (Osbourne, 1980). As Wolf Marshall explains (1986 p.20) the first that comes across from the solo is how logical the structure is, how it keeps growing though each part. The solo moves between minor pentatonic, the blues scale and the dorian and aeolian modes; Randy was a master of changing between scales and alternates them to give a different colour to the each part of the solo. There is a fair amount of guitar pyrotechnics but it is not at all his most technical composition. That is cause the solo doesn’t really need it, to Rhoads it was primordial for the melodic message to come through clearly. He put harmony and technique at the service of the melody as opposed to thinking the other way around and coming up with parts which only interest was its technical/harmonic complexity.
As Sarzo said Randy Rhoads trademark was his blend of classical and heavy rock. Although he took the torch from guitarists that influenced him like Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker (Rhoads, 1981) Rhoads developed a new concept from it. In his compositions classical music took a major role, as opposed to be seen only in the lead parts (which is what would happen with many Deep Purple and Scorpions songs).
Let’s use Highway Star by Deep Purple (Purple, 1972) as an example. Most of the song is based in a bluesy groove. The harmony in the verses and chorus doesn’t go much further than most of the songs within the genre at that time. Blackmore explains (2016) that it is in the solos where John Lord and himself let their Bach (on the keyboard solo) and Mozart (on the guitar solo) influences free and achieve that blend between 70’s blues rock and classical music.
On the other side, Randy took that combination of classical and hard rock to a different level.
The best example of that is a song that Randy (1981) said was amongst his favourite tunes: ‘Diary of a Madman’ (Osbourne, 1981). It’s not only the strings and the choir that make it sound like it could be in a Bach concert instead of a Heavy Metal album: It’s the guitar orchestrations that in the way they are arranged could as well be played by a string section, how one part blends into the other always taking something from the previous one, the huge dynamic changes throughout the song, the snare in the bridge that could be playing a battle march instead of a hard rock tune and obviously the solo. Moving between diminished arpeggios and harmonic minor scales in a fairly short part (barely 20 seconds), Randy manages to showcase a vast knowledge of harmony and technique while keeping the Blues Rock background present and making a composition that blends perfectly within the song.
This is the ultimate example of Randy’s classical influence in Ozzy’s work but many more can be found in the other songs of ‘Diary of a Madman’ and ‘Blizzard of Ozz’. These albums (alongside with the legacy of guitarists like Blackmore, Schenker and Uli Jon Roth) inspired a whole new generation of guitarists that will mix classical and metal in a way that was appealing to the general audience. As guitarist Joel Hoekstra put it, “Randy made classical music cool” (Marino, 2014)
Another one of the key elements to understand Randy Rhoads relevance in rock and heavy metal is being aware of his role in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. On top of being the guitarist, he was a key element not only in songwriting process but more importantly in the direction that the first two Ozzy records took.
As Randy explained to Rudy Sarzo (bass player for the American tour of Blizzard of Ozz /
Diary of a Madman and old friend of him) (Sarzo, 2008) Ozzy was really supportive with Randy influences and his songwriting ideas, specially rewarding his classical music inquietudes. The fact that he allowed him to put Dee (Osbourne, 1980), an acoustic classical guitar piece dedicated to his mother, in the album shows the respect that Ozzy had for his guitarist. Even today Osbourne still feels very attached to Randy Rhoads. In 2016 (almost 35 years after the death of the guitarist) Ozzy got really emotional and excited after hearing a stored unmixed version of " Crazy Train " (Plainview, 2017).
Osbourne explains how they wrote that song together and how in such a short time Randy Rhoads became a huge part of his life. In 1987 (5 years after the death of the guitarist) he released the ‘Tribute’ album with unreleased tracks of Randy playing live. This shows how significant was the presence of Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo albums and ultimately in his career.
We have seen that Randy had classical influences but that wasn’t it. As Ozzy explains (Ayres and Osbourne, 2009 p.199) he had heroes that went from John Williams (the classical guitarist), to Leslie West (guitarist of the 70’s rock band Mountain) going through jazz masters like Charlie Christian. And not only that but his personal career interests went beyond being in a Heavy Metal band for the rest of his life. Right before his death, Rhoads (Sarzo 2008) had stated his plans of leaving the band to get a masters degree in classical guitar and (Rhoads, 1981) used to talk about different musical projects for the future : “Someday maybe put out a solo album where I can dig into a lot of instrumentals. I like a lot of different kinds of music”..
Nikki Sixx (Ozz Fest, 2011b) describes how Randy’s ability to mix all his influences is one of the key elements for those two releases having such a relevant content. Great hooks and melodies (taken from his pop influences) in a more complex background (from his classical and jazz influences) and topped out with his powerful guitar screaming through his Marshall (showing his 70’s British rock influences). This can especially be seen in ‘Diary of a Madman’ where, as Randy explains (1981), their songwriting was more complex than in Blizzard of Ozz and a broader range of influences can be heard.
Max Norman, the producer of ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ and ‘Diary of a Madman’, declared (1982) that Rhoads had a major role in the writing of the songs for those records, not only the guitar parts, but in the general arrangements and structure. And although the other two main writers of the albums, Bob Daisley and Ozzy have been in disputes for the writing credits in the last few years but they never fail to credit Randy as one of the main songwriters for those albums. Actually, nowadays Bob Daisley thinks that the guitarists is not always credited enough for what he did (Giles, 2014).
And the influence of these albums is notorious. Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman are respectively 4 and 3 times platinum records in the US but, they are not only great selling records. Their thumbnail in Heavy Metal is huge. Loud Wire (2015) ranks Blizzard of Ozz number 6 in their ranking of most influential metal albums of all time and highlights how this album “helped shape 80’s Metal”. Rob Halford (Ozz Fest, 2011c) describes it as an “absolute brilliant release” pinpointing the great hooks and melody in all the songs.
The legacy of Randy Rhoads in the actual music
Finally it is important to be aware that the legacy of Randy Rhoads in Rock and Heavy Metal is not only the print that his guitar technique and compositions left behind but to realise how many “key” guitarists have been directly inspired by him. Tom Morello (arguably one of the most important Rock guitarists in the 90s) says (Riddle, 2012): “In a way, Randy Rhoads is the Robert Johnson of metal. It’s such a small catalog of stuff that has been so incredibly influential”. And it is true, there is a countless number of guitarists that rate Rhoads as one of their main influences. The most interesting part is that some got into him because of his guitar tone, some because of his technique and note choice and others just because they loved the songs.
One of Randy’s biggest fans is obviously Zakk Wylde. The man who took the torch after Rhoads (with Jake E Lee doing two albums in between) in Ozzy’s band has always showed a huge love for Randy’s playing and persona. In an interview done in the 30th anniversary of Rhoad’s death (2012) he explains that he was a huge fan of Randy way before he got the gig with Ozzy and how influential has Randy been in his playing. A clear sign of it can be seen in his live rig: Both of them use a really similar set with a stereo chorus being quite characteristic in their signal chains. Zakk explains that he also sets up his delay (even when playing with his band BLS) to get a similar sound to the Randy’s live solo delays (Guitarist, 2011) Another high profile guitarist that has declared having a “Rhoads influence” in his live set up is Paul Gilbert. Gilbert is a declared Rhoads fan and even applied to replace him in Ozzy’s band after his dead (Gilbert, 2016). When talking about his live gear (Guitarist, 2012) he highlights that Randy inspired him to use a MXR Distortion+ to drive the preamp of his Marshall amps playing live when he wants to get close to Randy’s overdriven nasal tone.
Randy always stated the importance that tone had to his playing. When asked about it by John Stix (Rhoads, 1981) Rhoads explains that live he would dare to do a more challenging spotlight solo only in the occasions where the sounds was good, otherwise he will just stick with a basic version of it. To fulfil his requirements Randy usually had his gear modified. As explain by the staff at Marshall (Antone, 2014) when he first moved to England to start writing and rehearsing with Ozzy, Randy stopped by Marshall headquarters in Milton Keynes and ordered them a modified version of their 1959 Superlead to have some extra gain. In 2008 (Music Radar, 2008) Marshall issued a limited edition of this amplifier following Rhoads specifications. The amp was presented at the NAMM show (gearwire, 2011) by the Whitesnake and Dio axeman Doug Aldrich who also declares to be a Randy Rhoads fan himself (Heavy Metal Hill, 2011) and has been used by the previously mentioned Zakk Wylde (raiderjay12345, 2008) and Paul Gilbert (Karlsson, 2009).
His guitars have also been released as signature series. Jackson have a whole line of guitars (Jackson, 2017) based on the model that, as Groover Jackson himself explains (Ganaden, 2008), they designed together . And, his “go to” guitar, a 1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom, was reproduced in a limited run of 300 by Gibson (Gibson, 2010) in 2010. This amount of signature gear that has been released after Randy Rhoads equipment is another indicator of the influence of his tone to many guitarists.
On top of his tone, his playing style also had a huge impact to his contemporaries. Rudolf Schenker, when talking to Bruce Nixon from Guitar World (Schenker, 1986) declared that “If it wasn’t for Randy Rhoads, I wouldn’t have been able to play the way I play. His dedication and precision on the two Ozzy albums will be forever remembered.“. Steve Vai another guitarist that also reached success during the early 80’s explains the relevance of these albums: Vai points out how Blizzard of Ozz was a great introduction to metal in the 80’s and explains that Randy was doing things on guitar that hadn’t been done before (Leonard,
But Rhoads also had a big influence on guitarists that came after him. The previously mentioned Tom Morello (Riddle, 2012) is one of them who ranks him as one of his favourites “When I was practicing eight hours a day, his was the poster I had on my wall.”. Randy has also influenced other Hard Rock guitarists like Bumblefoot who classes him (Thal, 2011) as his early guitar hero and points out the vitality and the approach to fuse classical and heavy metal as some of the key points in his playing. Not only that but Rhoads has also had an impact on players of heavier styles. The legendary Dimebag Darrell from Pantera also named him as one of his heroes (Darrell, 1994) and video of a young Darrell playing snippets of Randy’s solos and riffs can be found online (Ryan, 2009)
Another indicator of Randy Rhoads impact to many guitar players is the ‘Randy Rhoads Remembered’ shows that have been put together at NAMM to homenatge the guitarist. Many high-profile guitar players like Nuno Bettencourt, Scotti Hill, Phil Demmel Alex
Skolnick, Oz Foy, Dough Aldrich, Gus G, Marty Friedman, Brad Gillis, Bumblefoot and Jack Frost among others paid tribute to Randy. In the interviews prior the show they all rank as one of their main influences and highlight the importance of his legacy to Heavy Metal as we now it nowadays (Golden, 2017)
As a conclusion we can see that there are many factors that have made Randy Rhoads an important figure in Heavy Metal. From the use of harmony and his approach to solos, going through his tone and compositions he left a huge footprint behind. The main reason for his relevance is probably his influence in other players. To have an impact in so many guitarists that then have become so important themselves is an incredible achievement. For example Tom Morello and Dimebag Darrell will lead their bands, Rage Against The Machine and Pantera respectively, to be two of the most important rock/metal acts in the 90’s.
On top of that, there is the effect that the music he recorded with Ozzy had in Heavy Metal (and as we have seen he had a major role on making that music). Those two albums are definitely milestones in the history of genre and helped shaping the form that the Metal has nowadays.
Is that enough to consider him one of the most relevant Rock guitar players ever? That is something hard to answer but it is clear that his importance in Heavy Metal (particularly in guitar playing) is huge. Although his influence may not be as clear as other guitarists like Hendrix or Van Halen his work has had a major role shaping the genre as we know it today; directly (with the albums he recorded with Ozzy) and indirectly (through the guitarists he influenced).