Randy Rhoads, born as Randall William Rhoads (December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982), was an American guitarist who played with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne. His classical way of playing guitar influenced many guitarists.
He was born in Santa Monica, California, in the family of music teachers, Delores and William Rhoads. He was the youngest of three children and had a sister Kathy and a brother Doug, who was also a musician performing under the name Kelle. When Randy was 1,5 year old, his father left the family and remarried, and all three children were subsequently raised by their mother, who 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.
Since they did not own a stereo, the children created their own music at home to entertain themselves. Randy started to take folk and classical guitar lessons at his mother’s music school when he was approximately 7 year old. He soon became interested in electric guitar and began taking lessons at Musonia until the instructor, Scott Shelly, informed his mother that he could no longer teach her son, as Randy’s knowledge of the electric guitar had exceeded his own. At that time Randy also received piano lessons from his mother to build his understanding of music theory.
While attending John Muir Middle School, he met Kelly Garni and the two became best friends. Randy taught Garni how to play bass guitar, and together they first formed a band called The Whore, which was for several months played at the backyard parties around the Los Angeles area in the mid-1970s. Then, they both formed a cover band called Violet Fox, with his older brother Kelle on drums; the group was performing, among others, 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. Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper and Mick Ronson were two early rock influences on his playing.
The concert of Alice Cooper on July 11, 1971 was a decisive point in his life. According to his brother Kelle, Randy was mesmerized and started to seriously think of making a career in music. 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. At the age of 16, Rhoads and Garni formed the band Little Women and at approximately the same time, Randy began teaching guitar in his mother’s school during the day and playing live gigs at night. After recruiting Kevin DuBrow as lead vocalist, the band soon changed its name to Quiet Riot. They also admitted a drummer, Drew Forsyth, who 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, their first albums, 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, participated in the audition just before his final show with Quiet Riot in September 1979. His technique made a huge impression on Osbourne, who immediately gave him the job. Randy 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'”.
The new group’s management intended to keep the line-up all-British and was reluctant to hire an unknown American guitarist, but manager Don Arden eventually relented. Rhoads flew to England on November 27, 1979, and 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.
The ex-Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley 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 thanks to the level of freedom allowed by Ozzy and bassist Bob Daisley and he was encouraged to play what he wanted. 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.”
After 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, which according to Kerslake, almost made Randy leave the band in late 1981. “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 Rhoads’ desire to earn the degree and stated that had he lived, he did not believe Rhoads 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 Randy was beginning to receive recognition for his playing. Just before his death Jackson Guitars created a signature model, the Jackson Randy Rhoads (though Rhoads 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 insane ideas. The last thing Rhoads said to him that night was, “You’ll kill yourself, you 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 private pilot Andrew Aycock took a single-engine Beechcraft F35 plane registered to a Mike Partin and flew with keyboardist Don Airey and tour manager Jake Duncan. After landing, he took Rhoads and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood on board. During the second flight, attempts were made to ‘buzz’ the tour bus. 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’ 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, because the rest were asleep in the bus. Pilot and both passengers were killed instantly and their bodies were burnt beyond recognition, Rhoads was identified through dental records and personal jewellery by his brother-in-law who flew from California to Leesburg.
Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake were together in Houston, Texas with Uriah Heep when they heard news of the accident. Kerslake recalled in 2002:
I was already sitting at the bar when Bob Daisley came into the bar. 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
Osbourne later said that Aycock had been doing cocaine all night prior to the crash and the NTSB investigation determined that Aycock’s medical certificate had expired. It was later discovered that Aycock had been the pilot in another fatal crash in the United Arab Emirates six years earlier.
Randy’s funeral was held at the First Lutheran Church in Burbank, California. Pall-bearers at the funeral included Osbourne, Aldridge, Sarzo, and Rhoads’ former Quiet Riot bandmate Kevin DuBrow. On his coffin there was a photo of the guitarist as well as a photo of himself on stage with Osbourne in San Francisco. He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino, California.
As a tribute to Rhoads, Marshall Amplification released the 1959RR at NAMM 2008 and Jackson Guitars released an exact replica of Rhoads’ original white “shortwing” V. In 2010, Gibson Guitars announced a new custom shop signature guitar modeled after Rhoads’ 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 Rhoads biography, written by Steven Rosen and Andrew Klein, and containing over 400 pages of material.
On January 18, 2017 Randy was inducted into the Hall of Heavy Metal History for defining Heavy Metal lead guitar.