March 19 marks a sad day for fans of rock and heavy metal. Two astonishingly talented guitarists, both leading, pioneering figures in their genre and era, died on this date. Paul Kossoff, lead guitarist of rock band Free and Ozzy Osbourne’s Randy Rhoads died only 6 years apart. Both at the young age of 25.
Ask a cross-section of heavy metal fans who the greatest ever guitarist of the genre is and you can bet your last guitar string the name of Randy Rhoads will not be far from most lips. After Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath he was looking for a guitarist for his solo project. So the story goes, Ozzy heard Rhoads warming up and hired him on the spot, so impressed was the Prince of Darkness with the teenaged guitarist.
Born December 6, 1956, in Santa Monica, California, Randy Rhoads began his reputation as a talented young musician in the heavy metal band Quiet Riot, playing on the band’s first two (very limited release) albums. But it was with Ozzy Osbourne that he became known, and still is known, as one of the greatest guitaristsof all time. Amazingly, Blizzard of Ozz, which contains the well-know song “Crazy Train” and Diary of a Madman are the only two albums Rhoads released with Ozzy before his life was tragically cut short.
In markedly different circumstances to the death of Paul Kossoff, Randy Rhoads was not killed by years of self abuse. His death was caused by the stupidity of someone else. On March 19, 1982, Ozzy tour bus driver Andrew Aycock took Rhoads out for a flight in one of his small aircraft in Leesburg, Florida. While trying to ‘buzz’ the Ozzy tour bus to scare those inside, Aycock got too close and clipped the vehicle. The plane crash landed killing Rhoads instantly. He was 25 years old.
Randy Rhoads has left an impressive legacy. He mastered the fusion of classical techniques with heavy metal sounds, creating a unique sound. His recordings with Ozzy are still held up as shining examples of some of the finest guitar work anyone in metal has ever produced; a testament to his dedication to the instrument and the remarkable talents of a man who will be forever young.
Possibly the lesser known of the two, Paul Kossoff, thanks to his work with one band in particular, was one of the great rock guitarists of the 1970s. Born September 14, 1950, in London, Kossoff played in the little known band Black Cat Bones with drummer Simon Kirke before the two teamed up with Paul Rodgers (who recently provided vocals for Queen) and Andy Fraser to form Free in 1968.
In the same year Free released debut album Tons Of Sobs, a rocking, heavily blues-influenced album that was shockingly accomplished and mature for an album made by a band still in their teens. Free released another three albums before 1970 was out, and it was with third album, the frighteningly good Fire and Water, that Free became a big name. The final track on the album, “All Right Now,” put Free on the rock map and brought Kossoff the recognition he deserved. See the video below for Kossoff during one of his finest moments.
I listen to Free albums a lot and Kossoff’s guitar playing never ceases to enthrall and astound me. Kossoff’s outstanding blues-rock playing drives, compliments and defines Free’s sound.
Kossoff spent many years of his short life battling drug addiction which had left him in poor health. It was not long before the inevitable happened. On March 19, 1976, while on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, Paul Kossoff suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away aged only 25. As if forever linked to his finest hour, Kossoff’s epitaph reads, ‘All Right Now’.