Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of hard rock and heavy metal’s true guitar heroes, Randy Rhoads. Rhoads, who found massive success with Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo band back in 1980, after starting his career in an early version of Quiet Riot, died on March 19, 1982, a victim of a plane crash accident deep in the state of Florida while on tour with Ozzy. His death propelled him into the same vanguard as other legendary guitarists who also had their careers cut short by tragedy, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Duane Allman and of course, Jimi Hendrix. But like those guitarists, it wasn’t just the fact that Randy Rhoads dying young cemented his and their legendary status. They were all well on their way to the pantheon of musical genius while still alive. But by dying young, all of them suddenly elevated into a “frozen in time” moment, a moment in which the possibilities of growing old and possibly tame, eluded them all.
Rhoads’ legend runs so deep within the music community, it’s very easy to forget he only recorded two albums with Ozzy — Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, both of which released in the United States in 1981. But the influence spread far and wide to burgeoning and established axe-smiths all across the world, not unlike what fellow guitar shredder Eddie Van Halen had done only a few years earlier. Bands as diverse as Metallica, Pantera, Lynch Mob, Night Ranger, Rage Against the Machine, and guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen and John Petrucci, have all cited Rhoads as a major influence, akin to what the great early 20th Century guitarists of the past, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, did to pioneer their instrument for early rock and roll and jazz music, respectively.
With a blinding speed and a pyrotechnic sonic fervor that flew like a blazing comet across the musical landscape, the power of Rhoads’ work is stunning. That he achieved so much success and spread an influence so wide at such a young age, (he was only 25 years old when he died) and with such a small amount of recorded material, is in itself an amazing feat. Possibly best remembered for the Ozzy staples “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley” (both on Blizzard of Ozz), Rhoads took what Ozzy had done in his previous band, Black Sabbath, and turned it inside out, no mean feat in itself. With his bone-crunching riffs, on top of walls of sound that would shake and rattle one’s teeth and soul, Rhoads played his Flying-V guitar like no one before or since and legions of fans to this day still try in earnest to capture the tones, attitude, and attack set forth by Rhoads, who in essence led a musical revolution he never even got a chance to witness ultimately due to that terrible day 30 years ago.
Randy Rhoads’ legacy will never be forgotten. Today is a day of mourning and remembering a sad tragedy for sure, but it can also be one of celebration. Radio stations, CD players, iPod’s, streaming radio websites, and MP3 players all around the world today should be blasting the one-two punch of this master, who will always remain timeless in the leather-clad, long-haired, fist-in-the-air minds of millions of heavy metal and hard rock fans globally. It’s important to reflect and grieve for sure, but even more important to celebrate the young legend by remembering what got him to these well deserved platitudes to begin with — his amazing and breathtakingly original approach to a genre that sometimes easily gets dismissed as a sonic dinosaur. For Randy Rhoads, he showed that a bit of flash, ingenuity, and sincere talent can make any genre rise unto itself.
RIP to Randy and raise a glass of ale with me and let’s toast the master. Now crank those records as loud as you can! Your neighbors will understand, they’ll have no choice…
RIP – Randy Rhoads
December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982
Video: Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads – Crazy Train
Postscript – Today also marks the 36th anniversary of the death of Paul Kossoff, another young guitarist who is best remembered for his work with English band Free, doing some nice fret board gymnastics himself on their top ten hit from 1970 “All Right Now.” Kossoff, another rock guitarist with much promise, but was marred with mental troubles and erratic behavior due to drug usage compounded by the breakup of Free (which later became Bad Company), died from a heart attack on an airplane en route to New York City from Los Angeles on March 19th, 1976. Kossoff, like Rhoads when he died, was also 25 years old. You can read our tribute to both Rhoads and Kossoff from last year here.