Randy Rhoads: Flying High
I met Randy Rhoads for the first time on August 14, 1981, in the guitar warm-up room at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island where Ozzy Osbourne was headlining. I remember listening to Blizzard of Ozz and thinking this guitarist is great: He is fluid in his technique, brilliant in his construction, hot as they come on the passion level, and out-of-the-box stylist. In the time it took to play one side of an album, I had a new favorite guitarist. I started out gushing all over him. At the time of the interview I felt I probably talked too much and didn't ask enough questions. But the tape of our conversation showed otherwise. Randy was quiet and attentive, and we got along well. Some things he said that night confused me because they were so unique. I couldn't fathom that he never owned a stereo. I didn't understand, at first, that they recorded Blizzard, toured Europe, came back and recorded Diary of a Madman, and then toured the States for Blizzard. And I was taken aback by his slightly English accent. The end result of this first meeting was that we became friends and would speak again from time to time informally on the phone.
Guitar.com: Rarely do I hear someone on first listening who knocks me out.
Randy Rhoads: Thank you, that's great. I've been playing about 18 years and I started to get a style when I started teaching. People wanted to learn everybody's licks, and at first it was okay. Then I thought, ?Wait a minute, you've got to get your own style.? So I started combining what they wanted to learn and just a bit of technique. I never did that, because I never had a stereo. I never copped licks off records. I never got to cop records because I didn't even have a record player. So by the time I got to teaching, I didn't want people to get to carry on doing that too long.
Guitar.com: Where did you get your licks?
Rhoads: From playing.
Guitar.com: You picked up the guitar without saying, ?I wish I could join the Who??
Rhoads: When I started liking rock, the only idol I had was Elvis Presley. I thought he was the greatest. I didn't realize what lead was all about at that age. I was too young to say, ?Oh, he plays great.? I started at 7 and I'm now 24. I tried lessons on and off, but I couldn't stick with it. I didn't have the patience. When I went back in my teens, I took classical. It did wonders for me.
Guitar.com: Why classical?
Rhoads: I just like it. I think it?s a real technical thing.
Guitar.com: How do you relate heavy metal flash to classical?
Rhoads: It's been going like that for a long time. Like Deep Purple ? I think that's very classically-influenced. It's heavy, but it's a way to bring melody in it, too.
Guitar.com: Is it incongruous to play hard and heavy, and then classical?
Rhoads: Most heavy metal is in sort of a minor tone. It's not very melodic in nature. So you can use a lot of minor in your leads, which automatically is very classical. The more you stem out from that, the more you find a lot of notes or chords, like diminished. You look for sounds that will match that, and most likely it will sound sort of classical.
Guitar.com: You were teaching up until Ozzy?
Rhoads: I learned more than ever by teaching. They come up with progressions and ask what kind of lead could I hear. I'd have to keep reverting to the scale. Sometimes they'd come up with questions I couldn't answer, so I'd learn licks. Every day, from every student, I'd learn something. I'd learn so much, it was great.
Guitar.com: You were playing outside of teaching as well, too?
Rhoads: Yeah. We were in a band called Quiet Riot. Rudy [Sarzo] was in it as well. He was the bass player. We used to gig pretty often in L.A. It was all originals. We had two albums in Japan, on CBS/Sony. After teaching, I would also rehearse and do gigs with this band. I was busy playing a lot. I got this offer, and I went.
Guitar.com: Did you like Black Sabbath?
Rhoads: I wasn't a big Sabbath fan, to be honest. They were great at what they did. Obviously they did it well, and made it huge. I respect that. Let's not go into it. But I wasn't a big fan. So anyway, I was kind of wary about auditioning because I'd never been to an audition. When I did come down, he said all these guys had Marshall stacks and Echoplexes. I brought a tiny practice amp. I started tuning 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."
Guitar.com: Why do you think he gave you the gig?
Rhoads: I don't know. Possibly he knew a certain sound he was looking for, and all these other players tried to show off too much. I didn't get a chance to show off. I just started making a few harmonics, and perhaps it was my personality, because I was really quiet and everybody [else] was too outgoing. I still don't know.
Guitar.com: What's your strength and what's your weakness?
Rhoads: Great question. I've never been asked that. My weakness is insecurity. I don't go up there every night with a lot of confidence. That's a weakness. If the sound is not right, I'll get paranoid. My weakness is my sound. I rely on it 100 percent. I don't know how to put it, but I'm still learning about what to feel on-stage. My strength is that I just want to keep getting better. My strength is my determination. I don't want to be satisfied with myself. Once you are, where are you going to go? You're gonna stay the same level. I want people to know me as a guitar player the way I knew other people. I've got to be honest: You asked, "What's your weakness?" My girlfriend distracts me. That's the real truth. I don't know if you should put that. Maybe you should say I get distracted easily.
Guitar.com: If the relationship is not going well, or if she says, "Come on over"?
Rhoads: Both. That's one thing that can take me away from my instrument, which never happened in my past.
Guitar.com: Fantasize five years ahead.
Rhoads: Five years ahead? I would love to have people know me as a guitar hero. I'd like to be able to do something more instrumental. 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.
Guitar.com: Who was important to you?
Rhoads: Leslie West. Great feel, really moody and powerful. He was one of my favorites. Beck, because he can do anything. He can play one note and it's great. I rarely hear him play fast. Blackmore was great -- I loved his expression. I loved B.B. King. I like Michael Schenker's playing a lot. I liked Ronnie Montrose with Edgar Winter a lot. I liked the way he bends. I could never bend like he could. His vibrato. I liked Earl Klugh a lot. I like Steve Lukather's playing. I liked all the English players in the ?70s. They had a lot of vibrato. That sound influenced me a lot. Kids always say, ?You know when so-and-so does this?? I say, ?Yeah, it's great,? but I don't know. I don't have any rock player's albums.
Guitar.com: Give me a short guitar lesson. What helps your technique?
Rhoads: I used to have my students practice hammering up and down the neck, going through all the frets with the four fingers and picking each string once. Going from the first fret, all the way down the strings, then up the next fret then down the next. If you do that every day, you build up a lot of strength. Do it with the amp on. Do it clean -- don't do it with the fuzz, that's cheating.
Guitar.com: What about for the right hand?
Rhoads: I always practiced a lot of double picking. Not so much trying to be a flash picker. Take a few notes and play them normal, and then try to syncopate it by alternating the strokes. I used to do that a lot, too. The main thing is to take it as comes. Don't try to do too much too soon. Get to know your own style. It's important.
Guitar.com: You still have to push yourself.
Rhoads: Oh sure, you can't be lazy. You have to want to play. You have to love the guitar. I did. As a matter of fact, I was afraid of competition, because I thought everybody was better than me. It was so close to me, I would think anybody's great. Therefore I couldn't cop any licks. Because I would be copying from everybody. I just learned it on my own.
Guitar.com: Diary of a Madman was recorded eight months after Blizzard? Do you give Diary as much stock as Blizzard?
Rhoads: The first album, none of us had played together. It was everything at once. We were putting the band together, writing the songs and being in the studio at the same time. So the energy was there in the first album. The material wasn't. The second, we were really trying to get some sort of direction. We were thinking more in terms of songs than just jam sort of things. I would say on this second album we put a lot more energy into the songwriting part of it. Where the first album was, ?Turn it up to 10 and if it feels good, play it.? To be honest, that album, to me, was a bit rushed. In other words, we didn't have as much time to write it. The material came out shining, but I was a bit lost for licks. I didn't have time to think of ideas. It all happened so quickly. We did the first album, went on tour, came back and did the second one. It couldn't have been a whole year, now that I think about it. I think it was within six months, actually. On the second album I was just wrapped up in the middle of everything to the point where I couldn't get a hold on it. I have to say that a lot of things lack feeling to me. It's sort of like, ?Play anything you can think of.? I like what I played on "Diary" and "Over the Mountain." I like the song called "Rock and Roll." Other than that, it just all seems a bit ordinary to me, like anybody else.
Guitar.com: Ozzy said you mentioned having a tutor on the road.
Rhoads: I was wondering if it's been done. I was thinking the only way I could keep myself together on the road, and keep practicing and keep playing, is to have a teacher sort of thing every day. Besides the fact that the cost would be ridiculous, I was wondering if someday it would be possible to do. What I'm finding now is, I go on the road, and aside from gigging, I'm not really sure what I want to do. I don't know if I want to stay in and practice or go out. I need something to keep me there, some responsibility. I'm sort of bored with my own playing. I'll pick up a guitar and it seems like it's the same thing now. I need total stimulation from somewhere? I think, "Okay, you've got to sit down and play every day, and you'll accidentally come up with things." That's true. If you sit with the guitar long enough every day, you're gonna come up with stuff and you're gonna improve. But sometimes it's hard to put yourself in that frame of mind.
Guitar.com: Eddie Van Halen locks himself in the closet and plays for hours.
Rhoads: I do that. That's the best way. Sometimes I'll go down to the gig way early and sit in the tune-up room all day. But I'm finding that I'm losing my control on that right now. If I had a tutor, it would sort of be a responsibility. I'm paying this guy and it's my commitment to keep at it. This is all new to me, and now I'm in my second year and going through the biz changes, how to stay on top of yourself.
Guitar.com: Has the spotlight made it harder for you as a player?
Rhoads: No, but what has happened, though, is I feel like it's brought to my attention that I've really got to start getting a hold on it now. I'm totally shocked that it happened, and it changes [everything]. Now I've got to get it together. It's no longer just ?Try your best.? You've got to be great now. It's a weird thing. All of a sudden you're under a different kind of pressure. It's a pressure that you've always got to be better than yourself, which is a difficult thing to be. What do they do on the road? Eddie is great. I don't want to get near competing with people like that? The main thing I'm going through is how to get more back to being a musician than being in a big band. That's my biggest problem. To get back to being a player and get away from -- I don't want to say [being a] rock star, because I'm not. But I do want to get away from the distractions of success.