For 30 years, Randy Rhoads fans have been left to ponder what the beloved guitarist might have gone on to achieve, had he not died tragically in a plane crash in 1982. Andrew Klein can’t answer that question, but he can authoritatively address nearly any other subject related to Rhoads’ life and career. Working with veteran music scribe Steven Rosen and former Rhoads guitar student Peter M. Margolis, Klein has just published a 400-plus-page coffee table book — titled, simply, Randy Rhoads — that teems with insights from those who knew Rhoads best. Fleshed out with hundreds of rare photos, the book presents a portrait of a virtuoso guitarist whose six-string wizardry was matched by a humble spirit and a deep affection for those in his inner circle. In this first installment of a two-part interview, Klein talks about Rhoads’ relationship with Ozzy Osbourne, his eclectic musical tastes and why he continues to be such a revered figure.
What kickstarted the idea to write a book about Rhoads?
I was working on a different project with Peter M. Margolis, who was a good friend of Randy’s. Randy was Peter’s guitar teacher. We decided to do this together through that association. I was very familiar with Randy’s story. I’ve been obsessed with him since I was 12, so I knew I could write a book, although I didn’t know if it would be any good. When we finished, we were pleased but we knew it could be much better. That’s when I was introduced to Steven Rosen, who’s a brilliant writer, someone who’s seasoned and experienced. He helped me express myself, and he brought the book up to a much higher level. It became what it is, thanks to him.
How did you come to be obsessed with Randy, back when you were so young?
I started playing guitar when I was 8. I was 10 when the Blizzard of Ozz album came out. I liked it very much and was quite taken with Randy’s playing. And then, when Diary of a Madman came out, that was when the Blizzard of Ozz tour started. I started seeing more photos of Randy and started to read more about him. At that point I became all in – just a huge, huge fan. I started cutting pictures of him out of magazines and putting them in a photo album, and I read everything I could find about him. As I was learning to play, he was my hero. He inspired me more than anyone else.
Was the goal, with the book, to consolidate his story, or was it to flesh out his story and uncover facts that were previously unknown?
It was to present his story, from birth to death, and chronicle his legacy. We wanted to offer his complete story, and I think we did a good job of that. We were fortunate to be able to sit and talk with the people who knew him best – his fiancé, Jodi Vigier, his best friend and fan club president, Lori Hollen, his close friend, Kim McNair, his guitar tech, Brian Reason, and his close friend, Ron Sobol, who was also his personal photographer. These people had never spoken publicly about Randy, before they sat and talked with us. They helped us get to know Randy. We’ve read many stories about his years in Ozzy’s band, and his work on “Mr. Crowley” and “Diary Of A Madman” and other things. Those stories have become legend, or lore. We wanted to explain who Randy was, to explain what made him tick, how he thought, and how he felt about things. No one had done that before.
What did you discover about him that surprised you?
That he was deeply romantic, for one thing. Who could have known that, other than his fiancé? Also, how funny he was. When he was on-stage, with his guitar, there was a certain persona that went along with that. Unless you were on the bus with him, or in a movie theater, or in some situation like that, you didn’t see his humor. I thought I knew everything there was to know about him, before writing the book, but what I knew had come only from reading magazines. Spending time and developing friendships with those who knew him best allowed us to present his story in a complete way.
Would fans be surprised by some of his listening habits?
Yes. In the early days, it was artists like Leslie West and Alice Cooper and Boston and Mick Ronson-era David Bowie – bands like that. By the time he was in Ozzy’s band, he had a much more diverse library of listening preferences. At the time he died, “In the Air Tonight,” the Phil Collins song, was his favorite. He also loved Christopher Cross, and “Brick House,” by The Commodores. The artist he listened to most, however, was Earl Klugh.
Randy gets tremendous credit for bringing the neo-classical style to rock guitar. Did he himself see pioneers who came before him – other players who had opened up that path?
He did, yes. He felt there was a great deal of classical presence in the things Ritchie Blackmore was playing. And he loved Michael Schenker. Schenker was one of Randy’s favorite players. He and Blackmore were huge influences on Randy’s playing.
What was his relationship with Ozzy like?
What’s already known is generally pretty accurate. Randy really liked Ozzy and had a lot of respect for him, and he was deeply appreciative of the opportunities Ozzy gave him. Randy had made the decision to quit the band, but that wasn’t because of anything personal, and it wasn’t because Sharon [Osbourne] had come along. He had signed on to play in a band, and then it became an Ozzy Osbourne solo project, but even that wasn’t the reason he wanted to leave. He wanted to leave because there was a wealth of opportunities being presented to him, that he wanted to pursue.
What were those opportunities?
He wanted to go to school and get a Masters degree in classical music. And he wanted to go back to teaching, and taking lessons. He wanted to make a solo record. All these opportunities were being presented, and he felt restricted, having to get up on-stage every night and play “Crazy Train.” He had been doing that for 2-1/2 years and he didn’t want to do it anymore. But that had nothing to do with Ozzy as a person, or as a friend. Those who knew Randy best told us Randy truly liked and respected Ozzy very much.
Where are Randy’s Les Pauls, today?
His family has them, safely put away. The black one, with three humbuckers, is an original ’57 that he found in pristine condition. And of course the cream-colored Les Paul is a 1974. It was bought for Randy as a gift from Quiet Riot’s manager at the time, Dennis Wageman. Randy insisted on paying him back for it. Dennis didn’t want to take the money, but ultimately agreed. Randy paid $850 for that guitar in 1975.
What about the Gibson Army-Navy acoustic guitar, the guitar he first learned to play on?
His family still has that one as well. They've never parted with anything of his. I don’t know what their future plans are for his belongings, but I am sure they have his best interests at heart.
What is it about Randy that makes him so important to people, beyond his talent on guitar?
Guitar heroes — whether it’s Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan or even players who are still with us — are generally loved for their guitar playing, and it pretty much stops there. Most of their fans don’t have the type of obsession people have with Randy. He was incredibly charismatic. There was a quality about him that was similar to what James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and John Lennon had, something intangible that made him very different and very special. And I think that translated through his guitar playing. We love his guitar playing in part because we love him. Nobody acted like him, nobody talked like him and nobody thought like him. He was a teacher, at his core. Whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, or in whatever endeavor you pursue, he inspires you to do what you do even better. That's why we love him. He constantly worked hard to better himself instead of being satisfied with where he was. We could all use a little bit of that mentality in our everyday lives.
Photo: Daniel Larsen