Click here for Part 2 of the interview.
On March 19, 1982, a horrible tragedy struck the rock world. Randy Rhoads, the trail- (and fret!) blazing guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, died in an airplane crash in Leesburg, Florida. For the music world, it was the loss of a unique and virtuosic talent. For the Rhoads family in North Hollywood, California, the loss was much more personal. Randy was the baby of the family: beloved son to his mother Delores (serenaded as “Dee” on the Blizzard of Ozz album) and kid brother to elder brother Kelly and sister Kathy.
The Rhoads family were — and are — a tight-knit bunch. For the past 28 years, even as they have thrived with the family music school, Kelly’s own musical pursuits and Kathy’s successful vineyard, they have always dedicated time, attention and love to Randy’s legacy. With Gibson paying tribute to Randy Rhoads this week with the release of the Randy Rhoads Les Paul Custom, Gibson.com sat down with Kelly and Kathy to talk about Randy’s life and that ever-growing legacy.
What was the age separation between the three of you?
Kelly: I am the eldest and Kathy is the middle child and Randy was the baby.
What was your household like growing up? I presume it was very musical.
Both: Yes, it was.
Kathy: We had no stereo, believe it or not.
Kelly: We didn’t have a record player because my mom wouldn’t buy us one.
Kathy: Everybody played their own music around our house.
Kelly: We had to do our own; we were our own record player.
That’s interesting. Were you a little out of touch with things like The Beatles?
Kelly: Not at all, because we had radio and television. We listened to what our friends listened to.
Was rock ‘n’ roll a big thing in your household?
Kathy: Definitely, especially The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when they first came out. My brothers used to go into the garage and imitate them.
Kelly: Yeah, we had our little bands and we would jam in the garage, and that eventually led to the first band we were in and all that. I would say there was a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, yeah.
Your mother obviously owned and operated a music school.
Kelly: She still does, and it is still in operation. Not too many students, though.
How big is it these days, in terms of students?
Kelly: Probably less than 60 students now. At one time there was more than 250.
What effect did that have on you guys and Randy, in particular, as you were growing up?
Kathy: We hung out there all the time.
Kelly: Yeah, we went there all the time and kind of grew up there.
Kathy: We took our lessons there. Everyone took a lesson of some sort, so every Friday we went there.
Kelly: Yeah, we went and had the lessons and the band would perform.
Kathy: Like a dance band or an ensemble. I had friends that would come in as we got older.
Kelly: Yeah, we would set the place up sometimes on Friday nights and have chairs, and people would come and we would put on little shows and stuff like that.
Is it safe to say that The Beatles had the same effect on you guys that it did the rest of the world except, because you were in a musical family, it became a bridge between what your mom did —and your family history of studying music — and actually something that touched your life?
Kelly: Well, yeah. [Randy] was influenced by them. But when they broke at first, he was pretty young, a little child. I was not even twelve-years old yet, and they made a very big impression on me.
Kathy: Kelly's impression made an impression on Randy and I because he was the first [child]. He made the initiative and we kind of followed in his footsteps of being influenced by what he did.
Kelly: Yeah, my sister is right about that. I was influenced by The Beatles, so I influenced Randy and my sister, because you know how the older child says, "This is really cool," and they go, "Okay, let's see what he thinks is cool." So it was one of those kinds of things.
Randy started playing when he was how young?
Kelly: Six years of age.
Can you tell me about his first guitar?
Kathy: The first one he ever played on was that old Gibson.
Kelly: My mom’s father who was a doctor played guitar as a hobby, and he had an old dark 1918 Gibson Army/Navy special. My brother discovered that guitar and started playing on it.
Kathy: That was the beginning of his guitar playing. We still have that guitar. It's in my mom's bedroom.
Kelly: It doesn’t even say Gibson where the tuner thingies are. It says it inside the guitar.
You were mentioning how, as an older brother, you had an effect on Randy’s musical taste. What are some of the records you shoved in his face? What are some of the concerts you took him to?
Kelly: Well this story is getting pretty well known by now but I don’t get tired of hearing it. In 1971 I decided that Alice Copoer was the one with the right idea. That was the man. I made my brother and Kelli, my brother’s friend, go to see the Alice Cooper show in Long beach – the place has been torn down and doesn’t even exist anymore. We went to the Long Beach Auditorium – we say the Love It to Death tour, where he does “Eighteen.” That made a profound impression on Randy. I know from that point on he decided that this was something that he could do. He thought, “I could do this. I can be this bizarre and play this good.” What can I say? Full circle. When I met him, Alice said he would have loved if Randy would have been in his band. A couple of years later, in 1973, we snuck into where Alice was doing a concert to promote Billion Dollar Babies, and we absolutely insisted – and wouldn’t take no for an answer – that we were going to be the roadies, or help the roadies. We were so persistent and such pest that they let us do it. We sold our tickets and helped set the show up.
So it’s about this time that Randy's musical taste started drifting more towards hard rock and what would become heavy metal? Or does that go back even earlier?
Kelly: It started around that time. There were a couple of other groups that we liked, and they all tended to be like super hard rock with a theatrical image.
Groups like who?
Kelly: KISS to an extent, a little bit; like the first KISS record. Queen. We discovered Queen and the very first Queen record. We liked them a whole lot. Silverhead, a band that had Michael Des Barres in it, who eventually was the singer in Detective. Another band that I liked a whole lot but was a little bit later – and a perfect example of that kind of thing – was Widowmaker, a Jett Records band with Ariel Bender in it. We liked Pretty Things. We liked Iggy and the Stooges, even before Raw Power. We liked that kind of stuff.
Tell me about you guys going to see David Bowie and Mick Ronson?
Kelly: That’s a pretty interesting story because that’s where Randy got the idea to get that Gibson. In 1972, David Bowie came to Los Angeles and played at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was only two thirds full, and he did the whole Spiders from Mars [album]. That’s where Randy saw Ronson with that white Les Paul. At that time, Randy had a black SG. When he got rid of [his black SG], he looked for a guitar like Mick Ronson had, and he found it at a Guitar Center. That’s the ‘74 Gibson Custom that you guys are copying for Randy. He bought it at Guitar Center slightly used.
What do you remember about when he acquired that guitar? It’s always a big thing when you're a young guy and you get a really nice guitar. Do you have a lot of memories with him sitting in his room...
Kelly: Are you talking about the white guitar?
Kelly: The memory that comes to mind immediately is him getting ready for his Starwood show and how carefully he was restringing it. He liked to use, I guess, a heavy gauge, like tens or nine gauge on the strings, and he would string that Gibson so carefully and treat it like it was so precious. I remembered that immediately when I think of that guitar. When we pulled it out for Pat to see, when I looked at it, I thought immediately of him restringing the guitar in the kitchen for one of his many Starwood shows. How he touched it so carefully, he just loved that guitar. There is no doubt about it that was the guitar of his life.
Is this the Violet Fox Days?
Kelly: No he didn’t have that guitar then. Actually, during the Violet Fox days, my dad used to be a rep for Gretch and Ovation. When my dad was a rep for Ovation, he got Randy a red, don’t know the model, it was an electric hollow body. He was using that at that time. He didn’t use that guitar all that long.
What was that band like? You were on drums, right?
Kelly: I was on drums and the band was pretty much like Alice Cooper really. I was on drums, Randy was on guitar.
Did you guys gig much? He was like 14 or so at the time, right?
Kelly: Yeah. I was about 18 or 19, and Randy was like 14 or around there. We would put on shows at Smithsonia, and we actually did a pretty elaborate thing where we... My mom had all these chairs because of these bands, little jazz bands and dance orchestras that she had. So we would put every single chair and couch and bench that we had and invite people, and that was the audience. It was more than just a couple of people. It was more people than at the Whiskey now-a-days. They have like 7 bands, and they charge each one of them like $500 to play. There were a lot more people at a Violet Fox show, let me tell you. We had fun.
How did the transition happen where Randy sort of fell away from that group? How did Quiet Riot start up?
Kelly: Well, there is a big gap there between Violet Fox and Quiet Riot. What happened is, you know siblings sometimes… Randy and I didn’t really stay in a band together for very long, truth be told. It was very short lived. I wanted to go from drums to singing, which my brother thought was a ridiculous idea. He thought I completely sucked.
Kathy: Because you were such a good drummer.
Kelly: Randy really liked the way I drummed. He goes, "Why would you want to do that? You’re kind of an (expletive) to do that." And I didn’t care; I just wanted to be the frontman.
You are still doing frontman stuff right?
Kelly: Yeah, sometimes, but not as much. I write music for classical piano, and there is almost zero interest in that, so every once in a while I will get an offer to do a little of the frontman stuff and sing a few Riot songs and blah blah blah. If it pays good enough I’ll do it. I just got to tour Japan in March because of that.
What do you remember about Quiet Riot? How did Randy develop over those years as a guitar player?
Kelly: Well there were a lot of bands before Quiet Riot if truth be told.
Well fill in the gaps for me.
Kelly: There was a band called the Katzenjammer Kids. They had a band called The Horror, and my brother had the tallest platform shoes I had ever seen in my life. It looked like he was half leg and half stilts. That was a very significant band, very glittered out, very glam, because that was the first band where Randy played in Hollywood. He actually got into Rodney Bingenheimer, who is a ridiculous local figure [L.A. disc jockey]. He got in and was playing at Rodney’s English disco club in that band. There was also a band he was in for a short while called Mildred Pierce. So you’ve got three bands, actually almost four bands, and a lot of different experiments before he actually formed Quiet Riot. Randy formed Quiet Riot. He didn’t come up with the idea for the name, but he did start the band that became Quiet Riot, and he did pick the people that were in it.
Do you know what sort of the process he used to pull guys in? I assume that Kelly Garni was playing bass, right?
Kelly: Kelly was kind of like my brother’s sidekick, and with all those bands I just named, the two people that were the common denominator were Kelly and Randy. The rest of the people, the drummers and the singers, were on a rotating scale. So Randy and Kelly auditioned Kevin [DuBrow] right in my mom's dining room, while my mom was in the kitchen. So he came to the house and Drew, the drummer in the band, he was like a stage drummer, like a jazz drummer at Burbank High, which is one of the high schools here in our town. My brother knew of him and they asked him to join the band. That’s where all the members came from.
Were they a pretty good band right from the start, or did it take a little bit of work to sort of move it into place? Or was it like lightning in a bottle right away?
Kelly: Certainly not that. They got better. It’s just that that was a power pop band. Even when they got management, they got molded into form. What the management wanted was to create another Sweet. They wanted another band like The Sweet, and Randy and Kelly, especially when Randy and I played together, we were into hard, heavy rock like Sabbath type of stuff. Ironically, Randy didn’t like Black Sabbath at all. I was the Sabbath fan. In fact, that was the first question I asked him after his first audition. "Did you see those letters on his hand that say ‘OZZY’?" And Randy goes, "Yeah!" I said, "Did you crack up?" And Randy goes, "Yeah!" He didn’t like Sabbath, but I did.
Was he doing stuff – like with finger-tapping – before Van Halen came out?
Was it a little disappointing for him to have someone else kind of...
Kelly: No. And that’s something I’m glad you brought up. A lot of people try to invent this competition. Randy thought Eddie was a good player. He thought he was really good, and he liked him. He wasn’t like in any kind of competition or contest with him at all.
Kathy: He always thought Eddie had his own style, and Randy thought he had his own style, and he didn’t think it was fair to compare them because he thought they were different and unique within themselves.
Kelly: If you asked Randy back then who the hot guitar player in L.A. was, he wouldn’t have said himself or Eddie. He would have said George Lynch. Randy really looked up to him. He thought he had a tremendous amount of talent.
George Lynch is a heck of a player. Yeah, that’s true – I had forgotten he was part of that scene as well.
Kelly: Randy really liked him, and if you asked Randy what guitar player in this town is really hot, the first thing he would say was George Lynch. When he left to go play with Ozzy, George Lynch took over his students at Musonia.
Kathy: I think Rudy Sarzo played there, too.
Kelly: Yeah, Rudy Sarzo taught bass there, too, because after they got rid of Kelly, they got Rudy in Quiet Riot, and he was the bass teacher for awhile.
Rudy later joined Ozzy, too.
Kelly: Yeah, Randy got Rudy in Ozzy. Randy wanted Rudy and Frankie Banali in Ozzy, and Sharon said you can only have one. They had recently negotiated a deal with Tommy Aldridge, who they wanted in the band for a long time. Sharon always wanted to work with him, so he was available, and they said the one you are going to get is Rudy. Randy brought him in that band.
Check back in with Gibson.com tomorrow for Part 2 of the Randy Rhoads Family Interview where Randy’s brother and sister discuss his time with Ozzy, how Randy’s former band Quiet Riot felt about him quitting to play with Ozzy, and what they believe Randy’s ultimate legacy will be.
Photo Credit: Jay Banbury