Randy Rhoads

Groupology

  • Quiet Riot
  • Ozzy Osbourne

Jurassic

 

Watch Randy Rhoads in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous For: Being one of the leading lights of the early 1980's metal renaissance. Accomplishing more on two albums than most would on a hundred. Being Ozzy's best guitarist to date. Reintroducing classical elements into the 80s metal framework. Rhoads also known for playing a polka dot custom Flying V, and being dwarfed by a cream Gibson Les Paul Custom.

Infamous For: Being tragically killed at the age of 25 on March 20th 1982 in a private plane crash. Spending hours on-end in the studio, triple-tracking his guitar solos. At his audition for Ozzy's "new band" Rhoads showed up with a only a tiny practice amp and began tuning up. He looked so slight and delicate that Ozzy asked him if he was gay. Rhoads quipped "No, I'm Church of England," and he got the gig on the spot! After hearing the hundreds who auditioned before him, one presumes Ozzy heard more in Randy than just his sense of humor and his tuning-up.

Influences

Obvious: Randy had such a unique sound that its hard to pinpoint obvious influences other than classical guitar. There's one player who kind of stands out in Randy's approach and that is Edward Van Halen whose influence you can hear in Randy's two handed tapping lines. Both players were playing the same circuit in the mid 1970s and they were certainly aware of each other, but Eddie got famous first.

Not-So-Obvious: This is where Randy's stated influences come in. Randy said his first and major influences were Leslie West of Mountain, Mick Ronson of David Bowie fame. West's high speed pentatonic work can be heard occasionally in Rhoads playing, whilst the Ronson influence may be visual — a similar blonde haircut and a white/cream Les Paul. However, it's unlikely a Bowie or Mountain fan would detect these influences in Randy's work on Blizzard or Diary. And stated or not, it's inconcieveable that Randy was oblivious to the way Blackmore and Schenker were using classical elements in heavy rock. Randy was also a fan of the early Alice Cooper albums.

Strengths

Riffs: Randy came up with so many classic riffs on just two albums that it still amazes. From the driving sixteenth note aggression of I Don't Know, to the demonic intro of Crazy Train, the syncopation of Steal Away (The Night) to the sheer coolness of S.A.T.O., Rhoads managed to combine catchy motifs with the power that makes you clench your fist and say "Yeah!".

Solos: Both Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman feature brilliant, and now classic, guitar solos. These solos are pretty much all composed, memorable, melodic stories within the song. The can be recalled and hummed from memory. And yet they are also plenty flashy and display quite accomplished chops. Each one is a true masterpiece. It's difficult to imagine anything else being played over these songs. Indeed, when guitarists play those songs, they don't mess with those solos. They play Randy's solos. Whether they're in cover bands or playing for Ozzy himself.

Focus and vision: Randy's work with Ozzy is consistently great. Every track shows Rhoads had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve on that track, and even the solo on Little Dolls which apparently is a rough scratch solo left on due to time constraints shows what Rhoads was capable of.

Randy's stellar guitar work, plus his death elevated him to legendary status. He left us with so little recorded work that we never had to endure down years, ill-conceived stylistic departures, blues albums, his hip-hop period, or the acoustic/classical guitar direction he was considering toward the end of his life.

Weaknesses

Does being a member of Quiet Riot count? If Randy had any playing weaknesses at all, they vanished between the time he recorded Blizzard and the time he recorded Diary. Whichever album you prefer, what's undeniable is that Randy had improved as a player between the two sessions. Sure, triple-tracking all those solos was anal as hell, but you can't argue with the results. One could point to the production on the Ozzy albums as being slightly lackluster but this was hardly Randy's fault, and does not detract any enjoyment from the music one iota.

As stated above Randy's stellar guitar work, plus his death elevated him to legendary status. We also never never got to enjoy anything wonderful Randy might have become freed from Ozzy's band. Great solo albums, well-conceived stylistic departures, etc. All we have is a handfull of tracks of Randy playing only one style of music. Fortunately it's metal. But we all know Randy had a lot more to offer. Whether we would have enjoyed it all is debateable.

Tone

Randy employed a pretty stock metal sound but he did achieve it slightly differently to other 'hot rod modders' of the time. Randy used stock Marshall heads, generally 100 watt Super Leads, one being an early 1970's non master volume and the other a late 70's master volume head (model # 1959). The amps were fed with several effects pedals. Distortion from an MXR Dist + coupled with a MXR EQ pedal (set to boost the mid range), other MXR pedals were used for colouring — mainly on cleaner parts like Goodbye To Romance. Randy also used a wah pedal as a booster ala Michael Schenker for certain lead phrases - particularly live. In truth Randy's tone was quite trebly, yet it had balls. In the studio, tonal thicknesss and a natural harmonizer-like effect came from triple-tracking his guitar parts (panned left, center, and right in the stereo field). Live, he ran a stereo rig pretty wet with chorus.

Randy had three main guitars: A cream Gibson Les Paul Custom (stock), a Karl Sandoval custom Polka Dot Flying V with a vintage style tremolo, and a custom Jackson V variant (the design that evloved into the Jackson Randy Rhoads model). The custom instruments were fitted with Duncan Distortion pickups in the bridge position. The Les Paul was Randy's main instrument, whilst the Polka Dot V was used for tracks that required tremolo bar work (mainly live). The inlay to "Tribute" shows a couple of Strat's in Randy's arsenal but I have never seen any live pictures or read anything to suggest this was used on the Ozzy material.

Guitar Style

Randy came from the "schooled" group of guitar players. He was a guitar teacher, and well-versed in music theory, harmony and music history (it helps when your parents run a music shop and school). For all intents and purposes Randy Rhoads had it all — exceptional guitar facility, exotic colourations and tangents, plus a highly individualised view of how rock and classical elements could merge in harmony. But beyond the theory, his style possesed a soul and persona that defies categorizations. Rhoads was continually refining and revitalizing his musicality with interesting, and for the time, daring ideas. He had an openness in his playing, fuelled by his insatiable appetite for knowledge, and a perfectionist attitude. Yet the knowledge never got in the way of him playing with great feeling and emotion.

As stated, Randy actually had a lot larger vocabulary than he actually used in Ozzy. The fact that his rhythm work with Ozzy was mostly pretty standard power chord fare shows that he could make even the most basic guitar parts come alive with little fills and nuances that made them special. For example, a briefly executed series of pull offs and hammer ons I Don't Know nearly always derived from the tonal center of the chord progression being a favourite. Randy knew how to compose in both major and minor keys — often within the same song. Crazy Train begins in F# minor before moving to its relative major of A for the verse riff. Classical influence can be heard frequently in the Rhoads repertoire — pedal points and arpeggios, the cycle of fifths in the solo sections of Mr. Crowley, the dark mysticism of Diary Of A Madman and this was always backed up confident solos, not to mention the beautiful classical instrumental Dee.

Randy pretty much blew everyone's mind when they first heard him; and his lead work is just as impressive today as when it was released 20 years ago. Combining Pentatonic work with phrases from Aeolian, Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian show what a master was at scale combining in the hard rock genre. He was particularly known for bringing the Diminished scale to Heavy Metal. However, Randy not only had the theory side down, but also the technique. Rapid fire alternate picking, superb left hand strength for hammer on/pull off licks that had authority and gave Randy's work its own unique sound. A uncanny knack for creating special effects with harmonics and manipulation of the pickup selector. Randy also brought a new sound to the two handed tapping technique. Eddie Van Halen mainly stuck to single note taps (combined with single hammer on's and pull offs), Rhoads upped the stakes by employing two taps in quick succession with the right hand followed by a double hammer on with the left ring or pinky. This technique gave the impression of more speed, but in truth is no more difficult than Van Halen's style. However, it made Randy sound different from Eddie; and if Eddie was the first guy you ever heard tapping, Randy was probably the second.

Vibrato

Randy normally employed a fast, stinging, medium pitch vibrato, similar to Tony Iommi's in some ways but sounding a lot more confident. It's a bit more even and controlled on Diary than it was on Blizzard, but Randy always knew when to use it to its full potential to add sizzle to a note — often at the end of a fast line. Some of the best examples of this vibrato can be heard on Randy's sublime outro solo on Tonight.

Randy Rhoads in Action

Recommended Listening

Quiet Riot

  • The Randy Rhoads Years - V V V (More to see how quickly he developed than for the material on offer).

Ozzy Osbourne

Profile by Andy Craven. Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved.