Randy Rhoads: 35 years later

Strap in, kids; this is a long one. 

Thirty five years ago, I wasn't aware of Randy Rhoads (that happened a year after he passed), and I certainly couldn't fathom how much of an impact he'd have on my life. 

One afternoon in the spring of 1983. I was at my friend Kurt Floody's house in Lombard, Illinois. We used to hang out a lot and play sports with the other kids in the neighborhood, listen to music, and draw cartoon "all star band jams" depicting our favorite musicians juxtaposed into supergroup concert settings.  This particular day, we were listening to Quiet Riot's Metal Health album, and as I was looking at the back of the cover, I saw a little dedication to the memory of Randy Rhoads. Looking over my left shoulder, I asked "Hey, who's Randy Rhoads?"

Of course, I remember this in a more dramatic and fun manner; the sound of him taking the needle off of the record is the loudest sound ever produced in history. However, Kurt's a guy who takes care of things; he'd never be so careless to ruin a record like that. Instead, without saying a word, he took Metal Health off of the turntable, placed another record on the turntable, put the needle down, and then Over the Mountain happened. 

The opening drum fill popped my eyes open, but nothing could have prepared me for the moment I heard that guitar riff. Holy. Fuck. What. Is. This? And then, the solo? Forget it, I was done. Hooked. Flying High Again comes on, and then Believer, and then, and then, and then...you get the point. This was like when I was eight or nine and I saw a photo of Ace Frehley with smoke pouring out of his Les Paul and was compelled to play guitar, or when I heard Van Halen for the first time, but on a whole other level.

After the final notes of Diary of a Madman, Kurt took the record off, put on Blizzard of Ozz, and after being thrilled that there was more to hear, I asked, "What's this song called?" Kurt said "I Don't Know," which confused me. "How do you not know what this song is called?" "...no, dumbass, it's called I Don't Know," "...ohhhhh, okay."

Crazy Train, Goodbye to Romance, Mr. Crowley, Revelation (Mother Earth), all of it was so wonderful. The Mr. Crowley picture disc was last, and it had live versions of Mr. Crowley (which has a different ending from what they later morphed it to become), Suicide Solution, and a b-side called You Said it All (which is one of my favorites) recorded at soundcheck. Kurt even made me a copy of the Ozzy concert from the King Biscuit Flower Hour (which was called "Supergroups"). Too cool. I had the greatest guitar hero in the world, and then I remembered the notes on the back of the Quiet Riot album; "This album is dedicated to the memory of Randy Rhoads." And just like that, he was gone.

From then on, I'd seek out anything I could get my hands on that was Randy related; obviously, I bought Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, and ordered back issues of any magazine that made mention of him. I'd draw cartoons of him, and hoped that one day, I'd have a Jackson Randy Rhoads V like his (I used to draw cartoons of "future rock star Sully" playing one. I remember that I had a 1983 calendar from WLUP (a Chicago rock radio station) and Ozzy was in it; he was pulling Randy's head back, so you couldn't really see his face; mostly the guitar. I tore the photo out and hung it on my wall, and later moved it to a photo album where I kept Randy related photos from various magazines (I'd buy 2-3 copies whenever I could; one to keep intact, and the extras were to cut photos from). I even had a sweatshirt airbrushed with a photo of him from his time in Quiet Riot. Totally wish I still had it, but a photo exists. Too bad digital cameras weren't around then; I could have had a shot with my eyes open. :)

Things kinda continued along that path, and I remember being so excited when the Tribute album came out when I was in high school; there was a video for Crazy Train, and it was the most surreal thing to see Randy actually move. I know that sounds odd, but all I knew were photos. Getting a video copy of the After Hours tv appearance was the greatest, but the camera work reflects the style of the time; there seemed to be an attitude of "yeah, it's totally okay to film the bass player while the guitar solo is happening", but whatever, it existed, and it was great. In 1992, Jackson announced a limited edition of 200 guitars to be made like the white pinstripe V. I was 20 at the time, and didn't really have the money for it, but my dad and I figured out a way to make it happen. I bought it on June 24, 1992 (Hm....6/24. Kinda sounds like a Sully model, eh?) and I have it to this day.

As life shifted toward building guitars in the early aughts, Randy's influence persisted. Part of the reason I build guitars is that white pinstripe V; it was just the coolest guitar, and a fantastic example of the era of hot rodded, custom guitars. There were a lot of "new" designs back then; be it body shapes, or new technology. Of course, time and history has shown things that have endured (the Rhoads body shape is one of the most iconic in hard rock/metal guitar history) and things that have fallen by the wayside (I'm looking at you, Washburn Wonderbar). Granted, when I started building guitars, I didn't set out to create the next iconic guitar, and who knows where Sully Guitars will land in the greater scheme of it all, but as Mr. J once told me "we just try to make the next guitar better than the one before it." 

At the same time, I found the Jackson/Charvel Forum, which was a small community of enthusiasts (like all forums, really). It was there where I got to learn more about the history of the brand, but in making friends and connections, I got to know some of the people who built the guitars that I love dearly. A lot of what Sully Guitars is today started with the friends I made there, and I can say with certainty that I don't know what my life would look like had I not found that place. 

Along with the JCF, I found a couple of Randy themed message boards and groups. It was on the Thunderbird Yahoo! Group (remember them?) where I met a fellow Randy fan and budding guitar builder named Perry Ormsby. We've been pals for years, and our friendship has deepened to a family-like level. But it started because of Randy. 

2016 Tribute, 1992 Jackson Tribute, 2016 Sully '71 Trella

When the '71 eventually became more than pencil drawings, I wanted to create some kind of special Randy tie-in, but of course, I'd never build a copy of the white V or any of his other guitars. While running errands with Mrs. Sully one Sunday, I had the idea to take the iconic pinstripes and adapt them to the '71 body shape. In part of creating the 2016 Tribute Series, I was able to have the guitars painted in Grover's shop. To take it one step further, they were painted by Ernie Pedragon, the man who striped Randy's original white v. When Grover and I were building the '71 Trellas, I had Ernie stripe one for me, but in a reverse color scheme. It seemed like a fun thing to do, and it also served the purpose to show that the pinstripe and headstock color of Randy's guitar was metallic midnight blue; not black, as what we thought for years. 

I'm a reflecting, sentimental type of guy at times like today, and I often think of how much of my life is tied to that moment in Kurt's basement when I heard Randy's playing for the first time. It absolutely changed me. I learned how to play his music and have spent years trying to be able to play a certain phrase properly (or as best as I'm ever going to). I once got up the nerve to call Musonia and I briefly chatted with Mrs. Rhoads on the phone one rainy November evening in 1998. After a gig in Memphis, I met someone who was in one of the last photos of him (she's on the right, outside of the bus after Randy played his last show in Knoxville, TN). I've been lucky to get to know Andrew Klein, who created the greatest Randy related book, ever. Visiting Musonia, as well as his resting place in San Bernardino. Walking the grounds in Leesburg, Florida where the terrible crash happened (which was oddly serene). Chatting with Grover and Ernie about Randy. Building my own guitars with Grover and becoming friends. Getting to hold some of the guitars Randy used while he was in Quiet Riot. It's surreal, to say the least, and I know that I'm very fortunate to have those experiences. My life was so profoundly impacted by the music that he created in his very short life, and I'm forever grateful.

Thanks Kurt, thanks Perry, thanks Grover, thanks Mrs. Sully, thank you for being interested (on any level) in what I do, and thanks Randy. I hope I did ya proud.

Never underestimate the power of the arts. 


Randy Rhoads remembered

31 years ago today, Randy Rhoads was killed in a plane crash in Leesburg, FL. I uploaded this video on 3/19/11 in tribute. Learning to play Randy's material is challenging, and has been a lifelong journey of sorts. I know I don't do his work justice, but I'm grateful for the years of inspiration that his music has given. Here's a recording I did of I Don't Know a few years back.

Two fantastic Randy Rhoads books available now!

 It's no secret that I grew up a huge fan of Randy Rhoads and I would always be on the lookout for magazines he'd be featured in, or any other memorabilia I could get my hands on, and I still have all of it to this day. 

 I learned in early 2012 that two coffee table style books about Randy would be released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of his tragic death, and I was elated and pre-ordered each book as soon as I could. 

 Each book offers hundreds of beautifully laid out pages containing many never-before seen photos and first hand stories from those that knew him best. When each book arrived, my day was made and I've spent hours enjoying them. It's obvious that these books were labors of love, and really are a must own item for any fan of Randy Rhoads.

  I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with Andrew Klein at the Arlington Guitar show this past October, and it was a true pleasure chatting about Randy. In speaking with him, I quickly learned how much love he has for the project.

Anyway, I've listed the books in the store here, but I have no affiliation with the publishers; I'm just sharing links to the publisher's websites to get the word out. So check them out and order your copies; you'll be glad you did.


Eight years. Wow.

I had a great day building guitars today, and I have to think that some of it is because of this day; December 8th. The anniversary of the death of John Lennon and Dimebag Darrell of Pantera. To me, Dime's passing is second to the passing of Randy Rhoads - only because Dime had more of a musical legacy left behind than Randy. I wasn't a Pantera fan, but one day in 2003, while walking through the NAMM convention, I passed the Washburn booth. Dime was signing autographs at the time, and while I wasn't in line, he saw me and my Ace Frehley tattoo and said "Hey brother, c'mere!" We talked about Ace for a minute, and he showed me his Ace tattoo, and I had quite a smile that day as a result. I LOVE his cover of Ace's "Fractured Mirror" and his cover of Ozzy's "Believer" (with Sebastian on vocals - could you ASK for anything better?) is so great. Dime was equal parts wonderful guitar player and person. I grew to love Pantera because of my NAMM moment, but the other thing is that you can hear how much fun he was having when he played. When I hear his cover of Fractured Mirror and Believer, I hear the music, but I SEE him smiling and having the best time playing the music of his (and my) heroes. check it out for yourself. 


Fractured Mirror:


Who is Ozzy's best guitar player?

Randy Rhoads is the best guitar player that Ozzy has played with. Here's why:

 When it comes to song writing, time has shown that Randy wins that contest, based on set lists alone. When you compare Randy, Jake, Zakk, Gus G, I forgo the "memorable solos" part because that's more relative. IMO, Randy wins that, but I can hum any Jake or Zakk solo as well. Instead, let's look at composition and what was going on in the background. Listen to Revelation (Mother Earth), but not during the obvious solo part, but the piano solo; Randy had a TON of things going on behind it that is just fantastic. The breakdown in I Don't Know is another example. That sort of thing is a common thread throughout those first two solo records. To his credit, Randy mixed a lot of those parts into one part that flowed (and changed, depending on the gig, based on the bootlegs) nicely. So much so, that you don't notice anything missing. When I think of the guys that came after, those things don't really happen. Killer of Giants is the only tune that comes to mind that had a bunch of different intertwined parts going, so refresh my memory if I'm overlooking something. As far as the recordings go, Randy tripled his solos, and it doesn't seem that anyone else has since then. Granted, all of those guys are certainly talented enough to do it, but didn't. 

 Behind him, I'd say that Jake would follow. I think that Jake had a lot against him in that he was only in the band because Randy died; yes, Randy was going to leave the band, but his passing obviously forced the issue. Jake did a killer job on Bark at the Moon; and while the Ultimate Sin has its standouts, it pales in comparison to Blizzard and Diary (which even benefitted from the songwriting talents of Bob Daisley, as did some of the Zakk era). Jake also wasn't super into the Ozzy style and had to change his style to that feel. Guys my age will remember interviews with Jake when he said that he'd write certain stuff for Ozzy and keep certain things for himself (what became Badlands). He was doing his best in Randy's house, as Zakk would later on..... :) Also, you'll remember that when The Ultimate Sin came out, Ozzy went hair metal; look at those videos. :) NOTE: I loved those records and I don't have a bias against them. While there were some great moments (and I love Jake), time has shown that the Jake era hasn't held up as well as his predecessor. Jake, a great player, was a victim of timing. 

 And then we have Zakk Wylde; Zakk cut his teeth on Randy and Jake, was considered a Randy lookalike, and was made to get a graphic on his Les Paul (painted by Peter "Max" Baranet) to try to differentiate himself. No Rest For the Wicked was a solid album; it was a return to the "heavier" side, and when Miracle Man came out, I sure as hell paid attention. Great guitar sound, good look, GREAT solo. That record, to me, was Ozzy's last good record as an actual artist; once No More Tears came out, Ozzy became a corporation, much like Aerosmith. 

 No Rest for the Wicked was the last Ozzy album I bought because it was what seemed to be the end of his creativity; No More Tears is Ozzy's "Permanent Vacation" (another Aerosmith reference); yes, there are some decent songs on there, but the fire was gone and formula took over. Like Aerosmith, I looked forward to each new release, only to be disappointed by the single. For those that saw "Don't Blame Me", think of the part when they're working on the No More Tears song; a bunch of people working on lyrics and the album title. (Actually, I take it back; I bought Down To Earth; I thought that Gets Me Through was promising; enter the "downtuned" Ozzy era. :) )

Then we have Gus G; I honestly can't really say much about this era; I saw the video for Let Me Hear You Scream and my overall feeling was "meh." I believe that record was written with Zakk, but Gus played on it, right? Gus, to me, is a victim of timing like Jake was, but for different reasons; he's playing in Ozzy, Inc (nod to the Ultimate Sin video); anyone could be playing the solos on this, as long as the chops are there. I'm sure he's a fine player, though.

 And then, the final part.....playing live. 

People say that Zakk plays Randy's stuff note for note live. Nope. It's not. Not even close. It's also missing the FEEL. Joe Holmes actually COULD capture Randy's feel with his material, but obviously, that didn't work out. That isn't meant as a shot to Zakk; the guy is a great player of his own material. I LOVE his solo on No More Tears, Miracle Man, and some others, but my god, he has no business playing Randy's stuff live. 

I've heard Gus play Randy's stuff live, and it's obvious that his heart isn't in it and he wasn't influenced by Randy (much like how Randy wasn't influenced by Tony Iommi; he hated playing the Sabbath stuff, but I'll get to that in a sec).  It's understandable because he's young, and probably grew up in the Zakk era.

 Jake. Jake had something. There was a fire in his playing and his stage presence. Jake took Randy's material and made it his own, and did a good job with it. Much better than Zakk did. Randy had to play a couple of Sabbath songs live. He's on record saying that he hated playing those songs. The difference in what he did and what those came after him did (with the exception of Jake E. Lee) was that he made it his own, and it stood up on its own feet (personally, I'd say better, but that's me). 

 Randy's songwriting, composition, arranging, and what he did with his predecessor's material puts him as the overall best. 

I'd also say that as far as Tony Iommi goes, yes, Ozzy wouldn't have had a career without him. But Randy was a more proficient player.