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How classical music inspired Randy Rhoads' rock guitar sound

Randy Rhoads is one of the most eminent guitarists of all time. Over his brief life, he impacted guitar playing that the way we view the guitar today would be completely different without his input.

Often, parallels are drawn between Rhoads and his contemporary Eddie Van Halen, and in many ways, you can view the pair as separate sides of the same coin when it comes to shredding. They popularised techniques that would quickly become quintessential components of metal guitar playing. Without them, there’d be no Slash, no John Petrucci and no Mick Thomson. 

Tapping, dive bombs and the use of complex scales are three areas of guitar expertise where Rhoads excelled. In terms of virtuosity, he and Van Halen filled the hole left by Jimi Hendrix. They made the guitar a more visceral beast than Hendrix could ever have imagined, helping the proliferation of abrasive genres such as black metal and grindcore.

Celebrated in life and death, Rhoads tragically passed away aged just 25 in an aeroplane accident in 1982, which only helped cement his legacy. Even if you’re not a metalhead or a fan of rock music, appreciating Rhoads’ skill is effortless. Technically proficient and forward-thinking, there is no surprise that he is hailed as a hero by some of the best in the business.

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Dimebag Darrell, Zakk Wylde, Mike McCready and Tom Morello are just a handful of modern guitar icons who have heaped praise on Rhoads’ playing at different points over the past 30 years. In fact, Morello explained in a 2012 tribute to the ‘Crazy Train’ mastermind: “In a way, Randy Rhoads is the Robert Johnson of metal. It’s such a small catalogue of stuff that has been so incredibly influential.”

One thing Rhoads’ game-changing influence can be attributed to is his love of classical music. His tacit understanding of music theory stretched way further than the majority of his peers, giving him the knowledge to be able to make the guitar wail in a way that was hitherto unheard of. Unfortunately, the interviews that Rhoads gave are scarce, owing to his untimely death. However, during a conversation with Montreal Rocks in 2020, his sisters Kelly and Kathy discussed their late brother’s love of classical music.

They said: “We never really asked him or had a conversation about that,… that we can remember, but he did have albums by Boscarelli the cellist… I am sure he liked Bach, and he also liked Segovia. One thing to mention is that when he would come home from a tour, he would always listen to classical music. He didn’t really listen to much rock towards the end of his life.”

It transpires that the guitar hero was planning on taking a break from music as he had already started the process of enrolling at University in order to obtain a Master’s Degree in Classical Music: “It is also true, that he had told Ozzy that after the tour, he wanted to take a break from touring and recording so he could go to school and get his Masters Degree in Classical Music where our mother got hers.”

“Ozzy actually said to him, ‘are you fucking crazy? You could buy your own university’. He was definitely going to take a break and get his Master’s Degree in classical, and my mother had already started the process for him through UCLA”, they revealed.

Of their brother’s love of classical music, the sisters explained: “A lot of people think he always played classical music, but that is not true. For instance, when he joined Ozzy, he may have enjoyed listening to classical. But his desire to play and study didn’t come until later. As a matter of fact, when he was on tour, he would go through the yellow pages and look up universities and find classical guitar teachers and take lessons.”

One of the biggest tragedies in music history, the questions of what would have come of Rhoads’ life had he lived are manifold. One thing is certain though, whatever would have happened in his career, he would have remained an iconic guitarist as the records he left behind are timeless. 

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