Randy Rhoads was a formidable guitar player. Some, including the man himself, consider him the greatest guitarist Ozzy Osbourne ever worked with. He brought shadings the vocalist deemed impossible to himself through hard craft and countermelodies.
Rhoads’ tenure was brief but influential, and his presence can still be felt in Osbourne’s solo career. Since Rhoads is no longer around to speak for himself, Osbourne has taken it upon himself to speak on the late guitarists’ behalf. Osbourne was asked if his friend listened to Canadian bands, which surprised the former Black Sabbath frontman, but caught himself sufficiently to eloquently answer, “Did he have a favourite Canadian band? I am not sure if he had a favourite, but he definitely liked the Guess Who.”
Osbourne was then pressed to ask what guitar players drew Rhoads in. Osbourne couldn’t single out one particular musician but pencilled three that took his fancy. Out of the musicians he mentioned, only Mick Ronson is one I would have predicted. The others were more surprising.
“He had more than one favourite guitarist,” Osbourne reasoned, “He had many. But one that stands out and someone who really liked Randy when he met him was Leslie West of Mountain. He also liked Michael Schenker (and turned me on to MS…Kelle) and was a big fan of Mick Ronson of Bowie fame and that’s where the polka dots came from. He saw Mick Ronson with polka dot knee pads and Randy took it to another level.”
To refer to Ronson as part of Bowie’s antenna does him a disservice, considering that Ronson’s prowess was one of a handful of saving graces heard on The Man Who Sold The World, especially since his work with Ian Hunter was far more interesting and diverse. Ronson similarly performed a startling rendition of ‘Love Me Tender’, holding a voice that was creamier than Bowie’s and almost as powerful as Hunter’s.
Michael Schenker is also a surprising choice, but that’s largely because it’s hard to hear any UFO in Rhoads guitar playing. What’s interesting is that Osbourne didn’t mention, but singled out the mercurial guitar player who led them to this point of rock and roll rebellion. Schenker was fiery, demonstrating great levels of ingenuity and inspiration in his approach to performing music. His work was layered, much like Rhoads, and tended to favour the studio over the live stage.
The final guitarist Osbourne singled out is Leslie West, probably the least well known of the musicians Osbourne mentioned, but one who is renowned for his blues work, having served as co-frontman for Mountain. He is also the only American born musician to make the list, which is fitting because Rhoads was born in California, and although Rhoads’ primary influences were British in tone and texture, it was also his way of showing affection for the musicians who grew up in his home country.
The triumvirate of guitar players seeped into his work, creating a hybrid of sounds that made the music he created with Osbourne all the richer for it.
But that’s not to say that Rhoads wasn’t strikingly original unto himself. All you have to do is listen to the chiming arpeggios that soak ‘Crazy Train’ to hear that this was a powerhouse guitarist, capable of switching from rhythm to lead in a matter of seconds.
His work with Osbourne also allowed the braggadocious singer to showcase certain vulnerability in his abilities as a songwriter and a singer. The vocalist never truly recovered from the loss of the guitarists’ death, and the guitarist should be remembered for his abilities, as well as the work he did with the singer of Black Sabbath.
Randy Rhoads’ three favourite guitarists:
- Mick Ronson
- Michael Schenker
- Leslie West