Metal legend Ozzy Osbourne has not released a solo studio album since 2010’s Scream, but Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith has revealed to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume that he, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, and super-producer Andrew Watt have completely written and recorded the forthcoming Osbourne comeback LP, Ordinary Man, which he says “could really give [Osbourne] this second wind.” GNR guitarist Slash plays on two songs, the new single “Straight to Hell” and the title track — but most excitingly, “Ordinary Man” is actually a duet with another member of U.K. rock royalty, Sir Elton John.
“It's f***ing epic,” Smith says of the Ozzy/John collaboration, which Ozzy’s wife Sharon teased during a recent episode of The Talk. “These two iconic, legendary, English f***ing rockers that have been through it all are singing about the end of their lives: ‘I don't want to die an ordinary man.’ And it's f***ing great! I was like [pretends to sob]. We were pinching ourselves [in the studio].
“Every time I hear the song ends, I'm like, ‘And the Grammy goes to...’"
The Ordinary Man album project actually originated with “Take What You Want,” a Watt-produced Post Malone/Ozzy Osbourne collaboration featuring Smith on drums, which came out in October 2019 and was Osbourne’s first top 10 single in three decades. (Post Malone, a huge Chili Peppers fan, had invited RHCP to play with him at last year’s Grammy Awards.)
“For six months, Osbourne was doing rehab and he was not going well… not bouncing back, so to speak. And his spirits were low and nothing good was happening,” Smith says, referring to Osbourne’s rash of recent health scares, including a staph infection, a case of the flu that turned into pneumonia, and a fall at his home. But when Osbourne went into the studio with Watt, Malone, and Smith to lay down his vocals for “Take What You Want,” Smith saw the 71-year-old rocker perk right up.
“We tell him to do the Post Malone, and he's like, ‘Postal f***ing postman? I don't f***ing know. What?’ He didn't even know who [Post Malone] was! But then he said, ‘Oh, f***ing Kelly likes it? OK then.’ So Kelly and Ozzy come and he sings, he's having a great time and he's telling jokes and he's farting, and he's just not disappointing. … He's fully Ozzy, loving it, and he’s singing great. It was awesome. He lit up and was doing what he loves. He had a great time, and he was funny and just partying and telling jokes and just being Ozzy.” Smith marvels. “He's so passionate, he loves music, and he left having a great time. And [his daughter] Kelly [Osbourne] was almost crying. She's like, ‘Oh my God, I haven't seen my dad like that in six months; you guys had no idea he's been miserable.’”
This gave Smith and Watt the idea to make a full album for/with Osbourne, which is when Smith enlisted his old pal. “I’d just played with Duff from Guns the week before. And so I called Duff and he came down — he happened to have a week open, and I did too. And we all got together and we literally wrote and recorded from scratch… 12 songs in four days.”
Smith says he and his collaborators were initially “just coming up with this music hoping that he would like it or whatever, would want to be part of it. ... It was thinking what was helpful to him. It wasn't like, ‘Let's just jam and come up with some riffs’; it was like, ‘Let's think, what do we love best about Sabbath and Ozzy?’ There's stops like in ‘War Pigs,’ and there's this and that. So we had a little bit of a direction, which was great, and Andrew's really good with arrangement, thinking, stuff like that.”
Eventually Smith, Watt, and McKagan nervously, hopefully presented the material to Osbourne. “He's like, ‘You f***ing did it in f***ing four days? God, it'd take me f***ing six months,’” Smith recalls with a chuckle. “We're like, ‘This is how we work, man. Dude, we're so excited!’ It took him a couple days to kind of digest it, if you will, and then he's like, ‘I love it. Let's write words and melodies.’ And we did the whole record in probably four weeks.”
Slash eventually came on board, and Smith says, “Everyone wanted in. Anyone that hears about that, they want to be involved. … You're pulling for Ozzy, because he's incredible. … Everybody loves Ozzy. He's like the uncle that everybody loves.” But he, Watt, and McKagan didn’t want Ordinary Man to be some all-star, cash-grab publicity stunt. “We wanted it to be the right people. We didn't want to just throw in names for names.”
So, when it came find to recruit a pianist for the title track, they thought, "‘OK, who’s a really good piano player? Let's get the Rocket Man!’ And Elton was so great, so gracious. He said, ‘I'll do anything for Ozzy. I love Ozzy.’ So Andrew and I went down to Atlanta, where Elton John lives when he's on the East Coast. And we recorded him, and he played the piano on this song, and he plays it beautifully, of course. Then we were like, ‘Why don't we have him sing a verse?’” The track, which Smith describes as “midtempo-y, kind of Beatles,” also features a string section and choir recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Smith describes the full Ordinary Man album, which will also feature appearances by Post Malone and Tom Morello and comes out Feb. 21, thusly: “It doesn't sound like Black Sabbath, of course; nothing does. …But I would say it's more back to like the sort of Blizzard of Ozz and Diary and those records, a little more raw, but modern-sounding. As [Osbourne] says it, ‘It sounds lush.’ … But then there's other s***. We did a track that's the fastest song Ozzy's ever done. And at first he was like, ‘It’s too fast, it’s too f***ing fast!’ It's like almost like Motorhead/punk-rock Ozzy. It's f***ing awesome.”
Smith is delighted with the overall result, raving that Osbourne “sounds better than ever. … He's really frail, but when he sits down and sings, and he opens that mouth, it's Ozzy Osbourne. Incredible. No one sounds like Ozzy Osbourne… that voice, that instrument that comes out, and the emotion. And he’s singing about the end of his life and ‘under the graveyard’ and ‘straight to hell,’ and it's awesome. It's like modern rock music. He sounds great. He's totally into it. We're just all really excited and so happy, all of us, just to be making music for Ozzy.”
Smith is hoping that there will be some live all-star Ordinary Man shows, though nothing is planned yet (and Smith himself has a very busy 2020 calendar, recording the next Red Hot Chili Peppers album with returning guitarist John Frusciante and playing on projects by everyone from the Dixie Chicks to Halsey, Dua Lipa, and Miley Cyrus).
“We talked about playing together, and [Osbourne] would love to do it…. Do the Troubadour, do five songs, and then ‘War Pigs’ or whatever. It would be insane. And then I could die.”
The above interview is taken from Chad Smith’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.
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