Ozzy Osbourne Once Picketed His Own Gig and 12 Other Things We Learned Hanging out With the Iron Man
Ozzy Osbourne is a natural storyteller. All you have to do is mention Eric Clapton, Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, his Black Sabbath bandmate Tony Iommi, or any of the other guests on his new solo album, Patient Number 9, and he usually has a hilarious memory at the ready. In interviews for Rolling Stone’s recent deep profile on Osbourne and his health struggles, he shared many funny and revealing tales about his friends and himself. Here’s what we couldn’t fit in that story.
1. Ozzy has strong opinions about what makes music “heavy.”
“When I heard the first two Zeppelin albums, I thought they were fucking unbelievably good,” Osbourne says, noting that that band’s Robert Plant and John Bonham hailed from the same part of England as Sabbath. “I told Tony, ‘They’re fucking heavy.’ He said, ‘We’ll be heavier,’ and he fucking was right.”
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When producer Andrew Watt started working with Osbourne, the singer shared with him the secret of what makes a song “heavy.” “He said to me, ‘When you listen to Sabbath or Zeppelin, what’s the loudest thing in the mix?” Watt recalls. When the producer said the drums, Osbourne said no. “Bass is the loudest thing. That’s what makes it so heavy. And if you listen to [Led Zeppelin’s] ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ ‘Heartbreaker,’ or ‘Dazed and Confused,’ the bass is allowed to sing, and that’s what makes it so heavy.”
“Ozzy loves bass,” Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, who played with Osbourne in the Nineties and Aughts, says. “He used to tell me, ‘Rob, I’m your best friend!'”
2. Black Sabbath’s first inspirations were more bluesy than heavy, though.
“We started off playing jazz-blues like Ten Years After, the original Fleetwood Mac with Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers,” he says. “Then when we used to rehearse at this community [center]. Across the road was a movie theater. [Tony or Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler] said, ‘Don’t you think it’s weird that people pay money to go and watch horror films? Let’s start doing scary music.’ And one of the earliest things we did was [sings three notes to ‘Black Sabbath’]… That was like, ‘Fuck me, that’s good.'”
3. When Ozzy and Geezer Butler saw Jimi Hendrix live, they were enjoying distinct kinds of “Purple Haze.”
The hotel where I interviewed Ozzy is a block from where both the classical composer George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix once lived (though not at the same time). Osbourne recalled getting Experienced back when the guitarist played Woburn, England in the summer of 1968 — the year Black Sabbath formed. “I seem to remember Jimi was great, but Geezer Butler said he was crap,” Osbourne says, laughing. “I don’t know, mate. I think he was taking a different drug than me, but we were only kids.”
4. Randy Rhoads, the first guitarist Osbourne worked with after Sabbath, wasn’t a big Eddie Van Halen fan.
Before joining Osbourne’s band, Rhoads had played guitar in the glam-rock group Quiet Riot, which had been gigging on the Sunset Strip at the same time as Van Halen. Both Rhoads (who was recently recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and Van Halen were guitarists to watch in the mid-1970s, playing with a similar flare and incorporating finger-tapping into their fleet-fingered solos. Still, Eddie Van Halen became a guitar hero before Rhoads, thanks to Van Halen’s immediate success. “I heard recently that Eddie [Van Halen] said he taught Randy all his licks … he never,” Osbourne says. “To be honest, Randy didn’t have a nice thing to say about Eddie. Maybe they had a falling out or whatever, but they were rivals.”
5. Ozzy understands his influence as one of heavy metal’s innovators — he just doesn’t always fully get it.
“Bands on the Ozzfest would say, ‘Man, Sabbath influenced me,'” Osbourne says, looking perplexed. “I’d listen to some of them, and I’d go, ‘I guess I can hear a bit of Sabbath there.’ But other bands, I’d be like, ‘What the fuck is going on?'” He growls in his best death-metal vomit voice: “Death, die, arrrgh.” “Man, what the fuck is that all about?” he asks. “But then again, we gave somebody a stage.”
6. Ozzy feels like he’s had a symbiotic relationship with Christian evangelists.
“I’ve kept them in jobs,” he says. “One time they were picketing [my] gig with this ‘Antichrist’ thing and I joined them at the end of the line with a broomstick and stapled on ‘Have a Nice Day’ and a smiley face on it. They didn’t know I was there.”
7. Ozzy risks his safety every time he gets onstage these days.
The one wildcard during Osbourne’s performance at the Commonwealth Games was his ability to stand up straight. Years ago, Osbourne’s Herculean prowess for Hoovering up alcohol and drugs led to Black Sabbath giving him a pink slip; these days, the only pills he takes are prescription. One he has to take every day is a blood thinner; a fall during the performance could have caused internal bleeding requiring immediate medical attention, which he says is why Sharon and Kelly were eyeing him like a hawk the whole time he was onstage. “I went, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to go for it,'” he recalls. “I said to Sharon, ‘If I fall over, I fall over. But I’ll try my best not to.'” He had a stand to lean against, but mostly the adrenaline kept him going. He didn’t even stumble.
8. Ozzy has surprisingly diverse taste in music — and one obsession.
Osbourne’s favorite artists to listen to these days are Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney, though one of his best friends, Billy Idol guitarist Billy Morrison, tells Rolling Stone that they also like listening to the Sex Pistols, Gary Numan (Osbourne’s favorite Numan LP is The Pleasure Principle but Morrison turned him onto Splinter), and occasionally Madonna. But Osbourne’s favorite artist to this day is still the Beatles, a group he says he listens to every day. (“Darkside Blues,” the final track on Patient Number 9, is a conceptual Beatles homage that Osbourne likens to the runout groove on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.)
All you have to do is mention the Fab Four, and he has stories ready about trying to convince Paul McCartney to play bass on his own Beatles-esque song “Dreamer” in 2001. He even slams his fist on the coffee table with joy just thinking about how the former Beatle was recording in the same studio as him. (Macca said Trujillo’s bass track was too good to replace.)
“I put [With the Beatles] on the other day,” Osbourne recalls, referring to the first Beatles LP he ever owned. “It took me back. I was like a kid at school in fucking Beatle boots, Beatle suit, Beatle wigs. The fucking wigs were great.”
9. He has a special contempt for Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon.
“When I see an article on that Mark Chapman, I get pissed off, because what a fucking arsehole,” Osbourne says. “That man just destroyed my world. I never saw the Beatles; I’ve seen McCartney on a few occasions. But I never saw the Beatles. Sharon says to me, ‘I think they would have got back together eventually.’ And George Harrison passed away. It’s kind of sad when your heroes die.” He pauses. “That’s a good idea for a song, ‘When Your Heroes Die.'”
10. Ozzy used to think Eric Clapton was actively avoiding him.
Decades ago, Osbourne thought Clapton, who played guitar solos on Patient Number 9’s “One of Those Days,” hated him. They’d met backstage at an awards show where Osbourne and Grace Jones presented Clapton with a guitar award. A photographer asked the three of them to pose together and encouraged Osbourne to pull his “crazy” faces and the singer reluctantly did so while Clapton looked serious. “I didn’t realize that he had just come out of Hazelden, Minnesota [Betty Ford Center], which made sense to me after a while,” Osbourne says, “because you’re in the world sober, and it’s a fucking scary world when you first get sober. … I said to Sharon, ‘He’s never going to allow that fucking photo to come out. He thinks I’m a cunt.'” The pic, to Osbourne’s knowledge, never made it into print.
About a decade later, Osbourne spotted Clapton at an AA meeting and tried to avoid him expecting the guitarist “to tell me what a fucking asshole I was.” They ran into each other at another meeting and this time Clapton chased after him. But instead of a torrent of invective, Clapton told him, “It’s great to see you in the room.” (Through a rep, Clapton declined to comment on this story.)
11. Ozzy has more songs recorded in the bank with the late Taylor Hawkins.
Watt enlisted two drummers on Patient Number 9: the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, who died unexpectedly this past March. One track, “God Only Knows,” features both Smith and Hawkins, and Watt says there are more recordings with Hawkins, to whom Osbourne dedicated the album. “There’s a bunch of other stuff with Ozzy and Taylor, as well, that’s going to be used for another thing,” the producer says.
12. Ozzy’s friends say he deserves more respect as a musician.
“That Osbournes show didn’t really do the perception of him much good because the reality is Ozzy will sit and listen to a piece of music and he’ll point out a fucking cowbell that no one else has heard,” Morrison says. “And he’ll go, ‘That cowbell’s too loud.’ Or he’ll say, ‘There’s something up with the bass in the verse. And upon looking at it, the frequency’s wrong or some shit like that.’ He has an ear that hears everything. It’s really incredible. And I’ve got to tell you, having recorded songs with him, it’s mind-blowing.”
When Morrison was making his God Shaped Hole, Ozzy asked to be involved, ending up on the song “Gods.” Even though the pair had been friends for years, Morrison was blown away by Osbourne’s efficiency in the studio. “He was only there 20 minutes,” Morrison says. “He came in, he walked into the vocal booth, and he went, ‘Right, I’m ready.’ And we ran the song. He nailed it, one take. And when he finished, he said, ‘OK, now quickly do it again.’ Because part of Ozz’s vocal style is he doubles everything he sings. He just did it again exactly the same as the first time. He said to Mike [Clink, producer], ‘Do you have what you want?’ And Mike’s jaw was on the floor. He went, ‘Yeah.’ And Ozz looks at me and went, ‘All right Billy, I’ll see you later.’ And he fucked off.”
13. Ozzy took a lot of acid — but he doesn’t believe in flashbacks.
“I used to take acid all the time,” Osbourne says. “Not every day, just once or twice a week. Then I started to have bad trips, and every time I’d take it after that I’d have bad trips.” Did Osbourne ever get flashbacks? “No,” he says. “I don’t believe in … I mean I was a fucking flashback.” He laughs. “I was a flashback or flash-fucking-forward.”
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