Rudy Sarzo: "Randy didn't live long enough to be the best Randy Rhoads. There was so much more inside of him that we never got to see"
Some 40 years after its initial release, Quiet Riot's Metal Health is still raging through the hallowed halls of heavy metal's sacred history.
As a precursor of Sunset Strip excess, Metal Health set the template for glam metal just a few short years – if not months – after its 1983 release. But the lead-up to the recording wasn't easy and involved significant levels of tragedy and personal exploration through music to reach the finish line.
Quiet Riot's then, and once again current bass player, Rudy Sarzo, reflects on reentering the fold: 'I came back to Quiet Riot not long after Randy [Rhoads] had passed away. My first show with Quiet Riot after I returned was at the Roxy, maybe a year after Randy had passed. He passed in '82, so this would have been in '83.
"I returned because I had recorded some tracks on the record, and it felt right. I wanted to honor the legacy of Randy and see it through; in my heart, it felt like the right thing to do, and I loved the music, too. We did four shows in two nights at the Roxy that weekend and sold them all out. From there, things began to blow up."
Indeed, Sarzo was left reeling after the passing of his close friend Randy Rhoads. As brothers bonded through music, Sarzo and Rhoads shared the stage in Quiet Riot's earliest incarnation before coming together once more in Ozzy Osbourne's solo group.
Like many who shared space in Rhoads' inner circle, Sarzo was devastated. Moreover, his passion for music had waned. But reclaiming his spot as a member of Quiet Riot reinvigorated him, and the recording of Metal Health – one of the era's seminal records – paved the way towards healing.
"Of course, Metal Health opened the door for us," Sarzo recalls. "It helped put a huge focus on the Sunset Strip and gave other bands playing the same type of music as we were an opportunity to go out there and be on MTV. But at the core of it, making Randy proud and preserving the legacy was the motivation.
"The reason why I first went in there to record Thunderbird and Slick Black Cadillac in the first place was for Randy. I did that as a tribute to him. That was it. That was the first step. Everything after that was just a natural progression."
These days, Sarzo is once again back 'home', and his energy is effervescent. With more and more tracks being lifted from their mothballs and Quiet Riot's current incarnation – which remains polarizing – continuing to tour, it appears that for now at least, Quiet Riot has not yet met the end of its ever-winding road. And for Sarzo, that's just fine.
"People can say what they like," Sarzo scoffs. "We're out there playing this music because it's what we love to do. I enjoy getting on stage with these guys. This isn't a cover band. This is Quiet Riot. I've been in and out of this band for a long time, and I always seem to come back. I feel it's my duty to help preserve the legacy. I do this for Frankie, Kevin, and Randy. They're always in my heart; this music means a lot to me. We'll keep going for as long as people will have us."
Nostalgic as he recounts years spent with fallen friends, Rudy Sarzo dialed in with Guitar World to discuss the 40th anniversary of Metal Health, as well as the enduring legacy of his old friend, and bandmate, Randy Rhoads.
What are your memories of Quiet Riot's early days?
"My history with this band goes way back. I've said this before, but Quiet Riot is like home for me. I first joined the band in 1978, which was the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot. Prior to that, I had begun to make money playing music, but there were a lot of dead ends.
"So, Frankie Banali, who I had known since '72, and I decided to leave Florida – where we were – and head up to Chicago. We played that circuit and eventually made our way to L.A. This kept growing from there, and before we knew it, we were getting bigger and making a name for ourselves."
A lot of focus tends to center around the Metal Health era of the band, but how do you measure the importance of the Randy Rhoads era?
With Randy, it was all about the music, nothing else. There was no focus on what party we were going to or what girl we were seeing; the music was front and center
"It's just as important. Going back to '78, when I first joined Quiet Riot, all of our energy and focus went into getting a record deal. We wanted to record that album so that we could get out on tour and play shows as professional musicians. Before Quiet Riot, the bands I had been in were focused on the top-40, so this was the first time everyone in a band I was in focused on the same concept and goals. But, of course, having Randy in the band was a huge part of that."
What was it about Randy that moved the needle?
"The reason why, in my opinion, is that Randy had the highest musical integrity of any musician I've ever met or played with. When it comes to Randy, there are many facets to it, but one is that he was born into a musical family and academia. His parents were both professors, and his mom opened a music school in North Hollywood, California. So, Randy started reading music, studying harmonies and composition, and playing classical acoustic guitar before he picked up an electric guitar.
"Most kids were into rock 'n' roll, going to parties, and picking up girls, which was great. But the impression I got when I met Randy Rhoads was that he was slightly different. That was the first time that I truly experienced musical integrity.
"With Randy, it was all about the music, nothing else. There was no focus on what party we were going to or what girl we were seeing; the music was front and center. So, I met him and immediately knew, 'Okay, I want to be a part of this.' I've taken those basic things I learned from Randy early on into every band I've been in since."
How had Randy evolved by the time you joined him in Ozzy Osbourne's band?
"Oh, man. He was incredible, man. By that point, he had even more musical dexterity. Being able to play with Randy in both bands was incredible. I'm the only musician that was blessed to be able to do that. I played with him in Quiet Riot, so being able to join him in Ozzy's band was a whole new animal.
"In many ways, Randy was a totally different musician by that point. So, now, there was musical integrity, but with Ozzy, he was carrying a different sort of load. With Quiet Riot, the band was his baby, and we were fighting for a record deal. But with Ozzy, there was a deal, and now he was being asked to help someone who had established write music after he had left Black Sabbath."
Did Randy seem to feel any pressure when tasked with writing for Ozzy?
Ozzy gave Randy a tough time, but Randy wanted to go back to school and get his master's. That's all he cared about
"That's hard to say. I do know that Randy asked Ozzy, 'How and what do you want me to write?' And Ozzy basically told him, 'Just be yourself. That's why you're here.' And that's where that classical musical influence we saw from the beginning came out; it was so natural for him. Not only was it natural, but he began to pursue it harder after that. That's where he saw himself as he began to lean into classical music, leading him to a new level of musicianship.
"But with Ozzy, I have to go back to the integrity thing again. Randy refused to record the Speak of the Devil record, which we eventually did with Brad Gillis. When this happened, Ozzy went off the rails and fired the band, which he later took back. He gave Randy a tough time, but Randy wanted to go back to school and get his master's. That's all he cared about. Ultimately, he agreed to do it and do one more tour, but it never happened because he passed away.
"Randy was a rock star, and he became the biggest guitarist in the world. But he didn't care; he was the only person I ever saw who would turn their back on stardom just to go back to school to pursue what they felt would bring their musicianship to the highest level."
Do you feel the trajectory of guitar-driven music would have been significantly altered had Randy survived?
"I think Randy would have taken metal to a new dimension because it was natural for him to do things like that. He was such a passionate musician, and if you see images of him playing with Quiet Riot and then Ozzy, the passion was always the same. That passion would have been there no matter where he played or how many people he played in front of.
"His personality never changed, even as his skills and stardom rose. People became aware of what he was doing, followed it, and believed in it. That alone would have altered the way guitar music went because I don't think that would have changed. To this day, even though he left us so young, his music still influences everything. It's still everywhere. If he had the chance to do more, forget about it."
Invariably, people compare Randy to Eddie Van Halen. Who do you feel had the edge?
"People need to remember that Randy did not live long enough to be the best Randy Rhoads. There was so much more inside of him that we never got to see. So, to me, it's apples and oranges. If you're asking who my favorite is, again, I like to drink apple and orange juice [Laughs]. But I played with Randy, and I know how great he was because I saw it firsthand on stage.
"As for Eddie, I jammed with him at a NAMM show one time in the '80s. But that's not the same as getting up on stage and playing live on the road. It's not the same as collaborating and creating; it's completely different. They're entirely different musicians and both utterly unique and transcendent. They both changed music forever and have changed the lives of many guitarists. To me, there is no debate. I enjoy them both."
Circling back to the Metal Health era, what was it about that lineup that bred such unique chemistry?
"That is a really good question. Of course, this is my perception of being there. In the years after Randy had left Quiet Riot, Kevin DuBrow had worked very hard to get better and better as a songwriter. When Randy was in the band, the focus was on him – as it should have been. But after he left, and once Kevin got Quiet Riot going again, he became the ringmaster. So I can give you some references. But the old Quiet Riot ceased when Randy left to join Ozzy in 1979. After that, Kevin Dubrow put his own band together called Dubrow. With Randy gone, the main attraction was now Kevin, and he gained a lot of charisma, which came out on the record.
"A lot of that material, like Thunderbird, was written after Randy left when Kevin was calling his band DuBrow instead of Quiet Riot, and Slick Black Cadillac was written with Randy still in the band. But once we all got back together, you had Frankie Banali, a great arranger. He could take parts, put them together, and make them make sense. And I had learned a lot playing with Ozzy, and my musicianship had elevated. And then, of course, Carlos Cavazo was a great guitar player with his own style; he's all over that record. We had grown as musicians, and once we all came together, it was the perfect storm."
What are your most poignant memories of Metal Health's recording?
"When it first happened, I was still a member of Ozzy's band and was getting ready to leave town to record the Speak of the Devil album live at the Ritz. So, a few days before I left, I got a phone call from Kevin, and he said, 'Hey, do you want to come down to the studio we're working at? I've got a possible record deal, and we want to lay down some demos.' Well, the song he wanted to do was Thunderbird, which is a song that I used to play with Kevin when I was a member of DuBrow before I joined Ozzy's band, so I said, 'Sure. I know the song; that's easy.'
It was never the same going on stage and playing those Ozzy songs without Randy. The show would begin, and I'd think, 'God, what is this? It's all wrong.' It became about surviving the grief
"Once I got down there, the guys asked me, 'Hey, do you remember Slick Black Cadillac?' I said, 'Yeah, I used to do that with Quiet Riot with Randy, too. I can do it.' It kept going like that, and by the time I had left the session, I had done maybe four or five songs, all of which ended up on the record. So, what ended up happening was that I played on the whole Metal Health record, except for Metal Health and Don't Wanna Let You Go, which Chuck Wright played on."
What led to you officially rejoining Quiet Riot?
"Like I said, I was still a member of Ozzy when I did the demos and then the actual recording of Metal Health. I don't know… I loved the idea of playing with Frankie and Kevin again, especially Frankie, who I'd known since '72. And Kevin was my good friend, too. I would hang out with him whenever I got off the road with Ozzy.
"I guess I hoped that rejoining Quiet Riot would get me out of the funk that I was in. When Randy passed, I lost the joy associated with playing music. It became a job and was never the same for me. It was never the same going on stage and playing those Ozzy songs without Randy. Sure, we had the same clothes, and it was the same songs, but there was no Randy. The show would begin, and I'd think, 'God, what is this? It's all wrong.' It became about surviving the grief, and the pain, you know."
So, going back to Quiet Riot was more about healing, then?
"In a way, I think it was. Randy's death still felt fresh. But going back to Quiet Riot, I think it brought me back to what I had lost in some ways. When Randy passed away, one of the many things that I lost was my brotherhood with him. But being back in the band, there I was with Frankie and Kevin. Frankie and I had a brotherhood even before Quiet Riot, and playing with Kevin, meant so much. I left Ozzy's band – one of the biggest in the world – for Quiet Riot, which was essentially a complete unknown. I did that because I needed the joy of playing music again."
40 years on, how do you measure the importance of Metal Health?
"Well, its importance on my journey is probably even more meaningful than the overarching impact on metal. Because you're talking about something that I recorded on how it affects me versus something that I recorded and how it affects the rest of the world, which is hard for me to measure, it will have a way bigger impact on me than overall, I think.
"If you look at the back of Metal Health's cover, you'll see it's dedicated to Randy Rhoads. When we talk about Metal Health, we're talking about a record that, in many ways, symbolizes me, Frankie, and Kevin's connection with Randy. Randy taught by example; he knew the importance of being clear and pure with his actions. You'd have to be in a coma not to understand that dedication and purity of actions were ingrained in us, and it's all over that record.
Randy's level of importance is measured by what he did, but it would be different if he had had the chance to live on
"So, we made Metal Health, and we had this wonderful piece of music that truly celebrates his legacy. And 40 years later, we can celebrate that and the band's legacy. To me, Randy will always be a member of Quiet Riot, and that never goes away. So, how do we celebrate that legacy? What we did was go out and make a record worth remembering. That's what Metal Health means to me."
And when you look back on Randy Rhoads, how do you measure his importance?
"Well, it's different from the average person listening to his music, because I got to know him as a person. I got to live with him on a tour bus. I got to be with him on stage. I got to watch him compose with Quiet Riot. So, my answer is going to come from that reference point. But I think what's really a shame is that if he had survived and were still with us today, everything would have been different. Randy's level of importance is measured by what he did, but it would be different if he had had the chance to live on.
"From the time he left Quiet Riot to those two Ozzy records, the growth musically and the diversity of the music just exploded. I think that, in a way, his importance is to inspire others. Randy inspires me daily in many ways, and I know he still inspires guitar players and musicians. That would not have changed if he were alive today.
"What I'm trying to say is he already did that, with just two albums and two tours. He didn't have much time to go out there and present himself to the masses, and there's very little video footage of him doing so, but he still did that. The simple fact that kids today can hear something that he recorded 40 years ago and still be influenced by it shows that through his music, he will never be gone. He's timeless."