Randall William "Randy" Rhoads (December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982) was an American heavy metal guitarist who played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot. A devoted student of classical guitar, Rhoads often combined his classical music influences with his own heavy metal style. While on tour with Ozzy Osbourne, he would seek out classical guitar tutors for lessons. Despite his relatively short career, Rhoads is a major influence on neo-classical metal players that emerged in the 1980s such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Angelo Batio, and Jason Becker. He is cited as an influence by many contemporary heavy metal guitarists.
Rhoads was born on December 6, 1956 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was the youngest of three children. His older brother, Doug, who goes by the name of Kelle Rhoads, is a drummer and vocalist who also arranges classical compositions. His sister's name is Kathy.
When Randy was 17 months old, his father, William Arthur Rhoads, left his mother, Delores Rhoads, and the three kids, but he stayed in touch with Randy even up until his son's death. Mrs. Rhoads has owned and operated the Musonia School of Music in North Hollywood, California, since 1949. Rhoads started playing guitar at age six on his grandfather's old Gibson "Army-Navy" classical acoustic guitar. According to Rhoads' mother, he learned to play folk guitar, a popular way to learn guitar at the time, although he did not take lessons for very long.
Rhoads was always evolving toward a hard rock/metal lead guitar style, but he was heavily influenced by classical music as well.
At the age of 14 Rhoads formed a cover band called Violet Fox (after his mother's middle name, Violet), with his older brother Kelle on drums. Violet Fox staged several performances in the "Grand Salon" at Musonia, Delores Rhoads' music school. Among their setlist was "Mississippi Queen" by Mountain, as well as songs from The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie. After the dissolution of Violet Fox, Rhoads taught his best friend Kelly Garni how to play bass, and together they formed a band called The Whore (rehearsing during the day at Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a famous '70s Hollywood nightspot), spending several months playing at backyard parties around Los Angeles. Together the pair went on to form Quiet Riot when Rhoads was 16. Kevin DuBrow auditioned for vocalist in Rhoads' kitchen after he convinced Rhoads and Garni to give him a chance. The drummer, Drew Forsyth, was already in the picture and had periodically played with Rhoads and Garni in the past.
Quiet Riot initially played in small bars in Hollywood and local parties in Burbank, eventually playing at the two main L.A. music clubs of the day — the Whisky a Go Go, and The Starwood. While the band had a strong following in the L.A. club scene, they were unable to secure a major recording contract in the United States. Eventually, however, the band was able to land a record deal with Japanese label CBS/Sony Records and Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II were released in Japan.
In 1979, ex-Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne was forming a new band. During an interview with Raw Power Magazine editors Robert Olshever, Murray Schwartz and Scott Stephens (future singer of Liquid Blue), Ozzy mentioned he was looking for a new guitar player. Randy's name was suggested during the interview and the next day Robert asked friend and future Slaughter bassist Dana Strum to try to reach Randy to see if he was interested. Rhoads got the call for the audition just before his final show with Quiet Riot. He walked in with his Les Paul guitar and a practice amp and started warming up; Osbourne immediately gave him the job. Rhoads recalled later, "I just tuned up and did some riffs, and he said, 'You've got the gig.' I had the weirdest feeling, because I thought, 'You didn't even hear me yet.'" Osbourne described Rhoads' playing as "God entering my life." Rhoads subsequently recommended his friend Greg Leon, who also taught guitar at Musonia for Rhoads' mother, to replace him in Quiet Riot, and then departed for the UK to write and record with Osbourne in November 1979.
The band, then known as The Blizzard of Ozz headed into the studio to record the band's debut album, which would also be called Blizzard of Ozz. Rhoads' guitar playing had changed due to the level of freedom allowed by Ozzy and Bob Daisley and he was encouraged to play what he wanted. His work with Quiet Riot has been criticized as being "dull" and did not rely on classical scales or arrangements. Propelled by Rhoads' neo-classical guitar work, the album proved an instant hit with rock fans, particularly in the USA. They released two singles from the album: "Mr. Crowley" and the hit "Crazy Train". The British tour of 1980-81 for Blizzard of Ozz was with Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake. After the UK tour, the band wrote another LP before the US Blizzard of Ozz tour. But before the US Blizzard tour, both Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley were fired by Sharon Osbourne. For the US Blizzard tour, Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo were hired. Diary of a Madman was released soon after Blizzard of Ozz in October 1981, and since Kerslake and Daisley were already out of the band, Aldridge and Sarzo's photos appear on the album sleeve. This was the source of many future court battles. You Said it All and You Looking At Me, Looking At You would become rare gems with the first to be only released on a handful of singles. Tribute would be released years down the road.
Around this time Rhoads remarked to Osbourne, fellow Ozz bandmates Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo, and friend Kelly Garni that he was considering leaving rock for a few years to earn a degree in classical guitar at UCLA. In the documentary Don't Blame Me, Osbourne confirmed Randy's desire to earn the degree and stated that had he lived, he didn't believe Randy would have stayed in his band. Friend and ex-Quiet Riot bassist Kelly Garni has stated in interviews that if Randy had continued to play rock, he might have gone the route of more keyboard-driven rock, which had become very popular through the 1980s.
It was at this time that Rhoads was beginning to receive recognition for his playing. Just before his death Jackson Guitars created a signature model, the Jackson Randy Rhoads or Randy Rhoads Pro (though it was recommended to be called the Jackson Concorde). Randy received two prototypes — one in black and one in white — but died before the guitar went into production. Rhoads also received the Best New Talent award from Guitar Player magazine.
Randy Rhoads' last show was played on Thursday, March 18, 1982 at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, Tennessee. The next day, the band was headed to a festival in Orlando, Florida. After driving much of the night, they stopped on the property belonging to Jerry Calhoun, owner of "Florida Coach," in Leesburg, Florida. On it, there was a small airstrip lined with small helicopters and planes, and two houses. One belonged to the tour bus driver, Andrew Aycock, and the other was owned by Calhoun. Aycock talked the band's keyboardist, Don Airey, into taking a test flight in a '55 Beechcraft Bonanza F-35. By some accounts the manager, Jake Duncan, was also on this first flight. The joyride ended, and the plane landed safely. Then Aycock took Rhoads and hairdresser/seamstress Rachel Youngblood on another flight. Airey persuaded Rhoads to go on the second flight, despite his fear of flying. Rhoads apparently agreed to go for two reasons: the seamstress had a heart condition so Aycock agreed to do nothing risky; also, Rhoads wanted to take an aerial photo as one of his hobbies was photography. During the second flight, attempts were made to "buzz" the tour bus where the other band members were sleeping. They succeeded twice, but the third attempt was botched. The left wing clipped the back side of the tour bus, tore the fiberglass roof then sent the plane spiraling. The plane severed the top of a pine tree and crashed into the garage of a nearby mansion, bursting into flames. Rhoads was killed instantly, as were Aycock, 36, and Youngblood, 58. All three bodies were burned beyond recognition, and were identified by dental records. It was later revealed in an autopsy that Aycock's system showed traces of cocaine at the time; Rhoads' toxicology test revealed only nicotine. The NTSB investigation also determined that Aycock's medical certificate had expired and that the biennial flight review, required for all pilots, was overdue.
Rhoads' funeral was held at the First Lutheran Church in Burbank, California. He is interred at Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino, California, where his grandparents are also buried.
Rhoads used a relatively small setup, with few guitars and a small set of effects and amplifiers. He preferred .010-.011 strings.
In 1987, five years after Rhoads' death, Osbourne released Tribute, the only official album featuring Osbourne and Rhoads playing together in concert. Most of the album is a live performance from Cleveland, Ohio, recorded on May 11, 1981. Also used in the recording was Rhoads' guitar solo from a show in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, recorded on July 28, 1981. That whole show had been broadcast on WMMS, and the King Biscuit Flower Hour, from which it became an extremely popular and fast selling bootleg. The songs "Goodbye to Romance" and "No Bone Movies" from the Tribute album were recorded on the UK Blizzard of Ozz tour at Southampton, on the same date as the Mr. Crowley EP.
Randy was inducted into the Guitar Center Rock Walk on March 18, 2004. In a 2006 Guitar World article, it was mentioned that Rhoads' last name was mistakenly spelled "Rhodes" on his plaque, and by the time it was discovered, there was not enough time to correct the mistake. It has since been fixed.
As a tribute to Rhoads, Marshall Amplification released the 1959RR at NAMM 2008. The amp is a limited-edition all-white Marshall Super Lead 100 watt head modeled after Randy's own Super Lead amp. Marshall engineers looked extensively at Rhoads' actual amplifier and made the 1959RR to those exact specifications, right down to the special high-gain modification Randy specifically requested when he visited the Marshall factory in 1980.
As another tribute to Randy, Jackson Guitars has released an exact replica of Randy's original white "shortwing" V. Randy's original guitar was looked at, photographed, and measured extensively by Jackson's luthiers so as to produce the most exact replica possible. The guitar even comes with black gaffer's tape covering the top wing and the back of the guitar, just like Randy's. Only 60 of the guitars will be made, each with the symbolic price tag of $12,619.56 which is Rhoads' birthday.
Despite his youth and relatively limited recorded work, Rhoads has been on the covers of many guitar magazines and has influenced many notable guitar players, including Zakk Wylde, George Lynch, Alexi Laiho, Mick Thomson, Paul Gilbert, and Buckethead.