“He was a beautiful man.” That is how Ozzy Osbourne remembers the young guitar player who joined his first solo band following Ozzy’s departure from Black Sabbath. Ozzy wanted the best players that he could find to prove to not only his former band-mates but to the music world in general that he was not washed up. It took only seconds for him to fall in love with Randy Rhoads, who at the time was in the popular LA band Quiet Riot, thus securing Rhoads one of the hottest spots in the metal establishment.
Sadly, he was not long for this world. At 25, Rhoads was killed in a freak plane crash while on tour with Ozzy in 1982. In fact, this week marks the 31st anniversary of his death. Not surprisingly, Rhoads’ music remains as much a part of present day rock & roll as it ever did. But while his short tenure in Ozzy’s band is what most people hearken to, it was his time in the early days of Quiet Riot that enriched his soul. And those days have been beautifully captured in Ron Sobol’s magnificent book, Randy Rhoads: The Quiet Riot Years.
The oversize book, which is accompanied by a delicious documentary featuring live footage and interviews, brings to life the Randy Rhoads who was a friend and band-mate, practical joker and budding guitar player. With treasured ephemera such as show flyers and ticket stubs, candid memories and hundreds of priceless photographs, this book is a must-have for Rhoads fans, Quiet Riot fans and music fans overall. Sobol has taken great care in putting the book together, formatted like a scrapbook from some of the best times of his life. The pages are laid out for optimal visual devourment and the memories are kept satisfyingly short, just sumptuous enough without the heaviness of too much detail. As with Sean Yseult’s 2010 White Zombie memoir, which was also published in a scrapbook-like presentation, Sobol has given fans the best gift they could wish for: a peek inside one of their favorite musician’s lives where every little detail is a treasure being unwrapped.
It must also be noted that although there is a heavy focus on Rhoads, there is another musician who lived this life with him. His name was Kevin DuBrow and although his reputation as a wild & crazy personality remains a part of his legacy, Sobol, who was best friends with DuBrow since before QR was formed, has also brought to light a young, bubbly teenager who idolized Humble Pie and Rod Stewart and wanted nothing more than to be a rock star.
The DVD is a treasure trove of live Quiet Riot footage and interviews with band members Rudy Sarzo and Drew Forsyth, Rhoads’ guitar tech Brian Reason, fan club president Lori Hollen, DuBrow’s mother and Rhoads’ girlfriend. You see the band frolicking in dresses that were found in a dressing room, performing at a Chili festival and Rhoads taking your breath away playing a live guitar solo.
Last month, I talked to Sobol about his youthful days with Quiet Riot, his love for photography and why he decided to finally share his memories of Randy Rhoads, Kevin DuBrow, Kelly Garni, Drew Forsyth and Rudy Sarzo.
Why was this the right time to put this book together? And how long did it take you once you got started on the project?
It took about two years and it was put together because I was asked if I wanted to have some of my photographs in another book and I liked the way that other book came out. So I asked them if they could do a book with my photographs. It was going to be a book with not just my Quiet Riot pictures but I used to shoot other rock bands, like Queen, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick. Once it started to be put together there were so many Quiet Riot pictures we decided to do a book about Quiet Riot’s Randy Rhoads years.
Do you think you will eventually do the other book?
It depends on how successful this one is. This came out pretty much in December so it’s only been out a little while and it’s just really hitting the public now. So we’ll see what happens. It’s a possibility.
I’ve seen some of your other photographs on your Facebook page.
Yeah but I don’t put my best pictures on there (laughs) I save the best ones for something like a book. The ones I’m putting up there are mostly my rejects (laughs) You know, it’s funny, because I just put a picture of Randy when he was in Ozzy up on a Randy Rhoads page on Facebook; well, there are actually a lot of them but this one has 138,000 people following it. So I put a picture up and I got like the greatest reaction to it but to me it was a reject. But everybody loved it. I guess what I think isn’t good necessarily doesn’t mean that it’s not good, know what I mean. Maybe I’m my own worst editor (laughs)
You have a great one of Queen on there. I don’t know how that can be a reject.
(laughs) Well, thank you very much. A lot of those pictures were sent to Japan and they never sent them back to me. I used to shoot for Japanese magazine so a lot of my stuff is in Japan in some drawer I’m sure and I’ll never get it back. Back in those days, it wasn’t like anybody thought to save the pictures necessarily. I didn’t really think about that then. But now it’s the big thing where people want older pictures from then. Fortunately, I saved most of my Quiet Riot ones. But some are still in a drawer somewhere in Japan.
When you were putting this book together, how did it make you feel?
You mean did I get emotional? Well, you know, the kind of emotion I got was excitement from finding pictures that I had forgotten about. Like the picture of Randy with, how should you say, that sexual anatomy guitar (laughs). I had forgotten about that picture and it wasn’t something I remembered until I found it. I went, “Wow, look at this. This is great. This is perfect for the book.” The mug shot pictures towards the back of the book, I forgot all about those until the book writer said to me, “Do you still have the intro tape?” Quiet Riot used to go out to an intro tape, which was about five minutes long, where there was police siren sounds and crowd noises and explosions and there was a guy announcing, “We’ve just received word of a riot that has broken out downtown.” I took mug shots of the band and we used to project them up on the screen for that intro. Well, I forgot about that. I guess I’m going into a pretty long story but I was searching everywhere and I thought, Oh man, I got to find those. I searched for like three days looking for them. Finally, I found them in a corner in a lonely box all by itself. I was so excited to find those. That would be the emotions I had as far as the book. As far as the movie, every time I watch it I get choked up at the end with Kevin and Randy’s passing.
What was your favorite part: looking for the pictures, putting the live footage together or doing the interviews for the DVD?
I think doing the interviews was my favorite part because I got to get the memories of all the other people that were there. I especially liked the one with Quiet Riot’s guitar tech Brian Reason, where he describes Randy’s guitar solo, because I would say my favorite part of the movie is the guitar solo. The way Brian describes it is really cool.
And Kevin’s mother participated so much.
Yeah, she was a big help. A lot of my stuff is missing and she had a lot of it, copies of it, so I got to get that from her and she was so kind letting us interview her and she was just great. She knew how close Kevin and I were. I met Kevin before he started Quiet Riot, before he was even trying to be a singer, so I was probably one of his oldest friends.
When did you get into photography?
My dad used to be the family photographer so I just kind of picked it up from him. I borrowed his camera one day. I’d take pictures of the kids in the neighborhood. I had a snake and I’d take pictures of the snake. Then my dad had a movie camera and I took the movie camera and actually the first movie that I ever took, I took it to sixth grade graduation and I took some movies there. From then on I just started taking movies and still photographs. I kind of wasn’t real serious about it until I got into college. Although in high school I was serious about filmmaking. My goal was to go to film school, which I eventually did go to USC Film School, but it was more like a hobby then.
How did you discover rock & roll?
Well, I would be in the car and I would turn the radio on and start hearing songs (laughs). I’d have to say the first stuff I liked was pretty teeny-bopperish like Herman’s Hermits and Strawberry Alarm Clock, a lot of the Top 40 hits from a radio station here. There were two good radio stations at the time, as far as at least they would play music for a kid and teenagers and such: KRLA and KHJ and they were really promoting stuff. I think there was a Tv show that was filmed on the beach that they would show every day on the Tv. So I think it was just something you absorbed when you’re that age. I’m older than my younger brother, so it wasn’t like he gave me a record and it got passed down. My parents were into all that Frank Sinatra and Perry Como stuff so it was definitely something I found myself.
My brother was playing Humble Pie and I would hear it. We had separate rooms and I would hear it through the door and I said, “Oh, what’s that? I got to have that.” It was like he played stuff and I played stuff and we both had different interests. Like, I really liked Cream and he really didn’t like Cream. So that would happen where he would like something and then I’d like something and then we’d trade and then he’d like what I liked and vice versa.
I did try to play drums and do you know who Jeff Porcaro [Toto] was? Well, I was friends with him in junior high and high school and I tried to play drums but he was so good he just made me quit (laughs). I thought, I better find something else to do to keep my juices flowing and it ended up being in photography and filmmaking.
Quiet Riot used to play at The Starwood. What stands out about playing there the most and that whole scene that was going on?
The Starwood was a really great club where it was pretty much all-ages. If you wanted to drink you had to get a hand stamp. But they let you in if you were under eighteen or twenty-one so you could get a really good crowd cause it seemed the kids under twenty-one were the ones that really got into it back then. The place was a lot of fun, a lot of bands played there. I’m a guy and there were a lot of girls there (laughs), which is always a draw. I didn’t actually play there but I did the lights there because I was with Quiet Riot, so they knew who I was cause Quiet Riot played there so much. So they let me in free and it was just a real great club. A lot of bands came, like I saw the Ramones play there, Sammy Hagar played there, I’m pretty sure Van Halen played there. There was one night Quiet Riot played there and they opened for a band called Detective and Detective was on Swan Song Records, which was Led Zeppelin’s label. And Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, I saw them in the hallway backstage. So that was THE club in LA at the time.
What was it like the first time the band went into a recording studio? Were they so green they didn’t know what to do or did that musician instinct kick in and they just took to it?
Well, they had rehearsed a lot so when they went in they knew what they were going to do. Randy pretty much discovered double and triple tracking when he went into the studio. You’re not going to do that when you’re just playing live or rehearsing. So that was a discovery that Randy made and took with him to Ozzy. He also did that on the Quiet Riot record. But they pretty much just went in and played.
Do you remember the first time you heard a Quiet Riot song on the radio?
It would have been “Slick Black Cadillac” off the second Japanese record and that was probably the first time I heard them on the radio. Everybody was excited and it was great. “Wow, we’re on the radio!” (laughs). What could be more exciting than having your song played on the radio? Since I was working with them, you just thought of it as you’re on the radio too. It was great.
Why do you think they were never signed?
You know, I don’t know. They just kept getting turned down and I guess there was something that labels didn’t like. What it was, I don’t know. Randy was a great guitar player, Kevin had that metal-y sound; I just can’t really tell you. I mean, they did get signed but the record company went bankrupt so you can’t say they didn’t get signed cause they did, by Buddha Records. But then Buddha went bankrupt and they were already recording the record so since they had already sunk some money into it they were able to sell it to Japan. They were really great live so it’s just one of those things, it just didn’t happen. But you can see what happened later. Randy went on to sell a lot of records with Ozzy and you know what happened with Quiet Riot’s Metal Health record.
Did you watch the Super Bowl and see that Hyundai commercial where they played “Bang Your Head”? Now it’s on TV all the time and I see it on lots of different shows. So Kevin got his commercial with that and Randy got his last year with a car commercial with “Crazy Train.” So they both now have a car commercial (laughs)
Quiet Riot went on to record Metal Health and it was such a success for them. Is it almost bittersweet because Randy wasn’t there in that incarnation of Quiet Riot when they finally hit big?
Well, it was a different band. Rudy was the bass player in Quiet Riot but Rudy wasn’t the original bass player when the band played with Randy. It was more like, oh God, what took so long? Kevin was plugging away and it was good, the music was good, and just finally somebody recognized it and then the public, obviously, recognized it. So yeah, it would have been nice if Randy was alive but I guess that band with Kevin and Randy weren’t destined to have a record deal together in America.
When the incident happened with Kelly and he pulled a gun on Randy, that must have been a very stressful moment for the band. How did they get through it?
They got through it pretty easy. I mean, Kevin, I guess, was happy because he really wanted Kelly out of the band and Randy, after that, could see that Kelly wasn’t serious anymore and he really didn’t like the fact that a gun was shot towards him. Kelly and Kevin didn’t get along but Kevin was the one who got the band as far as they got and Kelly really wasn’t that serious about it. He admits himself that he was an alcoholic and it was just not something that he was going to take seriously at that point in his life. He was getting frustrated too that they weren’t getting a record deal but instead of plugging away at it and trying to make things better he decided to take his frustration out with a bottle.
What happened to Kelly after that?
He moved to Las Vegas and I believe he was an EMT in Las Vegas and then he became a photographer and then he wrote his book and then he started playing bass again. I don’t know exactly what he is doing now. He says he wants to write a screenplay, I think, but I don’t know what exactly he’s doing except hoping to promote his book.
In the interview you did with Drew on the DVD, he sounded a bit bitter.
Oh yeah, Drew does come off as bitter but that’s the way he felt. He was a little angry about the way things happened and it’s kind of interesting that he feels that way because really for him he probably came out better in life that they didn’t make it. Cause he was successful in real estate and he was successful when he had a recording studio that a lot of big bands played at and he did really well with that. So that never probably would have happened if Quiet Riot made it. A lot of bands make it and they blow all their money so who knows what would have happened if they made it.
What did Rudy bring into the band when he joined after Kelly left?
Rudy is a really great musician and he brought a lot of musicianship and a lot of show business savvy and a great stage presence to the band. He played good and he looked good (laughs)
And he is still an admired bassist today.
Yeah, he is very well known and he’s played with a lot of people and there’s a reason he’s played with a lot of people – cause he’s good.
When Randy left to go play with Ozzy, how did the guys feel when they first found out?
Kevin was really pissed and upset and he wondered, “Why is he leaving? He doesn’t even like that kind of music that Ozzy did with Black Sabbath.” But eventually he saw that Randy had to go out and try something else and so he wished him good luck. It took a while to get over it but once he was over it he was all for Randy being successful. And they communicated with letters; back then there was no internet, so Randy would write letters and Kevin would write back to him. And Kevin just kept plugging away and found some other people to play with and eventually the people turned into the new version of Quiet Riot.
Why do you think Kevin sometimes rubbed people the wrong way? In your book, he seems like a really nice guy.
Well, because Kevin had been trying so hard and once he got signed and they were so successful, then all these other bands rode his coattails and he was kind of like, “How come it took me ten years and these people get signed in a few months?” Instead of being happy for the other people he just totally took it the wrong way and he thought people were making money and being successful off of his hard work. And he just didn’t react the right way.
Can you share a memory about Randy that truly shows what kind of person he was?
This isn’t in the book – I met Randy in like March of 1975. I’m Kevin’s friend and I’m going to the rehearsals and taking pictures and hanging out but it was more like, ok, I’m just there and not really like buddies, you know. I’m Kevin’s friend and Randy has his friends. Well, I got pneumonia and I was in the hospital for a week and Kevin and Randy came and visited me in the hospital and cheered me up and that made me feel really good, that Randy felt enough good will, felt he was friends enough with me to show up at the hospital cause who wants to go to a hospital. So that was one thing I really thought was cool. Then Kevin and I would go to Randy’s house, and I got to write lyrics with them; so he thought enough of me that he let me write lyrics to his music, so that was cool … There was never a mean bone in his body. He liked to pull pranks, he was a practical joker.
So they had fun putting on those dresses.
(laughs) Yes, they would do anything to cut up, to have fun and make jokes and fool around and just anything they thought could be funny, they would do. So if there were dresses there, if one person would put them on, then they were all in the dresses in the dressing room. I was there with my camera to take those pictures. Those are a couple of my favorite pictures in the book too.
You eventually started doing the lights for the band during their live shows, right?
I loved doing the lights because it made me a part of the show. The lights have to go with the music and they have to change them on the beat and they can set a mood; they can bring it down for a slow song and blast away for a really hard rocking song. That was really fun and I got to go out with Quiet Riot’s Metal Health version and do the lights there. So I got to tour the world with them. It was a lot of fun.
When did you stop doing all that?
Actually, I got fired (laughs) Quiet Riot fired me. What happened was, their album, the Metal Health album, was really successful and so for the next tour, their album Condition Critical, they wanted to have the biggest light show that I could design. So I designed it, the light show was like a thousand lights and it had moving trusses and it had a computerized light board and all sorts of stuff. So I said, “You wanted the biggest thing I could come up with, here it is.” And they approved it. So they went out and things weren’t going well on the tour as far as ticket sales so by the end of the tour we had to cut the light show in half and I guess I’m the one that got blamed so I got fired. But it’s the best thing they could have done for me cause I never would have been successful with other stuff I’ve done. I’d still be plugging away, a rock & roll rat on the road probably, without a kid. She’ll be eighteen in April. She likes music, everything from Grateful Dead to Slipknot. I took her to see Quiet Riot a few times. I still have my old t-shirts and she wears my old rock & roll t-shirts all the time. She’s got a great collection now (laughs). But like I said, I would probably not have her if I didn’t get fired. So it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was actually pissed at Kevin for a year but then we made up.
Do you feel like you’re the caretaker of the Quiet Riot early days?
I would say I’m one of the few people that are. I’ve got obviously more pictures than anybody else of them and then Lori Hollen that you saw interviewed in the movie was the fan club president and she kept the flame going. Now we’ve got the social media thing going where there are a lot of Facebook pages dedicated to Randy and there’s some Quiet Riot ones. And obviously before Kevin died, Quiet Riot was still playing so he was keeping it going. Now this book and movie are out and hopefully a lot of people will discover what it was like to be a struggling band in the late 70’s in southern California. I think this story can be about any young up & coming band or about anybody with dreams that try to make it.
What do you miss most about Kevin and Randy?
Kevin was a great friend and he had a great sense of humor. Randy was a good friend and he also had a great sense of humor and what a guitar player he was. Sadly, it’s only speculation of how great he could be now but he was always trying to get better. He wasn’t resting on his laurels. He continued to take lessons and try and get better at guitar. His whole life was about guitar. The world is missing out on what he could have been. It’s one of those weird, strange things that happened.
Randy Rhoads: The Quiet Riot Years book and DVD set can be ordered through the website www.redmatchproductions.com