If you don’t know the drill, then see this link. My goal is to recognize guitarists who had (or have) greater technical mastery of their instrument than Jimi Hendrix had. The reality is that Jimi wasn’t actually a very good guitarist. So, when reading these, please keep in mind that the topic is technical ability – and not what we prefer.
Our next featured guitarist is actually one that I really enjoy covering. He had a background in folk and classical. His career lasted for just a decade but, in that short amount of time, he left a legacy that is astounding.
Without further introduction, let’s move on to our next guitarist.
#9 Randy Rhoads
There’s so much to tell about Randy as he has left us with some true masterpieces and a story to match. If you don’t believe Rhoads belongs on this list, you’re just wrong.
Warning: The story of Randy Rhoads is rather complicated and not easy to retell. You’ll see why this is probably going to be the longest entry on our list to date. This will be long. You have been warned!
I’d like to take a moment to remind folks that when the levels of skill are this high, it’s not easy to decide which artist goes exactly where on the list. Pretty much every artist so far included in this list can be swapped out with any other artist from any other position. Randy is no exception to that.
Born William Randall Rhoads, he was pretty much destined to be a musician from the moment he was born. His mother and father were both musicians and, more importantly, he was raised by his mother, Delores. Why is that important? Well, she owned a music school. The school was located in N. Hollywood and was called Musonia.
Because his dad had split, she’d opened the music school so that she could afford to raise her family. Curiously, both his mother and his father were not only musicians, they both taught music. It gets better.
You should recall that I said Randy was pretty much born to become a musician. He was. Not only were both of his parents accomplished musicians, but you now know his mother owned a music school. More interestingly was that their home had no stereo. Yup… There was no stereo allowed in the house. If they wanted musical entertainment, and they did, they had to make it themselves.
By the age of 7, Randy was taking folk and classical guitar lessons at his mother’s school. What many people don’t seem to understand is that folk guitar is very often very damned difficult. I assume that it was at about the age of 7 when he also acquired the name of Randy Motherfucking Rhoads. (The Internet does not confirm this, but what do they know?)
Randy Motherfucking Rhoads would soon get interested in an electric guitar. So, he took lessons from a fella named Scott Shelly. Those lessons did not last very long. Shelly went to Delores and informed her he could no longer give instruction to her son because Randy’s skill had surpassed his own.
I’d like to point out to you readers (especially user @crazy_eyes) that the first band Randy was in was with a friend he’d met in middle school. Randy taught him to play the bass guitar and the name of their first band was The Whores. Said friend is none other than Kelly Garni. You might recognize that name as being the bass player for Quiet Riot.
By the time Randy was 16, he was actually teaching in his mother’s school and not attending regular school very frequently. As you may recall, SRV was also not very fond of school. At this point, it’s pretty safe to conclude that not going to school is a prerequisite for becoming a guitar legend. You know who else didn’t finish school? Jimi Hendrix. However, in this case – and by some miracle, Randy managed to actually graduate! Yup. He got himself a high school diploma.
It was at the age of 16 that he’d start a band (with aforementioned Kelly) called Little Women. You might think you don’t know who they are – but you do! They’d change their name to Quiet Riot and, truthfully, they weren’t that popular – except on the local scene. In fact, their first two albums were first only released in Japan.
Seriously, I’m not kidding. Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II were first only released in Japan. You’re probably wondering where the story goes from here and how we ended up with history seemingly like it is when we look back at it. I know I would be, but I already know the story!
I’m not making this up…
What Quiet Riot did have was a pretty dedicated local following. Why? Because Randy Motherfucking Rhoads was already a guitar god.
You read that right. Read it again if you’re confused.
Randy loved him some polka-dots and that kinda became the central visual theme for Quiet Riot – or at least for Rhoads. The same dedicated local following? Well, they latched onto those polka-dots and started following Quiet Riot around wearing polka-dots of their very own. What can I tell you? It was Los Angeles in the 1970s and we didn’t have much in the way of entertainment back then.
Seriously… I’m not making this up.
And love it they did. The fans wore things like polka-dot suits, ties, bow ties, etc. The 60s had nothing on the 70s. The 70s were just weird.
Alright, so what’s going on? And how did he get from there to here?
In 1979, a fella named Ozzy Osbourne split with a band you may know as Black Sabbath. He just happened to be in LA and was looking to put a new band together. A friend of Randy’s urged him to audition and Randy declined.
Again, I’m not making that up. We deal in facts! Randy Motherfucking Rhoads declined to audition for Ozzy Osbourne. He just wasn’t interested. He actually agreed to the audition to shut his friend up because the friend wouldn’t leave him alone.
That friend’s name was Strum. I’ll avoid making bad puns about a guitarist named Strum. Well, a bassist… We let ’em call themselves guitarists, even if they have more trouble counting than drummers. Either way, and without making horrible puns, Dana Strum might be a name you recognize from a band called Slaughter.
Randy didn’t actually meet Ozzy during his audition. Ozzy remained in the sound booth. He hadn’t even really started to play and was just riffing around, mostly warming up, when the above mentioned Strum came into the room with a message saying that he’d been hired. If you’re curious, the guitar used during that audition was none other than a Gibson Les Paul.
I told you, the story is long and weird. If you’re ever curious about how musicians all seem to know a bunch of other musicians, it’s stories like these that demonstrate how much of a community it is and how small that community really is. Many of us have stories about sharing the stage with legends, opening for legends, or at least being crammed into the same area back stage.
He didn’t actually seem very keen on taking the job but his chance at stardom was there. He asked some friends and family for their views and I really think he was looking for someone to talk him out of it. When his mother asked him if he’d take such a job, he answered, “Of course.” It was, after all, his chance to be a star and the band Quiet Riot wasn’t actually popular outside of the LA area.
In fact, this is what Ozzy has to say about their first encounter. An important detail would be that Ozzy was also quite drunk at the time of their first encounter.
“He played this fucking solo and I’m like, am I that fucking stoned or am I hallucinating or what the fuck is this!” – Lyrical Genius Ozzy Osbourne
And the rest is history!
Ha! No… Just kidding… (Well, it is history, but the story doesn’t stop there.)
The band was formed with a bunch of people whom I’m not going to detail today. They all hopped on planes and headed to the UK to do a tour. Rhoads was promptly kicked out of the country because he didn’t have a work permit.
Things eventually got sorted and they started making music. Things went well, as I’m sure you know, and they released a few albums. Finally, they’re released an album called Diary of a Madman. It was also around this time when Randy is quoted to have remarked that he was thinking about leaving rock for a while, going to UCLA, and getting a degree in classical music.
However, he’d already made the decision to leave the band. They wanted to do an album of live covers of Black Sabbath songs and Randy wanted none of it. That’s definitely understandable. He’d already shown himself to be a creative genius and a technical master of the instrument and doing an album of covers was a slap in the face, or at least a step in the wrong direction.
But, he continued his obligations and was on tour when he made the fateful mistake.
Rule #1 for any accomplished musician should be to never, ever get on a small airplane. That’s the mistake Randy made.
Their tour bus was stopped due to a malfunction and they just happened to be at an airport. Their tour bus driver just happened to be a pilot. Their tour bus driver pretty much stole a plane. The first flight was a grand success – meaning that it didn’t crash. The second flight, now with Randy Motherfucking Soon-to-be-Dead Rhoads aboard, took off.
Blithering idiot bus driver then decided that buzzing the bus was a brilliant idea. He made two passes and decided those weren’t close enough. So, he made a third…
That’s when things went horrifically wrong.
The pilot clipped the bus with a wing, causing the plane to crash, and killing Randy instantly. In fact, all three people on the plane were killed instantly and burned beyond recognition. Ol’ Randy had to be identified with dental records and by the jewelry he was wearing at the time of the crash.
And so, on March 19th, 1982, we lost a guitar legend because he was surrounded by idiots and decided to join in on their idiocy. If you’re a successful musician, fucking walk!
Personal note: I was more pissed than sad when I heard the news. I’d had the chance to see him play and had made it a point to see him again. I’d hoped to see him a third time, but it turns out he was an idiot. If you’re a successful musician, do not get on a small airplane. They are murderous beasts!
And that’s pretty much the short version of the story. In a strange twist of irony, the last words that he’d said to Ozzy (whom he pretty much thought of as a bloated, drunken asshole) were something to the effect that Ozzy was going to kill himself one day.
So, why is he on the list? Simple… Turn your volume up and listen to this:
Rolling Stone Magazine, as we already know are a pack of talentless hacks best suited to writing about their favorite flavor crayon, put Randy Rhodes in 36th place. I submit that their placing him so low on the list was probably due to the lot of them huffing gasoline as children and being unable to actually count.
Crazy Train, by itself, would be enough to land Randy in the halls of greatness. But that’s not even the half of it.
Fuck you, Rolling Stone. Just fuck you.
Remember how I mentioned classical music above? Well, this is Randy fucking around during a sound check, as I understand it. Just listen to it all – you’ll see…
Yeah… That’s Randy Motherfucking Rhoads.
I’d like to point out that I enjoy writing these as much as you folks seem to enjoy reading them. I love the comments. I love to read about how the artists have inspired you or connected with you in some way. I love to see your suggestions and love the feedback.
If you want me to write about an artist, just add it to a comment and I’ll review them and see if they’re good enough to make the cut. If you want to connect with me and see about writing some stuff for the blog yourself, I’m very open to such ideas. We do have one fine vocalist who seems intent to add some content, but her life has become busy and the real world must be the priority.
I want to thank those of you who have inspired me to write these. I learn things as I research them and I try to make them interesting to read. This one is, shall we say, longer than most – but that’s because Rhoads put a lot of life into a very short career.
I usually strive for a sort-of academic approach (at least well researched) but with Randy, I want to take a moment to say that he was an inspiration even though I was already performing. His affect on the industry was palpable at the time and he impacted my playing, my persona, and my views. It was him, and his behavior, that really influenced my attempts to remain a professional.
I know that I get a lot of comments elsewhere about my professionalism. That’s something I pride myself on. That’s something that I insist I do. It’s a discipline that I maintain. It’s notable, I think, that I got some of that from Randy Motherfucking Rhoads.
So, keep the comments coming and help keep me inspired. I expected this series to last for maybe a month before I got bored with it – but I’m still going and there’s many, many more artists to cover. Maybe I’m a comment whore? I don’t know – but I do know that I enjoy the feedback, the discussions it leads to, and to finding new guitarists that I may not have known about before.
By now, you know I like to leave you with one more for the road.
Now, shut up and play us a song!
Until next time…