When Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath and went solo, some didn’t expect much. Ozzy was strung out and his last album with Sabbath, 1978’s Never Say Die, was not a classic by the band’s own admission. But Ozzy had a trump up his sleeve – guitarist Randy Rhoads. The young Rhoads, then 24, had previously played with Quiet Riot, but his playing on the Blizzard of Ozz album arrived like a lightning bolt.
Even in the prime era of Eddie Van Halen, Rhoads’ epic riffing and shredding was astonishing. While nothing can dent the impact of the playing on Blizzard of Ozz, many Rhoads aficiandos believe Diary of a Madman to be more impressive – it’s on the second Ozzy album that Rhoads fully melds his classical, fusion, jazz and hard rock influences.
Rhoads was different from most “metal” guitarists. “I have a lot of influences from everywhere,” he told Guitar Player in 1982. “I like a lot of classical music and blues rock… I love Allan Holdsworth’s playing. He’s got a lot of great jazz scales. Andy Summers of the Police is definitely unique. Pat Metheny does some great acoustic stuff. John McLaughlin is technically great, but his is not one of my favorite styles. Leslie West was very important to me. He has a great feel. He is powerful and moody. I like Earl Klugh. Jeff Beck can do anything – he can play one note and it’s great. Ritchie Blackmore was great; I loved his expression. I love B.B. King. I like Michael Schenker’s and Steve Lukather’s playing a lot. I also like Ronnie Montrose, especially with Edgar Winter. I like the way he bends; I could never bend like that. I liked all the English players in the ’70s who used a lot of vibrato.
“But I don’t own any rock guitar albums – mostly, I like mellow jazz and classical.”
If that set of influences was something far from the norm, so was the Ozzy band’s way of working. Diary of a Madman was recorded almost immediately after Blizzard of Ozz. There was a short European tour in between, but by the time Ozzy, Randy and the band made their debut U.S. tour, Diary of a Madman was already finished.
Watch Ozzy Osbourne in awe listening to a Randy Rhoads outtake.
“[Randy] was s--t-hot on the second album,” producer Max Norman remembered. “The improvements were really noticeable. Stuff that would have taken longer to do didn’t take so long anymore, plus he had a lot more idea of what arrangements he wanted to do.”
And what Rhoads wanted to do was considerably broaden his guitar palette. Title track “Diary of a Madman” starts with a classical motif (double tracked on steel-string and classical) before going into heavy syncopated riffs; “You Can’t Kill Rock ’n’ Roll” is an Ozzy “ballad” that’s actually worth a listen; on “S.A.T.O” Rhoads lays down FX-treated arpeggios; the “Flying High Again” solo was triple-tracked…
Producer Norman told journalist Jas Obrecht, “We got into very curious extremes with recording some of the guitars. The basic setup was always the same, but we did a lot of stuff in the control room to change the sound around and get different kinds of feels.”
Rhoads solos were again hugely influenced by his true passion, classical music. Ozzy later recalled, “In his heart, he wanted to be a classical guitar player. In fact, with the first record royalty he received, he went out and bought himself a very, very expensive classical guitar. And he sat there for days and nights, working on his theory things… the night before he died, he’d been up for four days and four nights, plus gigging, working on his theory, because he wanted to get into a university and get a degree in music.”
It is a measure of Osbourne’s regard for Rhoads that the first album included “Dee,” Randy’s solo classical guitar piece dedicated to his mother, Delores Rhoads. Elsewhere, Randy’s riffs and solos all had some nod a classical influence: in a hard-rock setting, you don’t notice it at first, but it’s there.
Rhoads, despite his tender years, was very particular about his guitar sounds. Diary of a Madman, like Blizzard of Ozz, was recorded at Ridge Farm studios is Surrey, England. Rhoads had his Marshall amps set-up in a live room, underneath the main mixing control room. His Marshalls were close- and distant-miked to give a big sound. He mainly used his Alpine White Gibson Les Paul and his polka dot Flying V copy, custom built by Karl Sandoval. Rhoads loved overdubbing. Many tracks featured three or more parts for the main riffs, with acoustics sprinkled into the mix. Even Rhoads’ solos were often triple-tracked on Diary of a Madman. It doesn’t sound like that, but Rhoads was already a masterful arranger of guitar parts. Max Norman: “The great thing about it was he had the parts so together that when it came out, it didn’t sound like there were that many there. Each part seemed to jigsaw into each other real well.”
Rhoads himself was proud: “We put a lot more energy into the songwriting part of it. Where the first album [Blizzard of Ozz] was, ‘Turn it up to 10 and if it feels good, just play it.’” Yet Rhoads was also a perfectionist: after the blitz-recording of Blizzard, he wanted more time for Diary and said he felt “rushed.” “The material came out shining,” Rhoads recalled, “but I was a bit lost for licks, what to do on it. I didn’t have enough time to think what I wanted to do.”
For the record, Rhoads cited “Diary of a Madman” and Flying High Again” as his favorite cuts on the album. Hear “Over the Mountain”, with Rhoads’ guitar isolated.
Imagine if Rhoads did have more time? The album’ s closing song, title track “Diary of a Madman,” is possibly the most complex track ever released under Ozzy Osbourne’s name. Its architect was Randy Rhoads. “Diary” pointed the way to a new gothic/classical stream of metal. Technically flawless, rich with guitar tones, rock hard, but quite removed from most generic riffing.
“He was the most dedicated musician I ever met in my life, “ Ozzy remembered, just after Rhoads’ death in a plane crash. “He was a master of his art.”
Diary of a Madman often falls in the shadow of Blizzard of Ozz because the albums arrived so close to each other. If you want to hear the true potential of the late Randy Rhoads, Diary of a Madman is the one.
More Ozzy guitarists:
Zakk Wylde from 2007
Tony Iommi Signature Humbucker
The Top 10 Metal Guitarists of All Time