The Untold Truth Of Randy Rhoads

Just 25 years old at the time of his death, Randy Rhoads changed the face of heavy metal guitar forever. As a founding member of Quiet Riot, Rhoads was one of the hottest guitarists on the Los Angeles music scene in the late 1970s. Rivaled only by the legendary Edward Van Halen, he was a rock 'n' roll innovator who combined flashy playing with a classical sensibility that, up until then, had rarely been heard in the metal genre.

Although Quiet Riot regularly packed LA clubs, the band seemed to be going nowhere. Hoping to break out of a musical dead end, Rhoads auditioned for former Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne in 1979 at the urging of bassist Dana Strum. No fan of Sabbath's music, Rhoads nonetheless decided to give the gig a shot.

Ozzy Osbourne, recently fired from Black Sabbath, was at the lowest point in his career in 1979. Mired in drugs and alcohol, Osbourne was on a decidedly self-destructive path when manager Sharon Levy (aka Sharon Arden) engineered his comeback. Randy Rhoads would prove integral to Osbourne's musical and personal revival. The two albums Rhoads recorded with Osbourne,  "Blizzard of Ozz" (1980) and "Diary of a Madman" (1981), became instant metal classics and made the young musician the guitar hero of a generation. However, Rhoads' wild ride to the top would come to a tragic end on March 19, 1982, when he lost his life in a freak plane crash in Leesburg, Florida. This is the untold truth of Randy Rhoads.

Randy Rhoads' early years

As detailed in Jas Obrecht's "Masters of Heavy Metal," Randy Rhoads was born on December 6, 1956, at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. The youngest of three siblings, Randy was raised in a musical home. His father, William Arthur Rhoads, was a music teacher who had played clarinet and saxophone in the Army. Rhoads' mother, Delores, was a multi-instrumentalist who studied under bandmaster Herbert Lincoln Clark, who had conducted the original recording of John Phillip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Together, Rhoads' parents founded Musonia School of Music in North Hollywood in 1949. Despite their musical inclinations, there was little harmony between Delores and William Rhoads. When Randy was 17 months old, his father left the family.

Delores Rhoads raised her three children alone while running Musonia. Although their home was filled with music, the family couldn't afford a record player or television set for years. Rhoads credited the lack of outside influences as a boon to her son's creativity. "[T]here was not a lot of music to listen to at home," she told Obrecht. "Randy just had to develop things on his own."

Young Randy Rhoads surpassed his guitar teacher

Randy Rhoads' introduction to the instrument that made him famous came by accident. In a 2012 feature, Randy's brother, Douglas, a musician professionally known as "Kelle Rhoads," revealed how his younger brother was literally struck by the guitar at an early age. "[O]ne day when my brother was a little tiny kid, like five years old, he was snooping around in [our mother's] closet, and the guitar that belonged to my grandfather, a 1918 Gibson Army-Navy Special, fell down and hit him in the head," Kelle Rhoads said. "About a year later, when my mom saw he was serious, she gave him lessons in acoustic guitar."

After several years of studying acoustic styles, Randy Rhoads was ready to rock. When he saw Alice Cooper at the Long Beach Auditorium in 1971, his life changed forever. Inspired, Randy instantly knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Under the tutelage of instructor Scott Shelley, Rhoads dedicated himself to lead guitar. Soon, however, Rhoads outgrew his teacher. After nine months of lessons, Shelley admitted to Delores Rhoads that he had taught her son everything he knew and that Randy was now teaching him.

Randy Rhoads graduated high school at 16

Among Randy Rhoads' earliest musical projects was Violet Fox, a short-lived band he formed with his brother Kelle on drums and high school pal Kelly Garni on bass. In 1973, after playing in several cover bands, Rhoads and Garni recruited singer Kevin DuBrow and drummer Drew Forsyth to form a new band called Little Women, according to Louder Sound. Fortunately, the band's Louisa May Alcott-inspired moniker was quickly dropped in favor of Quiet Riot. With DuBrow's charisma and Rhoads' fretboard pyrotechnics, the band became a local favorite.

According to Kelle Rhoads, Randy's abilities went beyond his musicianship. "He was a very intelligent kid who got good grades in school, and he didn't even have to try," Rhoads told author Jas Obrecht. Still, music was Randy Rhoads' life, and by the time he was a teenager, he had mapped his career. As a musical prodigy, it was clear to  Rhoads that a standard educational path was a hindrance to his dreams. While attending Burbank High School, Rhoads was allowed to participate in a special accelerated learning program. Consequently, he graduated at 16, which allowed him to focus on bands and teaching guitar at his mother's music school full-time.

Rhoads modeled himself after Bowie's Mick Ronson

Although Randy Rhoads admired '70s guitar gods such as Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, it was Alice Cooper and David Bowie's lead axmen who really made an impression on the young guitarist. "[Alice Cooper's] Glen Buxton was the original big influence on him. And then, later on, Mick Ronson became a very major influence for Randy, both in technique and image," friend and bandmate Kelly Garni told Guitar World. "Look at Mick Ronson on a live Bowie video and it's scary how much Randy resembled him."

Kelle Rhoads concurs with Garni, adding that his brother adopted a similar hairstyle and began playing a white Les Paul because of Ronson. As Kelle explained to Louder Sound, Randy's penchant for flashy, androgynous clothes led his brother to spend weekends scouring thrift stores. Returning with armloads of dresses and jewelry, Rhoads would alter the clothes to fit his newfound glam rock style. However, his unique look often put him at odds with his peers at relatively conservative Burbank High. "People gave him a hard time," sister Kathy Rhoads said. "They used to want to beat him up. It upset me. I'd scream at these people, because he just didn't fit in."

Randy Rhoads pushed himself to his physical limits

Randy Rhoads' dedication to the guitar is legendary. Constantly striving to improve his musical vocabulary and technique, Rhoads spent countless hours practicing. "All Randy ever wanted to do was play the guitar," Kelle Rhoads recalled to Jas Obrecht. "I don't remember him ever saying he wanted to do anything else." Agreeing with her eldest son, Delores Rhoads adds, "Randy just loved [playing guitar] so much. He played all the time. He never put it down. ... In all the years I had been teaching — and that's a good many years — I've never seen a student who just loved it so much."

According to, Randy Rhoads' obsession with music sometimes put his health on the line. As a child, his incessant practicing so concerned Delores Rhoads that she consulted a doctor out of fear he might permanently damage his hands. After joining Ozzy Osbourne's band, Rhoads would practice for hours before and after gigs in pursuit of musical perfection. To alleviate swelling after these marathon practice sessions, Rhoads would be forced to soak his aching hands.

Before Ozzy, Randy Rhoads was a hit in Japan

In the mid-1970s, Quiet Riot and Van Halen were the darlings of the LA nightclub scene. Although both bands featured virtuoso guitarists and flamboyant, motor-mouthed frontmen, it was Eddie Van Halen's group that initially broke through to international fame when they landed a major record deal with Warner Brothers in 1977. As Van Halen climbed the charts with their 1978 debut album, Quiet Riot was certain that their break was just around the corner. Nevertheless, Quiet Riot struggled to get noticed despite their popularity with local audiences. As detailed in David Konow's "Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal," Quiet Riot auditioned for 32 record labels, all of which ultimately rejected the band.

In 1977, Quiet Riot managed to get signed to CBS Sony for two albums that were released exclusively in Japan. Featuring a poppier sound than either Rhoads' work with Osbourne or Quiet Riot's later, more metal-oriented albums, "Quiet Riot I" and "Quiet Riot II" were met with positive reviews in Japan. Despite the band's minor success overseas, Quiet Riot's management declined the opportunity to tour Japan. Quiet Riot's first albums have never been officially released in the United States.

Randy Rhoads' rivalry with Eddie Van Halen

As the hottest guitarists on the LA music scene in the 1970s, Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen maintained a mostly amicable rivalry during their early years. Decades after Rhoads and Van Halen's rise to the pantheon of guitar godhood, rock and metal fans continue to make their cases for who was the best.

According to biographer Andrew Klein, Rhoads was "devastated" after seeing Van Halen play for the first time. "Everyone was always telling him how great he was," Klein told Peter Lindblad of Backstage Auctions. "Then he saw Eddie and it opened his eyes, and he got a major reality check. It was healthy for him. ... He thought Eddie was great. He wanted to be great also."

Randy Rhoads was always the first to admit Van Halen's influence on his music. Still, he felt that his use of Van Halen's techniques ultimately held him back. "I have my own personality on the guitar but as of yet I don't think I have my own style," Rhoads told Guitar World's John Stix in 1982. "For instance, I do a solo guitar thing in concert, and I do a lot of the same licks as Eddie Van Halen. Eddie is a great player, but it kills me that I do that."

In an interview conducted shortly after Rhoads' death in 1982, Van Halen remembered his late rival. "He was good," Van Halen stated, adding, "But, I don't think he did anything that I haven't done."

Randy Rhoads was no fan of Black Sabbath

The greatest irony of Randy Rhoads' brief career may be that he rose to fame as the guitarist in ex-Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne's band. In a 2019 interview with The Metal Voice, Rhoads' former Quiet Riot bandmate spoke about their distaste for Sabbath. "Black Sabbath to us were trying to be evil. Randy Rhoads and I didn't really get it," Garni said. "That is why it's so weird that Randy Rhoads ended up with Ozzy because we never listened to Black Sabbath, we didn't think they were very talented." Rhoads preferred the campy theatrics of Alice Cooper, whom he considered "more crazy than evil," to Black Sabbath's deadly serious, doom-laden image.

When fellow LA musician and Black Sabbath superfan Dana Strum called to invite him to audition for Osbourne, Rhoads replied, "Who's Ozzy Osbourne?" Despite his reluctance, Strum was eventually able to coax a half-hearted commitment to audition from Rhoads. Finally, Delores Rhoads convinced her son that he should try out for no other reason than to at least make some connections in the music industry.

Randy Rhoads' affair with Sharon Arden

As detailed in "Sharon Osbourne Extreme: My Autobiography," Ozzy Osbourne was still married to his first wife, Thelma Riley, when the singer became romantically involved with Sharon Arden. Initially, Osbourne and Arden hid their relationship for the sake of Osbourne's family. To that end, they concocted the fiction that Sharon and Randy Rhoads were an item. Despite being committed to his girlfriend Jodi Raskin, Rhoads went along with the ruse.

However, when Osbourne's wife showed up at Ridge Farm Studios during the recording of "Diary of a Madman," Arden was left out in the cold. Rhoads offered to share his room with Arden pending the departure of Ozzy's wife. Close quarters mixed with alcohol resulted in a single night of passion between Arden and Rhoads.

In "Ordinary People: Our Story," Sharon Osbourne recalled her dalliance with Rhoads. "Ozzy knows and has never wanted to discuss it," Osbourne wrote. "That's his way of dealing with it, which means the details will remain with me until I'm gone. ... Ozzy knows the onetime occurrence was loving, not lustful."

Ozzy's relationship with Randy wasn't always rosy

In the years since Randy Rhoads' death, Ozzy Osbourne has gone on record many times to express his admiration and love for the late guitar player. "I knew instinctively that [Randy Rhoads] was something special," Osbourne told A&E's "Biography." "He was like a gift from God. We worked so well together. Randy and I were like a team, you know. ... He gave me a reason for carrying on."

Although there's no doubt that Osbourne and Rhoads were a dynamic force both onstage and in the studio, their friendship was often strained by Ozzy's substance abuse and volatile relationship with Sharon Arden.

A proposed double live album of Black Sabbath covers drove a wedge between Osbourne and Rhoads. When Rhoads and bandmates Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge balked at the idea, Osbourne fired the band, leaving Sharon to rectify his rash decision. Angrily, Osbourne threatened to replace Rhoads with Gary Moore or Frank Zappa. By 1982, Rhoads had grown dissatisfied with his role in Osbourne's band and the metal scene in general and had decided to concentrate on classical studies. According to bassist Bob Daisley, Osbourne didn't take Rhoads' decision to leave the band at the end of his contract well. "When Ozzy found out that Randy wanted out, he punched him in the face and called him an ungrateful little sh*t," Daisley said.

Randy Rhoads was a notorious prankster

Although his talent,  kindness, patience, and dedication are well-documented, fond remembrances by Ozzy Osbourne and others have transformed Randy Rhoads into a veritable heavy metal saint. Sadly, the man has become lost in the mythmaking. One aspect of the legendary guitarist that's been largely overlooked was his wicked sense of humor.

According to longtime friend and bandmate Kelly Garni, Rhoads loved a good prank, and, at times, his jokes could get out of hand. "[Randy] took me aside and informed me that he had gone into the bathroom [of a house owned by friends], locked the door, crawled out the window and then stuck the garden hose into the window and turned it on," Garni recalled in an excerpt from his autobiography, "Angels With Dirty Faces," quoted in a Guitar World feature. Garni, feeling that Rhoads had taken the joke too far, came to blows with his friend. During the brawl, Rhoads struck Garni in the head with a telephone. Garni retaliated by whipping Rhoads across the face with an extension cord.

Rhoads and Garni also had a penchant for crashing Hollywood parties and wreaking havoc on the homes of unsuspecting hosts. "We would put eggs under the pillows on their beds, hiding things that would smell, like meat, under the bed," Garni told Louder Sound. "We'd help ourselves to some trinket if we saw something that we liked ... We never took anything valuable. ... We had sort of a conscience, you see." 

Rhoads designed one of metal's most popular guitars

As documented by Jeff Owens of Jackson Guitars, at the end of 1980, Randy Rhoads left England to spend the holidays with his family in the States. To make sure his guitar slinger made it home in time, Ozzy Osbourne booked Rhoads on the Concorde.

Inspired by the sleek lines of the aircraft, Rhoads sketched a design for a new guitar on a napkin. Back in California, Rhoads took his hastily scribbled sketch to guitar builder Grover Jackson. "He had a little piece of paper with like a four- or five-line scratch drawing of just the body," Jackson told The Music Zoo. "We went through the whole dog and pony show ... and the guitar was born that day."

Soon, Rhoads was back in Jackson's shop with some ideas for improving the design. "He came back later, and he said, 'People keep ... asking me if it's a Gibson Flying V that's been cut up. ... I want to make another one, but I want to make it more shark fin-like." Rhoads and Jackson refined their original design, and the guitarist took delivery of the second guitar just three months before his death.

In tribute to the fallen musician, Grover Jackson put the guitar into production as the Jackson Randy Rhoads. In the years since Rhoads' death, the guitar has become synonymous with heavy metal with such players as Vinnie Vincent of KISS, Motörhead's Phil Campbell, and Scott Ian of Anthrax being few of the metal musicians to wield the legendary ax.

Mysteries swirl around Randy Rhoads' tragic death

Randy Rhoads' death in a small plane crash in Leesburg, Florida, on March 19, 1982, left many unanswered questions for fans, friends, and family. One of the mysteries surrounding Rhoads' death is the question of why the guitarist, who was uncomfortable with flying, boarded the plane in the first place. "Some weird f*cking unexplained sh*t went on that morning," Ozzy Osbourne writes in his 2010 autobiography "I Am Ozzy." "A lot of people say, 'Oh, they were pissing around, typical f*cking rock stars.' I want to set the record straight ... Randy was a very level-headed guy and he was afraid of flying. None of it makes any sense."

The plane was taken without permission by bus driver Andrew Aycock, whom some conjecture may have been attempting to kill his ex-wife, who was standing near the Osbourne tour bus. Flying extremely low, Aycock, who was operating the craft on an invalid pilot's license and was under the influence of cocaine, clipped the bus, sending the plane careening into a nearby house. Rhoads, Aycock, and seamstress Rachel Youngblood died in the crash.

Bassist Rudy Sarzo credits Rhoads with saving the lives of the band. "I am a thousand per cent convinced that Randy saved everybody in Ozzy's tour bus, keeping the plane from crashing into us." Sarzo told MusicRadar. "It clipped the bus, but it did not crash [directly] into the bus, and if that had happened, we would all have perished along with Randy and the others in the plane."