Pearl: 30 Years of Tribute

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Ozzy Osbourne – Tribute

Released March 19th, 1987 on Epic Records

Shorter than average, and rail-thin to the point of emaciation, most of the space that Randy Rhoads took up was due to his massive, lion-like mane of blonde hair.  He was quiet, unassuming, and mostly stone sober, an Odd Couple-esque contrast to the guy he played guitar for, Ozzy Osbourne circa 1980-1981.  That’s actually a very understated thing to say – “played guitar for”.  Randy Rhoads was a barnburner of a guitar player, a shredder that did for guitar in the 1980s what Eddie Van Halen did for guitar in the 1970s.  He sent everyone back to the woodshed, and his influence on the neoclassical movement of shred guitar cannot be overstated.  His playing on Ozzy’s two best albums, the one-two punch of of Blizzard of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman, are what makes those albums so great.  The riffs are crunchy and yet grounded, something a shredder like Yngwie Malmsteen could never quite grasp.  He plays in support of the singer, up until it’s time to let loose and then GAWD DAMN, Randy Rhoads could melt your face off.  Tribute is the perfect, er, tribute to how he managed this:  check out “Flying High Again”, or the inevitable “Crazy Train”.  Those background riffs are solid, nothing fancy – chords and chord-transitions that let Ozzy soar his voice, but when it comes time for the solo Rhoads leaps out and gets downright liquid, slipping through lines and playing faster than any human has a right to play.  He also got deep into the theory behind his playing, encouraging Ozzy and the rest of the band to write songs that fell outside of the usual “A or E” key that heavy metal tracks were written in.

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He was a force to be reckoned with, a brilliant musician with a fresh take on a well-worn instrument, and so it was inevitable that he would die young, because that’s rock ‘n ‘ roll for some reason, even when you avoid drugs and alcohol in a band full of drugged-out alcoholics.  After a show in Orlando, FL in 1982, the band stopped in Leesburg to fix an air conditioning unit.  Tour bus driver and sometime pilot Andrew Aycock noticed a plane on the property of the place they’d stopped and decided to steal it; he took a couple of people up with him the first time and landed without incident.  The second trip, where Aycock took up Randy Rhoads and band makeup artist Rachel Youngblood, was much grimmer.  Aycock, who had been reportedly up all night binge-snorting cocaine, decided to buzz the tour bus as a lark.  On one of the passes, he clipped the plane’s wing on the bus, went into an uncontrollable spiral, and crashed the plane into a nearby garage.  All three aboard died instantly and were burned to cinders.  Tribute followed several years of grieving and carrying on with new guitarists and new albums; when it came time to put out a live album, the strength of Rhoads’ playing during the 1981 tour especially cried out for an actual release.

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