Feature written by Lisa Goich-Andreadis • Photography by Will Marks
In the early morning hours of March 19, 1982, while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne, legendary bass player, Rudy Sarzo—asleep in his tour bus bunk—was awakened by his close friend and band mate, Randy Rhoads.
“We’re at the bus depot and Andy’s going to take Rachel and me up on a plane to see the countryside. Get dressed and come with us! It’ll be fun!”
Sarzo declined, choosing, instead, to get a few more hours of sleep. When his head hit the pillow and he closed his eyes, he had no idea that he’d never see his friend Randy Rhoads again. Nor did he have any idea that the decision to stay behind would save his life.
Thirty-two years later, sitting at an outdoor table at a Starbuck’s in Southern California, clad in red shorts and a black heavy metal t-shirt with cut-off sleeves, Sarzo talks of his friend fondly, crediting Rhodes for his first big break in the music business after recommending Sarzo for the open bass position in the Ozzy Osbourne band.
“He was a mentor. Even though he was younger than me, he was very mature. An absolute innovator. He had the whole package. He had a great image. He was a great musician. He brought in a whole new technique of playing. Definitely, not only a guitar hero in presence but he just—he was just dedicated to playing. I will be forever grateful to Randy for his friendship, his guidance and his magnificent gift of music that he shared with us all. My life would’ve never been the same without him in it.””
Sarzo’s 2008 book, Off The Rails: Aboard The Crazy Train In The Blizzard Of Ozz, chronicles Sarzo’s first major arena tour with Ozzy Osbourne and was written as a tribute to Rhoads to answer the #1 question fans around the world ask, which is, “What was it like to play with Randy Rhoads?”
“There was so much to share that I was compelled to put it into a book. That was my motivation. What was rewarding about writing this was having him alive in my head.”
Soft-spoken with a bright smile and, surprisingly, not a tattoo in sight, the heavy metal luminary—who has been part of some of the most infamous head-banging bands in history including: Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Geoff Tate’s Queensryche, Dio and Blue Oyster Cult—discussed his childhood in Cuba, his career and his current projects. Including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, Project Rock (an all-star band that recently returned from Russia) and his newest venture, the Lead Like A Rockstar Duet Experience, a speaking gig that brings the rock ‘n’ roll mindset into corporate culture.
FINE LIVING LANCASTER (FLL): How old were you when you moved to the states from Cuba?
RUDY SARZO (RS): I was almost 11. My formative years were spent in Cuba.
FLL: Did you start your musical training here or in the United States?
RS: In the United States.
FLL: Were you self-taught? Or did you take lessons?
RS: We took lessons. There were no rock schools. It was just watching other people. I saw a lot of concerts and I learned a lot by watching the pros playing and going to gigs where club bands were better musicians than I was. I had a great reference. Miami had some of the best musicians coming out. Like Jaco Pastorius was a local musician, so I used to catch him all the time. Very inspiring and very scary at the same time. I learned a lot watching him. And Will Lee from David Letterman. He was another guy. We were both in the same [party circuit] in Miami. We were competing bands that played all these parties. Not only was Will a great bass player, he sang great. And he sounded like an American. It was like I grew up with Cuban singers singing English; it was a whole different experience. But when you hear an American singing in a band you’re like, ‘Oh, that sounds correct.’ I learned from everybody. I just watched everybody. The do’s and don’ts.
SHE’S A LITTLE BIT CORPORATE, HE’S A LITTLE BIT ROCK ‘N’ ROLE
FLL: Did Life in Cuba influence your musical sensibilities?
RS: Absolutely it did. Not necessarily because of Latin music, but because of ideology. By the time I left Cuba, it was already a communist country. And the first thing they strip away is any blues-based rock ‘n’ roll. Any American music influence, even instruments. It was prohibited to play saxophone. There’s no communist or fascist country that will nurture a rock ‘n’ roll scene. Forget about it. It’s too free-thinking. It’s too rebellious. You know? It gives you too much hope. Too much faith.
FLL: Have you ever gone back to Cuba to perform?
RS: No. I left there in 1961 and I haven’t been back. It’s just a moral decision. My parents would frown upon it and I must honor their sacrifices.
FLL: What got you into music?
RS: My generation. I’m talking about the guys my age— guys who grew up being exposed to rock ‘n’ roll in the 60s—I would say every hetero musician got into it because of the girls. You either wanted to be a jock or a musician. And so that’s why I did it. That’s why every guy that I talked to, that’s why we did it. Basically, our reference was The Beatles. We saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and saw the girls going crazy. “We want that.” (laughs)
FLL: Was bass your first instrument?
RS: Actually in high school it was trumpet. Brass. You know brass band. I played very poorly. Very poorly. My mom used to stick me in the closet—I have home movies my parents took in the 60s of me in the closet playing trumpet. (laughs)
FLL: So did you go from trumpet to guitar because guitar would get more chicks?
RS: Oh yeah, absolutely (laughs). I already had given up on the trumpet. I had a guitar already because there were some musical shows on TV which were very popular, like The Jimmy Dean Show or Hootenanny. I know I’m dating myself. I liked it. I’ve always been a “band guy.” I also like sports. I like teamwork. I’m not one of those guys who likes to go on a journey alone. You know, I want to be part of the band, part of the team, part of the family. All of it. So being in a band really attracted me because it was a bunch of guys hanging together. You know, and I liked that. Our little family, which is what it is.
FLL: So you started with trumpet, moved to guitar. How did you come to play the bass?
RS: I went to the bass because nobody wanted to play the bass. I was 15 or 16. Back in the day, especially in Miami—that’s where I started playing seriously— every block had a band. Because there were so many kids living in these apartment buildings. Instead of having gangs, we had bands. And I heard McCartney play and I’m going, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty cool.’ That was my biggest reference. It’s funny, because I used to listen to McCartney back in the 60s and go, ‘Yeah, you know, in about 5 years from now, I’ll be as good as him’ (laughs). I don’t think anybody is as good as Paul McCartney. He’s like the ultimate. He’s like a freak of nature.
FLL: So do you believe you pick your instrument or does your instrument pick you?
RS: It’s my belief that the instrument picks you.
FLL: What advice do you have for parents of children who want to go into music?
RS: Buy them the best musical instrument possible. I’ve seen a lot of young musicians at [The Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy] camp that show up with really unplayable instruments that I couldn’t even play. I go, how could this even inspire you? If you happen to have a 50s vintage instrument in your closet, don’t worry, let your kid use it. Because if it inspired you when you were a teenager during the 50s, it’ll inspire your child. Your child deserves the same inspiration as you had.
FLL: What was your craziest Rock ‘n’ Roll moment?
RS: Ozzy. Just the fact that you’re in a band with Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy is the most unpredictable. You know, it’s kind of like, ‘expect the unexpected.’ It was guaranteed it was not going to be the same.
FLL: Who are your favorite bands?
RS: I’ve been a fan longer than I’ve been a professional. I know it’s going to sound trite, but everybody. Except most rap artists because being a bass player there’s no bass in rap. So I’ve got nothing to get out of it. But just about any band with a bass player.
FLL: Tell us about Project Rock.
RS: Project Rock is an all-star band made up of players from a lot of other hard rock bands: Me, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens from Judas Priest, Keri Kelli from Alice Cooper, Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis from Guns N’ Roses and James Kottak from the Scorpions. We toured Russia last year. One of the many things I enjoy about being a member of Project Rock is making music with outstanding legacy musicians who are also some of my closest and dearest friends. That to me is the best formula for a successful band, great camaraderie and musicianship.
FLL: You’re a regular counselor at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp and starred in the VH1 Show of the same name. How long have you been doing the rock camp?
RS: About seven years.
FLL: Why do you keep going back?
RS: This is why. When I was playing with a certain band, a few years ago, I was beginning to feel like I was part of the carousel. I was going around and around like every year was, I’m back to where the cycle started. I wasn’t going anywhere, right? So one day I get a call from David Fishof [Founder of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp] to come and do the camp. And I walk in and my first impression of the camp was, “Listen to this beautiful noise. But look at how happy everybody is playing.” All of a sudden it reminded me of the reason why I started playing in the beginning: the joy of making music. And it’s incredibly rewarding and it helps me with my personal growth.
FLL: Would you recommend the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp to others?
RS: There’s so much that you can accomplish at the camp. I think it should be called Rock ‘n’ Roll Reality Camp, because it’s not a fantasy. A fantasy is something that you imagine. To be on stage with anybody from Steven Tyler to the guys from Yes to the guys from Def Leppard to Roger Daltry. Or Gene Simmons. It’s not a fantasy, it’s a reality. You are on stage with these guys. You’re not fantasizing, you’re actually doing it.
Sarzo currently lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife of 30 years (that’s 100 in rock star years!), Rebecca, and their Yorkie, Tory.
For more information on Sarzo and his projects:
Rudy Sarzo – www.rudysarzo.com
Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp – www.rockcamp.com
Project Rock – www.projectrock.net
Lead Like A Rockstar – www.ksrockstartraining.com