By Steve Newton
Over the years, few heavy metal frontmen have proven their stamina and staying power like Ozzy Osbourne. After eight years and eight albums with the legendary Black Sabbath, Osbourne left the group in 1979 and it looked as though he was hanging up his microphone and abandoning the rock spotlight for good.
But Osbourne is no quitter. In actual fact, he was only taking a well-deserved break and making plans for a comeback assault on the hard-rock charts. And just last year that comeback became a reality with the album Blizzard of Oz, which sold over a million and a quarter copies in Britain and the U.S. alone.
With his latest album, Diary of a Madman, and a huge concert show that costs him $100,000 a week just to keep on the road, Ozzy is determined to reach the pinnacle of heavy metal success, even though that goal has taken a tragic and, for Ozzy, personally devastating setback with the death a few months ago of exceptionally gifted Randy Rhoads, the guitarist whose personal touch had a lot to do with the success of Osbourne’s first two albums.
Not one to give up, even in times of emotional stress, Ozzy is continuing his 1982 World Tour, one that will take him, after Vancouver, to Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, China and Japan. I talked to him recently about his late friend and band member, the current stage show, and his old band Black Sabbath.
How’s the tour going, Ozzy?
Phenomenal. Though we’ve had our ups and downs. I had a real bad throat infection and had to take a couple of weeks off. And I’m now suffering from a torn ligament in the knee from when I was performing on stage. I twisted it. But apart from that everything’s going fine.
How is your new guitarist, Brad Gillis, working out?
Brad’s working out fine, he really is. Every time we play he gets better and better. He’s an unknown guitarist from San Francisco.
How did you find him?
Through Pat Thrall, who used to play with Pat Travers. He put me onto him.
Is he filling the high-class shoes left by the late Randy Rhoads?
Well, he’s a different style guitar player on stage, but he plays all the licks. I mean, to get somebody as good as Randy, I’ve given up trying to look. Because after the death of Randy, I was very bitter for a long while, and to anybody who came along and auditioned I said: “Go, I don’t want to know”. I was trying to find the same kind of player, and you can’t. Randy was a one-of.
Let’s face it, you can’t get anyone to beat Randy because he was the best. But Brad’s near enough. I mean, you’ve got to give people a chance, and it’s a pretty big hole to fill in. I don’t think many people could ever stand where Randy stood, and you’ve got to give anybody who tries to stand in credit for what they’re doing.
On the first album, and Diary of a Madman, it sounds like an amazing cohesiveness had been developed between you and Randy…
Randy and I were just beginning to get things going real good. I don’t think the music world really fully appreciated the fact of Randy’s talent. He was incredible, he could do anything.
Yeah, I know. Like on “Crazy Train” and “Over the Mountain”, some of those lead solos are just unbelievable.
He was a very constructive guitar player. Like the biggest battle I’ve had is with guys who just want to do their thing with the tremolo bar. They just get on that guitar and every little gap has got this wanging guitar. Randy used it, but he used it in a constructive manner. Everybody else thinks you’ve got to make a row with it.
How have you found the Canadian audiences?
It’s funny because, I found last year that Toronto was really “up up”, but in a lot of other places audiences seemed to be thinking, “What is this guy all about?” There were a lot of kids who never even heard about me, or they heard of me but never saw me perform. So I don’t think they really knew what to expect. A lot of bands tend to forget Canada, neglect it a lot, because everybody concentrates on America.
Last year was the first time I played in Canada for about eight years, and Toronto was amazing, but at all the other places they were thinking, “What does he want us to do? What have we got to do at an Ozzy Osbourne concert?” But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this time. I hope people go a bit crazier.
What’s the Vancouver audience in for as far as your new stage show is concerned? I read in Circus magazine that you throw real calves’ livers and pigs’ guts around…
No, we used to, but we had to stop that. We got a fair amount of complaints, and it went a bit over the top, so I put a stop to it. And I don’t kill any animals on stage, if anybody’s worried about that.
What was all that fuss about you biting a bat’s head?
Yeah, that happened. Somebody threw a live bat on stage, and I thought it was one of those fake things, you know. But I bit it, and it was real. I went to have rabies shots, but I didn’t actually contract the disease.
What’s your stage show like?
It’s phenomenal. I guarantee that you’ll be blown away by it. It’s very gothic, like the cover of Diary of a Madman. There’s even the hanging of a midget. It’s all very theatrical.
How important do you think theatrics are to heavy rock?
Well the thing is, I’ve never done it, but it’s what I wanted to do for a long, long while. It’s quite well done. People get freaked out when it comes on. When it starts the curtain drops, and it’s just there in front of you, and you go, “Wow”. It’s a real big setup. It costs me a fortune to keep it on the road.
What do you think of the current Black Sabbath?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t heard them much, except a couple of tracks from Heaven and Hell and one of those Mob Rules tracks.
Is there any bad blood between you and them?
Naw, not anymore. There was! But why spend the rest of my life disliking them? It’s a pretty bad situation to be in. Good luck to them. I hope they do well, because they deserve it.
Yeah, they’ve been at it for a long time, and so have you. Which do you think is the best album you recorded with them?
Paranoid. And there’s a few actually that I quite like. I quite like Sabotage, it’s a pretty good album.
Do you do any Sabbath songs in concert?
Yeah, we do “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Children of the Grave”.
Is “Crazy Train” an autobiographical tune?
No. I think we all feel that. I mean, sometimes when you have a busy day and the phone never stops ringing you think, “Jeez, when is it all gonna stop?” It’s not just a personal song; it’s for everybody. There’s a different meaning for everything on that song. It’s what affects people and what effected me at the time.
At the time of writing that, there was only me and Randy, and we were trying to get players and everything was flying at us. There was just one thing after another, you know, and I was thinking, “Oh, I’m going crazy”. You just think that you’re going of the rails on a crazy train.
To hear the audio of my interviews with former Ozzy bandmates like Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, Jake E. Lee, Tommy Aldridge, and Zakk Wylde subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 300 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
….with hundreds more to come