Ozzy Osbourne. Quiet Riot. Whitesnake. Ygnwie Malmsteen. DIO. Blue Oyster Cult. A virtual who's who of heavy metal, hard rock luminaries and bass legend Rudy Sarzo has played for ALL of them. But, the first quality you'll notice in talking with this bass legend is, despite his storied career as a vital, albeit subtle, participant in Heavy Metal history, he's unusually slow to criticize. Perhaps this is a developed survival mechanism ? After all, interviewer after interviewer has requested Sarzo unveil his emotions in raw detail, after he witnessed close friend and peer, guitar legend Randy Rhoads perish in a brutal and controversial plane crash. It's comes as no surprise that in the past decade Sarzo has refused to discuss the painful memories further, even writing a book, 'Off The Rails', to publicly provide his version of events. And, possibly quell more of the same questions he's been answering since March 25th, 1982. Perhaps its years touring, living, and performing with names like David Coverdale, Ygnwie Malmsteen, and Ozzy Osbourne that have taught him a patience and respect for fame and fortunate circumstance. (And, for the record, not the kind, lovable dufus 'Dad Ozzy' we all got to see on the MTV heresy 'The Osbourne's'. No, this was the early eighties drunken rampaging Ozzy)
Either way, Rudy Sarzo comes across as one of the most well-balanced rock musicians you will ever meet. He's understandably reserved when referencing the Rhoads death, having accepted that he will forever be linked with the loss. But, he's also surprisingly frank when discussing his current role as bassist for classic rock legends Blue Oyster Cult, and his interests outside the realm of music.
Describe the frustration of being so closely associated with one of rock's great tragedies and having to continuously answer questions surrounding Randy Rhoads death ?
I wrote a book about it called 'Off The Rails'. Every time I do an interview and have to relive it again in order for me to give you a proper answer, it's very painful. A very painful process to go back to that place again. These are really good questions, but they're very painful questions. Everybody connected with Randy, and I have never been the same.
You were a member of Quiet Riot at the peak of their success. You were also a member of Whitesnake at the peak of their success. How were the two experiences different ?
With Whitesnake it was different because all of the members had previously tasted success. Tommy with Ozzy, then Pat Travers, and Black Oak Arkansas. Vivian Campbell with DIO. Adrien Vandenberg with his own band Vandenberg. And myself. We knew how blessed we were to be in the incredible situation to be playing in Whitesnake, because we were all refugees from other situations.
Are you the most skilled artist to play Bass in a Heavy Metal group?
No! But definitely one of the most blessed men to play bass. Blessed with all the incredible bands I've been apart of and all the incredible people. Incredible experiences. The way I look at music, whether it's playing Bass or playing drums, it isn't a competition. It's not about who can play the fastest or the loudest. Music is a language. Different musicians have different stories to tell with their instrument. Different statements, or opinions with their songs. And I just happen to have played with the most talented, most efficient people that have really beautiful things to say, like Randy Rhoads with his guitar, or Ronnie James Dio with his voice. I've been very, very blessed to have shared the stage and studio with such people.
Who was more difficult to work for: David Coverdale, Yngwie Malmsteen, or Ozzy Osbourne ?
Oh Wow. None of the above. They were all a pleasure to work with. It's funny, because Ygnwie had the worst reputation, but he was a sweetheart. Truly professional, truly inspiring. Ozzy was great. David was great.
In response to that, several of the people you've played with have reputations for being substance abusing egomaniacs. How is it possible that you have been so successfully working with such a variety of people with 'difficult' reputations ?
Maybe by the time I got to play with Yngwie he had changed his attitude. When I was working with him, it was the 'Attack Tour 2004. His wife April, she manages him. She was on the road with us. She was taking care of all the business. And, his son Antonio was on the tour with us. He was a happy, fulfilled man. He had his family with him on the road. And his band and he was playing his music every night. I can't think of a more rewarding experience than that. He was great.
Did Tawny Kitaen ruin Whitesnake ?
No. I don't think any woman can actually ruin a band. I think the man himself has to be influenced. Look, women are not the only ones that ruin bands. Male influences that can influence a band or certain people. But it's up to the individual whether or not to allow influences from people outside of the band. I didn't think that Tawny or anybody can break up a band. It's like the old saying Guns don't kill people, people kill people
Ozzy has been referenced in interviews claiming he punched you in the face.
Actually I don't know if I've ever read that anywhere. I've never read an interview where he said that, but I do write about it in my book. So there you go, you're getting it from me. The source.
Who influenced you to choose the bass guitar ?
If you hadn't played music what career path would you have chosen ?
I wanted to be a movie director, which is telling a story through the visual. And, that's something I do now with my animation. In addition to being a musician, I am a 3d animator. Right now we have the tools with software and hardware that we can actually utilize to tell a story.
Who will play you in the film version of 'Off The Rails' ?
If it's animated, I will say Mickey Mouse.
With all the bands you've played with over your storied career, which experience has been the most rewarding ?
They're so different. They all have different meanings. Playing with Ozzy, Randy and Tommy. And Sharon (Osbourne), I learned a lot from her. That was the most incredibly significant because it was the first time. I went from sleeping on a floor to playing with Ozzy Osbourne\e. It was that journey from the bottom to the very top. Sometimes it's the journey that you remember the most. It's how you got to the top that was the most rewarding. And, again with Quiet Riot, another journey to the top. Going from opening up for a bunch of bands in 1983 to seeing 'Mental Health' go to number one on Billboard. With Whitesnake it was different because all of the members had previously tasted success. Tommy with Ozzy, then Pat Ravers, Black Oak Arkansas. Vivian Campbell with DIO. Adrien Vandenberg with his own band Vandenberg. And myself. We knew how blessed we were to be in the incredible situation to be playing in Whitesnake, because we were all refugees from other situations.
You're sixty years old. . .
Hang on, I have to change my pampers.
Does it feel like sixty ?
You know what, I hate to be crude, but as long as I can still get it up, I'm fine. It all comes down to that.
Do you feel like an actual member of Blue Oyster Cult, or do you feel like a session musician ?
When you join a band as legendary Blue Oyster Cult you have to respect their legacy and their trajectory. They have been around for such a long time, that unless you've been there from day one. There's is no way that I could ever feel like I am an equal in contribution as Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma. It's impossible. They've been doing it for 35 years! One of the reasons I've been successful is because I always join a band, the band doesn't join me. In a case like Blue Oyster Cult, it's they don't make me feel like a sideman, it's just the reality of the situation. I have to look at it like 'this is their band and I'm here to do the best job I can as their bass player to help continue the legacy of the band. Very simple.
Other than the obvious, if you could go back to 1979, what would you change ?
I would tell myself to buy shares in Microsoft and Apple. That's it.