Pictures by Todd Headlee — Interview by Paul Donahue, Jr.
It still boggles my mind that I actually had a conversation with Rudy. We talked for almost an hour: touching on his influences, current projects and time spent with Randy Rhoads. I was told by quite a few people that Rudy was a super-cool dude, they were right.
Rudy, how old were you when you realized you wanted to become a musician?
I think I had just hit puberty (laughs) so, basically I was doing it for the wrong reason — to be noticed by girls. I guess I was about 14.
Was the bass guitar your first choice?
No, I thought the bass guitar was a silly instrument. it only has 4 strings, what the hell is that? (laughing) That was my first impression of it and so I started playing guitar (very poorly), I had no tutoring. I used to play melodies on the guitar, then I was talked into playing bass because there were no bass players around and it was just like playing melodies. So I said, “OK, I’ll do it because I wanted to be in a band”, so the chicks would notice me.
Were your parents very supportive?
Yeeeeaaaaah….they allowed it. They never thought that we were going to make anything of ourselves, but who did? We had a dream and they supported Robert’s and my dream. People talk about how hard the music business is, well it was hard back then too. (laughing) They wanted us to have something to fall back on.
Who were your influences back then?
I was influenced by the British Invasion. The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin and then of course MoTown and Hendrix. Just about everything back then was about quality. you couldn’t get a record deal unless you could play.
At one point you were working at Musonia School of Music in North Hollywood, Ca. Can you explain how you ended up working there?
Oh that’s easy…Randy’s mom owned the school and they were looking for a bass guitar teacher. Randy said, “Hey, do you want to come down and teach?” and I said “yeah” — just like that!
Randy’s mom, Delores, seems like such a sweet woman. Can you share a memory from back then?
Sure, getting advice from Randy on how to teach. Being able to teach what the student wanted and what they actually needed. T hey want to learn a song, so you teach them the song and then show them why that bass line actually works and why it works in relation to the song. I never taught before, but Randy came from a teaching background so he understood the principles of teaching.
While on tour, Randy was known for taking some classical guitar lessons now and then. Ozzy was usually getting hammered,what did you do in your spare time?
A lot of drinking and killing time. (laughs) There really wasn’t a lot to do, hang out at the malls…I spent a lot of time wasting time watching soap operas! (more laughs)
Ozzy had quite the reputation as a madman. During the Diary of a Madman tour, on stage every night “Little John” Allen was hung during the song “Goodbye to Romance”. Was there ever any repercussions from this part of the show?
You know, that’s interesting because you are the first person that’s ever asked that question. But, back in the 80’s nobody cared (laughs). I t was part of the show. Ozzy was controversial and Sharon capitalized on building his image around what he was already known for. Actually, pretty much the role model was the shock theater of Alice Cooper.
Do you have any mementos that you have saved from those days touring with Randy, Tommy and Ozzy?
Oh Yeah! I have a diary of all the tour dates. it was a very good reference for writing my book Off The Rails.
I’m looking at it now, its a big, thick, leather bound book that each guy in the band received at the end of the ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ tour. From ‘Diary’, I have the tour jacket and I have a practice amp that Randy gave me – it’s a Roland mini-cube.
Off The Rails is such a great book, so many questions finally answered. Can you explain what made you want to write the book?
The #1 question I get asked as I travel around the world is “what was it like to play with Randy”. When answering that question, it was never in depth enough to really express what it was really like playing with Randy. So, I wanted to be clear about what it was really like. Also, a lot of conspiracy theories and misinformation surrounding the plane crash came out. I wanted to be clear about everything that preceded and followed the crash…everything is in the book.
Will you be writing any more books in the future?
Well, not anything autobiographical. Something I have been working on, but that is more motivational… about sharing information and inspiring others to achieve their dreams and goals, which is basically what I do with Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. It’s the best platform to give back to those who have been supporting our careers.
Questions from FACEBOOK friends:
“If you could ask Rudy Sarzo one question, what would it be?
Patrick Wills asks: At what point did you start licking your bass?
I started that with Whitesnake, while we were filming “Here I go Again”. Marty Callner was the director, he is known for really, really long shoots. We were shooting video all day, We started at 10AM and at 5AM, we were going to start close ups. He’d say “OK, lets go!” and I’m already beat, I just want to go to sleep and he’s like “Ummmm, is that all you got?”
I just wanted it over with, so I just started doing all kinds of ridiculous stuff. Thank God it was only the licking that came out of that, I had the bass between my legs, I was humping it, I was like “get it over with” and he says, “Ok, I think we got it”. So, here I am about 3 weeks later watching the video, and I had forgotten all about it completely. Towards the end, there it is and I go, “OH SHIT!” (laughs)…. It’s no big deal, I was just happy none of the other stuff got in the video. it just happened, it was a sequence of ridiculous things and it just happened.
The vocals of Ronnie James Dio are among the most powerful of all time What was one of your favorite songs to perform with him live?
Just about any song. He put his heart and soul into every performance and it was breathtaking. He had full command of the band and audience. It was magnificent standing so close to him on stage. May 16th marks the anniversary of his passing. I played with him from 2004 until he passed away. Those are very special times in my career.
What was the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
Well, the one that really inspired me to become a bass player was an early tour of Vanilla Fudge. Tim Bogert really inspired me as a performer. The whole package, the passion and everything about him on stage. He was a wildman, he was kind of like the Hendrix of the bass guitar and that really inspired me back then.
Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy?
In my spare time, I like to go online and share the availability of dogs that can be adopted. I’m just sharing and creating awareness. But, since I had Lasik eye surgery and I can see much better, it has reinvented me. I spend most of my time learning about music and taking guitar lessons. I really have no time for hobbies.
Do you have any musical projects going on right now?
Yes, I’m in a new band with Tracii Guns called Gunzo. We’re doing some warm up dates leading up to our tour. Our first tour will be the “Quiet Riot Bang Your Head Tour” starting in June. I also have Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. I’ve been getting requests to work on tracks too, I really enjoy doing that. I’ve been working on new material for Gunzo too.
What more can you tell us about Gunzo?
Initially what we are doing is just playing each others music. LA Guns, Ozzy, Whitesnake, Dio and our singer, Keith St. John was the last vocalist Ronnie Montrose had so we play Montrose too. Every single song in the set, everybody knows. We’re out there to celebrate our catalog. The music that we’ve played with these great bands and the music that we recorded with these great bands.
Rudy, that about does it…thank you so much for your time.
I’ll see you on tour this summer…
OK Paul, thank you so much.
Check out Gunzo on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GUNZOBAND
Some tour dates the band is billed as LA Guns
Tracii Guns – guitars
Rudy Sarzo – bass guitar
Keith St. John – vocals
Shane Fitzgibbon – drums