Since the early 1980s, bassist Rudy Sarzo has held down the bottom end for some of the most beloved and successful acts in heavy metal history. He was a member of Ozzy Osbourne's band beside renowned guitarist Randy Rhoads. He rejoined Quiet Riot in time for its smash album "Metal Health" and went on to work with Whitesnake, Dio and recently Queensryche, not to mention a 5-year stint with hard rock juggernauts Blue Oyster Cult.
The Sarzo secret for thriving in so many different groups?
"I put it into a very, very easy formula, which is when you are joining the band, when you are coming into a situation that has a certain legacy, you are joining the band, the band is not joining you," the bassist tells Headlines & Global News in an exclusive interview. "But when you are putting a band together, that's a whole different situation, that's more like a family, a family you pick, but nevertheless a family, and just like any other family, you have its dynamics and sometimes your conflicts and resolutions and you're going to have to deal with the situations. So there's a certain different dynamic working for somebody. For example, with Ozzy Osbourne, I knew exactly what I needed to do, which was basically fulfill my obligations as being the bass player in the band."
Sarzo, born in Cuba and raised in Florida, is currently a member of two bands with Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns fame: Gunzo and Devil City Angels, which also features Poison drummer Rikki Rockett. And then there's Animetal USA, the Japan-based anime-inspired metal act in which Sarzo performs as the character Storm-Bringer.
"Anime and manga are basically something from the cradle to the grave that the Japanese embrace, and they follow certain characters and certain stories," explains Sarzo. "So to be part of the Japanese culture is a very unique experience, and I really love it. It's a whole different experience, and after all the years of playing in Japan, I feel that it's kind of a way to give back to the Japanese fans and the culture."
Sarzo, who in 2006 published "Off The Rails," a book about his time with Osbourne and Rhoads, spoke candidly with HNGN about the 1982 day that Rhoads, 25, died in a plane accident and how the loss affected him, his relationships with Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio, his bittersweet tenure in Quiet Riot and a decidedly non-metal member of his crew - his Yorkshire terrier.
How would you describe your relationship with Randy?
That was an interesting relationship, because if you look at Ozzy's band, you had Ozzy, who obviously had been around before for a couple decades with Black Sabbath since the '60s and then by the early '80s he was going solo; then you had [drummer] Tommy Aldridge, who had just as long of a career as Ozzy with Black Oak Arkansas and Pat Travers and so on; and then you look at Randy and myself. A year before he went on tour with Ozzy, Randy was still living at home with his mom in Burbank, playing locally with Quiet Riot, so he didn't have that kind of legacy or experience of going on the road, or of being jaded from being on the road.
With you and Randy being the younger guys, were you kind of a team?
It wasn't as much a team, as for example, Tommy Aldridge was at that time in the same place that I am right now as far as "been there, done that." So he had a whole different experience on the road. For him it was looking at his phone book and calling old friends. Ozzy was resting a lot; singers usually stay in their room a lot to rest their voice. And then with Randy and me, it was like, hey, let's go to a mall (laughs), let's go sightseeing, let's go here, let's go there, because we had never been to many of those places that we were touring in. So for us, it was all fresh, brand new. Plus we knew each other; we had already been playing together for four or five years before that with Quiet Riot.
What was your relationship like with Ozzy?
It was great. He was tremendous. He and Sharon, they were fantastic. We all traveled on the same bus, stayed in the same hotel, we all did it together. As a matter of fact, when we were on break, I would stay with them at Sharon's family home, so I got to spend a lot of time with them. They were incredibly generous, and I really owe my career to them because I didn't have any resume or track record before I joined Ozzy. I went from sleeping on a floor, living at [Quiet Riot singer] Kevin DuBrow's apartment, to getting the phone call to join the band. As soon as I joined the band, they let me stay with them at the mansion up in the Hollywood Hills, and they just went on Randy's word that I was going to be OK. They didn't know me. They didn't know if I was going to be an alcoholic, a drug addict, unreliable (laughs), they had no idea. But Randy told them he's the guy we're looking for, so I owe them so much, Randy, Ozzy and Sharon.
How did Randy's death affect you and how did you cope with it?
Yeah, that's always hard to talk about, because I can't talk about it without going back to that place. I actually wrote a book about it so I would get to explain my feelings, because it's kind of hard to put it in a nutshell about somebody who's there and then 30 seconds later...
The last time I saw Randy, our tour bus was parked outside this home where there was an airplane hangar, and they took a plane out for a little ride. Randy invited me to join him, and I was still in my bunk and I didn't want to get out of the bunk - it was actually the only time we didn't do something together, we were always hanging together and doing these little adventures - and I went back to sleep, and I wake up with the plane clipping the bus. We all thought that we were on the freeway, but we were standing next to this house, and before you know it we get out of the bus and we see all these tragic events going on.
So it's very hard, but let me put it this way: It was bad enough that I actually left Ozzy because it was too painful to go onto stage every night without Randy being there. We didn't have time to mourn. We went back on the road maybe a week and a half after going back to L.A. not only to rehearse and audition the new guitar player but also to attend the memorial services and funerals for Randy and Rachel [makeup artist Rachel Youngblood who was also killed]. It was incredibly painful. I left Ozzy and joined the complete unknown, which was the "Metal Health" version of Quiet Riot, because I wanted to have joy in my playing again. It was so painful to go on stage without Randy, so I just left one of the biggest bands in the world for nothing (laughs), no promises, no nothing, just so I could enjoy playing again.
I understand you've maintained a relationship with Randy's family.
Yeah, as a matter of fact, his mom passed away [recently], and they asked me to be a pallbearer at the funeral. Yeah, we do keep in touch. I'm always involved with the Randy Rhoads Remembered events, and so are they. As a matter of fact, we're going to be on a cruise in February called Axes & Anchors, and one of the events is going to be Randy Rhoads Remembered, and they're going to be there.
You ended up being part of heavy metal history again with "Metal Health" being the first metal album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200. But you said earlier that you felt you were leaving Ozzy for "nothing." What were your expectations when you rejoined Quiet Riot?
When it first came out it was in the low 200s, and it took a lot of touring, and "Cum On Feel The Noize" getting airplay on MTV to make it No. 1. I was still playing with Ozzy when I got the call to come in and just do one song as a tribute to Randy, a song called "Thunderbird" that I was playing in Kevin's band DuBrow before I joined Ozzy, so I knew it. Then when we finished tracking the song, they asked me if I remembered any of the other songs that we used to do, like "Black Cadillac" that we used to play in the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot, and then some of the songs that I would do with Kevin DuBrow like "Crazy" and stuff like that. So by the time I left the session, I had already recorded four or five songs, but I wasn't in the band yet.
Bands like that weren't hip at the moment. New Wave and punk were still the happening thing in the music business, at least in Los Angeles. But at least I had a glimpse of what was going on as far as the new wave of British metal. Playing with Ozzy, we had bands like Motorhead opening up for us, Def Leppard and of course UFO, which had already been established, but when we were touring Europe, we were opening up for Saxon, we had bands that I would go and watch like Iron Maiden, so I knew that there was something going on; I didn't know it was going to make such an impact in America also, again, thanks to MTV. All I knew is that I felt good musically. Going on stage, there wasn't pain. It was all coming out of joy, and all the music was fresh and new, and that's what I really wanted to do with my life: enjoy playing again.
How do you look back on your time with Quiet Riot now?
After 30 years, then you experience a whole new set of pain. Of course you have the loss of Kevin, needless to say that was deeply painful, even though we were not on the best of terms at the time. Just like any family, it just takes a phone call to change things, and that phone call never happened. Recently Frankie Banali and his wife produced a Quiet Riot documentary called "Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back." It's really, really well done, but then again, it's very painful to see a band that had so much potential, everything we did just go down the drain (laughs). Watching that documentary is like reliving it, and I was there once, I don't want to have to go through it again. You just can't become a bystander when you're watching things from your own life; you're back in the moment. It would be like watching home movies of the Titanic (laughs).
What was it like working with the late Ronnie James Dio, who is universally loved by the metal community? What kind of person was he?
That's a good question. You know, when I first started working with him, I had been for maybe 25 years doing this, so it was kind of like I've seen everything, worked with everybody. But then I started working with him and it was a whole new education on musicianship and how to be a human being. I learned so much from Ronnie. He was one of those guys who was really dedicated to his craft, to his art, being a musician, being a storyteller. Not only an incredible singer but also so much dedication and conviction to his music and dedication to his fans. Fans around the world just loved Ronnie. He treated everyone - crew, band fans - with the same graciousness.
It's interesting that you've worked with both major Black Sabbath singers, Ozzy and Ronnie.
Ozzy and Ronnie had a lot in common, and unless you worked with both of them, you don't have that as a reference. Not only from being Black Sabbath singers, but from being very kind people. Ozzy, it's a whole different situation because I believe he's sober now thanks to his family helping him to clean up, but when I was working with Ozzy, he had his demons to deal with, with alcohol and drugs and so on, so I never really got to experience a fully sober version of Ozzy. There would be glimpses here and there where he'd go two or three days without indulging, but then he would fall back into drinking and doing drugs. But he was an incredibly generous and kind human being. With Ronnie, when I was playing in Dio from 2004 until the day he passed away, I never saw him battling with any addictions or anything like that. He was very much in control of his life.
You've played with so many legendary rock drummers. Who was your favorite? What was the best rhythm section you were a part of?
I'll tell you my favorite rhythm section and why, because I consider the guitar player to be part of the rhythm section too, and I have to tell you the rhythm section of Randy Rhoads, Tommy Aldridge and myself will be forever my favorite. Randy was the best rhythm guitar player I ever played with. As a matter of fact, he invented a style that became the staple of metal rhythm guitar playing. So I would definitely have to say Randy, Tommy and myself.
Are you the type of musician who doesn't want to get locked into one thing? Is that part of the reason you've played with so many different bands?
No. Not really. When I joined Ozzy, I left because Randy passed away. I would have stayed, definitely, until they kicked me out (laughs). Quiet Riot, at that time, and it's documented in the film, they wanted me out of the band for whatever reason, so I left. It was not a happy situation for me. Whitesnake, David [Coverdale] disbanded the group. And ever since that period he's had many different musicians going through the group for the last 20 years. With Dio, Ronnie passed away. I would still be a member of Dio if Ronnie was with us. With Queensryche it was a bit different. To me the way that I look at it, my contribution with Queensryche was I was more of a piece of the puzzle, and I enjoyed being in it, because it was great music and great people to be with and so on, but it wasn't a situation that I felt I could make a contribution.
Having been in bands that lost members due to death, do you feel that it's something that's followed you?
No, no, no. I've been doing this for 35 years. At this level, of course you're going to lose people. Everybody can tell you musicians who they've played with that are no longer with us. I'm 65 years old.
I understand you are also involved with animal advocacy. Tell me about that.
I just want to create as much awareness as possible. I am not affiliated with any particular organization, but I am looking for one, and I think Christopher [photographer Christopher Ameruoso] will be really helpful with that, because ever since I've known him, he's been an animal advocate, and he's the kindest best person to lead me on the right path. It's just something that if you've ever felt the unconditional love of your furry friend, it's such a natural for us human beings. I don't even think about it, I just do it, I create awareness. It's like being a good human being, you just do it.
Do you have pets?
Oh yes, and she's sitting in my lap right now. She's a Yorkie, her name is Tory.
How long have you had her?
The best 16 years of my life.
Lastly, as a Cuban American, how do you feel about the immigration controversy in the U.S."
I'm going to give an answer as a touring musician from my own experience, which has nothing to do with being a Cuban American. Immigration, I'm all for it. Illegal immigration, it's illegal, and that's where I draw the line. I travel all over the world, and believe me, it doesn't matter what country it is, unless I have the proper paperwork for either a work visa or a plain visa, I can't get in the country.
This interview was edited for length.