Bassist Rudy Sarzo on His Years with Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, and Dio
Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features bassist Rudy Sarzo.
If Rudy Sarzo had done nothing more with his career than play bass on Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, he’d be a heavy-metal icon. That 1983 LP was the first metal album to hit Number One on the Billboard 200 and it introduced teenagers all over America to the genre thanks to hit singles “Cum On Feel the Noize” and “Metal Health.” The tsunami of hair-metal acts to hit MTV and Top 40 radio in the following years can be directly traced back to that lone record.
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But Quiet Riot is just one part of Sarzo’s incredible legacy. Before he even joined the group, he was a member of Ozzy Osbourne’s Randy Rhoads–era band. He went on to enjoy stints with Whitesnake, Ronnie James Dio, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche. Simply put, he’s played with more metal icons than just about any other bassist in history. And today he’s a member of the Guess Who, featuring original drummer Garry Peterson.
We called up Sarzo at his Los Angeles home to speak about his childhood in pre-Castro Cuba, emigrating to America, joining the Randy Rhoads incarnation of Quiet Riot in the Seventies, teaming up with Ozzy Osbourne right after the completion of Diary of a Madman, the tragic loss of Randy Rhoads, and his stints with Dio, Whitesnake, and many other groups.
How has your pandemic year gone?
Great. It’s amazing how much work I can actually get done at home on Zoom. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been in the past. Back in the day, you just schedule things based on the time of day. I know it’s going to take me at least an hour or an hour and a half to get anywhere in L.A. with traffic. That brings it down to, like, “Do one thing a day.” Now it’s almost like we’re quantum. We can be anywhere at any time.
Do you miss playing live, though?
I miss playing live, but there’s two things we do as musicians and as creative beings. We create and then we re-create. Let’s say you record an album. If it’s a hit, you’re going to be playing certain songs for the rest of your career. It’s nice. It’s fun. But the act of creation is much more fulfilling than anything else.
I want to go back here and talk about your life. Tell me your first memory of hearing music as a child that really left an impression on you.
That’s easy. I was born in Cuba. It was Latin music. But when I was a kid, we just called it “Cuban Music” or just “music.” It was big band. I’m 70 years old. When I was a toddler, I was dancing in my crib to some kind of rhythm.
I used to go to sleep with the kids in my neighborhood in Havana gathering around an old Fifties car and beating on different parts of the vehicle, like the fender and the bumper or the hubcaps. They had different tones. That was like a tribal gathering of the kids in the neighborhood, and that was our social media. Those rhythms, that’s what I’d fall asleep with every single night.
Who were some of your favorite artists as a kid?
Benny Moré, Celia Cruz, Rolando Laserie. They were just bandleaders in Cuba. Celia Cruz then migrated to the United States and continued her career. These were all local Cuban musicians. Most or them left or were cast away right before the revolution.
I’ve read so many stories about Cuba before the revolution and seen so many movies. What was it really like?
Since it was an island, everything was concentrated. There was mafia, at the time, in the United States. Well, there was mafia in Cuba. The gambling being 90 miles away from Key West, people used to take ferries. You put your car in the ferry and within a couple of hours, you were in Havana, driving around. That’s how most of the people traveled. That’s how rum-running became an industry. They’d bring in Cuban rum during Prohibition. You’d bring it on the ferry, unload the trucks, and just continue to the point of distribution.
There’s this perception that communism came in because things were so bad that communism was actually a good thing for Cuba. I think things were just as bad as they were in the United States. If we’re talking about corruption with the mafia or politics, it’s the same thing in the United States. It wasn’t that it was that bad.
It was just that Castro came in with a really good sales pitch about communism. One major difference about selling communism in the United States versus selling it in Cuba is that Cuba, before it was liberated, was a colony of Spain. That’s a whole different political and social system than the United States, which was a colony of England. It’s more of the Anglo mentality.
The same problems that exist today in Spanish colonial countries throughout South America, it’s what Cuba, at the time, was suffering from. It wasn’t as much as far as economics, but certain strictures, like inequality. There were many inequality issues. It was still a Spanish colonial mentality.
How did your family wind up coming to the States?
Once Castro came in, he had a plan that looked good on paper. Unfortunately, power corrupts and he became a ruthless dictator, with the help of communism. You could see things shifting really quickly, immediately I would say.
In Cuba, like the United States, we had different cultures and diversity. There were Chinese who had fled Communist China and wound up in Cuba. That’s where you get a lot of the Cuban fusion cuisine, which has become popular throughout the decades in the United States. And when they saw Castro declare himself Marxist/Leninist, they understood what it was. They had just left China to go to Cuba, getting away from that. Then the new guy is saying, “This is who I am.” And they were like, “We’re outta here because this is not going to turn out good.” They wound up in San Francisco with the Chinese community there.
But my family had to find a sponsor, somebody who would claim the responsibility of us. It took about a year, a year and a half. By 1961, we arrived in the United States. And we thought we wouldn’t be here too long. We thought that there was a good possibility that Kennedy was going to take Castro out because he had become a threat to the United States, obviously winding up with nuclear missiles pointed.
Then he stayed in power for the next 60 years.
Yeah. And when I checked this morning, Cuba was still a communist country. At this point, I can just roll my eyes. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to go on with my life.
Did you feel welcomed when you came to America? Did you feel like an outsider?
That’s a really good questions. I came from a country where all I knew was to be Cuban. We were all Cuban, even if you came from different cultural backgrounds. Let’s say you were Jewish and happened to escape Poland during the Nazi period in the Forties and you wind up in Cuba. Now you’re Cuban. You’re Jewish, but you’re Cuban. The Chinese were Cuban. We were all Cubans.
And now, all of a sudden, as a child, I migrated to a place where it was a different language. My parents put me and my brother in school. We had some real growing pains learning the language. As you can tell, I still have an accent after all these years. It was difficult. It’s very difficult for any child to be uprooted.
I came to the United States when I was 11. I was almost a teenager. I was uprooted. Here you are in a new place, new language … there was not a whole lot of migration from Latin America to the United States. Miami, which was the first place we wound up because of proximity, there were certain Cubans who owned vacation homes in Miami, the people that were wealthy enough to have second homes. My family was not one of them. I had no prior experience about coming to Miami or the United States.
Miami was very, very American back then. South Beach was mostly a Jewish retirement community. They’d come down from New York and return after Passover. I know this because I used to work in the Royal Palm Hotel in the kosher restaurant. I got the drift of the flow of what happened every year
What happened in 1963, my family was given the option to relocate. It was like, “You can’t stay here because there’s not enough jobs for the influx of Cubans that are coming in.” This is when Kennedy was still alive and before the embargo.
Where did you move?
We picked New Jersey. What I experienced there was a bit of isolation. The Latin community did not exist there, not even what it was today. There’s a lot of Cubans and Puerto Ricans there now, but not back in 1963.
We got there right before Kennedy was assassinated. In school, I noticed that all the kids were in little groups. The Italians hung together, the Polish, Jewish … some of the blacks, but they were mainly in Newark. It was basically the Latinos, Irish, Germans … but it reflected how the little groups gathered in school, that was a reflection of the neighborhood. It was little pockets of each cultural group in blocks. One block would be mostly Italians, and another block would be mostly Jewish, and so on.
Kennedy gets shot and it was the worst holiday season, from Thanksgiving on to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It was awful. And then the Beatles happened, February 1964. The very next day, all the kids went from combing our hair back like pompadours, like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, to combing our hair forward.
And then you knew. We became a tribe. Everybody was like, “You’re into the Beatles? So am I.” And we had this thing in common. Music became the common denominator. And now everyone wanted to talk to me and I wanted to talk to everybody. We were exchanging ideas and the songs. “Did you hear this new song? Did you hear this new band? The Rolling Stones. They’re cool.” All of a sudden, music became the gateway to the new social network that we had in school.
When did you start playing music yourself?
I was dabbling in music, as were most kids at that time. There was music in schools. It wasn’t mandatory, but it was a cool hang. If you really want to hang with everyone else, join the marching band. But it wasn’t rock & roll. It was standards. And I struggled with it since it was basically brass instruments and I was an overweight kid and I didn’t have much breath.
We were poor, so my parents could only afford to get my brother and I one of anything. If we wanted some roller skates, we’d get a pair and we had to share them. So when it came time to get a guitar, we did the same thing. We bought a Sears catalog Old Kraftsman acoustic guitar. That became our instrument.
All I could do was mimic what I saw on TV because I wasn’t getting any lessons. My parents couldn’t afford them. So it was just mimicking, opening my ears. Nobody knew how to tune an instrument back then. It wasn’t like today where we have these little tuners we just click onto guitars. I spent over a decade being out of tune, even playing in clubs.
Who were some of your biggest influences back then?
At first, I was playing for all the wrong reasons … and I say that because there was no bigger chick magnet than playing music. I saw the Beatles and I was like, “I want that adulation from the females.” I was not getting it for so many reasons. I was fat and Latino. They just didn’t understand. “Why are you here? What are you guys doing here?” [Laughs.]
One thing that I found through the years about racism is that racism is just somebody who has no understanding or perception of what the other human being is all about. At an early age, I understood that. “You know what? Wait until you get to know me. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.” For all my life, I really had practiced that, about me or me towards people of other cultures or religions.
When did music start to seem like a viable career for you?
[Big laugh] I’ll let you know when that happens! “A viable career!” C’mon!
I think music is a calling, but it’s also a dream and dreams can be crazy. And music as a career is different than music as a fan. Every great musician, or even any musician, they get into music at one point because they are fans. There’s a certain connection. It’s a vibratory experience to make music, to listen to music. I hear songs that instantly place me in a certain mood, make me happy, make me dance, whatever. They all have their own vibration.
To flash forward a bit, you were in L.A. when you encountered Quiet Riot for the first time in the late Seventies. How did you find yourself there?
I tried New York before I went to L.A. and it was a little bit harsh to survive there. The weather is much more suited for survival in Los Angeles. That’s why I wound up in L.A. I kept running out of money. On one of my initial attempts, I think my second attempt in 1977, I saw Quiet Riot at the Starwood in L.A.
I was completely impressed. They came off as an arena band. They had an arena attitude and the whole package. The songs were not as great as they would have been for a band that goes into the studio with producers and the arrangements get polished. Then you’re ready to be heard by the masses, not just the local kids.
I bumped into [lead singer] Kevin DuBrow when he got off the stage. I went, “Hey, man. I really dig what you guys are doing. Just keep doing what you’re doing and I think you guys are going to make it.”
Then I left L.A. and wound up playing lounges in New Jersey with my brother, the Howard Johnson lounges. This is 1977 and early 1978, up and down Route 80. I was trying to get money to move back to L.A. And so I did that and spent maybe six months there, just putting everything away. When I felt I had enough money, I went back and gave it another try.
A week before I was going to come, I get a call from Kevin DuBrow. He says, “Hey, man. We’re looking for a bass player. Everyone says we should give you a call.” I said, “That’s great. I’m going to be in L.A. next week.” I went down to an audition, got the gig, and I started playing with them.
Tell me about first seeing Randy Rhoads play guitar.
My first impression of Randy Rhoads was something that captivated the local fans. By that, Quiet Riot, even though they had an arena persona, it was one built around the Seventies Sunset Strip image. It was glam rock, glitter rock. It was the same scene that the Runaways came out of. It was Sunset Strip glitter rock, which was the London glitter look, but with a suntan, so it had a little healthier look to it. If you can imagine Ziggy Stardust with a suntan, it was a little like that.
I saw that and I could connect with it. Even before I left Florida, I was really heavily into the whole glam-rock scene. I saw Bowie perform in Florida in 1972. As a matter of fact, the opening band was Frankie Banali’s band, which is how I met him. We met the following day at the local hangout, the Flying Machine. I introduced myself and went, “Hey, man, I love your band, man, especially your drummer.” He goes, “Oh, thanks. I’m the drummer.” Then we started playing together. It was my [22nd] birthday, November 18th, 1972.
Getting back to the whole L.A. scene, I thought they just really stood out. Watching Randy perform with Quiet Riot during that period, and there’s plenty of videos on YouTube, it was like he was overqualified for being in that band. Growing up as a classically trained musician, he could not bring that side of his playing in a glitter-rock band. It just didn’t make any sense, sonically, with the arrangements of the songs, so he just stuck to what the Quiet Riot songs were all about.
It wasn’t until I joined the band and learned about Randy … And then I started teaching at his mom’s school. He was in the room teaching [another class] next to me, and I’d hear him playing things he’d never play at rehearsal. Our rehearsal was just Quiet Riot music, that was it. He wouldn’t come in and play classical music. I didn’t know he could play classical music until I heard him at his mom’s school.
That’s basically what he brought to Ozzy. I recall having a conversation with him when I joined the Blizzard of Ozz about how the whole thing came about. When he played with the Blizzard of Ozz band, I couldn’t believe it was the same guy. It was so non-Quiet Riot. To me, that’s how you create something brand new. You don’t bring your past into your future. You create a vision of what you want your future to be like and you move that forward.
Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads are obviously two of the best guitar players of all time. It’s amazing that they grew out of the exact same scene at the exact same time.
Yeah. And I would throw [Dokken’s] George Lynch into the mix, too. George is really respected by a lot of guitar players and musicians, but he doesn’t seem to have that popularity X factor that Randy and, of course, Eddie have coming out of that same scene. These were guys that created something new, something completely different.
Why did Quiet Riot flame out by the end of the Seventies?
I played with the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot from 1978 to 1979. I don’t even think we considered ourselves heavy metal. We left that to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. We were just glam rock, which later on became known as “hair metal” in the Eighties. But to us, it was all about Mott the Hoople, Elton John, Queen, Bowie, and Marc Bolan and stuff like that.
But we were becoming dinosaurs [due to the rise of punk]. Randy was just turning 22 or 23 and they were calling us a dinosaur. It was every single band, every single musician. A lot of bands that in the Eighties became MTV darlings, we were dinosaurs four or five years prior to that. The record company said, “You guys will never make it. You’re done.”
But that’s all I knew how to do. Trust me. I tried. I cut my hair short and started playing with some guys, but we just sounded like a bunch of hard rock guys trying to be New Wave. [Laughs] It just didn’t work.
If you move to L.A. like I did, and many others, you are basically burning the ship. There’s no turning back. By “burning the ship,” I mean you land somewhere, you burn the ship, and there’s no going back to where you came from.
I personally went through a lot of experiences that actually prepared me for the future. It was kind of like your own personal pandemic lockdown. We were not doing a whole lot, but we were conditioning ourselves for better things to come. At that moment, we couldn’t see that far, but we had no other choice other than to keep moving and keep getting better at what we’re doing.
Tell me about what it was like to join Ozzy’s band and suddenly be a part of this enormous thing.
Before that, I went through my lowest material level. I was sleeping in Kevin DuBrow’s apartment. I was playing with him during the weekends whenever his band DuBrow booked gigs. DuBrow is kind of like the missing link between the Randy Rhoads Quiet Riot and the Metal Health Quiet Riot. Most of the songs that were recorded on on Metal Health were songs I’d do in DuBrow with Kevin because he wrote a lot of that stuff during that period.
Songs like “Thunderbird,” he wrote that when Randy left. I used to play that song live with him. And “Slick Black Cadillac” was the only one left over from the Randy days that was recorded for the Metal Health record. And “Let’s Get Crazy” and “Love’s a Bitch” were DuBrow songs that he wrote during that period.
That’s what I mean by improving yourself, preparing yourself, keeping the faith, knowing that opportunity will come at some point.
So, I was on the floor. I had a spiritual epiphany. And I’m saying this because this is the series of events. This is how it happened. I do not believe my life would have been the same without these events coming into play. I surrendered my life to a creator, to a power higher than me. I made peace with God that I was going to keep trying. And if I never made it, that’s fine. My relationship with God was stronger than anything else.
And within a few days, I got the call to join Ozzy. At the time, I was playing in a band called Angel in addition to DuBrow. I was pleased even though I was still sleeping on the floor and we didn’t have a record deal. But I liked the guys and I liked the hang. Here I am, in a cool band. My first call to join Ozzy was from Sharon. I declined. The next day, Ozzy calls. By then, I was ready to say yes. That got my attention. I said, “I’ll come down tomorrow.”
How did you feel about being credited on Diary of a Madman when you didn’t play on the album? Did that feel weird?
I’ll never forget looking at the sleeve of that record and going to [drummer] Tommy Aldridge, “We’re going to spend the rest of our lives explaining to people that we didn’t play on this record.” [Laughs] It was awful, but it was like, “I didn’t play on this.”
You did play on Speak of the Devil. It must have been fun playing on all those old Sabbath songs.
That was really an interesting one and it has a real interesting background. I think the genesis of that record has a lot of nooks and crannies. Someone in that organization, either management or Jet Records, got wind that Black Sabbath was going to release a live album.
Back then, there was a real rivalry between Black Sabbath and Ozzy. This time, it was more of a business rivalry. And trust me, every single call that was made, I had no control over it. I was just the bass player that was living on the floor, “Rudy from Cuba.” When I saw my name in print for the very first time in Circus magazine, Ozzy had just done an interview. I had just joined the band and he didn’t even know my last name. He said, “We got Tommy Aldridge on drums, Randy Rhoads and Rudy from Cuba.” [Laughs.]
That’s fine with me, but I’m pointing out that I was as green as they came. I was there with no résumé. I was there because Randy Rhoads came to Ozzy and Sharon and was like, “Listen, I know the guy you’re looking for is Rudy.” That’s the only person in L.A. that he knew he could trust. The qualifications for joining the band: “Not to be a bad influence on Ozzy with his drinking or doing drugs.”
Again, I had no résumé. They trusted Randy. I had never done anything. And here I am, from sleeping on the floor, I had the audition that night, I’m living with Sharon and Ozzy and her dad [Don Arden] in this huge mansion in Beverly Hills. [Laughs.]
How did it feel to be onstage at these basketball arenas, playing these incredible songs with Ozzy and Randy, and watching the crowd go nuts?
Everything got so fast. There’s a certain thing about being in L.A. and you’re struggling, things are very slow. Once you get on that fast lane that you’re traveling on with a band like Ozzy on its way to the top, especially in the United States, oh, my God … It was like going at a speed as fast as the Concorde.
I would call Kevin every week and I would say, “Oh, what’s new?” He’d go, “Oh, nothing. So what’s new with you?” I would be telling him about all the gigs and this and that and he’d go, “I hate you.” [Laughs.]
Do you have good memories of the last Randy show in Knoxville, Tennessee?
Of course. Wonderful memories. I have wonderful memories of every show I did with them. It was such a blessing. The only reason I left the band was, let’s face it, Randy wasn’t there anymore.
Going back on the road just a couple of weeks after he died must have felt weird.
Within 10 days, we were back on the road. We were actually attending services for Randy and Rachel Youngblood and then going back to audition and practice with whoever was being considered for the guitar spot.
I didn’t have time. … Nobody had time to mourn or to get closure. It took me decades to get some sort of closure.
Why did you leave the group?
I just couldn’t see myself staying past the end of the tour we had already scheduled. I couldn’t see it and it felt like an impossibility because nobody could replace Randy. How could we continue without Randy? To me, he’s the other part of the component. I saw Randy and Ozzy as being Ozzy. With nothing negative to say about Tommy, when you look at the material we were playing onstage, it was a lot of compositions by [bassist] Bob Daisley, of course, and [drummer] Lee Kerslake. But they weren’t in the band anymore. What was carrying Ozzy was Randy and Ozzy.
Once Randy wasn’t with us anymore — and this is in addition to the horrible fact of his tragic death — you could carry on, but it was never going to be the same. That’s what I knew. When I came in, I knew that band. I experienced Ozzy with Tommy Aldridge. And all of a sudden, it wasn’t that anymore. My joy of playing music live in front of an audience eroded, quickly. By the time we played Madison Square Garden, which was about a week after we resumed touring, I just cried the whole show. I look out at the audience it was a wake for Randy. There were posters like “Randy We Miss You. God Bless You.”
I’d look at Ozzy and think, “What an incredible courage to be able to sing through all of this.” I know he was suffering and feeling his own pain. And so was Sharon and so was Tommy. But the only way I knew how to deal with it at that time was to run away from it. I didn’t have the tools that I have now to deal with grief. The only way I could deal was to move on.
How did you wind up back in the new incarnation of Quiet Riot?
I got a call from Kevin during the last break I had from Ozzy before we recorded Speak of the Devil. He goes, “Hey, we’re here in the studio and we’re going to record ‘Thunderbird.’ Do you want to come down and record that as a tribute to Randy?” I said, “Yeah, of course.”
I brought in my spare bass and I plugged it in. Of course, I used to play that song with him in DuBrow. This time, the lineup was [guitarist] Carlos Cavazo and Frankie Banali.
We cut the song and it went by really fast because I already knew it from previously playing it with Kevin. They said, “Hey, do you remember ‘Slick Black Cadillac?’” I said, “Yeah, let me go over it a couple of times.”
We tracked it, and before I knew it, we had recorded four or five songs that wound up on the Metal Health record. Just being in the room with Frankie Banali, who I had been playing with, off and on, for 10 years, almost to the day, in different bands all over the United States, and playing with Kevin, my former Quiet Riot bandmate and roommate, and Carlos who I knew from the scene in L.A, there was definitely a comfort, an emotional refuge that I felt.
That stuck with me. Then I went back that weekend to start rehearsing for the Speak of the Devil album. We only had five days rehearsal and then we did it live at the Ritz over two nights. Again, that air of loss still permeated. I said, “You know what? I gotta move on.” That’s when I made the decision to join the Metal Health version of Quiet Riot, just so I could find the joy of playing music again.
Again, I went into the complete unknown. There was no promise of anything. There was no big advance. I had some money because I had been saving my money from when I went on tour with Ozzy. But the other guys, they didn’t have money to put gas in their cars to go to the studio.
During the making of the record, I can’t imagine you thought you were making a record that would hit Number One, knock the Police out of the top spot of the chart, and make you guys pop stars.
No. [Laughs] It was so, so far away from that. That’s the case for everybody. We were the first metal record to reach Number One on Billboard. It’s hard to visualize something that never happened before.
What did it feel like to see your record at Number One on the chart for the first time?
[Laughs] It felt like a runner that’s running up a mountain and is so busy huffing and puffing that you don’t lift your head to look at the beautiful scenery of what you reach. [Laughs] it was a lot of hard work to get us there. It was more of, “Finally we’re here!” It wasn’t like we knew for sure it would go to Number One. It was more like a relief, like “Finally! We’re here! Number One!” Because it wasn’t just a long, steady climb, but long and hard.
By the time we were on the top, we were exhausted. And then comes the, “What now? What are we doing now?” “Now we’re going to headline? Start all over again!” [Laughs.]
Then the labels saw the money in this and they head to the Sunset Strip and start signing every band that looks and sounds like Quiet Riot.
It’s part of the business. Through history, that’s happened with every genre. But like the Beatles, Quiet Riot were turned down by every label in L.A. It was the same with the Beatles in England. I’m not comparing us to the Beatles. I’m comparing our failures to the Beatles’ failures, not our successes. And what happens is, it becomes a formula.
Tell me about making Condition Critical. Why do you think it didn’t do better?
It’s very simple. We had climbed so many hills by that point. It was like, “OK, now we’re going to headline, so that’s another hill to climb because we are no headliners.” By that time they literally dragged us off the road. The record company said, “Metal Health was released over a year ago. We need new product.”
It was the music industry talking. “We need to release new product by the third quarter, so we can get those late-summer, Christmas sales.” We had to cancel a tour and there was an opening band, the Headpins, that got really upset. They just joined the tour and committed whatever financial resources to that, but the record company told us we had to go in the studio. We had to cancel and they were not happy campers, but we had no control.
They were like, “You guys are going in the studio next week to do pre-production. Oh, my God, what do we do now?” The worst time you can be creative is when you’re in survival mode. We’re looking at this mammoth of a record, sales-wise.
And Metal Health was one song from the Randy Rhoads era; two songs that Carlos Cavazo brought in from his own band, “Metal Health” and “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” were done before I even went in to play on “Thunderbird.” And then “Cum On Feel the Noize” was added on. There were five or six DuBrow songs and the rest was added in by Carlos Cavazo.
Every single day when we were in a city, we’d go to a radio station to promote the album and the tour. Many of the DJs told us we should record [Slade’s] “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.” It was something we put on the back burner. “Yeah, OK, sure.” When it came to make that record, we were pretty much under the gun. And so doing another Slade song wasn’t such a bad idea, at the time. [Laughs] And we thought the stations would play it because they told us to record it.
We started working on songs and “Condition Critical” was one of the first songs. There were two or three songs that were actually … It’s not that I would consider them “rejects” from Metal Health, but they were songs that were around during Metal Health, but they weren’t picked for the album. Also, there’s a song called “Winners Take All” that for some business reason beyond my control, Randy Rhoads wasn’t allowed to be credited on the album as the co-writer of the song. It was originally called “Teenage Anthem” and Kevin re-wrote and updated it so it could be on Condition Critical.
One of the reviews for Condition Critical was just two words: “Condition Terminal.“
[Huge laugh] Well, at least we got mentioned! [Laughs] Oh, my God. I love that.
How did you feel by the mid-to-late Eighties when every band on MTV was seemingly a Quiet Riot clone?
That’s really an interesting observation, but the way I looked at it is, most of the bands that followed us also came from the Seventies. We all had the same influences, musically and visually. I don’t think that Nikki Sixx would have been any different in the Seventies. He may have been more outrageous later on because he could be afford to be outrageous. It was like, “Now, I have enough money that I can set myself on fire properly rather than going to a 99-cent store and buying cheap alcohol and putting on my leather pants and lighting myself up at the Whisky a Go Go.”
But the vision that we all had was basically the same, and it carried on from the Seventies. It was like, “Wow, look at these guys. They’re new, they’re fresh.” No, we were doing that a decade before on the Sunset Strip.
Why did you leave the band before the third record?
I gave them notice right before that I was going to leave the band. There were certain things that happened during the making of Condition Critical. To be honest with you, it’s just personal things, just personality conflicts. I don’t want to mention them. It doesn’t have to do with Frankie, but with Kevin, and he’s no longer with us. I just don’t want … I love him and I love all those guys. Quiet Riot will always be the home that we all built. We were there and we created that. I don’t want anyone to think that’s the way that I remember Quiet Riot, with any baggage.
But at the time, it became a situation because of certain personality conflicts, I was beginning to lose the joy of playing again. I again left for for the complete unknown, which turned out to be Whitesnake. [Laughs.]
Tell me about joining Whitesnake. It’s another situation where you join right after a huge album was created and people think you played on it.
None of us play on the record. Adrian Vandenberg played the guitar solo on “Here I Go Again.” Any other contributions of the four guys you see in the music videos, like Tommy Aldridge, [guitarist] Vivian Campbell, Adrian, and myself, we were just acting in the video as the band. [Laugh] We did get to record Slip of the Tongue.
Ironically, Whitesnake was the support band for Quiet Riot in 1984. I had given the band notice that I was leaving at the end of the tour. Somehow, Coverdale heard that that even though it wasn’t public. The last night of the tour, Quiet Riot threw a giant going away party for Whitesnake. David gives me a big hug goodbye and whispers in my ear, “Very soon we’re going to be playing together.”
I had no idea what he meant, but I thought it would be cool. And so I finished my commitments, I’m home, Tommy Aldridge starts talking about putting a band together. And then we get a call from Whitesnake management to come in and talk about possibilities. We go in and they offer us to join the band. But I had experienced certain conflicts with the members of Whitesnake, just hanging with them on off-days and hearing about whatever situation was going on. I didn’t feel like it was good for me to leave one situation and join another situation.
A couple of years later, it was just David. Nobody else was left. I said, “OK, it’s safe to go in the waters now.” And I’m glad I I did.
You guys opened for Mötley Crüe on that tour.
Yeah. We were special guests on the Girls, Girls, Girls tour. There were some interesting dynamics between Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake. Mötley, of course, were being Mötley. But Whitesnake had been around the block a few times by then. We were veterans and we understood the great situation that we found ourselves in, playing in the band. Not only were we in a great situation, but they were really great people. It’s a band with a wonderful legacy.
How was the experience of making Slip of the Tongue?
That was a little … uh … let me find the right word … We started out as the same band with Vivian Campbell in it. And then certain things happened, not having to do much with music or the musicians in the band, but we have families and we have wives and girlfriends. Sometimes there are certain things that happen like in shows like Dynasty and Dallas. It has nothing to do with the music. Nothing to do with the business. It’s just this backstage soap opera going on. That can get in the way of the band and the music and the future of the band. And one day, Vivian wasn’t there anymore.
Where did thing go from there?
There was a string of uncertainty from that point on. We had a dynamic that really worked onstage and offstage. All of a sudden, Vivian wasn’t there. We used to share the same side of the stage. I was used to having him there. We learned how to play off of each other. We would EQ our amplifiers to play off our personal sound. There was this harmony that we had as performers and as musicians. Then it just wasn’t there anymore. What is going to replace that?
And then I was like, “If Vivian can be gone today, I can be gone tomorrow.” You don’t feel the same security, no matter what your contribution has been to the success of the band. The future was very uncertain.
To make a record under that emotional stress is not the most desirable situation. Having said that, we all poured our hearts into the record and I’m very proud of the way it came out. I really am.
And Steve Vai joined the band.
There was a mutual decision to have him join. Before he was contacted to come in, he already embarked on his solo career. He was in the middle of recording Passion and Warfare, his own album. It was kind of like, “Hmm, do I put my solo career on the back burner? I’m on a roll here.” I’m glad he decided to join us on the tour. And he recorded all the guitars on the Slip of the Tongue album.
That gave me a sense of balance or harmony, having Steve Vai there. I really admire him musically, and as a human being. But during the making of the record and my own contribution, which is laying down, along with Tommy Aldridge, the basic tracks, there was a lot of questions up in the air as far as what was going to happen. We carried on without Vivian and then Adrian got injured when he was laying down his own rhythm tracks. There was a point where the album had come to a stop.
How did you feel in the Nineties after Nirvana hit and guys like you were looked at differently? Was that a difficult time?
Of course it was. That’s because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have the perception that I have today, the understanding of the order of things. It can even be applied to nature. There’s always change going on. It’s universal. It applies to the planets in the solar system and the music industry. That’s due to changing tastes in music and the powers that be that control that. It’s about about different generations. My generation when I was a teenager said, “No, I don’t want to listen to jazz or classical. I want to listen to the Rolling Stones.”
Miles Davis was going, “Are you crazy? Look at what I’m doing.” But these changes come for better or worse. But as I looked at these changes, I didn’t understand that. I felt it was never going to end. Now I know differently, but there were some growing pains on my journey to where I am now.
How did you wind up back in Quiet Riot in 1997?
That’s a really good question. I got a call from Frankie Banali. He said, “Listen, would you like to come down? We’re doing an after-show party for Marilyn Manson at some club called the Dragonfly on Melrose in Hollywood.” I was drinking at the time and so I said to Frankie, “Is there an open bar?” He says, “Yeah, there’s food and an open bar.” I said, “I’ll be there.” [Laughs.]
I had a couple of drinks. I brought my wife with me, we hung out, and it was a party. I think Marilyn Manson brought us in as a joke. [Laughs] But we didn’t take it as a joke. I took it like, “I’m going to jam.” It was never supposed to be my continuation of playing with Quiet Riot. But at the end of their set, they asked me to come up and play “Cum On Feel the Noize” and “Metal Health.” Chuck Wright gave me his bass because he was playing with them at that time, as he is today. I played those two songs and the next day, we’re all back together again. [Laughs.]
It’s sort of an interesting time. You guys were suddenly a group with a legacy as opposed to a washed-up Eighties band.
It’s all perception. It really is perception. My own perception from being there is what when we got back in 1997, there was a sense of, “Maybe, maybe if we put the original band together, maybe we can take this somewhere, not necessarily to the same heights as we had 10 years before, but definitely out of the clubs.”
I gotta be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of playing clubs. It’s like high school. You go to high school, you graduate, you move on. You don’t go back to high school. You might visit high school once in a while for a reunion. But you do not get re-educated in high school. You move on. You’re past that.
How was it to be back? Did you guys get along well? Did you fall back to the old routine?
[Laughs] I laugh because I’ve been trying to avoid the subject. For you and anyone reading this, I gotta be honest. When you look at any band, it’s a journey. My perspective is of my own personal journey. Everybody had a perspective in that band. We’re all in the same bus, but once we get off that bus, we go our different ways and do different things. Then we get back in the bus again. It’s like a marriage. It is like a family you pick, but it’s not like a marriage. When you’re married, no matter where you go, you’re going to be there with your significant other.
But in 1997, I felt it was very important for me to find out … I used to think, “What if?” That’s something I don’t do anymore because I’ve learned about that. I left Quiet Riot in 1985. And by 1987, I was in Whitesnake and we were bigger than Quiet Riot ever was. It was a global band. Quiet Riot wasn’t really a global band since we spent so much time in the United States. But there was a burning question, “What if I had stayed in the band and tried to make things work out? What would have happened?”
As I keep saying, Quiet Riot is the home. I was there in one incarnation with Randy Rhoads and then another with Metal Health. We all carried a heavy load to build that band. That’s home to me, it really is, of all the bands.
But when you came back, things were very different.
Yes. All of a sudden, we were playing dives, really bad clubs. It’s a circuit. It’s 1997. Grunge was still king. These bands, the hair bands, are all playing these divey clubs in the Midwest and all that. I’m going, “Wow, I just got off the road with Whitesnake in 1994 and we were still headlining festivals.” But I said, “You know what? I have to live through this. I have to come to a closure with this.”
And so I quit drinking because the situation was making me a very angry drunk. And for my family and myself, I quit drinking.
And so I go through this process with the band. And little by little, things started looking up. VH1 did a Behind the Music on Quiet Riot. All of a sudden, Eighties bands started happening. There were all these little tours like Rock Never Stops.
All of a sudden, these guys were selling out sheds. If you put Poison and Warrant and Quiet Riot and maybe some version of Ratt, people are going to show up. They’re going to hear these songs and have a good time. But we never seemed to get out of this thing of not headlining or co-headlining. We were stuck right there.
And what caused me to leave the band was that old conflict started rearing its ugly head again. I kept saying, “Nope, I’m not going to leave. I’ve gotta see this through. I have to get closure.” Eventually, inevitably, the band imploded. One day, we said, “No, we cannot carry on like this. Not anymore.” That was the end of it.
When they re-formed the next year, Chuck Wright was back on bass.
Yeah. I think Alex [Grossi] was on guitar too. But nevertheless, I look through the years and I look back … My God, I was at Frankie’s death bed last year. His wife Regina made it possible during the pandemic that I was able to go and see him in the hospital and hold his hand hours before he passed away. We just remained family. It’s a 48-year friendship.
Yeah. All my memories, really, if I look back at being with the band, it was my home. I felt at home there, just like everyone else. I’d say the same thing about the Randy Rhoads version.
Did you speak with Kevin in the final years of his life?
No. But you know what? That doesn’t change anything. It could have been resolved with a phone call. That never happened, unfortunately. What’s important is how I feel and how I carry on with my memory of the band.
How do you feel about them carrying on now without Frankie?
I think it’s very important for the memory and legacy of the band. We worked really hard to put that band on top. It wasn’t just the guys in the band. We had so many allies along the way since everyone wants to be part of a winning situation. There were a lot of people in the industry that were rooting for us on the way out. They were like, “Wait a minute. What we used to call ‘dinosaurs,’ maybe that’s happening now.” [Laughs.]
How did you wind up joining Dio in 2004?
Quiet Riot imploded in 2003. And then in 2004, I get a phone call while I was touring with Yngwie Malmsteen. It wasn’t really an audition. It was to record on Ronnie James Dio’s record Master of the Moon. I was in the middle of a tour and I just couldn’t walk away from Yngwie. And so I told them that I would love to join the band once I was done with my commitments. By then, they had finished the record. And I joined the band and played with him from 2008 until he passed away.
Was it a positive experience?
It’s interesting. By that point, I was like, “I’ve been at this since 1981. I’ve done it all. I’ve seen it all.” I was wrong. Ronnie just showed me a whole different level of humanity and musicianship. What a joy.
We were neighbors. I lived 15 minutes away from him. When we were off the road, I’d go to his house two or three days a week to hang out and listen to new music that he was writing and just watch some soccer on TV.
I think he had one of the best rock voices in history. He had so much power and range.
Yes. And he knew how to sing rock. He knew how to deliver the message. And what a great messenger. His lyrics were just exemplary.
I only met him once, but he was the nicest guy.
I’ll tell you a little story. When I first joined the band, we did the only American tour, in 2004. Everything else we did after that was Europe, South America, and Asia. We’re in the bus every night. And after the show, the tour manager would come in and say, “Ronnie, we have some guests here that want to say hello.” He’d go, “I’m tired. … OK, I’ll do it.”
He’d ask for a beer, but I never saw him drunk and I never saw him finish the pint he had every night. He had it for a prop, I guess. And so he’d go to whoever was backstage. “Hey, Bill, how are you doing? How is your cousin Peter?” He’s naming all these people that aren’t even there that are relatives of this person. I was like, “He must really know that person.”
After doing that for over a week, every single night, I was like, “Wait a minute — this guy remembers every single guy’s name and their relatives. There must be a trick to this. He must be writing down notes, or something.” But no. He had that memory. He would memorize because people really mattered to Ronnie. He cared about everyone he met.
You met him? If you could see him right now and you had talked about the Yankees, he would talk to you about them again. He was amazing.
What’s also amazing is, you’re one of the few people to be a part of the Ozzy camp at one point in your life and then part of the Dio camp. As you know, they were big rivals at one point.
Yes. I think Bob Daisley was with them both also.
They are two of the greats.
Oh, yeah, but very different singers. They are equally grand and unique in their own way.
How was your experience with Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche?
It was interesting. I got a call from Geoff’s label. This is at the moment that the Queensrÿche brand was up for grabs. This person said to me, “Listen, Geoff wants to know if you want to do this tour with him. They need to establish the fact that he’s the songwriter, main contributor, and voice of Queensrÿche.” Somehow or someway, there was going to be a trial and a negotiation. A judge was going to define the outcome. I said, “Yeah, sure.”
At the moment, I wasn’t doing anything. And it gave me the opportunity to go out for the very first time with my brother playing guitar. I thought, “Wow, this is great. This is really cool. It’s something I’ve never done before.”
We went out also as Queensrÿche. Now, if you ask me if I played in Queensrÿche, no. I didn’t; the other guys have the name. And they opened up for Quiet Riot in 1983 when they just did the “Queen of the Reich” EP. I’ve known them ever since. I have respect for them. They accomplished a lot and worked very hard for it. I’d never take credit for having played in Queensrÿche. It wasn’t really Geoff Tate solo. He was trying to create a new Queensrÿche for legal purposes.
Once it came to an end and it was defined that there was another Queensrÿche and Geoff had certain other rights to certain things that were none of my business and I didn’t really know the details, that was really the end of my playing with Geoff.
How did the Guess Who period start?
Another plus of playing with Queensrÿche is that at one point, we had [singer] Sass Jordan playing the part of Mary because the tour was all about performing Operation: Mindcrime live. There’s the character of Mary from the album and Sass Jordan came on tour. I had known her before. But we weren’t as close prior to that tour as we became traveling on the same bus and talking and hanging out and talking about spirituality.
She’s married to Derek Sharp, who has been the singer in the Guess Who for about 15 years or more. When it came time that the Guess Who’s Jim Kale, the founding bassist, decided to retire, they asked me if I wanted to join.
At first, it was like testing the waters to see if I’ll fit. I’d never seen that version of the band. And so I came down and did some shows with them. I felt really at home with them as people. And this is music I grew up with. It’s the soundtrack of my life. It’s been incredibly fulfilling and really a blessing.
They have so many great songs. You can do a whole set that’s nothing but hits.
Exactly. But it’s very important for all the new members … Garry Peterson is the only remaining founding member, our drummer. For everyone else, we want to contribute new contributions to the legacy, the ever-growing legacy of the band.
You were on tour when the pandemic hit.
The last show that we did officially was Epcot Center in Orlando. We were doing a residency. We played there for five days and did three shows a day. The first day, it was packed. The last show, it was about four people. And they officially shut it down at 9 p.m. that night. We thought it would only be for a few months, and here we are. [Laughs.]
Are there tour dates booked in the future?
We have a bunch from 2020 that have been transferred over to 2021. It seems like we’ll start picking it up in May or June.
Are you vaccinated?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been vaccinated for about two weeks.
Great. You feeling good? Feeling ready to go?
Yeah. I get flu vaccines every year. This, to me, is just another vaccine in my body, re-arranging my DNA. [Laughs.]
Do you speak to the current members of Quiet Riot?
Yeah. I speak two or three times a week with Regina, Frankie’s wife. I stay in touch with them. Frankie would have done that for me would I have left. He would have made sure that my wife Rebecca was OK. Frankie, especially after he was diagnosed, he made sure all Quiet Riot business was in order. Even though I’m not still playing with them, there’s still a lot of Quiet Riot business with recordings and record deals and certain royalties and such that we’re still receiving. And Frankie made sure that everything was taken care of.
You’ve seen lots of people close to you die, like Randy Rhoads, Dio, Kevin DuBrow, Frankie Banali. What has that taught you about grief and loss?
When Randy passed away nearly 40 years ago, I had no clue. I had never experienced anything like that. I was like, “How do I deal with this?” You have to deal with it, but I had no tools. And then through life, I take it upon myself to learn and become a better human being. You know what actually gave me closure? It was writing the book Off the Rails. I was not expecting closure when I sat down to write the book. I was able to go through what happened day by day. I kept a diary, so I had dates and events that happened and so on.
I was able to get closure because I kept Randy alive in my head during the writing of that book until the last chapter that he was alive, which was 18. And then Chapter 19 on is dealing with the accident and the aftermath of how we all dealt with it, or how it changed us, basically. I don’t think we were trying to deal with it. We were re-shaped by the events and how we dealt with the new shapes we were becoming.
It wasn’t until later that my perception of loss became based on the importance of maintaining the legacy of what my dear bandmates helped create. Once I’m gone, there’s one less person than was actually there. Let’s say I get onstage and play certain songs certain ways, I’m the guy that was there to record the song and tour the song, or that played it a thousand times. I am connected to just about everyone that has been part of the Quiet Riot legacy. That’s what’s important. We have a responsibility, the ones left behind, to keep that legacy alive for as long as you can.
Keeping that legacy alive is a big responsibility.
Basically, I’m here and it is my responsibility to bring my perspective and love and dedication that I have for Quiet Riot, and really all the great bands and musicians that I played with. That’s because at the end of the day, it’s not about how many records you sold. It’s not about how many gigs you’ve done. It’s about the people in your life that you shared those moments with.
Do you ever think about retirement?
Retirement? We play for a living. I don’t work. I play. I get paid for traveling and all the crap that goes with that when I’m not onstage. Once I’m onstage, I’m doing that for free.
If you’re still onstage in your eighties, that’s a victory?
Eighty isn’t that far away, but it sounds so … eighty. I don’t know. But you know what? There are artists like Keith Richards that are still out there and doing it so well. So who knows? I can’t predict that.
Well, thanks for taking the time to talk. It was really emotional hearing parts of this.
It’s funny you say that. When you look at the music we created, and especially the videos, “emotional” isn’t a word you associate with it. But coming from you, it has a whole different meaning to it. You’re watching it from a completely different perspective, from a different degree and angle than we did. And you’re right. There’s so much emotion attached to it.
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