Having shared the stage with rock legends like Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Whitesnake, and Quiet Riot, bassist Rudy Sarzo has secured a prestigious place within the music industry as a profoundly admired worldwide talent.
I first met the Cuban American musician, and author of rock memoir Off The Rails: Aboard The Crazy Train In The Blizzard Of Ozz, earlier this spring in Las Vegas at Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp. As a counselor for one long, hot weekend, Sarzo kept busy as mentor and music instructor to a group of eager musicians who kept busy as they honed in on their musical skills, preparing to showcase themselves on stage at the iconic House Of Blues on the last day of camp with other known artists, such as Bruce Kulick, Vinny Appice, and Phil X.
While on tour with Sarzo this summer with his current project GUNZO (featuring Tracii Guns , Ex LA Guns), I can truly attest to the famed sir’s bewitching charm.
Sarzo has an affectionate, observant gaze, a graceful demeanor, and the practiced wisdom of a man who has seen it all. And from what I remember of our time together on tour, he doesn’t like to be late! Always packed and ready to go, he’d point at the time, politely encouraging his band mates to get a move on. “C’mon, guys, we’ve got to get going,” he’d say.
We chatted the other day about mutual friends, Randy Rhoads, gardening, and even his steadfast stance on animal activism, but there were a few particular things I wanted to know above all.
“Ask away,” he said. “I answer everything.”
I had read several weeks ago that there had been a change in GUNZO’s lineup, with Michael O’Mara now fronting the band instead of Keith St. John. I hope everyone is on good terms still with Keith still.
The way it is with the music industry today, things have changed. I’ve been in a situation with many bands where my schedule conflicts. So, when I was touring with Geoff Tate’s version of Queensryche, there were other dates I would book with other artists. Well, I could only do certain dates with Geoff because, maybe, I had already signed another contract elsewhere. For instance, like with Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp. GUNZO will get someone else to fill in for me, and when my commitment is done I will go back and play with them.
I think it goes with the music industry’s situation today. It’s difficult unless you’re in a big touring band, playing arenas and stadiums, to actually commit to one band. With bands like that, they are booked so far in advance. Y’know, I haven’t gotten a tour book since my last Whitesnake tour. For 20 years I haven’t gotten a tour book! Most of the tours I do now, they are put together so quickly they don’t really give you time to plan ahead. If you get a call and something conflicts with something else, sometimes you just can’t do it.
In Keith’s case, that’s what happened. He had booked some things around the same time that GUNZO got offered some other shows, and y’know we understood that, so that’s why Michael started playing with us.
Kevin DuBrow, Geoff Tate, and Ozzy Osbourne: It has been said they are notoriously difficult to work with, yet you’ve had a long career with all three bands. How were you able to maintain your position in each band for such extended periods of time, whereas other members seemed to come and go?
Ozzy was great. I had no problem with Ozzy whatsoever. And again, it was a different situation. I walked into a band having no track record – not even having recorded a record when I joined the band in 1981. Whatever they said I needed to do, I did. Ozzy never made anybody feel like an employee, he was a very kind man, and he was the first real mentor I had with any real experience. He had already been through two decades with Black Sabbath. So, whatever he was able to share with me I listened to, and I respected him.
With Kevin it was different. We both played together in the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot. We lived together, so it was more of a close relationship; like with Frankie Banali. I’ve known him since ’72, so when you know somebody so well it’s more of a family relationship. Of course, sometimes you bicker, and sometimes you have a falling out with even members of your own family. So, it was more of that relationship.
Then with Geoff Tate, again, I was asked to come into the band and perform on Geoff’s version of Queensryche, and it was more of a set pattern, or mission. It was to play those songs, as they were recorded, as accurate as possible. It was very clear. He was great to work with because he’s a constant professional. I’ve known him for many years. We toured together in ’83; but it’s not like with someone you grew up with, like I did with Kevin. It was a different relationship, more of a musical relationship, a professional relationship. Again, I had no problem working with Kevin. He was fantastic.
What have been the highlights of your career up to this point?
For me, my career has been like a mountain climber. Being with Ozzy, that was Mount Ozzy that I climbed along with the band, and we got all the way to the top. Then there’s Mount Quiet Riot, which was another mountain to climb, and it was incredible getting to the very top of that mountain with the first debut metal album to reach number one in ’83, Metal Health. And then there was Mount Whitesnake, and that was a very beautiful mountain climbing experience. My own personal journey with Ronnie James Dio was a wonderful experience. I was Ronnie’s bass player from 2004 to the day he passed. That was an incredible musical experience for me because there was nobody like Ronnie James Dio, in just about every sense of the word. He was an incredible mentor, and I learned so much from him. And to be right up on stage, and next to me there’s Ronnie singing. It doesn’t get better than that.
Every artist has something from their childhood that sticks with them throughout their lives serving as that special thing that turned them into the artist they become. What might have been some of those moments for you?
My childhood would have not been the same without music. It was spearheaded by The Beatles, but, it wasn’t just The Beatles; they were just the main attraction of the British Invasion. You have The Who, Rolling Stone, The Kinks. From there, that spawn my love for bands like The Beach Boys, and The Doors: the American music invasion, which was very rich. My childhood wouldn’t have been much fun without music. I think music really was the soundtrack of my life. It saved me. It was what kept me going, and put focus and direction in my life.
When you played US Fest in 1983, did you know that you were out of tune? You played through it, and it’s such an epic performance!
I talk about it all the time!
We were added to the bill to play US Fest about two or three days before it actually happened. We were on tour with Scorpions who were doing a two week tour to warm up for the US Fest themselves. But being just added, we had to scramble with logistics, and finding crew. We didn’t have a road crew; they went onto the next gig, which was set for the following day after US Fest.
So, my tour manager was in charge of taking my tuner from the dressing room to the stage, but along the way he knocked it out of calibration. This is 1983, so the tuners weren’t as locked in as we have them today. So, when he put it on stage, I gave him quick direction on how to do it without knocking it out, but of course everybody was overwhelmed because of the magnitude of the festival. It became 250,00 people and more. Everyone was almost scared, except for the guys, of course, who are just focused on getting on stage and playing.
I was in tune when we got on stage, but during the guitar solo, which is when I do a refreshing of the tuning always, I went behind my amplifier and realized my calibration was knocked off. So I turned the wheel on the tuner to calibrate properly. I was in tune to myself, but not with everyone else. We had two more songs to go, “Bang Your Head” and “Cum On Feel The Noize”. So, those two songs are out of tune. I talk about it because, when people ask me what I remember most from US Fest, well, there ya go.
You can connect with Rudy Sarzo online at Facebook.com/OfficialRudsySarzo, or at his official website RudySarzo.com where you can purchase his 2008 published collection of memories of friend, band mate, and legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads.
Photos: Getty. Mark Weiss/ Wireimage.
Story: Kate Catalina