Randy Rhoads was not supposed to die young.
The shredding, heavy-metal guitarist barely drank. He really didn’t do drugs (his biggest vice was cigarettes). He loved his Mom, had a longtime girlfriend, and spent his spare time endlessly practicing acoustic guitar.
So when he died, at age 25, in a plane crash – trying to show off, his hard-partying pilot had flown too low – it felt particularly senseless. And the quietly respectful Randy Rhoads: Reflections of a Guitar Icon gives an idea of what music lost, by drawing on interviews with fans and former bandmates.
Rhoads was born in Santa Monica and raised by his mother, who ran a music school in West Hollywood (even after his career was underway, he would still return to give lessons). He could have become a teacher, but after he saw an Alice Cooper concert, Rhoads realized he had to get on stage
He started a band in high school. (Among the group’s early names were Little Women and Mildred Pierce. Apparently, Alice Cooper remained an influence.) Eventually they settled on Quiet Riot, and built a fervent fan base.
Yet while their rivals Van Halen became national stars, Quiet Riot struggled to get a recording contract. (Their first two albums were only released in Japan.) Frustrated, Rhoads left for a new group being started by the former lead vocalist of Black Sabbath.
The hits followed, along with the stories, and Randy Rhoads: Reflections of a Guitar Icon gets many of them. There’s the tale of Rhoads’ audition for Osborne (Rhoads thought he was just tuning up; a drunken Osborne thought he was playing amazing riffs and hired him). There are also stories of Osborne biting the head off a bird, and urinating on the Alamo.
And there are sweeter stories of Rhoads’ early days, as he and his bandmates carted their equipment around, or mugged for the camera in home-made videos. Great details from the pre-internet days of music promotion, too – like Quiet Riot trying to get signed by having their fans picket the record companies. (It didn’t work.)
The documentary, though, is a little too polite. It doesn’t dig into all of truly violent personal conflicts that plagued Quiet Riot in its early days (or explore the irony that it only achieved success when Rhoads, its most talented member, left).
It also relies, a little too heavily, on old interview clips. Of course, Eddie Van Halen is dead now, and Osborne’s health is shaky. But it would have been good to hear some of their colleagues on their rivalry, or relationship, or offer some dissenting views.
Still, it’s fun to see many of these clips of the original Quiet Riot in concert, or just get glimpses of Rhoads snuggling with a stuffed animal, or teasing a fan. Apparently, he put the “quiet” in Quiet Riot; towards the end of his time with Osborne, he was even thinking of giving it all up to seriously study music.
And the brutal irony of it is, he died at 25.
And Ozzy Osborne is still going.