Off The Rails – A Review

It was 1990 and I was in the middle of writing a term paper for my college English class. The theme was biography and I decided to do mine on one of my favorite guitarists of all time, Randy Rhoads, who died in a plane crash in 1982.

Randy was a genius on his instrument. Much like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen were in their prime, these gentlemen all took the instrument to an entirely new level. Randy Rhoads’ unfortunate passing took away the opportunity for music lovers to see what would have happened if a gifted guitarist crossed heavy metal with classical music. From the music he left behind the possibilities were endless.

Needless to say, trying to compose a term paper on a heavy metal guitarist was not easy at that time. Especially when there were no books on the subject and no Internet readily available. I was forced to use guitar magazines which, let’s be honest, are not the best material to gain any real insight on the subject.

Most of those magazines are nothing more than hero-worship anyway and are more interested in teaching you how to play guitar solos rather than what kind of person Randy was like. Where was Rudy Sarzo’s book “Off The Rails” when I needed it?

For those of you who don’t know, Rudy Sarzo is a bassist who performed with Randy Rhoads during his heyday with Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy, who had recently parted ways with his long time band Black Sabbath, had just put together a new band to support his solo career and albums Blizzard of Ozzand Diary of a Madman.

In his book, Rudy discusses every detail of his life from the moment he was asked to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band along side Randy, right up until the plane crash that killed one of the greatest guitar players ever on March 19, 1982. The book not only gives you an insight on what it was like to be in the band with Randy, but also some of the most funny, outrageous and at times, depressing stories about life on the road you’ll ever read.

I originally contemplated using the term “Mr. Sarzo” when addressing the author in this review of his book but decided against it. The use of “Mr” is too formal and much better suited for addressing music business executives and for ASCAP royalty statements. After reading this brilliant book and learning so much about him (and Randy for that matter), I’m much more comfortable referring to him simply as “Rudy”.

Those who know me can attest to the fact that I definitely am not a literary connoisseur. Far from it if you really must know, but I took this book with me on vacation to Ocean City, Maryland and could not put it down.

Reading about Rudy’s laid back lifestyle, the wild stories of Ozzy and his beloved wife Sharon (who can now be seen as a judge on the show America’s Got Talent) and how Randy was ready to give it all up to get back to his love of teaching classical guitar was the perfect complement to my own personal ME time. Rudy’s writing style made me feel like I was actually sitting on the tour bus with him bearing witness to all the debauchery myself.

I found myself cursing fate when I discovered that Rudy and Randy had performed within 10 miles of my home but I was a mere eleven years old at the time and wasn’t even aware of the greatness that had come to my town. Oh, why couldn’t my parents have been listening to Blizzard of Ozz instead of ABBA’s Dancing Queen? I could have been one to bear witness to music genius.

Rudy spares no punches at all in this great read. He discusses the stories of drugs and alcohol abuse, how he met the love of his life, posts in-depth reviews from many of the shows during the tour and is even at times very critical of his own playing.

Most rock star books and biographies usually follow the same format: I have nothing, I got famous, I got drunk, I got high, I got into a fight, I got cleaned up. Although some of that is also included in this work, there’s so much more here to set it apart from the pack. The stories of Rudy’s encounters with bands like Motorhead, Def Leppard, Night Ranger and countless other groups well before their initial success makes this a must read for any 80’s music fan.

Rudy has a very casual, humble way of story telling and I could really only find one fault with it. On page two of the book, referring to his initial passing of a chance to audition with Ozzy and then getting another opportunity, Rudy mentions how lightning is not supposed to be able to strike twice. But in my view, lightning has struck at least a half-dozen times for Rudy Sarzo.

You see, in addition to finding his beloved wife and being in one of the greatest arsenals ever put together in heavy metal history, Rudy has also been a part of the following in his career as a bass player:

  • Quiet Riot: Their debut album, Metal Health, became the first American heavy metal record  to reach #1 on the Billboard charts selling millions of copies. On a personal note, when I heard “Cum on Feel the Noize” for the very first time back in 1983, I knew at that very moment I wanted to be a musician and play that song.
  • Whitesnake: Rudy Sarzo joined the rhythm section of this band just as their 1987 album began to take hold. Although Rudy did not play on the record he was part of the band at its highest point including the infamous Jaquar video “Here I Go Again”.
  • Dio: Rudy was able to perform with one of the greatest heavy metal vocalists of all time, Ronnie James Dio. Ironically enough, until Ronnie’s untimely death in 2010, Rudy performed alongside the man who had replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath.
  • Blue Oyster Cult: Rudy is currently part of the band whose hits include “Burnin’ For You”, “Godzilla” and “Don’t Fear The Reaper”.

Ok, I’m through ranting. If you are a fan of Randy Rhoads, Rudy or any of the bands mentioned in this review then this is a book you definitely need to own. I can not say enough good things about it. Kudos to you Rudy for one of the best rock biographies ever.

I only wish you would have written this book 20 years ago. I’m confident that if you had, the “B” I wound up getting on my term paper would have been an “A” instead.

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