Rudy and I at Chiller Theatre Apr 30, 2011
Rudy Sarzo has had one of the most prolific careers in hard rock/metal bass guitar playing. His career began when he got a chance to play alongside one of the finest rock guitarists in the world, Randy Rhoads, in Quiet Riot. Later on, he would get to play with Randy Rhoads again when he joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band. The time working with Randy still ranks as the high point of Ozzy Osbourne’s entire solo career. Rudy wrote a book about his time with Ozzy and Randy called Off the Rails. (If you consider yourself an Ozzy or Randy fan and you haven’t read Off the Rails, you need to stop what you are doing and buy this book now by clicking on this link.) That magical era with Randy ended when Randy died tragically in a plane crash.
Rudy would continue working with Quiet Riot again. He helped them record the album Metal Health, which hit #1 on the pop charts (still a rare feat for a metal album) and which contained the hits “Cum on Feel the Noize” and the title track “Metal Health”. The band’s success, however, did not continue with their follow-up album, Condition Critical.
However, Rudy’s success did not end. He went on to join Whitesnake, which, like Ozzy and Quiet Riot, would be at their highest point. The band had just recorded the multiplatinum 1987 album and Rudy was there to appear in the famous videos that featured the sexy Tawny Kitaen(lead singer David Coverdale’s then -wife) and tour. He would continue with the band to record Slip of the Tongue, in which he got to play alongside the legendary guitarist Steve Vai.
After Whitesnake, Rudy continue to play with other legends of hard rock and metal as Yngwie Malmsteen, Dio and Blue Oyster Cult, with whom he currently tours. Rudy can also be seen on the VH1 classic show Rock ‘n’Roll Fantasy Camp, playing a counselor teaching other aspiring musicians how to be rockers.
In this candid conversation, we discuss Rudy’s time with Randy in Quiet Riot and Ozzy(but not all of it, again go here to get the whole story), his time with the Metal Health era of Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Yngwie, Dio and Blue Oyster Cult. We will discuss what Rudy is up to nowadays. As readers will see, he keeps himself quiet busy when he’s not on stage. I really want thank Rudy for taking the time out to speak to me.
Jeff Cramer: So, what inspired you to pick up your bass?
Rudy Sarzo: I guess it was one way to get chicks as a fat little kid growing up. When I saw the impact that The Beatles had on the females, I said “That is the way to go.” The girls are all screaming at you. So yeah, I would say that most of the guys of my generation that picked up the guitar, I think it was ‘cause of that. We did it because of the chicks.
Then, of course, once you really start to become a practicing musician then you realize there’s more to it than women. I have been married for over 26 years, it’s not [Laughs]. Of course it’s great for my relationship with my wife because she’s very proud of what I do. It’s a whole different thing. You look at music as a language of communication rather than just something to sling a guitar over your shoulders and have girls screaming at you.
JC: So before you would get into all those hard rock or metal bands, is metal what you started off playing initially?
RS: Not necessarily. I grew up in an era with the radio, back in the late 60s to early 70s, that used to play just about anything. I’d hear back-to-back Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Johnny Mathis, Santana. It was just popular music. It wasn’t really like ‘this is heavy’ or ‘that’s R&B’ or ‘this is pop’ or whatever. It was just ‘good music is good music’. So I got to play a lot of different styles. It was pretty much mandatory, if you were gonna be in a cover band, to cover whatever was popular in the Top 40. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles and started playing with the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot.
I really got to play with a band that was primarily focusing on original material and it was a band that the music style was basically just more rock than anything else, because we did originals. We didn’t have to go and do the other styles of music that might be on the radio because we were not a cover band. Even though Quiet Riot did covers, of course -“Cum on Feel the Noize” - but that was like later on. In the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot there was some Small Faces covered and a couple of other bands who were covered but that was kind of more like a tip of the hat to those bands than anything else.
JC: Small Faces doesn’t surprise me, since I’ve heard Kevin Dubrow talk about his fascination with the lead singer of the Small Faces: Steve Marriott.
RS: Yeah, exactly.
JC: So how did you get into Quiet Riot, because at that point there had already been two albums released? How did you get the gig?
RS: Actually, one album had been released, and when I joined the band they were still waiting to release the second album, the Japanese releases, not the American release. That’s why my photo went up on the second album. By the time I joined the band it was already recorded and mixed and ready to go. The bass player was not in the band anymore, so they just put me on the cover.
Rudy on the cover of Quiet Riot II
JC: Right. So you went on for Quiet Riot and I guess that would go on until Randy was picked by Ozzy?
RS: Uh, yes and no. You know, the band by that time were facing a lot of difficulties with finding a record deal in the industry, because the industry was basically interested in new wave and punk and we were doing the furthest thing from that. They thought in 1978 that our music was dinosaur music [Laughs]. So yeah, so the band fell apart and at the same time Randy was being offered this spot with Ozzy, so of course he went to England, became Ozzy’s guitar player and composer.
JC: Did you do anything in the interim before you went to work with Ozzy?
RS: Yeah. We were just trying to get things off the ground. There was a band called Private Army with Frankie Banali.
RS: And yeah, which is what – we did a bunch of demos, and then I was in two bands. Basically I was Kevin’s roommate, Kevin Dubrow’s roommate, so I would play on and off with Dubrow and then also I was a member of Angel.
JC: In the book Off the Rails you mentioned you initially turned down the offer to play with Ozzy when you got the phone call.
RS: Yeah I did. That was my first reaction because I was already in Angel. I liked the guys. I liked everything about it. We got along really well, but, then again, I was sleeping on the floor with a sheet [Laughs].
JC: I know. That’s why I was surprised you turned it down.
RS: Yeah, you know, I don’t know. I’m one of those guys that, once I make a commitment, that’s it. I’m committed to this, but after I hung up the phone I realized that I wasn’t committed too much. I was playing with a really good band, a bunch of nice guys, but I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I couldn’t actually live on that. Plus on top of that, the biggest reason to play with Ozzy was because I had to play with Randy again.
Ozzy was looking for a rhythm section. Randy recommended me. The original rhythm section, Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley, had recorded Diary of a Madman and even before that, Blizzard of Ozz. So when I joined the band it was for the Blizzard of Ozz tour even though we were doing a couple songs from Diary during the Blizzard of Ozz tour because, first of all, we needed songs for the set, and second of all it was kind of like a preview of things to come. During the middle – actually it got released in, okay, we did the American tour in early 1981.
We took a month off and then we went over to England and Europe and continued touring for the release of Diary of a Madman in 1981. Actually yeah, we did the European tour in 1981, I believe starting in around October/November, and then we actually did two shows in 1981 for the Diary of a Madman tour. That would be December 30 at the Cow Palace and the 31st at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, but the bulk of that tour was in 1982.
JC: As with the Quiet Riot album, your photo would be featured on Diary of a Madman even though you hadn’t played on it.
RS: It happened again with Diary of a Madman. Actually, it’s explained in Druid. It says “the Ozzy Osborne band”; it doesn’t say that [drummer] Tommy Aldridge and I played on the record. You have to know how to read Druid. There are like one or two roadies in England that can do that.
The Ozzy Osbourne band
JC: It was just kind of funny you publishing the negative reviews of the Ozzy tour in your book. The reviewers get things wrong. For instance, they mistake you and Tommy for Bob and Lee.
RS: Yeah. Well, of course nobody was paying attention to what Ozzy was doing or what the band was doing. So any time we were coming to town there were people that were hired as journalists. Their job was to go and review the show, but they just didn’t think that it was gonna be worth the gas – it was really cheap there – to go and see the show. They would just probably get the tickets for their nephew and say, “Here, go catch the show” and then they would just make stuff up for the next day. All the reviews are completely wrong. [To see how amazing the shows really were and how dead wrong the reviewers were, click here to see a live version of “Crazy Train”.]
JC: While audiences would see twenty years later what Ozzy and Sharon were like, you got to see Ozzy and Sharon in the flesh, but at that time, Ozzy obviously hadn’t cleaned up necessarily or wasn’t the affable, confused dad we saw on the show.
RS: You know, he was younger. We were all younger. We were all in our early 30s, I think. You have this sense of, like, you’re indestructible basically, and we were pretty bored. There was nothing to do on the road. You know today you have your laptops and you can be very creative on the road, which is what most of us do nowadays. Back then it was like the highlight of the day of was going to the bar, which is stupid. I don’t even drink anymore. I don’t have time for the hangovers. I’m too busy creating stuff, but yeah, going on the road, man, that can really kill you, or at least kill your liver, but that was then, this is now.
There was definitely an evolution of the individuals, Sharon and Ozzy. I got to tell you, they took great care of me. They gave me a shot. Just with Randy Rhoads’s recommendation they brought me into their inner circle. I mean, I could’ve been a total disaster as a human being, but they were taking a big chance on me. That was the make it or break it tour for Ozzy, so I really appreciated that they trusted me and gave me an opportunity. They gave me a career and they took great care of me. They were fantastic.
JC: Your book finally clears up the bat incident. The story I used to read said that Ozzy mistakes a live bat for a rubber bat and proceeds to try to bite his head off. The bat retaliated and bit Ozzy back, giving him rabies. In your book, it now clarifies the bat was dead, but Ozzy did bite it.
RS: Well the bat was lying on the ground and there’s no way you’re going to be on the ground if you’re alive with all that racket going on. But he did bite it and it was a live bat.
JC: I still tell everyone how the band had trouble playing Texas after Ozzy peed on the Alamo. Yet twenty years later, the first president to invite Ozzy to the White House was George W. Bush, former governor of Texas.
RS: Oh yeah. Pretty ironic. Ozzy pissing on the Alamo and having his life threatened by different militant groups in Texas. Yeah.
JC: Actually, it’s interesting, ‘cause I’m looking at Keith Richards’s bio and he says something about being wanted in Arkansas, and a similar thing happened years later. Bill Clinton, the former governor of Arkansas, asked the Stones to play for a private event he was holding.
RS: Yeah. It’s rock & roll. Matter of fact, when this happened with Ozzy it was 1982, and I believe Keith Richards’s incident was 1973, ’76… So if you look at it, it was only maybe five or six years between. Thirty years ago, six years was a long time ago. Nowadays, it seems to be going really fast for whatever reason, but yeah. Things did not change much between the 70s and the early 80s as far as middle-America.
JC: While you were touring with Ozzy, both he and the metal genre were seen as the reason for all the evils in the world. However, both he and metal are now seen in a different light, while rap and violent video games are looked upon as the latest threat to society.
RS: Yeah, because this is a generation that grew up listening to it, and now the youth is controlling, making a substantial contribution to society and the media. Yeah of course you’re gonna have as a reference what you grew up with and you’re gonna put that into everything that you do in your life. Metal plays a big part nowadays.
JC: Let’s get back to the music itself. I was at Ozzfest this past year (2010) and to this day, the majority of the setlist that Ozzy played was the stuff both you and Randy played.
RS: Yeah. I mean, the stuff that Randy and I and Tommy and Don Airey and Ozzy performed live and that Ozzy got to record with Randy and Bob and Lee, those are very iconic records. They were records that became the blueprint for basically a generation of new guitar players. Basically when I get messages from Facebook or My Space from kids, I don’t mean kids, I mean 12, 14 year old kids, to hear Randy for the first time and basically everything else that they’ve heard since Randy, there have been people digging from Randy’s well as far as his musical inspiration, so kids get it.
Kids get where that came from because Randy is so pure at being Randy and he really spawned a whole new generation of guitar players, which was very difficult for us to find another guitar player that could allow us to finish the tour with dignity, musical dignity. You just don’t wanna bring in anybody in there to play. After Randy died in the crash we were looking for guitar players left and right, but since Randy’s style was so fresh back then there were just very few people that could actually play that way. So actually we found Brad Gillis later on right after playing with Night Ranger. He did an incredible job and allowed us to finish the tour in a dignified way.
JC: It was funny you mentioned kids, because at the show I saw this summer, Ozzy brought a ten-year-old on to do the solo to “Crazy Train.” You’ve probably seen it on YouTube.
RS: Yeah[Laughs]. That was nuts. It was good because Ozzy was like grabbing him and throwing him around and he did not miss a note. He would just smile. It was incredible. I’m saying this because I played with Randy. I know how connected Randy is to his music. When he played there was a certain purity to what he did and I could see it in his eyes. I could see it in his body language and everything.
He wasn’t just playing notes, he was delivering a message for his music, and sometimes when I see something like a kid, like when I watch that video, and I’m not taking anything away from the musical skills that the young man has ‘cause he’s got tremendous skill, but I’d love to hear him play, the young man, something of his own, something where I know that the message is coming directly from him rather than him trying to emulate somebody else’s message. I’m certain that the young man will have plenty to say on his own.
JC: Now one thing about Randy, this is what I’ve heard Ozzy say and it is hinted at in your book, that Ozzy says Randy would not have stayed in the long run if he had continued to live. Would you agree with that?
RS: Yeah. The whole thing, if you look at an Ozzy trajectory, and that can often include Sharon, because they’re one basically. I can’t even think of Ozzy without thinking about Sharon and vice-versa. They’re very tight-knit elements. She’s so important. Without Sharon, Ozzy would not be who he is today and I would say vice-versa. One thing that they do is, as great leaders as they are, to me a great leader is somebody that also teaches others, mentors others to become leaders themselves. So once Randy had gone through the mentorship that Ozzy and Sharon provided for him, I think it was pretty much expected for Ozzy and Sharon to say, “Okay, take what you learned from being with us and go on your own and create more leaders.” Take other people under your wings just like we have and share that knowledge with others.
Because if you look at the trajectory of the people that have gone through Ozzy’s band, there’s a lot of people that have gone on, including myself, to other important bands, and I don’t think that they would’ve been as well prepared to join those bands if they already had not gone through the mentorship of being in Ozzy’s band. I can speak for myself. 90 percent of what I know about the music industry I learned during those tours that I did with Ozzy. I was able to bring that with me once I joined Quiet Riot and later on Whitesnake and so on.
JC: Ozzy has a habit of having bass players write the lyrics. Was there any chance that if you had stuck around would we have heard any lyrics from you?
RS: I really doubt it. Unless he was gonna sing in Spanish. Then I would definitely have helped him out with that. If he ever wanted to do the Spanish version of “Iron Man” I would’ve been the guy definitely.
JC: I got the impression from your book that you left because you also, even though Brad Gillis did a fine job and all this, but after Randy was gone it wasn’t the same anymore, you know?
RS: Actually, I was going for more than giving the impression. I was making a statement clearly. The only reason why I left the band was because it was very painful for all of us to carry on without Randy being there. It’s changed our lives. It has an impact even today. Think about this. Leaving Ozzy, one of the biggest bands in the world, to join Quiet Riot at a point in the band where nobody in the industry gave us – thought that we were gonna do anything, nobody.
So I went from being with Ozzy to all of a sudden at the very, very, very bottom of the mountain all over again. It was like I just jumped off the mountain and landed right on the ground and had to climb right back up again to the very top. So it was not an easy decision, but it was one that I had to make in order for me to actually get back to the essence of why I became a musician in the first place because I really wanted to enjoy myself playing, not try to survive every show.
JC: Kevin Dubrow was the only original member left of Quiet Riot when you rejoined the band. How did he decide on calling it Quiet Riot?
RS: Kevin asked Randy and me for our blessings on naming his band Quiet Riot.
JC: But did Kevin decide to use the Quiet Riot name because people knew who Randy was and they recognized that this was the band that Randy had been in?
RS: Somewhat. Yeah. There would be some initial awareness of it. Now remember, we’re talking 1981, very limited networking, social networking. Actually, none. You had to rely on magazines. What really broke the band was intensive touring, well, first of all a great record. Second, MTV exposure. Our first video really did not do much, to be honest with you. It was “Cum on Feel the Noize” that made the impact. That was the second video. [To see the “Cum on Feel the Noize” video, click here.]
Third, the fact that we played everywhere. We played on so many tours. We did a festival, playing in front of 350,000 people. Let’s see. The timing was right. Getting on great tours like Scorpions and Loverboy, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, touring on our own and with Queensryche and so on. We got all the lucky breaks.
JC: Now this time you’re credited to an album you played on. However, I understand you didn’t play on all of it.
RS: Well if you look at the album cover, the back, it’s very clear. It says the track “Metal Health”, “Don’t Wanna Let You Go”, Chuck Wright on bass. I requested that because after being – going through the first Quiet Riot phase and then the second, the Diary of a Madman, I wanted to make sure that it was clear who was playing what on the record. You have to realize when I first recorded that album I was still a member of Ozzy. Chuck had been the bass player not before me but actually Chuck recorded those two tracks before I even went in the studio to do “Thunderbird” originally, and then a few more tracks that evening. Then Tony Cavazo was actually the bass player that came in to record “Cum on Feel the Noize” and I recorded the other tracks.
JC: Okay. Now one question I’ve always had is that metal mask from Metal Health, how’d that whole idea come up?
RS: Well, we were just looking at some album ideas and I brought up the concept of the universal head banger, and to do that you have to be faceless. You just put a mask on it. You could be the one behind the mask. That could be you. So we commissioned an artist to do the cover and what he did is he took a bunch of photos of himself in different positions, and once we showed the one that hit the cover he said, “That’s the one.” What they do is they take a photograph and they airbrush on top of it. That’s something that’s done even today with onion skinning and stuff like that. That’s the cover right there.
Metal Health Cover
JC: Right. Now you were on tour and that whole thing went big at the time. I do know at that time Dubrow was not giving the best interviews and he was slagging other people at the time and one of them happened to have been Ozzy. Ozzy was upset by the whole thing and he punched you over it!
RS: Well, it’s in the book, about chapter 23 or 24. Yep.
JC: Well, talk about the whole thing. Here was this guy Kevin Dubrow, this new band you’re in, Quiet Riot and he’s badmouthing the other band you were in, Ozzy.
RS: Why do you think I left?
JC: For that reason alone?
RS: You know all the bands that he was slagging, I was friends with all those guys. We either toured together or people that I knew. Come on, you know. There’s no use slagging people. If you’ve got a problem just keep it to yourself or call somebody or whatever, but to go in the press, I mean what’s the point?
It’s like this. Music, what differentiates metal fans from a sports fan, that a sports fan will be a fan of the team. A metal fan will be a fan of all the bands. Like if you’re a Yankees fan you’re gonna have Yankees shirts in your closet. That’s it. If you’re a metal fan you’re gonna have 20 or 30 metal t-shirts in your closet from different bands, so don’t slag the other bands because your fan is a fan of the other band you’re slagging, so you have to be aware of that. Anyway, music is a language of creating a communication. It’s not a competition, not competitive sports or anything like that. For whatever reason, if you don’t personally like somebody just keep it to yourself. Don’t make it a band versus another band issue because everybody gets hurt. Nobody wins.
JC: I also saw on VH1 Behind the Music, because your big hit “Cum on Feel the Noize” was a Slade cover, they had you do another Slade cover on the follow-up album Condition Critical. No-one in the band seemed to like doing another Slade cover even though naturally I understand why the record company would have you do it.
RS: It’s the music industry. They can hold you for ransom if you don’t do certain things because they see themselves as the investors. They’re giving you money to do something. Basically, traditionally when you would sign a record deal what would happen is, it was like getting a mortgage for a house that, even after you pay for it, you never own, so you keep paying for it Let’s say if they give you $200,000.00 to make a record, they own the record in perpetuity for the rest of it.
That’s it. You’re going to get the same royalty rate even after you pay for the record. It’s a scam. It was a scam. That’s why the music industry just basically disintegrated, one of the many reasons why. It’s a shame because I made a lot of friends in the industry, really, really a lot of nice people, but nevertheless that’s the way the music industry ran.
JC: Before you would join Whitesnake, there would be Driver.
RS: Yes. I got to play with Tony MacAlpine. I played on that one, of course, with Tommy Aldridge and Rob Rock.
The Driver Album Cover
JC: I read that at one time the Driver lineup briefly had Jeff Fenholt on vocals and Craig Goldy on guitar.
RS: Yeah. Craig Goldy left the band to join Dio as a matter of fact. Years later, I got to play with Goldy in Dio when I joined Dio in 2004.
JC: There’s a book that covers the Sabbath era after Ozzy left. It goes over Fenholt’s controversial time there in Sabbath. You’re quoted in the book as saying that one of your biggest regrets was not recording an album with Fenholt on vocals.
RS: Yeah. Unless it’s something that I wrote, I hate to be quoted on things that are not right.
RS: [Laughs] That’s what differentiates my book from a lot of people’s books, because other people’s books are based on whatever research they might do over the Internet. Books like that are usually compilations of hearsay, whereas my book, I wrote it. Matter of fact I didn’t even have a ghostwriter. I wrote it. I mean there is an editor in the book, somebody that can edit the book just like every other book, but as far as a ghostwriter, no. That was me.
RS: But getting back to the subject, Fenholt is an incredible vocalist, incredibly gifted, and I have nothing but good things to say about Jeff.
JC: How did Whitesnake come about?
RS: Oh very simple. Whitesnake was the opening act for Quiet Riot in 1984, so that’s where I got to meet David and all the other guys. They actually asked Tommy and me to join Whitesnake way back in 1985, but I did not take the offer because since I had been on tour with them I knew about the friction between John Sykes and David.
Even though they made great music together there’s a personality clash there going on. So I just left what I felt was a bad situation and didn’t want to join another one, so we declined, and then when we got the offer to make the video that was actually in “Still Of The Night” [To see the “Still Of The Night” video, click here]. By then Sykes was not in the picture anymore, so it felt like it was safer to be in Whitesnake as far as personality conflicts and so forth.
Rudy (center) in Whitesnake
JC: So that video comes all together and that’s one of them featuring Coverdale’s then-wife Tawny Kitaen, making Whitesnake a successful band and the 1987 album a bestseller. When you went back in the studio, you guys must’ve had a challenge recording Slip of the Tongue. Not only, did you have to follow up a bestselling album, but you are part of a very different lineup that recorded the preceding album.
RS: Not really, I mean you always go into the studio and try to make the best of what you’ve got. There was never really a concern about the past. You just look forward and move on. There was never an issue about do we have anything looming over our heads as far as trying to compete with ’87 Whitesnake versus the new Whitesnake or anything like that. No, not at all.
JC: I saw you on an E! True Story when they interviewed Tawny Kitaen. It was right after she got herself in trouble. The way you were quoted in it, it sounded like she was a bit of a Yoko type in the band.
RS: Yeah, I mean it was a situation where she, at the time, her personality demanded significance within the group as being David Coverdale’s wife, and it was not as much with the guys in the band as it was with the wives and girlfriends of the other members of the group. These are things that people go through phases and they grow up and they learn from that and they carry on in life. Let’s put it this way, I really don’t believe in the Yoko syndrome after doing this for so many years. It’s like I believe if somebody in the band allows certain things to happen it’s their fault. It’s not their wife’s fault or their girlfriend’s fault. It’s the fault of the individuals who are letting it happen.
There’s two ways of – put it this way. Women will challenge you. I’m sorry, women will test you, and men will challenge you. That’s why we have sports. The challenge of the men, boxing or I’m gonna throw you a ball and see if you can hit it. This is what men do and women will test you, test you for your love, for your capability to put food on the table, and all of the above. It’s been going on since the beginning of time.
So everything, all relationships have their own place, and sometimes you cannot – let’s put it this way. My wife has never interfered with my musical career at all, and that’s my wife. That’s the person I listen to and I ask most advice from, but that’s why we’ve been married for such a long time, over 26 years.
JC: Well, one of the things I know that would surprise people, one of the interesting things is that even though the metal genre is known for musicians being drug addicts or having a lot of groupies, you’ve not only been married to the same woman, but I also noticed that you read the Bible and you’re a Christian. You break a lot of stereotypes here.
RS: I can’t live my life by other people’s opinions of what I should do or what I must do. I can’t. I really don’t even believe in stereotypes because each individual – you know the more I travel the more I realize that we’re all the same. We all have the basic needs. I spent a whole month traveling through Russia, from the east to the west, and I got to realize that the people that we feared decades ago were actually just like us.
They wanted the same things. Just because a group of men decided that this is the direction the country is gonna go, for decades, we became enemies. Once a new group of men say, “Well we’re not gonna be enemies anymore. We’re gonna try and work this out,” the curtain comes down and you say, “Wait a minute, we’re not that different anymore.” So basically we all want the same thing.
JC: Well, you come from Cuba, and you also know not everyone in Cuba is like Fidel Castro.
RS: Again I’m glad you brought that up because that’s a fine example. It’s like this. One day Cuba was not communist and by the next day it was, and it was chosen by the decision of a handful of people. That’s what governments do. It’s like when we have an election here in the United States, things change overnight just because of certain – again the difference between communism and democracy is that those handful of people are voted in through the democratic process, whereas in communism it usually happens through a revolution or a revolt or a coup or something like that.
Then all of a sudden it’s in the hands of certain people that make certain decisions. So it’s totally different in the United States. Thank god for that[Laughs]. Coming from Cuba I experienced that. I was nine years old when Castro took power and he could’ve gone either way. He could’ve gone with the United States or he could’ve gone with Russia, but he had to make that decision, which changed the lives of millions of people.
JC: Now how long did you stay with Whitesnake after that?
RS: The last time I played with Whitesnake was in 1994.
JC: So you had stuck with them up until ’94?
RS: Yeah. There was a break between when David went on to record with Jimmy Page, Coverdale/Page album, and then Adrian Vandenberg and I recorded the Manic Eden record with Ron Young, the vocalist from Little Caesar.
JC: Did you leave Whitesnake because David didn’t seem to be doing many albums during that time?
RS: No. I never left Whitesnake.
JC: You never did?
RS: It was like a party where you don’t get invited anymore. [Laughs] It was just like that.
JC: Right, so you did that. Now, what encouraged you to go back with Quiet Riot?
RS: I always felt that I had some unfinished business with the band. After I left there was this lingering question of what if? What if I would’ve stayed in the band? What would’ve happened? Even after the major success of Whitesnake I always had that burning question: what if I would have stayed in the band? So when we reunited in ’97, which lasted through to 2003, by the very last day that we were Quiet Riot it just disintegrated. It just fell apart, and my question was answered. Yeah. I had closure with that.
JC: Okay. Now I read your first reunion with Quiet Riot was at a private party for Marilyn Manson.
RS: It was a club called the Dragonfly on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood. It was an after-Marilyn Manson show party and I got a call from Frankie asking if I wanted to come by and play a couple songs, just hang out. It was nice. It was in 1997. I wasn’t really mingling a whole lot. I was basically hanging out in the dressing room with the guys. That was about it. I only played a couple songs while Chuck Wright played the bulk of the set and I think from stage I remember seeing Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor standing next to each other.
JC: After Quiet Riot, you would play with Yngwie Malmsteen. Even though he has a notorious reputation, I remember reading an interview that you got along with him okay.
RS: Yeah, he was great, nothing negative to say about Yngwie. He was fantastic and his wife, she takes care of business. Playing with Yngwie is like going to an amusement park. All rides are a ticket. Every single song is like a rollercoaster ride. I’ll put it that way.
JC: One interesting thing is I was actually listening to Yngwie a few days ago. We all know him for his lightning fast solos, like you said, it’s a rollercoaster ride. However, what really blew me away was when he played acoustic guitar, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for it.
RS: Oh yeah. Listen, he’s great. He’s not very well known for his blues playing, but he’s a great blues player. We used to do a lot of Hendrix. We were doing like a two and a half hour show. A lot of nights just to change things up he’d decide in the middle of it to throw a Hendrix song in there and he would sing it and he would play it, and it would be just amazing.
JC: So then, okay, then Dio came, where you would be on the Master of the Moon tour.
RS: Yeah. I got a call from Wendy Dio to record on Ronnie’s record, but I was in the middle of a tour with Yngwie, so I had a commitment to that, so I couldn’t do it, but I told her, “Look, let me finish the tour with Yngwie and I’ll call you guys and let you know that I’m available.” We did, and then I joined Ronnie in 2004. I was a member of Dio up until the day that Ronnie passed away.
JC: Now here again, here is another tragedy, again just like Randy Rhoads: you got a chance to play with a real legend, who now passed away.
RS: Well, what makes a legend is magic. It’s not really the antics or the hearsay or preconceived notions of what the person is about or the stereotype. It’s about the magic they bring personally to my life, because there’s definitely a magic that Randy brought to my life and there was definitely a magic that Ronnie brought to my life. So these are the things that, to humanity, it’s a major loss, but it’s also a loss of magic because there’s only just so much magic left in the world right now and it’s getting harder and harder to find.
JC: I saw one of Ronnie Dio’s last concerts on the Heaven & Hell tour in Atlantic City. I would have no idea that in eight or nine months Ronnie would be gone because he was still performing like he was in early 30s, he didn’t seem to age, he was not tired and his voice was in great shape. It was a real shock, eight months later, that he had passed away.
RS: Yeah. We were rehearsing, we had been rehearsing for about a couple of weeks for what was gonna be the 2009 Christmas. It was like a Christmas tour that we were gonna do, and we were rehearsing in November 2009 when on November 16th we get the – Wendy came down to rehearsal without Ronnie and said that he had been diagnosed with what they thought might be a stomach ulcer, and this was two days before we were supposed to fly to the UK to begin the tour. For the two weeks that we had rehearsed he was singing amazing, just amazing. We were doing some pretty difficult songs. We were doing a lot of Rainbow [To hear Rudy perform the Rainbow classic “Gates Of Bablyon” with Dio, click here.] stuff that he was singing at the top of his range, a lot of very upscale stuff.
What happened was, when he joined Heaven & Hell, Dio as a band, we stopped playing Black Sabbath songs. We went deeper into the Rainbow catalogue and into the Dio catalogue and he was pulling off some gems, stuff that he hadn’t done in decades. He was singing beautifully, incredibly. So yeah, that was November 16th and by May 16th he passed away. Right before he passed away he almost got the green light from the doctors that the cancer, you know, had gone into remission, but he was taking some new medication and it just wasn’t having the effect it should have had. It was almost overnight, he just passed away.
JC: Yeah. One of the other bands I noticed you joined was Blue Oyster Cult.
RS: Oh yes, I’m currently touring with them. When Ronnie joined Heaven & Hell it gave me a lot of time to pursue other projects, so I got a call from Eric Bloom and they were looking for a bass player and I happened to be available and I’ve been playing with them for, god, it’s going on four years now [Laughs]. Time flies.
JC: I bet you hear “More cowbell” a lot at the concerts.
RS: Oh god yes. That thing is hilarious. We get a kick out of it.
JC: Around that time you had written the book. Now the book had a delay originally, ‘cause I remember when I was reading about the release of it sometime in 2004 or 2005 only to find then it was released two years later.
RS: Yeah. The book was slated to be released in 2005, and there was a conflict of interest with some parties involved, with my publisher and the Osbourne camp, and so I was dropped by the publisher and then when I came back from touring I had the book sitting there. I found out there was a publishing division of Amazon, called Book Surge, where you could do self-publishing.
Then I said, well, if anybody is interested in reading the story I’m gonna make it available at Book Surge and that’s what I did. Then a few years later I was approached by a publishing company and they released it as a regular print book, not a print-per-order, which is a whole different – the book feels a little bit different because you have to remember they just press a button and here’s the book, rather than something that goes into an actual publication.
JC: Yes. One thing I also read is that in your spare time you do computer graphics.
RS: Yes, I am an animator. I spend a lot of time doing it, sometimes way too much time, but I’m just too obsessed with it [Laughs]. It really helps my music because it’s the other side of the brain. It’s like it challenges you to really sharpen thinking because it’s not just about the creative process of telling a story. It’s about how to do it, how to work the software, because it’s an immense learning curve on all of these softwares, 3D animation software, not only about the creation of the model but also the texturing, rendering and everything else, and the environments that you have to create. I’m so obsessed with it. Maybe it’s because I used to be a film major in school.
JC: Oh, you were a film major in school?
RS: In college, yeah. So I’m very visually driven. If you notice, the book is almost written like a script. The only way that, when I sat down to write I said, well I can tell a story cinematically, so basically the book is like the movie that you’ll never get to see, but I wrote it like that. It has a very cinematic style to it, a lot of dialogue.
JC: Has being a film major affected your music?
RS: Yeah. I mean, even when I play I’m very visually driven, not necessarily as a performer, but more of what I visualize of the story from the lyrics as I’m playing them, especially with Dio. With Ronnie he’s got such a cinematic style of writing lyrics. I will have these epics going in my head, like with “Man on the Silver Mountain” or “Gates of Babylon” and there’s all this stuff going on in my head as I’m playing it. It was incredible.
JC: I’ll make one confession. I was in film school, majoring in screenwriting, and I have to admit some of my screenwriting was influenced by Ronnie’s lyrics. Getting back to computer graphics, I know you did some big graphics for the Dio tour. What are some of the other things you’ve done, any projects you’ve done animation for?
RS: As a matter of fact you can catch a glimpse of most of my stuff, I did a Nvidia HP users profile. You can find that on You Tube. Google “HP” and “NVIDIA Rudy Sarzo.” It will pop up [Or just click here to go to the profile which goes into more detail of Rudy’s computer animation skills].
RS: Yeah. I was doing a show about 20 months ago in Las Vegas, at the Elvis Showroom, and I created the jumbotron footage and I created a character. It’s a clown called Sicko the Clown, and he’ll come on the screen and talk to the audience, talk to the band and the cast members, carry the show with some sort of a storyline. So I did that, all those graphics, animation, lip sync, everything.
JC: Okay. Cool.
RS: Another thing that I’m heavily interested in, 3D service graphics. I have the Fuji W3 stereo camera and do a lot of shooting with that, and editing. I use Premiere, an Adobe product. Yeah, compositing. There’s so many layers to 3G, such as content creation. It’s also the composition. Editing it, storyboarding it, all of that. It’s a lot of fun.
JC: Are there any other projects besides touring with Blue Oyster and your animation, any other projects you’re working on?
RS: Yeah, Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. We have a reality show. Matter of fact, do you have VH1 Classic on your cable?
JC: Yeah, I do.
RS: If you haven’t seen it yet, they do occasional reruns on VH1 classic Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. I’m one of the counselors of the show and I also do the camps around the country. Very shortly, we’ll be in New York City doing the camp and Roger Daltrey will be our special guest, along with Leslie West and Simon Kirke from Bad Company and Tommy James from Tommy James and the Shondells.
JC: Wow. One thing that I’ve been very impressed with by you is that, in the music industry, most musicians, if they’re lucky, have a great couple of years, and that’s it. But you have been working constantly since Ozzy, which is almost 30 years ago. I mean, you’re still doing stuff.
RS: Actually, I’m busier now than I’ve ever been [Laughs].
RS: Oh yeah. There’s a lot of stuff that I can’t really talk about right now because – I can only tell you things like, let’s say, Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, because it’s gonna be on television, but there’s a lot of stuff going on. Yeah. I’m very, very blessed to be so busy.
JC: What’s your secret to longevity? How did you get all these gigs? How did you join all these bands?
RS: Yeah. Rule number one: when you join the band, you’re joining the band. The band is not joining you, so treat it like that and you’ll be a happy man, or woman.