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Remembering Randy Rhoads on His Birthday

Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads
Paul Natkin, Getty Images

Guitarist Randy Rhoads would have celebrated a birthday today if not for the plane accident that cut short the life of a man Ozzy Osbourne called a “saint” and an “angel.” He gave fans less than 10 years worth of music — first with Quiet Riot and then with Osbourne, Rhoads’ impact will never slip quietly out of fans’ memories.

As they’ve done every year, fans will gather at Rhoads’ grave in San Bernardino, Calif., today. “We will never forget him,” Osbourne said of his friend. “His musical legacy lives on in the minds and music of his many fans.” Osbourne spoke about the guitarist to Guitar Player five months after the March 1982 accident that killed Rhoads shut down their tour and changed the singer’s life forever.

“I don’t think people have ever fully realized what a talent that guy was,” Osbourne said. “He was not only a great rock ‘n’ roll player, but in the classics he was phenomenal, and in every other field he was phenomenal.”

Rhoads was born on Dec. 6, 1956, and raised by a single mother who got him involved in music early. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing in bands with his brother and friends. His classical guitar training set him apart from other young guitar heroes of his day. He formed Quiet Riot in 1972 and left in 1979 to join Osbourne for his new solo venture. Even more than his talent, it was Rhoads’ smile and innocence that endeared the guitarist to the former Black Sabbath singer.

Together, the pair made sure they didn’t follow traditional heavy metal chord structures and key signatures. “I don’t know about keys, because I don’t read music and I don’t really understand it — I just get up there and scream around and jump around, you know?” Osbourne said in 1982. “So we made a rule that every number that we recorded on an album was never played in the same key. It’s a different key in every number. We had a great rapport together. We loved each other very dearly. I swear to God, the tragedy of my life is the day he died.”

Osbourne’s new lead guitarist was as much of a draw in concert as the frontman. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello told Rolling Stone he practiced eight hours a day because of Rhoads. Osbourne called him the most dedicated musician he’d ever met. Instead of joining the band in pre- and post-show celebrations, Rhoads would spend his time practicing.

Rhoads was ranked No. 36 on Rolling Stone‘s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. At the time of his death. he was digging deeper into jazz and classical music, using both to innovate path of heavy-metal guitar. There’s little doubt that time would have only magnified Rhoads’ influence. The world was just learning of his talent when it was cut short March 1982.

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