June 4, 2022

FTV: RR 40 Years On


     In guitarist-speak, RR has become a shorthand reference for the late Randy Rhoads.  Though Rhoads passed away when the small airplane he was a passenger in crashed (while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne in Florida) on March 19, 1982, his legacy remains strong today. Volume 43, No. 07 of Guitar World commemorated the 40th anniversary of his tragic passing by putting him on the cover under a banner noting it as a Special Collector’s Edition:  RANDY RHOADS.  GW is sometimes criticized for ‘over using’ some artists for their cover features, but Editor-inChief Damian Fanelli notes that in this case, “Rhoads is seen as one of those guitarists who’s ‘always on the cover,’ but this issue marks his very first cover appearance since July 2011.  I remember it well, it was the first issue to come out after I’d started working here that April.”

     Naturally, GW collected numerous anecdotes and tributes about Randy’s extraordinary guitar playing.  I love the sounds he coaxed from his instrument, but the articles included that explained the technical aspects of his playing were far beyond my meager guitar playing skills.  Randy’s lifelong obsession with learning how to be a better guitar player was another part of his story that astounded many of the guitar players interviewed.  As an educator, the time Rhoads spent teaching at his mother’s music store and on his eternal quest to learn more about playing the guitar was much easier for me to understand.  That said, no one needs to even be a guitar player to appreciate what he accomplished or to marvel at how he played as he did.  RR is 40 years gone, but as this issue of Guitar World illustrates, he is still influencing music in many ways.

     Imagine you are a seventeen year old working in a music shop in 1984 and you suddenly have a rare prototype guitar land in your lap.  Imagine the stir it would cause when you realize it is a guitar designed for (and partly designed by) Randy Rhoads.  It sounds far-fetched, but that is exactly what happened to Sean Michael Clegg, a young guitarist himself and a huge Randy Rhoads fan.  Before we can delve into how the guitar now known as RR3 ended up in his hands and why he is now ready to set it free after 35 years, we have to go back to how it came to be in the first place.

     The guitar in question was made by the hands of noted luthier Grover Jackson.  Jackson was working for Charvel guitars when Rhoads approached him with a cocktail napkin sketch of the guitar’s shape on December 23, 1980.  It was an angular design similar to a Flying V but the upper bout was somewhat asymmetric to the lower one giving it a shark’s fin-like appearance.  The headstock was reminiscent of an upside down hockey stick blade and the neck-through-body construction was similar to a Gibson Firebird.  After they compared notes, Jackson turned the plan into a white ax nicknamed ‘The Concorde’ (perhaps due to a futuristic shape that reminded him of the SST jet of the same name or because Rhoads had just returned from the U.K. aboard the same aircraft).  Rhoads took the guitar (now known as RR1) on tour with Ozzy Osbourne and after it received an extensive trial by fire, he returned to Jackson with some tweaks he wanted made for RR2.  Randy was not a large bodied fellow like a Zakk Wylde so the first suggestion was a smaller, sleeker body shape.  “With higher frets and an adjustment to where the neck and body came together, RR2 was produced in black, thus kicking off the “era of ‘pointy’ metal axes,” according to GW.  As he put RR2 through its paces touring with Ozzy, Randy kept sending Jackson suggestions for RR3.  The body of the third guitar was already cut out.   Grover was just waiting for Rhoads to come off the road and give his final feedback before it was assembled.

     Sadly, Randy Rhoads never returned from his last tour and in his grief, Jackson set the unfinished guitar aside until 1983.  Having recently left Charvel to form his own company, Jackson Guitars, he decided the completed RR3 guitar would be a great display piece for the up-coming Winter NAMM Trade Show scheduled for Anaheim, California in January of 1984.  As the new kid on the block and a purveyor of guitars aimed at the emerging ‘hair metal’ band market, the Jackson booth at the expo was mobbed.  In the confusion, one of the overwhelmed assistants mistakenly sold RR3 to an attendee only known as ‘Mike’.  Once Jackson he noticed the error (“Where’s Randy’s Guitar?”), he had a, “total, freak-out panic attack” when he realized this one-of-a-kind prototype he had designed with Rhoads had gone Elvis (as in, ‘left the building’).  RR3 could have ended up a missing piece of heavy metal history, but its new owner didn’t realize what he had just purchased and what happened next was certainly a twist of fate.

     A few months later, ‘Mike’ brought RR3 to a music store in Long Beach, CA aiming to trade it in for what would turn out to be much less valuable gear.  Sean Clegg happened to be teaching guitar at the shop and as a big Randy Rhoads fan, he knew immediately what they had.  The shop swapped RR3 for a Neal Schon model Aria Pro II guitar, a Roland Jazz Chorus amp, and some other small accessories.  After he had popped his eyes back into their sockets, Clegg knew immediately he needed to own this guitar.  He also knew he didn’t have the capital to purchase it.  Clegg said, “I was 17, and my boss was sort of a father figure and mentor to me.  He and my mother pitched in and helped me get the guitar.  I felt like the Lord had brought me a magic sword to fulfill my destiny.”

     Guitar World tracked down Clegg in 2007 and Alan di Perna wrote an extensive article detailing how Clegg became the owner of RR3.  As a studio musician and a member of the prog rock band Accomplice, Clegg has certainly put the instrument to good use.  Unfortunately, he now has ‘financial challenges’ that make it necessary for him to part ways with his beloved guitar.  Now valued between $100,000 and $150,000, Clegg says, “I suppose I always knew this guitar was an incredible investment and it still will be for someone else.  It’s a lucky miracle that I can lean on the sale of this guitar when I need it the most.  I am thankful for my time with it.”  

     Because Grover Jackson was still working for Charvel when he built the guitar, there is no serial number on RR3.  The ‘Jackson’ name on the headstock is no decal;  Grover painted it on by hand.  Unlike the Jackson RR models on sale today, there are no plastic knobs or switches on RR3 – Jackson had a metal worker in Fullerton craft the pickguard and accessories by hand, cut from solid brass.  There have been inquiries about the guitar from ‘some famous guitarists’ but if anyone else has a burning desire to bid on RR3, it will be auctioned at in the near future (unless a private deal is made before then).  

     When GW conducted a vote for their 25th Anniversary issue, the Jackson RR2 Concorde was voted the most ‘Legendary Guitar’ besting guitars played by the likes of Jimmy Page, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eddie Van Halen.  With the Rhoads family’s permission, Jackson produced a very limited release edition of the original Concorde, authentic right down to the dings, dents, and scratches.  The price?  A less random than you may think $12,619.56 each – the price tag replicating the date of Randy’s birth (12-6-1956).

     Former Quiet Riot and Blizzard of Ozz bassist Rudy Sarzo moved to L.A. in 1977 as an 18 year old looking for a band.  He first saw Randy Rhoads with Quiet Riot at the Starwood Club in West Hollywood.  He ran into QR vocalist Kevin DuBrow a short time later and told him, “Keep doing what you’re doing – you’re going to make it.”  A year later, DuBrow called Sarzo to audition for the band.  When Randy departed to join Ozzy, Rudy declined the first offer to join him there. When Sarzo finally did board the Crazy Train in March of 1981, he noted a change in Rhoads’ playing:  “By the time I played with him in Ozzy, he’d already been honing that ‘Randyness’.  I wasn’t playing with the guy in Quiet Riot anymore – I was playing with Randy Rhoads, the hall of fame guitar player!  Randy asked Ozzy, ‘What do you want me to write?’ and Ozzy replied, ‘Just be yourself.’  Ozzy gave Randy his freedom and that’s what came out.”

     Guitar World polled readers and a who’s who of today’s best guitarist to name their favorite Randy Rhoads solos.  As one might suspect, everyone had their own favorites for a variety of reasons:  The reader’s survey:  Hands down, the solo from Mr. Crowley (from the album Blizzard of Ozz) took the top spot with 37 percent of the vote.  A distant second went to Crazy Train (12 percent) which is rather surprising when one hears the song in constant rotation in sports arenas around the world.  

     Guitarists were not nearly as unanimous in their choices.  “Zakk Wylde:  If I had to pick one?  Today, I’d say Flying High Again but if you ask me tomorrow, I might pick Revelation or S.A.T.O.  Kirk Hammett:  My favorite Randy solo is the one in S.A.T.O. – I love the dynamic way he changes with the chords behind him and it has tons of ‘tude.  Nita Strauss: I know Crazy Train is a very predictable, generic answer, but I’m giving it for a pretty good reason.  Just like many other guitar players, the Crazy Train solo was the one I first taught myself how to two-hand tap with.  I have a fond memory of being in the Hollywood Guitar Center playing that riff like you do when you’re learning.  And then some dude came up behind me and sarcastically goes, “Pfft!  That’s great, but can you play the solo?”  So I started playing the lead and when I looked up he’d left!  Dave Mustaine:  Randy’s solos were seemingly all planned (written ahead of time) and yet they seemed absolutely perfect for whatever the riff called for.  In terms of a favorite song, it’s either Over the Mountain or Crazy Train.  John 5:  The guitar solo from the live album because it just shows everything.  Of course, it’s got tons of flash but it’s so rhythmic, too.  In fact, all his solos had so much attack and rhythm.  Jared James Nichols:  I always go back to the first solos and riffs that got me excited to play.  Truth be told, they still get me fired up after all these years.  The ripping intro to I Don’t Know, the solo to Over the Mountain, and the heaviness to Revelation. . . it hits me hard.  Even as much of a blues guy as I am, Randy had soul, and I can feel that.”

     I saved George Lynch for last because he had a special connection to the Rhoads family.  As far as his choice for a favorite Randy solo, he said, “Flying High” because it’s so unorthodox – and at the same time so deeply satisfying because it all makes sense when you listen to it.  It might not make sense on paper – or maybe it does?  I don’t know – but it certainly had the effect he intended.  And it is very different from the straight pentatonic stuff from the players we all know and love, who also do incredible stuff.  Randy was coming from a more classical perspective, and then throwing in the rock tricks – the histrionics.  He was very inventive with all the flamboyant stuff too, using it to punctuate his classically based pieces.  It was a really refreshing approach.“

     George Lynch is probably most famous for his role as ‘Mr Scary’, a nickname he earned as the lead guitarist in the hair metal band Dokken.  Randy Rhoads happened to be a big fan of his and would often bring his mother, Delores, to see Lynch playing in Los Angeles.  George recalls, “[Randy] told her some very nice things about my playing.  I was very flattered by that.”  Lynch was also on the short list of possible guitarists mentioned for Ozzy’s new band.  Again, Lynch recalls it all with a laugh:  “It was one of those classic good news, bad news stories.  The bad news is, Randy got the Ozzy gig.  You didn’t.  The good news is, you’re going to sub for him at Musonia (Delores’ Rhoads music store where Randy taught guitar).  It was an honor to take his teaching spot, and I worked really hard to make sure I was up to the challenge, because I didn’t want to disappoint anybody.”

     Lynch was not as schooled as Randy and admits he knew little about music theory, could barely read notation, and didn’t know much about scales or modes.  Working at Musonia challenged him to work hard and he forced himself to learn new stuff, all of which made him a better guitar player.  His hard work, however, did not prevent him from getting on the wrong side of Delores.  As George explained it to GW, “I didn’t last long, though – maybe six months.  I was making good money building guitars on the side.  I would slap together bodies and necks and then sell them to my students. For like 350 or 400 bucks.  They would get these Charvel bodies and Mighty Mite necks with cool pickups:  it was a pretty good deal.  Delores got hip to the fact I was doing this, though, and I guess she didn’t like it! [Laughs]  One particular day I had two students in my teaching room and instead of doing lessons, I was selling them guitars.  She got wind of it and literally kicked the door open when the money and guitars were changing hands.  She was not happy because I was doing non-teaching business on her premises!” 

     Apparently Delores Rhoads didn’t hold any grudges with Lynch about his side business dealings:  “Delores did something really nice for me in the early 2000s.  She gifted me one of Randy’s classical acoustic guitars when I visited her at Musonia, I went there to do an interview in the room I used to give lessons in, which was Randy’s old teaching room.  His little Fender combo amp I used to play through was still there, and I offered to buy it and the MSR Distortion+pedal because they sounded great together.  I would have put them to good use, but understandably Delores didn’t want to let them go.”

     Many guitar players would go on to play with Ozzy but it would be difficult to say if any of them, no matter how talented they were, actually replaced him.  Zakk Wylde came to Ozzy’s attention when he was but an 18 year-old guitar player from New Jersey, but he served one of the longest tenures with the Prince of Darkness.  We will let Zakk give the final word here as to why RR is still as relevant today as he was in the early 1980s:  “We’re still talking about Randy today because of his compositions.  The reason the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart is still being listened to and played at places like the Hollywood Bowl is because of what they wrote, not because it was fast or flashy.  That’s why people are still talking about them hundreds of years later.  Randy’s relevance is the same as Bach’s, Beethoven’s or Mozart’s.  It’s just a timeless thing – because it’s good.  [Laughs] Just like the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, there’s no “best before date.”  It’s timeless.  And it’s pretty mind-blowing that Randy was so young and creating such incredibly mature stuff.  God bless him.”  Amen, brother Zakk, Amen!

Top Piece Video – RR live with the Blizzard of Ozz – note the solo in Mr. Crowley was voted his best by his still adoring network of fans!  Too me, they are all praise worthy!!  A couple of notes – Don Airey (I believe it is him on this video) sports a shirt noting tour sites – seems the closest to the UP was Duluth.  This was recorded for a TV broadcast so it is one of the few live Ozzy’s without the F-bombs that would keep it off this site!