Bernie Torme recalls 10-day stint as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist after Randy Rhoads’ death
Guitarist Bernie Torme was recently interviewed by Ultimate Classic Rock and spoke about his seven shows as Ozzy Osbourne‘s guitarist over a ten-day stint after iconic Randy Rhoads‘ untimely death on March 19, 1982.
The following are excerpts from the interview with Torme by Ultimate Classic Rock.
“On March 19, Rhoads was killed during a leisure flight on a small plane. The musicians had loved and respected each other – but they were in disagreement about their future directions when the tragedy struck. Ozzy’s manager and later wife, Sharon Arden, seemed to feel that if Osbourne stopped at that point, he might never return to music. So their thoughts turned to replacing Randy, and they quickly settled on Torme, who’d recently quit Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan’s solo band.
“I’d been on Jet, Don Arden’s label, and I kind of knew Sharon,” Torme told Ultimate Classic Rock. “I was on the periphery of the family, and I’d just left Ian. They thought, ‘He’s out of a job – he’ll jump at it!’” But he had his own album and tour to work on. “Big artists have a thing where it’s totally incomprehensible that anyone would say ‘no.’ When I was saying, ‘I can’t, I have all this going on,’ David Arden [Don’s son] was thinking, ‘He’s probably only saying that to up his price. Typical muso!’”
Bills need to be paid, and so when David offered Torme £2000 a week, and paid a week’s wages in advance, the guitarist agreed to step in – as long as it was only for a month. So he flew out to the U.S. to join a band that included keyboardist Don Airey, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge. “When I got there Sharon told me it wasn’t 2,000 pounds a week… it was 200 dollars a week. She said, ‘David’s on drugs. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ I said, ‘But I’ve had two grand already!’ She said, ‘Well then, we ain’t going to pay you anything until it’s paid off.’ Start off on the best footing!”
As someone who’s not mainly motivated by money, he was already able to dismiss the moment as funny rather than frustrating; but other parts of the problem weren’t so easy to dismiss. “It was horrible,” he said of the emotional situation. “I was out there on the Thursday and Randy had died the previous Saturday. It wasn’t even a week. I don’t think anyone spoke to me the day I arrived, other than Don Airey. It was a really bad atmosphere, and understandably so. I suppose, on some level, Tommy and Don wanted to carry on. Ozzy had no desire and Rudy certainly hadn’t.”
An audition successfully passed, three days of rehearsals took place, and Torme began to realize the lose-lose position he’d got himself into. “Even if I played okay, even if I played a nice solo or whatever, if anyone looked at me on stage they thought, ‘Oh, s—. It isn’t Randy.’ The first show [April 1 in Bethlehem, Pa.] was appalling. I didn’t have my amps, my pedals and I had one guitar. There were three or four tracks where we re-tuned and I had to use a hire guitar that was a piece of s—. And apart from anything else, I did not know the songs.
“It was incredibly hard to hear anything on that stage – you had the castle and everything, and all I could hear was the snare drum and Ozzy. I was literally stood at the bottom of Tommy’s pyramid, staring up trying to see when he was hitting things. It was really terrifying.”
And Ozzy? “He was having a really bad time. I’d come off stage and he’d be standing at the back, crying his eyes out. Any day off he was out of his face. He wasn’t able to cope. I think he had a terror because his career has been in complete s— for years, and he’d had a kind of life again because of Randy.
“And again, I had this situation where Sharon and him thought I was just playing hard to get. I was saying, ‘I have to go home in a month – I have this tour booked,’ and they were going, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Ozzy, underneath his persona, is really insecure, so Sharon was protecting him by saying, ‘Bernie really wants to do it, Ozzy.’”
You can read the entire interview with Torme at Ultimate Classic Rock.