SPEAK OF THE DEVIL
Released on November 27, 1982 (Jet/Epic Records)
On February 19, 1983, Ozzy Osbourne and his “Speak Of The Devil” tour (including Vandenberg as opener) limped into Augusta, Georgia for the Prince of Darkness’ one and only show in the Garden City. By the end of the night, Ozzy along with new guitarist Jake E. Lee, manic bassist Don Costa, keyboardist Don Airey and long-time drummer Tommy Aldridge would end up with a muddled set, a bloody drummer, and a rant from Ozzy followed by the band cutting the night short. Now normally, the papers the next morning would attribute such shenanigans to Ozzy himself, but as was the case for many things at the time in Ozzy land, the madman wasn’t to blame for the rant, Aldridge’s bloody arm, or even the night ending early. This night’s craziness belonged to a drunk fan who decided to throw a beer bottle on stage resulting in shards of glass hitting Aldridge and Ozzy calling out the guy telling the audience that he was to blame for the concert ending. But hey, what would an Ozzy concert in 1983 be without something crazy happening? Certainly by now, Ozzy must have been thinking “compared to what happened almost a year ago, this is a breeze.”
Eleven months earlier, on March 19, 1982, Ozzy’s unexpected comeback run had seemingly came crashing down, literally. Following his dismissal from Black Sabbath three years earlier, Ozzy was dragged out of a downward spiral into a new solo career complete with wunderkind guitarist Randy Rhoads and early 1982 was riding high again (pun intended) with two hit albums, 1980’s Blizzard Of Ozz and 1981’s Diary Of A Madman. Both albums had taken the hard rock world by storm and the band was blowing up the southeast United States when tragedy struck. Three members of the touring party were killed during a small plan joyride, including Rhoads. After a short break the tour continued, first with fill-in guitarist Bernie Torme and then Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis. Despite possibly being in the lowest place in his life since being fired from Sabbath, Ozzy stumbled on.
Plans to release a live recording with Rhoads were scrapped after his death and with an obligation to provide two more albums left on his contract, a plan was constructed to record a pair of nights at The Ritz with the band line-up of Ozzy, touring members Rudy Sarzo (bass), Tommy Aldridge (drums) and Gillis. Tracks from the shows (as well as from a rumored non-audience run-through earlier the afternoon of one of the shows) were produced, engineered, and mixed by Max Norman and released in late 1982 as Speak Of The Devil. Despite being listed as performers on Diary Of A Madman, this would mark the official debuts for Sarzo and Aldridge on an Ozzy album and Speak Of The Devil would end up being Gillis’ sole appearance on an Osbourne release. But perhaps even more interesting is the choice of tracks for the live album. Speak Of The Devil would feature Ozzy performing all songs from his days in Sabbath.
Released on November 27, 1982 (one month before Sabbath’s own Live Evil album with singer Ronnie James Dio), Speak Of The Devil features Ozzy performing a virtual “greatest hits of Black Sabbath” set including five also covered on Live Evil — “Black Sabbath”, “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid.” Despite being disowned by his American label (and Osbourne himself), the release remains a favorite among fans and is a fitting snapshot of this chaotic time in the singer’s life that marks a bridge between his unexpected comeback after Sabbath and his second rise from the grave with 1983’s Bark At The Moon. Oddly enough, for someone that few expected to do much outside of Sabbath, Ozzy for the most part has never really had a lapse in his career unless you count the dreadful TV show The Osbournes. The proof here is not just in the huge songs featured live on Speak Of The Devil but also in the pedigree of the featured musicians. While the album may not feature the likes of Ozzy guitar heroes like Rhoads, Jake E. Lee or Zakk Wylde or even his former Sabbath bandmates, you can’t go wrong with a band featuring Aldridge, Sarzo and Gillis who between them have gone on to contribute to huge albums by the bands Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Night Ranger and more. Yeah, I’ll admit to initially being puzzled by the addition of Gillis but at the end of the day, few can argue that the guy could, and still can, play guitar with the best of ’em despite being saddled with always having to be “one of the ‘Sister Christian’ guys.”
Looking back, I can still remember my curiosity the first time I got a hold of Speak Of The Devil with my initial thought being that the cover looked more like something that might have been featured on an import bootleg. Even looking at it now, the front image of Ozzy leaning forward baring fangs and blood is pretty big and bold at least on vinyl with the larger cover and for an Ozzy live release in many ways, it had more impact than the more Ozzy-preferred Tribute that was to come five years later. By then, Ozzy had created yet another chapter in his career with new guitar hero Jake E. Lee and while sonically better than Speak Of The Devil, by the time Tribute was released, it was received for what it was — a souvenir honoring Rhoads’ time in the band. Speak Of The Devil by contrast gave hungry and/or grieving Ozzy fans something to hold on to during a time of uncertainty for their favorite madman at the same time giving younger fans a look back at where it all began. For all of Ozzy’s legend, without Sabbath, the world would have never been exposed to the likes of “Crazy Train” further down the tracks.
And about that concert here in Augusta — the whole craziness of that night may have not made the national news (or any VH1 Classic lists) like say, Tommy Lee dropping trou in the same Georgia venue. Honestly, it may not have been that stellar of a performance (but not bad enough to warrant flying glass) and while it may just be my opinion that THAT night Vandenberg blew Ozzy and crew off the stage, none of that has any bearing on the album that tour was in support of. Speak Of The Devil is still a cool listen and to hear Ozzy reach back into his history and crank out classic Sabbath tracks like “Symptom Of The Universe”, “Snowblind” and even “Never Say Die” for the first time since leaving the band, is in my humble opinion pretty damn cool. After all, who else would you rather hear sing Ozzy era Sabbath tunes? No offense to the late great Ronnie James Dio, but between the five common tracks on Live Evil and Speak Of The Devil, I would much rather hear Ozzy do classic Sabbath tunes like “Iron Man” and “Paranoid.”
So Speak Of The Devil might not get many votes in any polls for top live albums of all time and perhaps Brad Gillis might not even make a list of best guitarists to appear on an Ozzy album but for fans, it remains this crazy bookmark between what could have been and what eventually was. And when it comes to Ozzy, you can’t get much better than crazy.
01. Symptom Of The Universe
03. Black Sabbath
04. Fairies Wear Boots
05. War Pigs
06. The Wizard
08. Sweet Leaf
09. Never Say Die
10. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
11. Iron Man / Children of the Grave
Ozzy Osbourne – lead vocals
Brad Gillis – guitar
Rudy Sarzo – bass
Tommy Aldridge – drums
Produced and engineered by Max Norman
Mastered by Tim Young
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, November 2017