Written by Caitlin Vaughn Carlos
Ozzy Osbourne has been at the forefront of metal since its inception. A founding member of Black Sabbath, Osbourne helped transform the world of hard rock music into what would be later understood as Heavy metal. However by the end of the seventies, Osbourne had been ejected from the band and was struggling to chart a path forward.
Enter Sharon Arden, who recruited his new bandmates including the incomparable – Randy Rhoads. Together, they wrote and recorded the song and album which would kickoff Osbourne’s incredible and long lasting solo career – “Crazy Train” on the album Blizzard of Ozz.
In April of 1979, Ozzy Osbourne was ejected from the band he had helped form – Black Sabbath. And he found himself in a downward spiral. He recalled to Classical Rock Magazine in 2002: “I’d got £96,000 for my share of the name, so I’d just locked myself away and spent three months doing coke and booze. My thinking was, ‘This is my last party, because after this I’m going back to Birmingham and the dole.’”
It was Sharon Arden who helped Ozz get back on to his feet (the pair would get married 3 years later). Her family was also managing Black Sabbath at the time, and at first her efforts were to get Ozzy back in the band. When it became clear that they wouldn’t accept Osbourne back, she quickly started putting together a new band for the dejected singer.
The new band was called the Blizzards of Ozz and there was one member that changed everything – guitarist Randy Rhoads. Sharon recalled in her autobiography: “Randy completely blew Ozzy away. He was like a gift from God. He was nice and funny and a brilliant musician, and he had drive…And Ozzy and him connected so well. Everything about him was perfect.”
Rhoads was young, but already an incredible guitarist. Before joining up with Osbourne, he had been playing in the Los Angeles band Quiet Riot. Reflecting back after his premature death, Osbourne told MOJO magazine: “He’d fall asleep holding his guitar. He played classical guitar.” He would take lessons with local music teachers he’d looked up in the phone books while on tour. He had even dreamed of going to school for a degree in classical guitar to record his own solo album.” As a guitarist, the man was a force of nature.. But for Osbourne, he was also the person who Osbourne felt the most comfortable writing music.
Along with bassist Bob Daisley, Osbourne and Rhoads began writing music together at a live-in studio in Monmouth, Wales. Together the trio wrote many of the songs which would appear on their first album, Blizzard of Ozz. Daisley told songfacts that writing with Osbourne and Rhoads was easy: “…It flowed well. When the band was first together, it really was just Ozzy and Randy and me, because we were writing the stuff and auditioning drummers at the same time – we didn’t have Lee [Kerslake]. […] Writing with Ozzy was fairly easy because we had a little songwriting machine going. Randy and I would work on music together just sitting on chairs opposite each other, and then we’d put parts together and then we’d knock it off and Ozzy would sing a melody over it.”
Rhoads has been credited with inspiring many of the album’s most famous tracks, through his creativity coming up with inventive guitar riffs. With Rhoads’ incredible and virtuosic talents on display, the trio was able to write an album of incredible tracks together including: “Crazy Train” “I Don’t Know” “Mr. Crowley” and “Steal the Away (The Night).”
“Crazy Train” was the album’s first single release and really can be credited with kicking off Osbourne’s solo career. It too emerged from a Rhoads riff.
Daisley told songfacts: “Randy had the basic riff, the signature riff. Then we worked on music together. He needed something to solo on so I came up with a chord pattern and the section for him to solo over” Daisley’s bass part, however, is equally important. An iconic, rhythmic drive – the various sections of the bass line keep the energetic push of the song moving forward. Osbourne brings his theatrics and personality (which he had honed in Black Sabbath) to “Crazy Train” with that iconic song opening of screaming and laughter. And while most of the music was written before they had found a drummer, Lee Kerslake’s playing certainly fits right into the sound of what Osbourne, Rhoads and Daisley had been creating.
The song title came together as Daisley and Rhoads realized that the riff, along with Randy’s experimentations of psychedelic-sounding pedals gave the impression of an unusual locomotive. Daisley explained: “Randy was into trains – he used to collect model trains and so did I. I’ve always been a train buff and so was Randy. So I said, ‘Randy, that sounds like a train. But it sounds nuts.’ And I said, ‘A crazy train.’” With this inspiration in mind, Daisley wrote the lyrics and Osbourne came up with joyous melody.
The Blizzard of Ozz album was recorded at Ridge Farm Studio, one of England’s first residential recording studios, located near the Surrey-Sussex border. Chris Tsangarides was brought in to produce the album, but studio engineer Max Norman ended up stepping into the role after the band weren’t pleased with Tsangarides work and fired him. Norman recalled: “I was just the resident studio engineer. We had just built that room and put in a new Solid State Logic Board. It was the 2nd one in England. At that time, it was a big deal. I didn’t want Blizzard to sound like crap. But it didn’t sound too good with Chris to start. […] The band were looking a little glum… When Chris would leave the control room, I would replay the tape in the headphones and rebalance the mix to make it sound decent. […] Then Ozzy fired him and then called me and asked me if I wanted to do the record. And I said ‘Sure’! That’s how I ended up producing and engineering that record and the next four.”
The album was basically recorded live with all four band members play in the same room
Rhoads would triple track his solos, in spite of how complicated they often were. Once he’d figured out how he wanted the solo to go, he would amazingly replicate it note-for-note with no problems.
The group’s first single “Crazy Train” from the album was released a few days before the album itself. And it was billed, as expected, to the band as the Blizzard of Ozz with Ozzy Osbourne’s name included in smaller print. However when the intended self-titled album, Blizzard of Ozz was released, Osbourne’s name was in the largest print, giving the effect of it being a Ozzy Osbourne solo record, with Blizzard of Ozz as simply a title. And this is largely how history remembers the album. Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo record, but one with an incredible cast of musicians.
The Blizzard of Ozz album was a commercial success. By 1997, it had been certified 4x platinum. As a single, “Crazy Train” peaked in 1981 at number 9 on Billboard‘s Hot Mainstream Rock Airplay chart. It launched Osbourne’s successful solo career, but is perhaps best remembered for introducing the world to the talents of Randy Rhoads who would die tragically young in a plane crash only a few years later. His playing set the stage for generations of metal and hard rock guitarists who continue to model their writing and solos on this incredible player.