30 Years Ago: Ozzy Osbourne Returns to the Vaults to Pay ‘Tribute’ to Randy Rhoads
Five years to the day after Randy Rhoads was killed in a tragic accident, Ozzy Osbourne transformed that awful anniversary into a celebration. Released on March 19, 1987, Tribute refocused grieving fans on Rhoads' soaring guitar talent.
The album provides a concert overview of Osbourne’s first two solo efforts, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, along with three updates of songs from his tenure in Black Sabbath. At its core, however, Tribute is a showcase for Rhoads’ fiery, innovative playing. His guitar work on “Children of the Grave” is mind boggling, as is a solo spot during “Suicide Solution” – though the latter was sloppily pieced in from a completely different concert.
“Most of it was from one show, but about one side of it was taken from another show in Canada," Osbourne told Mick Wall at the time, "because we were originally going to put this out on the Speak of the Devil album.”
The first 13 tracks on Tribute were culled from a May 11, 1981 gig at the Cleveland Music Hall in Ohio. The aforementioned edited-in solo was derived from a Canadian stop – thought to be from Quebec in the summer of 1981. It’s been long believed that “Goodbye to Romance” and “No Bone Movies” were taken from an early date on the Blizzard tour, mainly because Osbourne introduces the former as being “another one from the [new] album.” Tribute closes with a studio outtake of another Blizzard of Ozz track – the instrumental acoustic interlude “Dee,” which was dedicated to Rhoads' mother Delores.
“What happened was, we didn’t have enough live stuff to finish the album. So, what we did was put some outtakes on the end of the album of Randy actually working in the recording studio and chatting back to the control room and everything,” Osbourne later told Tawn Mastrey. “It’s quite an interesting thing to do; it’s kind of a picture of what it was like, you know? I’ll never forget those days, even more so with that than all the years with Sabbath. The couple of years with Randy were so special.”
Initially, Tribute was due to arrive in 1982, in accordance with a contractual agreement to put out a live album. But it was too soon after Rhoads’ death, he told Mastrey, so Osbourne decided to release Speak of the Devil instead – opting not to put any of his solo songs on it.
Listen to Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads Perform 'Children of the Grave'
“I thought it was sick and it wasn’t right and the kids would think I was just cashing in on Randy’s death,” Osbourne said. “I didn’t want anything to do with it. I was in such a state of shock and I had stuffed my emotions so far down the tragedy of that whole awful day. … I was just trying to get on with something positive.”
He also wanted to get the blessing of Rhoads' mother before moving forward. She eventually gave her permission, and even let Osbourne borrow one of her son's Gibson Flying-V polka-dot guitars for use in the video for the album’s lone single, “Crazy Train.”
“She hadn’t opened that guitar (case) since the day he died,” Osbourne said in the documentary Don’t Blame Me: The Tales of Ozzy Osbourne. “It was like a time warp; I opened the [case] and I really got cold shivers, ‘cause there were things left in his guitar case like his cigarettes and his little bits and pieces were left in there. I remember f---ing freaking out when I saw it.”
Tribute was made complete by an album cover image that finds Osbourne lifting Rhoads while he was in mid-note, taken by photographer Paul Natkin at the Rosemont Horizon in Illinois during the Diary of a Madman tour less than two months before Rhoads died. The shot, Natkin later told Music Legends, came completely by accident.
“That was back in 1982 when [Ozzy] still had tons of energy and used to go running back and forth across the stage the whole night,” Natkin said. “And at some point, I stopped following him back and forth, because it was too much work lugging my camera equipment back and forth. So, I stayed on one side and waited for him to come back toward me, and there was this guitar player that I had never even heard of – I had no idea who he was – and he was just standing right in front of me. I started taking some pictures of him, until Ozzy came back, and Ozzy came back and picked him up and I took two pictures and that was the end of it. It was just being in the right place at the right time.”
A few notable bootlegs from Rhoads’ time with Osbourne have since emerged – including Bats Head Soup, which features a 1981 Cleveland show in its entirety. Sadly, however, Tribute remains the only high quality recording from that all-too-brief era. “This is it,” Osbourne said. “Some people say, ‘Oh, I know you’ve got a secret album stuffed away.’ This is the end. There’s not another thing I have recorded of Randy Rhoads.”
Returning to the Album That Saved Ozzy Osbourne’s Career