Kelle Rhoads' feelings about rock and roll — both the music and the business — are markedly mixed. Though it’s the realm in which his brother earned his fame, it’s also responsible for Randy’s death in March of 1982. Based on various reports, it is believed that Randy was planning on leaving Ozzy Osbourne's band to attend UCLA and study music.
Randy's death is part of what has compelled Kelle to turn away from rock, distancing himself from his former incarnation as a rock drummer and singer to be reinvented as a classical pianist.
“Classical music was in our genetics,” Kelle said. “We heard it in vitro. And that does make a difference. My own music is written principally for the piano-forte, which is a certain style of piano that was popular between 1830 and 1860. So I am heavily influenced, not by modern-day rock guys, but by people like Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Claude Debussy and Erik Satie. Those are my influences.”
The crash that killed Randy — 30 years ago this March 19 — is considered to have been the result of a reckless, pointless flying stunt by the pilot, who was also the driver for the Osbourne's touring bus. The pilot was buzzing by the tour bus as a joke, according to various news reports, but the wing clipped the bus, crashed into a tree and then hit a garage. The pilot, Rhoads and a seamstress/hairdresser for the band were on the plane and died as a result of the crash and fire.
His mother, Kelle explained, initially tried to dissuade both brothers from rock and roll.
“She thought that we were getting into something that we didn’t understand and that we really wouldn’t like very much once we really fully got into it,” he said. “And she was completely right. She said the business is really bad, you’re gonna have to deal with bad people, they’re gonna lie to you and cheat you, and you better think twice before going into this. But we didn’t pay her any heed. We decided that that is what we wanted to do.”
Randy and Kelle formed a band together, with their neighbor Guy Paeonesa. It was called Violet Fox, in honor of their mother, whose middle name is Violet. It was a trio, with Kelle on drums, Randy on guitar, and Paeonesa on a rhythm guitar tuned low, so he could cover the bass end. Though many players have surfaced since to claim they played bass in Violet Fox, none of them did, as the band never had a bass player, Kelle said.
It also, unfortunately, never had the chance to record, although people have claimed for years they've heard recordings.
“We didn't even have any way to record if we wanted to,” Kelle said. “We were just kids!”
They put on their first shows in Grand Salon.
“We could get 55, 60 people in here. That was the start.”
Violet Fox was a short-lived band. Didn't Kelle have any desire to keep the band going, and team up permanently with his little brother?
“For about three months, and then I wanted to kill him,” he said.
The problem was the age range: Kelle was already a young adult at 18, and Randy was only 14. Sure, Randy played like someone many times his age. But he was still a kid.
“He was my little brother. We didn’t always agree. So it didn’t really work out,” Kella said.
Following Violet Fox, Randy teamed up with his friend Kelly Garni and formed a band they called The Whore, which became Quiet Riot after vocalist Kevin Dubrow joined.
Great instrumentalists, whether John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix or Jaco Pastorius, have been known to achieve their level of virtuosity by playing virtually all the time, never putting their instrument down, until the instrument becomes an extension of the body. It’s exactly how Randy did it.
“Always with the guitar in his hand,” Kelle said. “Played constantly. If he was gonna make a phone call, he’d play guitar with one hand. Crazy. Played guitar when we watched TV. I remember my sister yelling at him a lot: ‘Do you have to play that all the time? Can’t you even put it down to watch a TV show?’”
Randy’s abilities on the guitar steadily advanced.
“I didn’t really understand just how great he was gonna be until one day I got a ride home from the bass player in the band I was in at the time,’’ he remembered. “Hot day, windows down, front door open at my mom’s house, Randy is playing, and the guy goes, ‘Listen to that!’ I said, ‘What? That’s just my little brother.’ He said, ‘Listen to that guitar playing! That guy is gonna be one of the greatest guitar players that ever lived.’ And I was like, ‘Really? Does he owe you money?’ And he said, ‘No, he’s gonna be like Hendrix! He’s gonna be like Clapton!’ I said, ‘Do you really think so?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ And after that I started paying a little closer attention. I wanted to see what this guy saw.”
Randy joined the band Quiet Riot — and it was with them that he started to get noticed. Playing frequently at the Starwood, their fans would crowd in close, with the largest group of fans always situated right in front of Randy. In a very short time, he went from unknown kid to local legend.
When news on the wire circulated that Ozzy Osbourne, having departed Black Sabbath, was looking for a guitarist for his band, Randy decided to audition. He didn't really get a chance to. While he was warming up, Ozzy overheard him, and offered him the job before he even did a real audition.
But Randy was loyal to his bandmates in Quiet Riot, and wasn't sure he wanted to switch. It was his mother who convinced him.
“She knew this was an opportunity that wasn't going to come again, and too important to pass up. Somehow she could sense that this was his path. So she insisted. If she didn't, I don't think he would have ever gone with Ozzy,” Kelle said.
In addition to music, Randy loved photography.
“It’s what killed him,” said Kelle. “He wanted to get aerial photos. He was afraid of flying. What happened is that they were in Florida at the mansion of (Jerry) Calhoun. Randy wanted to go up, so he went up. It was just him and Sharon Osbourne’s nanny, a black woman named Rachel Youngblood. No one will ever know exactly what happened, but there has been a lot of speculation. But they weren’t there. The plane hit a tree and crashed into the mansion. The house caught fire and the plane blew up.”
I asked him how he heard the news.
“I was driving flower trucks at the time, delivering flowers. I had a delivery near my mom’s house, so I figured I would stop by and bum some money. When I got there, everyone was crying,” Kelle remembered. “I found out then, and I went into shock. I immediately refused to believe it. He’d had such a charmed life, that I couldn’t believe he could pass like that. He only had about eighteen months in the spotlight. Eighteen months. So I just could not believe it.”
Still in shock, Kelle went back to work at the flower shop. His boss told him to go home to be with his family, that his job would be waiting for him.
“So I went home and turned on the TV. And there he was on every single channel. Every single channel,” he said.
How do you deal with something like this, I asked?
“You never get over it,” he said immediately. “I’m not over it now. You go on. You make music, you do tours, you remember him. But it never goes away. It’s just as sad to me 30 years later — it’ll be thirty years March 19th — it doesn’t go away.”
His mother also had an impossible time adjusting to this horror.
“If you’d ask her, she’d tell you she has never gotten over it either,” Kelle said. “She took a couple weeks off after he died. And then she was back here at Musonia. This is what she lived for. This is her creation.”
Christmas Eve of 2009 was the last time Delores taught at Musonia, and then handed over the reins to Kelle, who now runs the school.
“When she asked me to take over, I told her to teach me everything she could. I wanted to learn everything she knew. And so she did. And she taught me to play piano. Which is what she does. She’s a great teacher,” Kelle said.
Delores also groomed a student, the pianist Lanel Santa Cruz, to replace her as Musonia's main piano teacher. Lanel told me she still studies privately with the 92-year-old Delores.
“She's a very great teacher,” she said.
Every March 19, the anniversary of Randy’s death, there is a revival and celebration at his gravesite in Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino. This year huge crowds are expected, being as it’s the 30th anniversary of his death.
I asked Kelle what Randy was like as a person.
“He was extremely humble,” he said. “If you came here and met him today, instead of me, you would almost think he was humble to the point of apologizing for his fame. He was very, very soft-spoken and humble and shy.
“Everyone loved Randy. He was the belle of the ball. When he walked into a room, the party started. Extremely generous person. It’s why we let people come here and we give them a tour, show them the school, tell them the history, sign whatever they have, let them take pictures, and it’s free. We do it all because that is what he would have done.”
is at 12111 Tiara St. North Hollywood, CA 91607.
[For more information on Musonia, or to order any CDs by Kelle Rhoads, please call 818-761-0521 or send a money order for $10.00 with return address to: Kelle Rhoads 12111 Tiara St. North Hollywood, CA 91607.]