Interview with RUDY SARZO

October 2008

A delicate, soft-spoken person, meeting Rudy Sarzo without knowing what he’s been up to for the better part of his life, you never can tell there’s one of the most fierce bass guitarists hard rock ever boasted. There’s a great depth to his playing and a great depth to the man whose powerful rumble you may have heard on so many a classic record. What we touched on during this conversation, then, was but a tip of an iceberg without going into the literature and other Rudy’s interests. He’s mostly known for the music after all…

– Rudy, hailing from Cuba, you surely have the music in your blood. But how come you play mainly in hard rock bands?

One of the things that fulfills me about rock music in general is the sense of freedom I get when I hear it or play it. I you take a look at the history of Communist countries, rock music is at the top of the list of music that’s banned. I’ve been performing in former Soviet republics and I’m moved every single time I look out into the audience and I’m able to share our music with fans who until recently have only dreamed of the moment. Then again, I was born in a country that turned Communist when I was a child, so to me rock represents the freedom of expression that I enjoyed once my family moved to the US in 1961. As a matter of fact, I flew over Cuba recently en route to Miami on my return from a South American tour. As I watched the sunset over Cuba through misty eyes, I cranked up “The Who Live At Leeds” on my iPod.

– What was your reaction to rock when, soon after you moved Stateside, it started to unravel?

I was born in 1950 so I’m very blessed to have witness the evolution of rock first hand. Watching THE BEATLES perform on Ed Sullivan was a life-changing experience that I believe I share with most musicians of my generation.

– Is playing bass more melodic or more rhythm thing to you?

It’s actually both. I like to think of the bass as the link between melody and rhythm.

– Ozzy OsbourneDavid Coverdale and Ronnie Dio are all said to be quite hard taskmasters. Who did you enjoy playing with the most – and what have you learned from each of them?

I treasure the time that I’ve spent with them all. They are all very talented and hard working individuals. From Ozzy I learned how to project to a large crowd. From David I learned how to be in touch with my inner self on stage. From Ronnie I learned how to get inside of a song and get lost in his wondrous stories.

Rudy Sarzo, Randy Rhoads, Tommy Aldridge, Ozzy Osbourne

Rudy Sarzo, Randy Rhoads,
Tommy Aldridge, Ozzy Osbourne

– It was a few times that you replaced the musicians who left after the album they played on but never got to tour it. How did you feel stepping in?

I just try to do justice to the songs and stay within the spirit in which it was recorded while at the same time leave my own thumb print.

– “Speak Of The Devil” was your first recording with Ozzy Osbourne. The guitar player was Brad Gillis, and I always assumed the show took place after Randy Rhoads’ death. But recently I read Randy left the band for that date. Could you clear the things up, please?

Randy had passed away months before that recording took place. That’s why Brad was in the band.

– Did you start teaching music on Randy’s advise? And what did you learn from being a teacher?

Yes, Randy offered me the job at his mom’s school, “Musonia”. One of the benefits of being a teacher is that if you’re open to it you can learn a lot from your students. They usually have a fresh way of looking at their instrument and this reminds you to think outside of the box.

– Randy was a friend of yours, but what in your opinion makes him so special for so many people? I mean, these days his image has become larger than his playing…

Having played with Randy in QUIET RIOT and Ozzy I can assure you that his playing was as large as his legend is today. I’m always pleased to hear first hand from young fans after they discover Randy’s recordings express how moved they are by Randy’s playing. I think that’s a testament to his talent as a composer and musician.

With Randy Rhoads

With Randy Rhoads

– QUIET RIOT’s “Metal Health” is considered a metal milestone, but how do you rate this album now? Are you proud of being a part of it?

I rate it as the most honest attempt to create a record without any expectations that I ever been involved in. I’m extremely proud about of what we thought was a pretty good little record that turned into the first heavy metal debut to reach the top of the “Billboard” chart.

– Getting into WHITESNAKE after that, were you surprised of the band’s new, less bluesy direction compared to what they played when you first met them?

Actually, when I played with them, WHITESNAKE was going through what I consider the least bluesy phase, the “1987” album and “Slip Of The Tongue”. I haven’t heard the new record yet but it should be good. David [Coverdale] and company always make good music.

– By the way, was dying one’s hair blonde a WHITESNAKE requirement?

No, it was blonde before I even joined the band. I was just bored and was trying to amuse myself.

– You were involved in some sessions with another heavy blues singer, Paul Rodgers. Was there an album planned with you on?

No, it was purely a recording session. Unfortunately, they were re-recordings of FREE and BAD COMPANY songs, so I spent the whole session trying to find some cosmic meaning as to why I was there re-recording some of the finest bass lines ever. Asides from the privilege of being in the studio with Paul Rodgers and Jason Bonham, [it was] definitely not my most fulfilling recording session.

– What do you like in drummers you work with? And which of the drummers you’ve been in a rhythm section with was the best partner music-wise?

I’ve been very blessed to play with some of the best drummers in the business: Simon Wright, Tommy Aldridge, Frankie Banali… They are all very different and give me opportunities to explore different sides of my playing.

– In what way, in your opinion, you influenced young bass generation more – as an artist or as an instructor?

QUIET RIOT: Rudy Sarzo, Frankie Banali, Kevin DuBrow, Carlos Cavazo

Rudy Sarzo, Frankie Banali, Kevin DuBrow, Carlos Cavazo

Well, I’ve only done a couple of instructional videos so I guess it must be as a performer and recording artist.

– Where do you computer skills steam from?

I’m a computer geek. I like to build them as a hobby but as of the last few years I’ve concentrating on my 3D animation skills. I’ve always been intrigued by the possibilities of visual special effects.

– How does your inner discipline, required for teaching and computing, combine with this wild stage behavior?

It all has to do with telling a story. Whether you’re on stage performing a song or creating animation, you need to get inside song and find the story within it.

– The least known of the bands you’ve been involved with are ROCK DAWGZ. What’s your role in the barking outfit?

“Rock Dawgz” is actually an animated series that I’m working on, not a flesh and blood band.

– You not only play the bass part in a song, you just live it. Are the lyrics important to you, then?

I like to to get lost inside of the lyrics of the songs, that’s why playing in DIO is so much fun. Ronnie’s the finest story teller in the history of rock.

WHITESNAKE: Rudy Sarzo, Adrian Vandenberg, Steve Vai,  David Coverdale, Tommy Aldridge

Rudy Sarzo, Adrian Vandenberg, Steve Vai,
David Coverdale, Tommy Aldridge

– One of your work with DIO highlights was playing “Holy Diver” in its entirety. Do you remember your first impression of the album back in 1983?

I was very familiar with Ronnie’s work with RAINBOW and [BLACK] SABBATH and I just loved the sound of the whole record and the song writing. I think it’s a classic.

– What are you doing when DIO are on hold?

In 2008 DIO toured in Scandinavia, Spain and England. But since 2007, while Ronnie was going out with HEAVEN AND HELL, I’ve been playing with BLUE OYSTER CULT. An amazing band with an incredible catalogue of songs and some of the finest musicians I’ve ever played with.

– You’ve always expressed interest in promoting Spanish music. What do you think of the Latin pop music resurgence in recent years and re-emergence of authentic players after Buena Vista Social Club came to the mass attention?

Well, growing up in a Latin home I was always exposed to authentic Latin music. Not to take anything away from the Buena Vista Social Club members, but the cream of the crop of Cuban musicians, such as Celia Cruz who was already a star in Cuba before Castro came into power, left Cuba after the revolutionr. So, the best talent had actually moved to New York, Miami and even Spain and other Lain American countries. Recently, I watched a movie titled “Havana Blues” about the current rock scene in Cuba and was blown away by the talent and diversity of the young local rockers.

With Ronnie James Dio

With Ronnie James Dio

– Your album “Digital Prints” is available for download. Is there a plan to properly release it, what with the Latin music resurgence?

Actually, I made that record a kind of a musical present for my parents. They’ve heard me play rock music all my life so I just wanted to let them know that, as the saying goes, you can take the boy out of Cuba but not Cuba out of the boy. I’m currently in the process of making what I consider my first solo record. It will be mostly instrumental in the vein of old school Jeff Beck and Stanley Clarke.

– Your book, “Off The Rails”, focuses on your time with Ozzy. Do you plan to write a whole career-spanning autobiography?

No, my only motivation for writing “Off The Rails” was so I could share my memories of Randy with all the fans around the world. I don’t feel compelled to write about any of my other musical ventures.

– After so many projects is there still anything you’d like to achieve?

Yes. I would love to play in a free Cuba someday.

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