JENNINGS: 40 years ago, a turning point for Ozzy

Ozzy Osbourne's "Blizzard of Ozz"

Sept. 20 marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of one of rock music’s most improbable comebacks. On that date in 1980, Ozzy Osbourne released his first solo album, “Blizzard of Ozz.” The album is not only notable for its commercial success, it introduced the world to Osbourne’s guitarist Randy Rhoads.

By 1980, Ozzy Osbourne’s rock star days seemed behind him. The singer had been kicked out of Black Sabbath because of his excessive drug and alcohol use, which had begun to negatively impact his live performances.

Sabbath seemed to be getting along fine without Ozzy, as their April 1980 release, “Heaven and Hell,” the group’s first album with lead singer Ronnie James Dio, revived the band’s career after a disappointing final album in 1978 with Ozzy entitled, “Never Say Die!”

The Dio-fronted Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” wound up selling over a million copies, but “Blizzard of Ozz” would not only sell more copies than any Black Sabbath album, it sold more than the last six Sabbath albums with Ozzy combined. The additional fame also solidified Ozzy’s status as a pop icon because it drew attention to his outrageous antics, on and off stage.

The album included two of Ozzy’s most popular post-Sabbath songs, “Crazy Train” and “I Don’t Know,” both of which became staples on album-oriented rock stations. Randy Rhoads signature opening guitar lick on “Crazy Train,” became one of the songs every budding rock guitarist learned, but nobody played it quite like the classically-trained Rhoads.

The band assembled for the project could have been a supergroup with any singer. Keyboardist Don Airey and bassist Bob Daisley were had both been in Rainbow, drummer Lee Kerslake was a longtime member of Uriah Heep and Rhoads was a founding member of Quiet Riot. Some accounts claim that Blizzard of Ozz was supposed to be the name of the band, not the album title, and that would be one of the many contentious issues that surrounded the album’s release and subsequent success.

The group toured Europe in the fall of 1980, months before the album was finally released in the United States on the Jet Records label, a label owned by Black Sabbath manager Don Arden. It was Don’s children who helped guide Ozzy’s comeback, especially Arden’s daughter Sharon, who within just a few years would become Ozzy’s second wife and the master of his destiny.

Sharon was the protector of the brand, and she didn’t let anyone get in the way, including Ozzy’s backing band, who were not happy being billed as Ozzy’s hired guns. When they pushed the issue, Sharon fired them all except Rhoads, but not before she got one more album recorded with the group, “Diary of a Madman.” By the time Diary came out, Kerslake and Daisley weren’t even credited for their performances.

Even though “Diary” didn’t sell quite as well as “Blizzard,” it was still a successful follow up, and in many ways a companion to “Blizzard.” But Ozzy would never get a chance to record with the “Blizzard” era group again because on March 19, 1982, guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash while the group was on tour. The plane hit Osbourne’s tour bus before it crashed.

In less than five years, Ozzy had been kicked out as lead singer of a major rock group, recorded a successful solo album with world-class musicians, and then two of the members were fired, and one member died.

Even though Ozzy never recorded an album that was as successful or iconic as “Blizzard,” he continued to release successful albums and then went on to become a reality television star and led a massively successful festival tour called Ozzfest. Ozzy eventually reunited sporadically with the band that fired him in 1978, and even released an album with Black Sabbath in 2013.

Forty years after Ozzy Osbourne’s singing career appeared over, he is still around and in the public eye. Just this week, A&E Network aired a new documentary entitled “The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne.” And most importantly, “Blizzard of Ozz” still sounds as great as it did in 1980.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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