Chris Dale’s Metal Meltdown: A Conversation With Rudy Sarzo
Rudy Sarzo: “I must keep playing until I play in a free Cuba!”
I’m very lucky in that I get to interview quite a few heroes on my TotalRock radio show (www.totalrock.com Thursdays 3-6pm UK time). I’ve grown quite accustomed to it but a couple of weeks back even I got a little starstruck when I was told I was going to talk to one of my all time bass heroes, Rudy Sarzo.
For those of you that don’t know Rudy played in Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz, then Quiet Riot again, then Whitesnake, then Project Driver, then Quiet Riot again, then Yngwie J Malmsteen’s Rising Force, then Dio, then Blue Oyster Cult and now he’s in Animetal USA and just today he has been announced as a member of the Queensryche version fronted by Geoff Tate. That’s a pretty good resume. You might understand why I was a little daunted.
I thought I’d play it cool and open with a snappy: “Hi Rudy, how you doing?”
“Hey Chris, I’m doing terrific, thanks”
All was fine so far. “Let’s start by telling us about your new project, Animetal”. This is easy, I thought.
“Yes, Animetal USA.”
Not such a good start, I’d got the name of his band wrong. But only slightly wrong.
“Are you familiar with the Japanese animation art form, anime?”
I found myself saying “yes” but meaning “no”. I was on the back foot now.
“Our theme is doing speed Metal versions of anime theme songs.”
“It sounds like a brand new concept?” I ventured.
“Actually there was a another Japanese Anime-metal band about 20 years ago.”
Ooops, wrong again… don’t tell him!
“The whole concept was resurrected by our singer Mike Vescera. He got together with our record company, Sony Music in Japan, and brought up the idea of resurrecting it. So basically all the members in the band were either anime fans or like in my case, I’m also a 3D animator so I get a lot of inspiration from the graphics and visuals and all the storylines.”
I asked him more about his computer animation work; surely this band was the perfect crossover for his music and his computer work?
“Absolutely, absolutely! I started back in 2005 when I joined Dio and were getting ready to do the ‘Holy Diver Live’ tour and Ronnie came up with the idea of having him on the screen talking to the audience that was only going to be for a few seconds so we were going to be carrying this massive rig to deal with that so I just said how about if I just create some original footage, some animation.
“At the time when I opened my mouth I didn’t know how to do it! Haha ha! But within a few weeks I’d created this animation that we added onto Ronnie talking, so that’s when the whole thing started and I just fell in love with the whole process.”
Oh good he was laughing! Actually I was getting the idea that he was a really nice guy. I relaxed a bit and asked about how he got to play with all those great bands?
“As a bass player I’ve been very, very blessed and I’ve played with some of the greatest musicians. I mean that not only as a musician but as a fan.”
Ozzy Osbourne – Over the Mountains (Live)
“You know, I’ve always been a fan of Ozzy back in Black Sabbath and I got to play with him in the band 30 years ago. I got to play with Coverdale in Whitesnake. I’m a huge fan of Deep Purple and his contributions to them and the band Whitesnake itself.
“And then with Ronnie, because I was a member of the band from 2004 until his passing, so to be able to be onstage with him while he’s singing songs from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio- I tell you, those were some of the most significant moments of my life.”
Dio – Tarot Woman (Live)
He was being very cool and humble about it all. So those are the singers, next I asked him to name his favourite three guitarists he’d worked with? I think we knew who his favourite was going to be.
“OK I’m scanning through my brain from band to band to band… I would like to say Randy (Rhoads) because of the whole package. Not only was he an incredible musician, he was also an incredible composer and human being. I learned so much from him and what a great performer. He ran the gamut and that’s why he is the legend that he is today
“I’d like to say the next one would definitely would be Steve Vai. He’s very, very unique. I learned a lot from Steve also. He comes from the school of Zappa. I guess Frank Zappa shared with him so much knowledge and when I played with Steve on the ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ record I learned so much from him because he’s always one of those guys who’s willing to share information. Not only about
music but also about multi-tasking and just life, even food and eating habits.
“He’s a very healthy human being. I believe he’s vegan today. At the time he was vegetarian.”
Whitesnake – Slide It In (Live)
“The other one I’d have to say is Tony MacAlpine. I got to play with him in Project Driver. What an exceptional musician he is! He’s a classically trained concert pianist and he then he took all that musical knowledge from the piano and applied it to his guitar playing. I’ve got to say he’s a genius.
“That’s the top three guitar players and then there’s so many others like Adrian Vandenberg – what a great guitar player to play with – and Chris Impelliteri from Animetal USA. He’s an incredible, outstanding musician. I’m also playing with a band called Tred where we have Mike Orlando who’s the guitar player in Adrenaline Mob. That’s another outstanding guitar player.
“So you know I’m so blessed to have played all these great musicians!”
He certainly is, and to think that Yngwie J Malmsteen hasn’t even come into the list yet…
“Oh Yngwie, yes of course! You know with Yngwie I was only there for about three months so it was kind of like I got a taste of playing with Yngwie. I had a wonderful experience but it wasn’t like a long period.
“It wasn’t like, let’s say, with Tony MacAlpine. We got to make a record. We spent a lot of time together – he used to live at my house. I had a whole different experience with Tony. You know, I can’t say enough great things about Tony.”
Project Driver – I Can See It In Your Eyes (Audio)
“Of course with Randy, the touring and I was also playing with him in Quiet Riot so that was a different experience again. With Steve not only did we make the record at the time but we did a whole tour for that that. With Yngwie it was only about three months but definitely a very rewarding and significant time.’
Then we had an email in from Sasquatch Bob from the Ozzbest tribute band, asking Rudy about the crazy stage outfits he must have worn in different bands over the years.
“Actually the craziest one is the one I wear is with Animetal USA now because all the members in the band are anime-centric. We’re an actual part of the anime world now. We are superheroes, ha ha ha!
“So I’ve got this crazy outfit with this crazy make up on. It’s Japanese kabuki make up. I’d say that would be the craziest stage persona I’ve ever had.
“If anybody’s interested there’s plenty of pictures of us on the internet or you can go to my Facebook and just catch a glimpse of what Animetal USA is all about.”
Animetal USA – Live
I told him that I’d had a look and thought it looked great. “I was always a big Kiss fan and also a Quiet Riot fan so for me seeing Animetal USA it’s like the guy from Quiet Riot in Kiss make-up. Could it possibly get better?”
“Ha ha ha, Quiet Riot with Kiss make up? I don’t know about that!!!! Hah ha…”
He sounded like he might choke laughing on that idea, so we came back to his book ‘Off the Rails’. For me it was a great book, being an honest and sober account of the ‘Blizzard of Oz’ and ‘Diary of a Madman’ tours with Ozzy Osbourne. I asked if he had anything planned to write about his years with Quiet Riot or Whitesnake for example?
“No, because my only motivation to write ‘Off The Rails’ was to answer the number one question that I get asked as I travel around the world which is ‘What was it like to play with Randy Rhoads?’.
“And every time I’d spent five or ten minutes with somebody sharing some stories, I’d always walk away feeling that I hadn’t said enough. I’d walk away thinking, oh my God, I should have mentioned this or that, all the stories, you know.
“So I just figured, let me just put it in a book. That way its all there. That way I just have to say if you really want to know what it was like to play with Randy Rhoads, here’s the book, check it out. And that was the only reason.
“I’d like to write a book about other subjects, more motivational books.
“To be honest with you, I really don’t believe I am done. You usually take a look back on your life when you’re done. When you think this is it, I’ve got nothing else to contribute, to music or anything else. But I’m just getting started to be honest with you!”
“So what keeps you inspired?” I asked.
‘Right now what keeps me inspired, that’s a great question, right now really if I’m able to bring up one reason why I’m able to keep going is because of technology. The thing with technology is you can say the glass is half empty or half full. Its the same thing with technology and music.
“Some musicians will look at it and say, ‘oh man why should I make a record now because people are going to steal it or download it illegally or whatever?’ And I look at it and say, ‘you know what, I’m gonna make records because now I have the technology available so I can really make the true statement of what musically I want to communicate.
“Right now I’m making the type of records that are really close to me, not because of commercial reasons. If they are successful, for example if Animetal USA goes number one in Japan, great. Hopefully it will soon be around the world but that is not the reason why we are making Animetal records.
“We want to give back to the Japanese fans who have been supporting our music for decades. Even when it wasn’t trendy in other parts of the world the Japanese will still embrace your music if you deliver quality music to them.
“That is one of the main reasons we do Animetal USA and we always try to maintain the highest calibre of musicianship in it. Why we are able to do so is because we each have our own studio facilities which we can record on.
“Right now the budgets are not as high as they used to be. You have to deliver a high quality recording under a certain budget.
“So with the exception of the drums, the drums are recorded in an old fashioned recording studio with all the mikes and preamps as well as the mixes, but as far as recording our own individual tracks we just take them to out own home studios and it doesn’t cost anything apart from electricity basically.
“So we’re able to really put in 1000% effort into each track and deliver the highest quality of musicianship on those records. And that keeps me going, that really keeps me going because it’s not about you’ve got three or four days to do your bass and that’s it. No, you can really put in the most effort to every single track that you do.”
Then my six-year-old son and radio co-host, Archie, asked him: “When did you start rock and roll?”
“I started rocking even before Chuck Berry, ha ha ha ha! That is a great question and usually out of the mouths of babes you get the best questions. It’s interesting because I was actually born in Cuba which today is a communist country.
“But I was born before it became communist so I left Cuba when I was eleven-years-old and I went to the United States. I left Cuba because it became communist country, and communism takes freedom away from its people.
“When my family moved to the United States, the first music that I was exposed to was rock and roll. Rock and roll actually became banned in Cuba. Anything that was from America, including jazz, including the saxophone was banned in Cuba at the time of the revolution.
“So to me rock and roll symbolises freedom which is something that my family left our country for. That’s what it means to me.
“So I started rocking once I became free once again.”
Quiet Riot – ‘Bang Your Head’ (‘Metal Health’) (LIVE)
It seemed he took rock and roll a bit more seriously than some of us. I asked more about Cuba: “Would you go back there if they changed their government system?”
“Yes, I’d be the first in the line up. As soon as communism and the present regime ends and it becomes a democracy I’ll be the first guy. I’ll even swim back!
“It was always my dream to play with Ronnie, with Dio in a free Cuba but now Ronnie’s no longer with us, maybe it would be Animetal USA or some other band but definitely. That’s another reason I keep going, I haven’t done that yet.
“I must keep playing until I play in a free Cuba!”
I thanked Rudy for his time, he thanked me and Archie for the questions and bid us “God Bless”. What a top chap he was!
In my experience it can go either way with these high level guys, but Rudy’s definitely on the winning team in my books. A legend among bass players, very positively focussed and a good laugh too. Check out
more at http://www.animetalusa.com/ and http://www.rudysarzo.com/
Thanks also to Malcolm Dome and Tony Wilson at www.TotalRock.com for setting up and recording the interview respectively.