RUDY SARZO played a big part in the famous early 1980’s heavy metal scene on The Sunset Strip. The Havana, Cuba-born musician rocked his bass in Quiet Riot, the first music group from that era to land a major recording deal and ‘make it big’. They paved the way for Motley Crue, Ratt, Dokken, Guns ‘N’ Roses and many others to be taken seriously by the music industry. In 1983 Quiet Riot churned out the multi-platinum epic album Metal Health, which became the first ever heavy metal debut to hit #1 on the Billboard charts. That same year Sarzo was voted “#1 Bassist” in Circus Magazine, his band was helicoptered in at the 11th hour to perform in the opening slot at the US Festival…and then of course there are those classic music videos…
Prior to Quiet Riot’s success, Sarzo originally had left the group moving on with his friend, Randy Rhoads to play for Ozzy Osbourne. While on tour, Rhoads and two others were killed in a plane crash. Sarzo later wrote Off the Rails, an account of his time with Rhoads, a book beloved by rock fans who adored their fallen hero. Sarzo had returned to Quiet Riot, the band disbanded and he went to play in numerous world-renowned rock groups throughout the past three decades including Whitesnake, Dio (until Ronnie James Dio passed away) and Blue Oyster Cult. He also co-starred in the hit TV series ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp’ on Vh1.
Today Sarzo performs in Geoff Tate’s Queensryche, alongside his sibling Robert Sarzo (of Hurricane fame); he is also part of the super group Project Rock, which features members of Judas Priest, AC/DC, GNR and more. Sarzo graciously visited The Tolucan Times offices in Toluca Lake for this exclusive interview…
Why pick up the bass in the first place?
Duh….Girls. (Laughs) Ask anybody… I was doing Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp with this ten year old guitar whiz, I asked him what inspires him to play and he said, “The ladies”, so I high-fived him. But really, the bass picked me in 1966. Back then you didn’t have the resources to learn how to play like you do now. It took me three years to find somebody kind enough to show me how to tune my instrument; I have a tuner in my iPhone now. Back then it was horrible!
Who influenced you as a musician?
Tim Bogert from Vanilla Fudge and Cactus, Chris Squire from Yes, Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius, but I am also influenced by Napoleon Hill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jack Canfield and Tony Robbins. I have all the Tony Robbins CDs; they have made me a better musician, human being, husband and father to my little dog!
Your book Off the Rails is still so popular.
When I’m touring a lot of people come back stage to have me sign it for them and thank me for sharing my memories of Randy. It was written with a single purpose: To answer the #1 question I get asked all the time which is, “What was it like to play with Randy Rhoads?” Bam, this is everything I know! (Smiles)
How did you become friends with him?
I joined Quiet Riot in 1978; we saw each other at rehearsals and gigs but I didn’t really get to know him until I started teaching at his mom’s music school, Musonia (in North Hollywood) because we were there for hours and hours. Then we went on the road with Ozzy and that is when I really got to know him; we’re traveling on the bus, sightseeing and there was nothing else to do. It was very boring because there was no social network or even cable TV; we had HBO which was actually a box with buttons and you had to get up to work it.
Are you in touch with other members of Quiet Riot?
I talk to Frankie [Banali] all the time and I participated in his documentary. We get together for coffee at a certain place, talk and have fun. I am supposed to have two tracks on the new Quiet Riot record along with Tony Franklin. The two QR’s: Queensryche and Quiet Riot, do shows together now too. I see Carlos [Cavazo] (who is now in Ratt) at shows also; we did one together in Sao Paulo when Ratt played with Queensryche.
Which music videos were more fun to make, Quiet Riot or Whitesnake?
Quiet Riot videos were more teenage angst; Whitesnake’s were more sexual. I actually enjoy watching the video for ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ because I got to play on that song. It’s different than playing ‘air bass’ to something that somebody else recorded like in the best known videos for Whitesnake from the [self-titled] 1987 release. The whole band was replaced by the time that record came out. But I love watching the ‘Here I Go Again’ and ‘Still of the Night’ videos because it puts me in a very happy place…
You have been a fan fave at Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp.
It has given me an opportunity to give back to the people that have made it possible for me to continue having a career that spans 33 years. I meet a lot of very successful individuals from all walks of life; lawyers, doctors, financiers. While in college, many of them had long hair and were in bands with aspirations of becoming musicians, but they graduated and entered the corporate world. Years later when they become successful they rediscover their Fender Strat in their closet, pick it up and re-identify themselves. That’s why they come to Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp – just to find themselves again.
You’re also involved in Project Rock.
Keri Kelli, the guitarist from Alice Cooper, contacted me. It was originally just for bringing rock ‘n roll to the Russian fans, but then we found we really enjoyed each other’s company so we started working on a record. It sounds great; I just finished the tracking for the bass and I’m looking forward seeing what happens with it.
How did you come to join Geoff Tate’s Queensryche?
I met him in 1983 when Queensryche was the opening band for Quiet Riot’s leg through Texas. We have been talking about doing something together over the past few years, leaning more towards his solo record. When the Queensryche split happened I was contacted. I always gravitate towards wanting to work with great singers and I consider Geoff the finest front man, composer and voice of his generation’s genre – nobody even comes close.
Is it a different dynamic playing in Queensryche with your brother?
Once in a while I go “Oh my God”, and flash back to being kids playing together and stuff like that. But he’s here with us now because he’s the best guy; capable technically of playing the intricate parts plus he puts his heart and soul into it.
What is your favorite Queensryche song?
There are so many that didn’t receive a whole lot of airplay like ‘Anybody Listening?’ and one from the movie [Last Action Hero] called ‘Real World’. It’s beautiful music with well-written, very intelligent lyrics… Sometimes you just want to perform something that is beyond the ‘party’ atmosphere.
You recently took up success coaching.
I partnered with Kristi Staab who created the keynote speaking program Lead Like a Rock Star. She comes from the corporate world and I come from rock; it’s about applying all the fundamental techniques that rock stars use to not only be successful, but to maintain success. It’s tough getting to the top; it’s virtually impossible staying there. From doing Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp I learned a lot about the corporate world. Being in a band is being in a corporation, something that I had no idea about when I first started music; I wasn’t prepared for that. Sitting at a conference table with a bunch of business managers is not…metal! But honestly every musician must eventually look at the situation and say, “Ok, we are a brand, a corporation”. [Kristi and I] are about to launch programs that cater to different types of businesses and take them to corporate events. (For more info visit http://www.ksrockstartraining.com/)
And you have a soft spot for animals.
I have a dog and do a lot of sharing on Facebook for animal rescue. I thank God I have an audience because it gives me the chance to spread awareness about these beautiful creatures that need a home. I’m kind of obsessed with it now and I tweet about it too.