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Ozzy Osbourne rekindles Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen rivalry: “Randy didn’t have a nice thing to say about Eddie”

Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Ozzy Osbourne has reopened the Randy Rhoads vs Eddie Van Halen guitar hero debate, not only confirming that the rivalry was real, but contesting the idea that Eddie taught Randy everything he knew.

For a period in the ‘80s, that was the big question: who was better, Rhoads or Van Halen? In hard rock and electric guitar circles, that was Federer vs Nadal, Messi vs Ronaldo – something that was ginned up by the media and perpetuated by fans in bar-room debate, with the occasionally report of frostiness to add some drama. 

Sometimes the guitarists would play along, as witnessed in the recent documentary from Andre Relis, Randy Rhoads: Reflections Of A Guitar Icon, in which there is an audio clip of Eddie offering a back-handed compliment and a casual barb in the then-Quiet Riot guitarist’s direction, alleging that Rhoads had confessed to taking his style from him.

“He was one guitarist who was honest anyway, because I read some interviews that he did and he said everything he did he learned from me,” said Van Halen. “And he was good, but I don’t think he really did anything that I haven’t done. There ain’t nothing wrong with it, man. I’ve copied other people…”

But speaking to Rolling Stone (opens in new tab), Osbourne says there is no chance Rhoads cribbed his style from Van Halen. Furthermore, Rhoads would never have had admitted to it. 

“I heard recently that Eddie [Van Halen] said he taught Randy all his licks … he never,” Osbourne said. “To be honest, Randy didn’t have a nice thing to say about Eddie. Maybe they had a falling out or whatever, but they were rivals.” 

Such tension did not go unnoticed in the Quiet Riot camp. With the Van Halen star ascendant, they would wind Rhoads up by taping pictures of Eddie to his wah pedal

To be honest, Randy didn’t have a nice thing to say about Eddie. Maybe they had a falling out or whatever, but they were rivals

Ozzy Osbourne

In an interview with Eddie Trunk, Relis admitted that he was unfamiliar with the Rhoads versus Van Halen rivalry before he started making his documentary.

“From those that were there, the story was that Van Halen and Eddie would come check out Randy quite a bit, and watch him play, and there seemed to be some sort of competition between Randy and Eddie. I think that Eddie, in my opinion, thought of Randy as a threat, and just seemed to be – as you can see from the audio of Eddie – Eddie believes that he ripped his style off, and on the Quiet Riot side, and Randy side, they thought that that was just bogus.”

As Trunk noted, Eddie at the time would turn his back to the audience to hide some of his tricks – techniques that were wholly new at the time and would change the way we play the instrument. Rhoads would face the audience. Relis said they simply came from “different worlds”.

“On the Randy side, that comes from being a teacher, growing up in a music school and just wanting to teach people,” said Relis. “When you do watch the way in which Randy Rhoads stood onstage, and the way in which he focused on the audience… He was definitely teaching and sharing. As far as Eddie Van Halen, obviously they came from different worlds and backgrounds. I think the notion was that Eddie was more of the rock star, a little more arrogant, and Randy, on the other hand, was not.”

Ozzy Osbourne has a had a ringside seat for the evolution of the guitar hero, and after all these years, he retains his gravitational pull over the some of the world’s best guitarists in hard rock and metal.

His latest album, Patient Number Nine (opens in new tab), is out now via Epic, and features guests spots from Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and his fellow Black Sabbath alumnus Tony Iommi, with long-time collaborator Zakk Wylde climbing back onboard the crazy train.

Rhoads, however, was the one who lit the blue touch paper on his solo career, and 40 years after the guitarist’s death in a plane crash in Florida, his influence can still be felt across Ozzy’s material. Speaking to MusicRadar, Wylde, who made his studio album debut with Ozzy in 1988 on No Rest For The Wicked, said that no one could fill Rhoads’ shoes.

“He had unbelievable technique and could do all the things on the guitar that are astounding,” Wylde said. “His scales, the diminished scales he used – unreal. But it was his writing and the way he composed his solos – I mean, his solos were songs within the songs… He was way ahead of what everybody else was doing.

“I learned all of Randy’s solos – before I even got in Ozzy's band. But when I was in the band, I absolutely played them Randy’s way. You have to. There’s no reason not to. I mean, it’s not like you could fill his shoes – that’s impossible – but you have to give respect to his music. There is no other way. Whether it was me or Jake E Lee or Gus G or anybody, you’ve got to play Randy’s solos like Randy did.”

In other Ozzy Osbourne news, the Prince Of Darkness and his wife, Sharon, are to return to reality TV in a new show for the BBC, Home To Roost, which will document their return to life in England.

Osbourne has had his health issues of late. But following success of recent performances at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony with Tony Iommi, and at the half-time show for the LA Rams, he hopes to tour in support of Patient Number Nine, telling People (opens in new tab) magazine that nothing will stop him getting back out there.

“It’s where I belong,” he said. “The relationship I have with my audience is the biggest love affair of my life.”

“I am determined to get back on stage even if I have to be nailed to a board and wheeled on,” he added. “Survival is my legacy.”

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.