OZZY OSBOURNE (1948–PRESENT). Having achieved worldwide success with Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne (born John Michael Osbourne) has gone on to be as successful if not more so as a solo artist. Initially partnering with guitarist Randy Rhoads for the hugely successful Blizzard of Ozz band, Ozzy’s name went on to become a household word, going on, like Kiss, to make heavy metal safe for mass consumption and becoming an MTV reality show star in The Osbournes, even as he battled the demons of his own substance abuse and occasional protests from religious groups.
After leaving Black Sabbath in 1979, Ozzy assembled his first solo band, Blizzard of Ozz, with the aid of his wife and manager Sharon, featuring ex-Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley, ex-Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake, and L.A. hot-shot guitarist
Randy Rhoads. Releasing their first album, Blizzard of Ozz in 1980, the album was a hit and showcased Ozzy in a new light, still heavy metal but now with the writing of Daisley and Rhoads, a much more melodic yet gothic style. Rhoads’ contributions were particularly significant, and the guitarist soon became a star in his own right. This was due to his classically influenced melodic soloing style that sounded somewhat similar to Eddie Van Halen’s tapping technique but was original in its own right. For his own part, Ozzy’s vocals were in a much more melodic vein than they’d been in Sabbath. The album spawned two hit singles, “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley,” and made the charts in both the U.S. and UK.
A second album, Diary of a Madman, followed in 1981 (both albums had actually been recorded during the same sessions) and was a similar success, featuring the singles “Flying High Again” and “Over the Mountains.” Shortly before the album’s release, Daisley and Kerslake were replaced by ex-Pat Travers drummer Tommy Aldridge and Rhoads’ former Quiet Riot bandmate bassist Rudy Sarzo whose pictures and credits appeared on the album even though they didn’t play on it. (After Ozzy lost a 1986 court case brought by Daisley and Kerslake over writing and performance credit and royalties for the first two albums, the two musicians’ performances were replaced with those of his then-current band members bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Mike Bordin on the 2002 reissues of the two albums.)
Shortly after Diary’s release, the first of several controversies involving the singer erupted when Ozzy bit the head off of a bat during a concert in January of 1982. What sounded like a sick publicity stunt was actually much more mundane: a fan had thrown the bat onto the stage, and Ozzy, assuming it was fake, decided to have some fun with the crowd and bite its head off. He was as surprised as anyone when it turned out to be real, and the concert was brought to a halt as he was rushed to the hospital for rabies shots.
More tragically, the first era of Ozzy’s solo career was shortly thereafter brought to a close when Rhoads, going for a joyride in a small plane, was killed along with other passengers when the plane’s wing clipped the band’s tour bus and crashed. With Ozzy and the rest of the band in mourning, the tour was temporarily suspended. A week later, the band resumed the tour with ex-Gillan guitarist Bernie Torme holding down Rhoads’ position, even as Ozzy was in a deep depression over the loss of his friend and collaborator. Torme himself lasted for less than a month before leaving the band, and future Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis took his place, recording the live album of Sabbath material Speak of the Devil in 1982.
Signing a new contract with Epic Records, Ozzy released 1984’s Bark at the Moon, which featured new guitarist Jake E. Lee, formerly of Ratt. While not the innovator that Rhoads had been, Lee was nonetheless a charismatic player with a style of his own. 1986’s Ultimate Sin wasn’t as strong an album and received a number of negative reviews, but it still sold well and continued Ozzy’s winning streak.
1986 was also the year of another controversy, this time involving a court case which alleged that the song “Suicide Solution” encouraged suicide, even though Ozzy and co-writer Daisley claimed the song was about alcohol abuse. The case was eventually dismissed (Sadler).
The following year saw the release of Tribute, a live album from 1981 that featured Randy Rhoads and was dedicated to his memory. Lee left the band later that year, and Ozzy found his most durable collaborator in young guitarist Zakk Wylde with whom he would work off and on for the next twenty years. Wylde made his debut with the Ozzy on 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked, which would be one of Ozzy’s strongest records to date, featuring the track “Miracle Man” that took aim at the hypocrisy of televangelists.
No More Tears followed in 1991, and Ozzy claimed he would retire after the tour. Following the tour the double live Live & Loud was released.
After a break of two years, Ozzy came out of retirement with Ozzmosis, which went on to triple-platinum status within a year of its release. The album’s tour proved to be one of the singer’s most lucrative, and he started the package tour Ozzfest, which featured many other, mostly younger metal bands. 1997’s Ozzfest featured a Black Sabbath reunion, Pantera, and Marilyn Manson and was the second- most successful tour of the year. Ozzy reunited with Black Sabbath for the next year’s live Reunion album, following it up with another tour, and headlining the next Ozzfest.
Another solo album, Down to Earth, followed in 2001 and was supported with an extensive tour with Rob Zombie. More significantly, Ozzy and his family became TV stars when the MTV reality/sitcom The Osbournes began airing, and the gothic heavy metal “Satanist” was recast as the wacky yet lovable husband and father. The show became the biggest success the network had ever had and made Ozzy’s name a household word. A collection of cover songs appeared as Under Cover in 2005, with a new studio album Black Rain released in 2007.
Discography: Blizzard of Ozz (Jet, 1980); Diary of a Madman (Jet, 1981); Speak of the Devil (Jet, 1982); Bark at the Moon (Epic, 1983); The Ultimate Sin (Epic, 1986); Tribute [live] (Epic, 1987); No Rest for the Wicked (Epic, 1989); Just Say Ozzy [live] (Epic, 1990); No More Tears (Epic, 1991); Live & Loud (Epic, 1993); Ozzmosis (Epic, 1995); Down to Earth (Sony, 2001); Live at Budokan (Epic, 2002); Under Cover (Sony, 2005); Black Rain (Epic, 2007); The Ozzman Cometh: Greatest Hits (Epic, 2002); Bible of Ozz (Sony, 2004); Prince of Darkness (Epic, 2005); Scream (Epic, 2010).