“Aside from being a great musician, Rudy is also well-versed in 3D animation and video editing. Under Rudy’s tutelage, I took up filmmaking as a hobby,” said Blue Oyster Cult guitarist, Richie Castellano, about being under savvy Rudy Sarzo’s influence.

Another colleague, Bruce Kulick (Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad) described his experiences playing with Sarzo during day two of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in Hollywood, California (Kulick.net). He recounted a “spirited jam with Rudy Sarzo, who joined the camp today. We had fun till after 10 p.m.”

Rudy Sarzo seems to spread positive energy wherever he goes. I can confirm that, after our Chicago-based phone conversation, during which I felt equally spirited by his optimism, warmth and candour.

I will admit that I was a little intimidated about our talk. Having watched footage of his interviews at the NAMM conference (National Association of Music Merchants), where he spoke about Acid software and state-of-the-art, high-tech gear; everything from amps, monitors, patch chords, bass guitars, strings and more, I thought this prolific musician might talk way above my head, or, perhaps (pardon the American slang), get a bit “over-amped". But, that was not the case. It only took a moment to settle into our conversation, and Sarzo’s “simpatico” tone made me feel completely at ease.

Now situated in Los Angeles, but having lived in Florida and Chicago, the well-regarded bassist boasts a career that has spanned more than 20 years, and which has resulted in a never-ending resume which includes performing and recording projects with the likes of Whitesnake, Quiet Riot, Blue Oyster Cult, Dio and Ozzy Osbourne. Recordings from his works with these artists have generated sales of 30 million copies.

In addition, Sarzo’s 3D animation efforts have provided visually exciting entertainment for A- list bands. His series of self-designed instructional DVDs motivate budding bassists to embellish their skills.

Sarzo is incredibly visual. All of the Quiet Riot band members came up with the concept of ‘Metal Health’, the first American heavy metal debut to reach number one in the US, but it was Rudy who suggested putting an iron mask on the guy who was banging his head.

Flashing, dark eyes, coal-black, shoulder length hair and sculptured features make him a definite “chick magnet”. Speaking persuasively, but naturally, with a slight hint of an accent, he sets the bar for communication quite high.

But, what Rudy Sarzo has reaped has not come without great effort. His family emigrated from Cuba to the United States when he was eleven years old, forcing the adolescent to quickly conquer a second language, make friends in a foreign culture and adjust to a different political system. Apparently his keen observation skills and desire to communicate served him well. Furthermore, that ability, possibly honed at such an innocent age, has been this rock star’s guiding light. He has used this gift time and again, and at times it was crucial.

When playing in Quiet Riot his friend and fellow band member/guitarist, Randy Rhoads, recommended his bass playing skills to Ozzy Osbourne, the “Prince of Darkness,” and his manager/wife Sharon.

As part of the audition process, the couple subjected Sarzo to psychological and drug testing.Sarzo, who has long resisted the lure of narcotics and alcohol, through-out his more than twenty- year career, was, however, more intimidated by the extravagant surroundings than the road blocks presented.

The US 'Blizzard of Ozz' tour was a rollercoaster; full of excitement and disappointments. But, nothing could have prepared Sarzo for this; before heading to an engagement the band stopped in Florida, and ended up on the property of Jerry Calhoun. On a small airstrip, there stood a collection of helicopters and airplanes.

Tour bus driver, Andrew Aycock invited Rhoads and seamstress Rachel Youngblood to take an early morning flight. Rhoads had asked Sarzo if he wanted to take a ride on the private plane, too, but Sarzo, wishing to catch a few more hours of sleep, declined the offer.

It was the last time he would see his talented friend. Before the plane burst into flames, it nicked the tour bus, but didn’t harm anyone inside. Sarzo feels that his mentor and devoted friend Randy Rhoads had spared their lives.

Sarzo documented the hardships and joys of traveling on the road in the 80s in his book ‘Off the Rails.’ The process of writing the book was initially painful, but finally rewarding. It brought Randy Rhoads and Rudy Sarzo even closer together.

Another deep loss occurred when heavy metal vocalist, Ronnie James Dio, (Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Heaven and Hell, Dio) died of stomach cancer on May 16, 2010.

Sarzo had not only toured with Dio. He had deeply respected Ronnie James Dio’s enormous talent. On May 17, 2010, Rudy Sarzo released this statement: “I’m saddened beyond words. I will miss the sound of your voice, your magical presence and your wondrous stories. My only consolation will be that you’re now free from your pain.”

Soon Sarzo will be a counselor at the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp which will come to Chicago on November 19-21. Kip Winger, Sandy Gennaro, Dickey Betts, Mark Hudson and Mitch Ryder will join him. It will be a good time. The rocker loves the concept of working with campers who come to write music and learn his classic bass lines. Rudy loves to mentor.

Rudy Sarzo is a communicator, visually, sonically and emotionally. On stage, he communicates through fierce body language, rapid slaps against a fretless bass and defiant posturing. You might not be aware that he’s constantly drawing energy from his fans and his band mates, but he is. Music to Rudy is what literature is to Tolstoy and philosophy is to Jung. It’s what he breathes 24/7. Some might call it an obsession, others a passion, but Rudy Sarzo might sum it up more simply by stating this: “Life’s too short. I have no days off.”

In our half-hour discussion, we covered some fascinating topics, but more importantly, we shared stories. And that, according to this bona fide bassist, “is the essence of it all.”

PB: How are you, Rudy?

RS: Terrific. It's such a beautiful day. I just had to sit outside.

PB: I’ve been watching some of your YouTube videos. You have some really innovative ways of playing the bass. It looks like you use a slide. Is that accurate?

RS: A slide?

PB: Yes.

RS: No, but you’ve given me a great idea (Laughs).

PB: Well, I’m not sure how to pin point it…

RS: I use the palm of my hand to do some sliding and, also, I’ve played a fretless bass before, so I’ve used some of that fretless technique. It’s kind of emulating that sliding legato.

PB: Do you prefer the fretless bass?

RS: I love the fretless bass (Laughs). Especially, when I played with Ozzy Osbourne. I played the fretless bass a lot. It’s very expressive. You can actually give it a vibrato, a tone. It’s good. I love it.

PB: You’ve performed with some outstanding vocalists such as Dee Snyder, David Coverdale, of course, Ozzy and Ronnie James Dio. As a bassist, what skills are needed to support the front man?

RS: Well, I can only speak for myself, but I really think that every musician that reaches a certain level has to tell a story. To me, it’s not just the contribution of the vocalist as a storyteller, but also, the band overall, as storyteller. It’s the characters that are in the story that makes the band stand out.

The most unique contributions, like from Ronnie James Dio, he’s the best storyteller in rock 'n' roll that I’ve ever heard, and what you really need to do is listen to what the story is about, get inside of the song; you’re not just playing notes; you’re living the song. You are a part of what the story is.

Once you do that you’re going to give the audience something to believe in.

What you’re doing as a musician is you’re creating a world that only you can create at that moment in time and that is the magic that people come to the concert to witness. That certain moment in time – that is not rehearsed.

PB: Some people who came up from the 60s and 70s think of the bassist as somebody who stands in the corner and keeps the rhythm section together, but isn’t the main attraction. But, after having seen you perform on a number of videos, I see you as being a huge part of the stage picture, in terms of your wardrobe, your personality, enthusiasm and, of course, technical ability. Is this what happens when you let the adrenaline of the performance drive you or is, what you do, based on a deeper philosophy?

RS: You’ve asked some of the best questions…I haven’t really given that much thought…

Growing up I saw a lot of really bad shows and I take into consideration the fact that, before I became a professional musician, I was a fan. I’m still a fan. And, I want to give the people, that paid their money to come to the show…It isn’t just about the money. It’s a big commitment. The least I can do is give them the best performance that I can.

PB: Do you honour some kind of tradtion before you go on stage? Is there something you say to yourself or something you wear?

RS: Yeah. It’s not just something that I do when I hit the stage. Constantly, all day long, no matter what I’m doing, I always ask myself how can I make this better.

That’s what I’m doing. I’m playing on stage, and I say, you know what? Yesterday, I played the song this way. What can I do today to take this song to the next level without intruding into what the essence of the bass part is. And the challenge lies in making the bass part more interesting to yourself and to those who are listening without destroying the essence of the song.

You don’t want to overplay and you don’t want to make it about you, but, then again, you know that there’s always room to make your contribution that much better.

PB: Rudy, I know you’re involved in creating 3D animation videos. You created the series 'Rock Dawg' about the 80s, unconditional love and dogs. Obviously, this kind of a project requires a lot of visual imagination. That process sounds so different than the process of creating music. What fascinates you about telling a story visually?

RS: When I went to college, I was a Mass Communications major. So, to me, it’s all about the story. Every single person has a story and that’s what makes us all so unique. To me, a song is a story whether it has lyrics or not. Of course, it’s easier to know what the song is about if it has lyrics.

But, you can even listen to an instrumental and you’ll actually base your own story on the emotion that you hear coming from the story itself.

When I was touring with Dio, Ronnie's lyrics were so cinematic that I would actually imagine a movie while I was playing the song. So, that’s what I meant about getting inside the song and living it, being a part of what you’re playing, rather than just playing a bunch of notes. That’s not communicating.

I believe that a musical instrument is an instrument of communication. To me, the essence of being in a rock band goes back to around the early days of man gathering around in a tribe community with each other, communicating with their spirituality, communicating with others across the valley.

It hasn’t changed that much at all. The answer is, we’re the storytellers.

One of the biggest contributors to pop music is Bob Dylan. He’s not the greatest guitar player in the world, but it’s not about that. It’s about the stories that he tells through his music.

I think that there’s a Bob Dylan playing inside all of us. There’s that person that can actually sit down and share stories. That, to me, is at the core of humanity.

PB: Rudy, Your book, ‘Off the Rails’ chronicled your touring days in the 80s, but, in particular, your relationship with guitarist Randy Rhoads. Do you think the book has attracted primarily metal fans or does it have a wider appeal?

RS: That’s a very interesting question. Originally, when I wrote the book, my publisher was targeting the musician metal crowd. And, as a storyteller, the best way I could actually sit down and write what it was like to play with Randy Rhoads, in the Quiet Riot years. If you look at the book, there’s a lot of dialogue. I figured I could write the movie if it ever gets made. By doing that, it’s not just about music; it’s almost like a time capsule of what life was like for a band on the road in 1981-82, pre-MTV and pre- technology that we have today. There was no blogging, or anything like that.

So, basically, every single show, every single album, every single air- play that you were given on the radio, every single interview…It’s not like today where you can actually look on Facebook and reach thousands and millions of people with one post.

In the old days you had to do it from city to city. It was a little bit dreary, but you can never replace the experience of watching a band live, rather than watching it on YouTube. To me a concert is very interactive. It’s not just about the band. It’s about the audience. It’s almost like a communion; band and audience.

PB: Did you find that in writing the book that you deepened your connection to Randy?

RS: The biggest gift I got from writing the book was something that was totally unexpected. I got closure. I didn’t realize how much I was carrying on my shoulders, for all those years.

I was actually able to share my experience with Ozzy and Sharon. I finished it and it became available for everybody to read. That was my biggest gift that I received from the experience. It’s a lot of work. You’re a journalist.

PB: Yes.

RS: But what made it so easy and so enjoyable was the fact that I was able to reconnect. I had Randy living in my head again. It was almost like he was alive. But what I really dreaded was that last chapter where he would be alive and I knew that I was going to lose him again.

And, so I procrastinated (Laughs). It took me about a month to write it. I got a call from my publisher saying, you know, you’d better get it done now. So, I got it to the point where I just patiently finished the story.

PB: Do you see yourself becoming an author down the road?

RS: Oh, no. I continue to be a storyteller, whether it’s in music or any other art form and that was a story that I needed to tell for the book. I’m still telling stories, not necessarily in a book. You’re a journalist. You know how hard it is to write a book. It was that intense to tell the story of Randy from my eyes that it took a year and a half out of my life.

The hardest thing was to keep myself out of the book. I wanted it to be about Randy. But, then, there came a point in the book where I had to write about me. I wanted the reader to understand where I came from and to understand how appreciative I was to Randy for actually giving me a career and introducing me to Sharon and Ozzy and I write about the crash and what I believed the crash was all about.

And, I believed that Randy saved our lives by keeping the plane from crashing into the tour bus. The plane hit the bus, but it could have been worse. The plane actually clipped the bus. It could have been a lot worse, you know?

PB: Yes. Writing that book was a very brave undertaking. I wanted to talk about live performance. Which songs on your set list allow you the most freedom of expression?

RS: (Laughs) You’re killing me with all of your questions! Ooooh. Interesting. I’m playing right now in Blue Oyster Cult. What happened was, I joined Dio in 2004. Then, I had some time open in my schedule so I thought I could do Blue Oytser Cult in between.

Musically, it’s such diverse and powerful music. It was one of the most rewarding experiences. We covered so many different styles of music inside the rock genre. It’s not just heavy metal; it’s not just pop, It’s everything. It’s been very musically fulfilling.

PB: But, doesn’t it get challenging to tour with two bands? Isn’t it a little bit like having two wives?

RS: (Laughs). No, it’s like having two children.

PB: That can be tricky, too.

RS: One wife, many children. Actually, I don’t have any kids, but I have a little dog.

PB: I saw your dog on the internet. She’s adorable.

RS: Yeah. She’s my muse. (Laughs).

PB: And, what’s her name?

RS: Tori.

PB: Beautiful.

RS: Yeah.

PB: Does she go with you on every tour?

RS: No, unfortunately, no. I wish she could, but no, she doesn’t.
Even though she’s been on tour with me, it’s cute because she’ll get on the the bus and she’ll be apprehensive, and then about half an hour later she’ll…

PB: She doesn’t want to share you with the fans?

RS: (Laughs). Yeah. But at home, she’ll go to my home studio. She comes down with me and she’ll just stare at my fingers. She’s thinking, I wish his fingers would be scratching my butt right now.

PB: Are you still enjoying the touring or does it take too much time from the studio?

RS: You just try to balance it as much as you can. There are days I do sessions, but the music industry has really shifted. There hasn’t been like a regular schedule. You know you’re going to release an album every year, every 16 months or so.

It’s really pretty much opened up to the artist. We have your songs and we’re going to look for distribution. You release it. The pressure has been alleviated. Because in the old days, you’d be under contract and you’d have to deliver so many albums in the time period of your contract and I think that created a lot of records that…

Imagine, you’re on record number two and to become a success, you’re on the road for a year and a half and the record company takes you off the road and says, “Guys, we need a record out in three months.”

Well, you’ve been touring all this time, you’re not really prepared. You try to pick the best material you can and sometimes you end up with songs that were not released because they weren’t strong enough. But they need twelve songs, let’s say. Nowadays, once a record is released, in most cases you’re better prepared.

PB: Getting back to live performance, are the audiences really well-versed in your music and do they request specific songs?

RS: I would say this about every single band that I’ve been on tour with. But, what’s interesting now with Blue Oyster Cult or even with Dio is that the new generation has just about every song ever recorded at their fingertips, because of the internet.

So, you have a new generation that is really interested in a new genre of music mostly because of 'Guitar Hero' or 'Rock Band'. They’re really familiar with the material because they’re actually listening to it and playing along with their video games. And, it’s created a new crop of young musicians. I’m really happy to see these guys are going to be the next generation of rock stars. There are so many gifted young men and women playing out there.

PB: You started playing guitar before you took up the bass. There’s that concept of the bass player picking it up because no one else would. You’re committed to the instrument. Do you find young people nowadays commit to the bass as their first choice?

RS: You know, I believe that the instrument picks you, rather than you picking the instrument. Every instrument has a role. Once you understand what the role is of that instrument that has picked you, I think that’s when you slowly begin to comprehend what you need to fulfill, what the commitment is; a person that is playing that instrument, because I know bassists that approach the bass almost like a guitar itself, whereas I approach the instrument purely as a bass player, as part of the rhythm section.

I mean I can pick out a bass player. I can listen to somebody play and say, "this guy must have been a guitar player at some point in his life and then he got proficient at becoming a bass player." When I made the transition from guitar to bass, I wasn’t really prolific as a guitar player. I’m talking about a soloist, not as much as a rhythm player.

In the rhythm section, the rhythm guitarist is just as important as the drummer and the bassist. The best guitarists that I’ve played with were always the best rhythm players, not just as soloists.

PB: I know you’ve participated in NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) to demonstrate software. Is that because you love to mentor?

RS: Yeah. I was talking about the core of human experience; sharing information. If that isn’t the case, then we’re only being primitive people that know how to make fire. And, we’re depending on those people to make the fire for us. We’ve been sharing information whether it’s showing how to make fire or how to feed yourself, or even spirituality.

Some of the greatest mentors and teachers were spiritual leaders. That is the essence of it all. I’ve been mentored by some great leaders and behind every great leader is the ability to create more leaders. That’s what I’m trying to do when I mentor. I try to find the people that not only want to be mentored, but also, that I think, will make great leaders, too.

Sharing information, just being a musician, is not just about playing notes. It’s much more than that; it’s the ability to communicate and, also, to bring people together.

PB: Thank you.

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