Martin Popoff -Steal Away the Night; An Ozzy Osbourne Day-by-Day
published: 8 /
Lisa Torem examines a new book on Ozzy Osbourne, which is a day-by-day guide to his career from his early years with Black Sabbath until the present day
Martin Popoff is the ideal author and insight-maker for the stylish coffee-table book, ‘Steal Away the Night: An Ozzy Osbourne Day-by-Day’. He is the senior editor and co-founder of ‘Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles’, and has written over twenty books celebrating the history and legacy of heavy metal. The Canadian rock/metal writer was prescient in Black Sabbath’s early years and faithfully followed Osbourne’s solo career, which is chronicled judiciously here. The fine source material is sprinkled with a series of personalized asides; the casual tone and consistently dazzling layout, which includes rare memorabilia and striking performance photos makes it easy to leaf through, but don’t let that ease fool you. ‘Steal Away the Night’ has been well-researched and includes quips and revelations from those in the know: road managers, band mates, fanzine writers and, of course, comments from the great Oz himself.
In the introduction, Popoff describes the original line-up of Black Sabbath as “…a weird and ragtag bunch that had a certain something together,” and then he juxtaposes the chemistry of the late L.A. guitarist Randy Rhoads, who played for Ozzy in the 1980s, against the rest of Osbourne’s marauders: three British “war horse rockers”. Early on, too, in one of the many sidebars, Kelly Garni, Quiet Riot bassist, reminisces. Kelly’s skill set apparently developed because of Randy’s tutelage. Ozzy guitarist Joe Holmes also enjoyed Rhoads’ gifts.
The art of lyric writing and how it was balanced within the group is also referenced early on, initially in regards to Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut in the winter of 1970. Bill Ward, Black Sabbath’s drummer, is impressed with Ozzy’s ability to “spark a whole thing” with only one word. Ward also comments on the rock solid relationship Ozzy shared with his father, Jack.
‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel’, the ‘80’s section, begins with two gleaming, full-body portrait shots by photographer David Plastik. The first is of Ozzy nursing the mic, sporting an irresistible, cupid-like smile. The second photo shows a dreamy, well-tanned Randy Rhoads swooning over his Flying V. In the text, Popoff asserts “Ozzy entered the ‘80s a washed up has-been…” The author credits manager/wife Sharon Arden Osbourne and Randy Rhoads as quick thinking, career saving savants during this fragile time.
Because it is written in diary form, it can be easy to miss some of the important facts. For example, an entry from February 19th, 1980, reveals that “AC/DC’s Bon Scott freezes to death in a car, after a night of heavy drinking.” That said, the highlighted first-person accounts from folks like former Uriah Heep drummer, Lee Kerslake, on the development of his Blizzard of Ozz sound, and Randy Rhoad’s instantaneous reaction to Kerslake’s audition is priceless. And Ozzy takes life’s hits like a man, confessing to a drinking obsession, which kept him from fully engaging in the studio on several albums. Ozzy, after eight years with Sabbath, tells ‘Music Express’ in 1981, “It was great to go into the studio and only to have to answer to myself.” He would sustain that drive. In 1993, he would tell ‘M.E.A.T.’, “I’ve outlasted everybody — even Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses. I’m still in demand.”
The quotes and references about Sharon Osbourne are intriguing and make you want to learn more about her unique side of the equation: dealing with male-dominated record labels when women were rare in management. She catered to “musical snobs.”
A creepy note written on Halloween in 1981 from Ozzy is displayed in very small print, and because it really told us so much about his inner-workings, a larger font would have been more effective, but that’s a pretty minor criticism when you get so much great content and so many astute comments from, for example, bass player Rudy Sarzo, on the onstage dynamics of playing with Tommy Aldridge and Randy Rhoads and Ozzy’s perception of Black Sabbath.
Bernie Torme tells why he hates auditioning and what it was like to play lead guitar with Ozzy and the band post Randy Rhoads’ death in a plane crash. The band was still reeling with grief and Torme sheds superb light on the tragic aftermath. Brad Gillis recounts his fairytale story of meeting Ozzy for the first time and playing his first tour. You feel his excitement and nervousness every inch of the way.
There are, predictably, moments of tension and bitterness: Ozzy gets upset when Sabbath churns out ‘Live Evil’ with Ronnie James Dio as their new front man in 1983 and the production date collides with his own ‘Speak of the Devil’ album. Sharon muses about the religious right protesting Ozzy’s tour—“This was the first tour in twelve years he couldn’t enjoy,” she muses. This is also the year that rivalry between Ronnie James Dio and Ozzy escalates.
Popoff is the master of the extraordinary pull quote. He plucked and printed this macabre comment by Ozzy about bassist Don Costa from ‘Hit Parade’: “He straps a cheese grater to the back of his bass which rips his flesh every time he moves.” But he does a great job, too, sequencing so that you feel as if you’re in the midst of a heated debate, such as Bob Daisley’s reaction to working with Tommy Aldridge and then Carmine Appice- Appice chimes in on the short-lived stint and the resulting political overtones—and guess who returns to the line-up?
Throughout the 1980s, Ozzy turns out ballads and embraces glam. Sharon exclaims, “…he’s seen everybody through every phase and he’s still here.” During the latter part of the decade, she conceptualizes Ozzfest. Lita Ford, with whom Ozzy records a duet and who is also managed by savvy Sharon, describes her early excitement at hearing Ozzy play when she was a mere thirteen-years-old. By the end of the decade, Ozzy admits to songwriting ennui and longs to shed his reputation for penning tunes which bring to mind “Satanic connotations” or nuclear catastrophe. Producer Rick Rubin suggests he rewrite material after 1991’s ‘No More Tears’ but Ozzy bristles.
In 2001, Zakk Wylde grunts about his lack of credits. It’s a common theme; a steady stream of band members are asked to generate ideas based on vague precepts. They don’t feel appreciated. It gets heated at times; very heated. Producer Tim Palmer gets thrown into “Ozzie’s World,” too, and responds to death threats and rumours, but he also gets to futz around with that voice: “As soon as he sings a vocal and doubles it, there it is! The Ozzy sound,” he exclaims. Ozzy records ‘Black Rain’ and heralds it as the first album he’s made sober. The last section deals with the Black Sabbath reunion and Ozzy’s recording collaborations.
‘Steal Away the Night’ is ladled with hard facts and often comical, vulgar opinions. There’s no singular authoritative voice so it’s very entertaining to hear the story told vis a vis diverse and outlandish perspectives. When a fan tells Ozzy that he travelled 250 miles to see him play, Ozzy thinks, “I wouldn’t travel 250 miles to see God.” Maybe not, but since he’s willing to do a thousand sit ups to get in shape for a performance, he’s definitely got some super human traits.