Randy touched all our lives. ... No one will ever replace Randy . . . Every Sunday I light a candle for him at church and he is in my prayers every night.
--Dana, a teen-age girl from Nutley, N.J.
Every day since rock guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash five years ago, his mother, Delores, has received at least one or two letters like the one from New Jersey.
Often accompanied by drawings or some other tokens of affection, they are mailed to Mrs. Rhoads' small music school in North Hollywood from all around the world. Dana's neatly typed letter also included a heartfelt, if maudlin, poem titled "Our Randy."
Rhoads died in Florida in the crash of a small plane being flown by the Ozzy Osbourne tour bus driver. At the time, Rhoads was a relatively minor figure on the global rock landscape--just 25 years old and in the middle of his first major concert tour as guitarist for heavy-metal singer Osbourne.
But he was already a major metal hero around Los Angeles--and today he is considered by many heavy-metal musicians and fans to be on par with such other fallen guitar icons as-- yes!-- Jimi Hendrix.
A special "collector's" issue of Guitar World magazine--timed to coincide with the release of "Tribute," a live album from Rhoads' tour with Osbourne--features Rhoads on the cover along with the proclamations: "The Legend Lives!" and "He Would Have Been the Greatest!"
Was this guy really that good?
Guitar World editor Noe Goldwasser believes he was.
"Randy had a very musicianly approach to the guitar," Goldwasser said by phone from his office in New York. "He was going against the grain of tradition that said a guitar player was a flashy blues-based soloist in the rock context."
Of the continuing fascination with Rhoads, he added, "But of course the kids respond to the tragic. Randy was a handsome young man and the tragedy underscores that great sense of loss."
It's still not easy for Delores Rhoads to talk about her son. Her eyes watered frequently with emotion as she recalled incidents from Randy's life--from the time he began playing guitar at age 6 1/2 through his stint with Osbourne. Still, there's a sense of mission about this small, gray-haired woman with a gentle, personable demeanor.
"The one thing I keep in mind is I'm doing this for Randy," she said, sitting in the room at her school that is a virtual museum filled with photos and other memorabilia of Randy.
"I can do a great deal by keeping that in my mind. Otherwise I'd fold up."
More than touting Randy's guitar prowess, Mrs. Rhoads is concerned with emphasising Randy's personality and the continuing bond with his fans.
"They not only love his guitar playing, but they love Randy because he really was a nice person," she said, citing the numerous letters, phone calls and visits she has received from fans. "On stage he (conveyed) that good feeling and the young people responded to that very warmly.
"They all say how much Randy inspired them and many have written who have problems with drugs and so forth," she said. "I've had boys call from the hospital in therapy. I make sure I talk with all of them."
In interviews, Rhoads often credited his success to his mother's support. In fact, she was the one who urged him to audition for Osbourne, though he was reluctant to give up his teaching job and the relative security of Quiet Riot, the group that grew out of his Burbank High School band and went on to much success after he left.
"Randy didn't want to go down (to the audition)," Mrs. Rhoads said. "I said, 'A lot of times it's who you know that counts. You ought to go down, at least meet him.' "
She remembers that Randy wasn't gone too long before he returned home. "He said, 'I was just tuning up and warming up and Ozzy came out and said I got the job. I don't even know what job!' "
Mrs. Rhoads believes that her closeness to Randy, too, has been a good example. Besides teens, parents have written her to express their respect.
"I think the relationship I had with Randy has caused mothers to be closer to their teen-agers," she said.
The marketing of products tied to the name and work of a dead hero inevitably leads to accusations of exploitation. But where with Hendrix a slew of posthumous releases appeared within a short time after his death, "Tribute" is the first--and, Osbourne insists, only --album memorializing Rhoads.
"This is the end of the Randy Rhoads cuts I have," Osbourne said during a phone interview. "People think I have a secret album stashed away. I wish I had 10 of them. The truth is this is the last."
Actually, if Osbourne hadn't been persuaded by his wife and manager Sharon and Mrs. Rhoads to listen to the tapes of the concerts with Rhoads, the album never would have been assembled.
"I didn't have any interest in putting this album out at all," he said. "But Mrs. Rhoads and my wife got together and we thought it was time."
Delores Rhoads, the recipient of Randy's royalties, is offended by charges of exploitation.
"I don't want the money," she said. "I'm going to establish something that will help the young people . . . some sort of foundation or something. I want this money to be for Randy."
Inventive guitarist . . . nice guy . . . positive role model . . . tragic death.
All are things worth noting. But do they justify the praise heaped upon him by the likes of Dave Weiderman, manager of Hollywood's Guitar Center store, where Rhoads was a regular customer back in his days with Quiet Riot?
Exclaims Weiderman, "You hear the name Randy Rhoads in conjunction with such guitarists as Les Paul, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana--the greats of the instrument."
Those familiar with Rhoads' history point to those days in the mid-'70s with Quiet Riot as the first sign of his potential.
"The buzz around L.A. was that the two hotshots were Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads," said Guitar World magazine's Goldwasser. "At the time they both were playing the Starwood and Gazzarri's they were on equal footing in their renown."
There is very little recorded evidence by which to judge Rhoads. Aside from two rare Quiet Riot albums released in Japan, Rhoads' only appearances on record were two albums with Osbourne, whom he joined in 1980: "Blizzard of Ozz" and "Diary of a Madman."
Those records, plus the tracks on the "Tribute" album, show a technically masterful, often inventive player. Though Rhoads played a part in sparking the revival of heavy-metal music in the late '70s and early '80s, there is no sense in his playing of the innovation of a Hendrix.
His legacy seems to ultimately come down to promise unfulfilled. As Weiderman admitted, "Randy Rhoads was the kind of guy who could have been . . . but we really will never know."