Conducted October 14, 2010
By Laurie Lonsdale
With the Randy Rhoads Remembered show coming to Toronto’s Rockpile on June 4th – a show that will feature Rudy Sarzo among other legendary musicians; combined with Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp coming to Toronto on June 4th, 2015, ( check out details HERE ) Lithium is resurrecting this interview with Sarzo, veteran camp counselor who was recently inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp Hall of Fame.
Hard rock/heavy metal bassist Rudy Sarzo may have started his music career by sleeping on a floor, but it wasn’t long until his incredible skill landed him the dream gig of playing for Ozzy Osbourne, alongside the legendary Randy Rhodes. Sarzo’s remarkable career then branched out and has seen him involved in renowned and unforgettable bands like Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, and Dio, and garnered him a nod from Circus Magazine as Top Bassist in 1983. More currently, Sarzo plays with Blue Oyster Cult, and for the past year and a half has been involved with a David Fishof project called Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. For a decade now, the Fantasy Camp has been helping to turn amateur musicians into certified rock stars, thanks to the know-how and advice provided by several veteran musician mentors.
On Saturday October 16th, 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp made its on-air debut with the help of VH1 Classic and reality TV guru Mark Burnett. The series sees fifteen amateur musicians from various locations across the US, come together with a multitude of rock star icons. The fifteen hopefuls form bands under the guidance of Rudy Sarzo, Kip Winger (Alice Cooper / Winger), and Mark Hudson (producer / musician / songwriter for Aerosmith, Ringo Starr, Ozzy) and jam together to further develop their musical chops. Surprise drop-in mentors also come into play throughout the series, including Bret Michaels, Lita Ford, Michael Anthony (Van Halen / Chickenfoot), Ace Frehley (KISS), and on and on.
I had the good fortune to be able to speak with Rudy this past week, and what was intended to be a fifteen minute interview turned into almost an hour’s worth of a completely memorable conversation. During that time we discussed everything from his new book entitled Off the Rails, wherein he recaptures the crazy days of touring with Ozzy and playing with Randy Rhodes, to his love of 3D animation. You can check out some of his work HERE Of course, we also talked about his current stint with Fantasy Camp, his destiny to teach and his mentoring style. Here’s how the conversation rolled out. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Laurie: I know we want to discuss Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp given that it airs this Saturday, but let’s start with your music career because it has encompassed several prominent bands including Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Whitesnake, of course Quiet Riot, and now Blue Oyster Cult. Of all these experiences, which one do you think you grew from the most as a musician?
Rudy: My growing peaks were actually with Ozzy. I owe this credit to Sharon Osbourne for about ninety percent of what I’ve learned about the music industry. She was an amazing manager and an amazing person to be around, so definitely Ozzy Osbourne because I basically went from sleeping on the floor to being in the band. It was an incredible roller coaster ride. In my book, I go through all of my experiences in that journey. I wrote the book to answer the number one question I get asked when I travel around the world, which is, ‘What was it like to play with Randy Rhodes?’ and also my experiences with Quiet Riot back in late seventies, I included that portion with him? (Rhodes played lead guitar in Quiet Riot from 1972 to 1979 before becoming the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne’s breakthrough solo album ‘Blizzard of Ozz’)
Laurie: Considering you are a mentor on Fantasy Camp, I was going to ask who you considered your best mentor in the biz, but it sounds like it must have been Sharon Osbourne.
Rudy: It definitely was.
Laurie: So how did you come to be involved with Fantasy Camp? Did they come to you, or did it happen through a friend?
Rudy: The camp has over a ten year history (Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp was founded by David Fishof in 1996). What happened a few years ago was Bruce Hewitt suggested that I become a counselor, but it was just a matter of getting my schedule together. At the time, I was doing very extensive touring with DIO and then Ronnie started working with Heaven and Hell (with former Black Sabbath members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler). That gave me an opportunity to work with Blue Oyster Cult, who I’ve been playing with for three years now. Then when Ronnie said, ‘Let’s do some DIO shows,’ I would go back and do some DIO. Actually, that made my schedule a little more flexible so when I was asked again to participate about a year and a half ago at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, I could do it. So I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half now.
Laurie: I was sent advanced copies of the first two episodes of the show. Clearly, each of the celeb counselors has their own way of teaching and molding these aspiring musicians. In your opinion, who do you think has been the most effective and the least effective as counselors and why?
Rudy: We’re all so busy in our own camps, even what I call the regular camp, which is when the camera is not rolling. The only difference between the TV show and what we actually do in the camp is that there’s no competition. I don’t know if in the two episodes it stated that we were given an incentive, so the one that gets picked at the final performance gets to perform with Ace Frehley (original KISS guitarist), Bret Michaels (of Poison), and Michael Anthony (bassist for Van Halen and Chickenfoot) onstage for “Rock and Roll All Night” (by KISS). So it’s a bit of a competition and a bit of an incentive to shine and outshine the others. Whereas, that doesn’t happen in the regular camp, everybody’s pretty much even. All the counselors are available to ALL of the campers, all the time. But since it’s a TV show, when the cameras are rolling, there HAS to be some drama involved.
Laurie: Got’cha. It’s reality TV. If the drama’s not there, it gets written in.
Rudy: But there’s really no drama. For example, my camp, my goal, my outcome when they (the campers) walk in is to bring out the inner rock star that’s inside of all of us. All human beings have an inner rock star, and by that I mean somebody who lives their life at their best, twenty-four seven, no matter what you do in life. At our camp we have a lot of professionals, such as lawyers, surgeons, and even military personnel, so there are a lot of alpha personalities. So imagine walking into the camp on the very first day, you’ve got a mother, a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a soldier all come together. I go inside of their world and I try to find a reference to what they do so I can bring them to a rock and roll environment, which to me is a very tribal experience. I can actually date the rock and roll band experience to the dawn of man. Music at its essence is a language of communication, so that’s what I try to get across to them. It’s not how fast you’re saying it, it’s not how great you are with the instrument; it’s actually what you are saying with the instrument that really matters. Whether your instrument happens to be a voice, or guitar, or bass, or drums, or keyboards, to me that’s what really matters in the rock and roll fantasy camp experience. I don’t expect everybody to walk in and be a shredder; in fact, I’d rather you NOT be a shredder. I’d rather you have a message, something to say that’s honest sincere and coming from you rather than somebody who is playing one thousand notes that really don’t mean anything.
Laurie: Well, if they’re coming in as shredders, they probably don’t think they have much to learn.
Rudy: But you know, I’ve had people that had NEVER played an instrument. A lot of husbands and wives give the camp as a wedding present or an anniversary present, birthday present, to their loved one. So in my camp, I had this lawyer who had never played an instrument, never been on stage, never sung, and I went into his world. I was like, ‘You’re a lawyer, a litigator, and you’re used to conveying certain emotions to either a jury, a judge, so we’re going to do this.’ At the time we were working on “Come Together”, you know the John Lennon Beatles song. I said, ‘Now grab that pen, write all the lyrics of the song and I want you to litigate these lyrics’. In order to make a cover song successful you have to find the identity of what that song means to you as an individual, and then as a group. So I try to find that and convey that to all my campers because the hardest thing you’ll ever do is to play a cover song successfully. Find that identity within the song; find out what it means to you.
Laurie: It sounds like you get very excited about being a part of this, I can hear it in your voice. So let me ask you… they say you’re never too old to learn, and obviously your career and accomplishments speak for themselves, but do you think that your involvement with fantasy camp is teaching you something you didn’t know before?
Rudy: Yes, I do. Not only that, I’ve come to realize what my destiny in life is. As a musician trying to make it for so many years, I was so focused on trying to make it. You go through the process, it’s almost like climbing a mountain, and very few of us make it to the very top. I’ve been very blessed to make it to the very top with Ozzy; I did it again with Quiet Riot and even with Whitesnake in the United States. Whitesnake was very popular in Europe and Asia, but as far as the North American market – the US and Canada – it hadn’t reached that status yet. We experienced that rise, we started opening for Motley Crue and next thing you know, Whitesnake is at the very top of the heap. To have that experience of going from the very bottom to the very top, I find myself going, ‘Well, now what?’ I thought getting to the top was my dream, was my passion, but it wasn’t my destiny. My destiny, I’ve come to realize, is to help others realize their dreams and their passion. I get to do that with Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.
Laurie: What a revelation for you to have! That’s nice. Okay, so keeping with the theme of how you teach – you’ve worked with some pretty colorful and some would say even difficult front men in your time, do you think that this effects the way that you mentor the vocalists?
Rudy: At this point in my life I’ve collected certain tools to deal with certain circumstances and individuals – that comes from experience.
Laurie: Certainly your vast experience is allowing you to pass a lot along.
Rudy: I try to take the journey that takes the average band ten years to experience, and put that into a week. Like going from the bottom to the very top, that’s my goal. That’s point “A” to point “B”. Not only that, I want to give them tools so when they go home they actually bring that experience to their everyday lives.
Laurie: Certainly you’re helping to create some memorable moments in the lives of people that participant in Fantasy Camp. So, speaking of your own career, what would you say has been your most memorable moment?
Rudy: I would say with every single band I’ve ever been in, there’s always been some memorable moments. With Ozzy there was so many. One of the most memorable was playing July 4th 1981, we were a band on the rise – don’t forget, almost thirty years ago there was no internet so there was no such thing as overnight success. We had to go from market to market to be exposed to the fans. So for us to play Oakland Stadium and get such a crazy reaction, and to share the moment with Randy Rhodes was an incredible experience. Of course, Quiet Riot’s Metal Health going to number one was another one, because at that time our competition was Thriller (by Michael Jackson), one of the most incredible albums in the history of our generation. To me, it wasn’t about being number one; it was about being with such incredible company, Michael Jackson, the Police, and so on.
Laurie: You sure have had some high points in your career, and it keeps right on going. Besides Rock Star Fantasy Camp and playing in Blue Oyster Cult, what else have you got coming up?
Rudy: Well, we just came off tour, which works out well to give me time to do the Fantasy Camp weekends coming up in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago…
Laurie: Toronto by any chance?
Rudy: No, I think Chicago is the closest we’ll come. You know, Chicago isn’t THAT far from Toronto. You should come join us.
(At this point Rudy and I segued into talk of the upcoming Fantasy Camp weekend in Chicago, Nov 19th – 21st. It falls on his birthday, so we discussed his plans to celebrate with a huge jam session of all of the camp’s mentors, etc.)
Rudy: I’ll make sure there’s a place for you.
Laurie: I’ll definitely think about it, Rudy. And I would love to read your book.
Rudy: That’s great; I’ll have my publisher send it to you.
Laurie: Thanks so much, I’d like that. Thank you for taking some time to speak with me. It’s been really interesting.
Rudy: It’s my pleasure, Laurie. Have a great day.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp – Toronto:
The legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp that has been making dreams come true in the U.S. for the past 18 years is now launching in Canada. With dates in Calgary (May 14-17) and Toronto (June 4-7), music lovers have the opportunity to move from spectator to stage, and share the limelight with industry heavy weights. The first-ever Canadian camp will take place in Calgary in May and features the rock legend, singer-songwriter, arena football co-owner of the LA KISS and media icon – Gene Simmons. Toronto hits the band stand in June and is helmed by Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.
Gary Hoey (Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, Ted Nugent and more) will join Perry as the musical director for the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Toronto. Additional Rock Star Counsellors include: Mark Clarke (described as the Joe Cocker of Liverpool), Nick Catanese (Black Label Society), David Hull (Buddy Miles, Joe Cocker, Ted Nugent, The Joe Perry Project), Sass Jordan (JUNO Award winner, Canadian Idol Judge) and Gowan (vocalist & keyboard player for Styx), with more to be announced soon.
Over the span of four days, attendees fulfill their Rock ‘n’ Roll dreams and get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to jam with their idols. The Rock Star Counsellors mentor the enthusiasts to improve and perfect their instrument skills, vocals and Rock ‘n’ Roll stage presence. The Rock Campers – with guidance from the counsellors – write, record and rehearse an original song culminating with a final performance to a packed crowd in downtown Toronto on June 7.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp will exceed all expectations on both sides of the border with iconic headliners like: Jeff Beck, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Roger Daltrey (The Who), Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule), Dave Davies (The Kinks), Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones), Slash, Bret Michaels (Poison), Cheap Trick, Dr. John, George Thorogood, Jack Bruce (Cream), Joe Satriani, Joe Walsh, Meatloaf, Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Duff McKagan , (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), Michael Anthony (Van Halen), Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar and of course Gene Simmons (KISS) and Joe Perry (Aerosmith) – an exceptional experience where Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy becomes reality.