The Wizards of Ozz

A tribute to the guitarists that fueled Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career.
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Ozzy with Zakk Wylde

Ozzy with Zakk Wylde

Legendary vocalist, songwriter, and rock icon Ozzy Osbourne (a.k.a. the Prince of Darkness) began his long, celebrated career fronting the groundbreaking, pioneering heavy-metal band Black Sabbath in the late 1960s before eventually pursuing a path as a solo artist in 1979. For his own recording and touring endeavors, Osbourne has always sought to work with top-notch, virtuosic rock/metal guitarists, and lightning first struck when he selected a relatively unknown player named Randy Rhoads to join his newly christened solo act in 1979. This was an entirely new career move and uncharted territory for Osbourne, but once his debut album, Blizzard of Ozz, was released in 1980, featuring Rhoads’ brilliant, fiery guitar work, it was an immediate hit and became massively successful. It didn’t take long for Osbourne’s success and popularity as a solo artist to eclipse that of his former band, thanks to the release of a strong, successful second studio album, 1981’s Diary of a Madman, not to mention the growing adoration of Rhoads’ guitar work. Tragically, Osbourne’s collaboration with Rhoads came to an abrupt end after the guitarist’s untimely accidental death in 1982, but the singer quickly enlisted the very talented Brad Gillis to join him onstage for the Speak of the Devil world tour and continued forward as a solo recording artist.

     After the tour, Gillis headed off to join Night Ranger, and Osbourne picked another exceptionally talented guitarist to join his band, the ever-impressive Jake E. Lee, who collaborated with Ozzy on a pair of well received albums, Bark at the Moon (1983) and The Ultimate Sin (1986). Both LPs feature plenty of Lee’s virtuosic soloing, combined with his own blend of aggressive rhythms, riffs, and melodic ideas. Not long after the release of The Ultimate Sin and an extensive concert tour that followed, Lee parted ways with Osbourne to eventually form his own solo project, Badlands, in 1987.

     Ozzy once again began a worldwide search for a new guitarist and eventually discovered Southern-fried Rhoads disciple Zakk Wylde (via a submitted demo tape), and together the dynamic duo collaborated to create the exceptional album No Rest for the Wicked in 1988. Additional successful albums and tours followed, with Wylde simultaneously venturing out on his own in a heavier direction with his side-project Black Label Society. Wylde has remained close to Osbourne over the years and has recorded and toured with him more than anyone else.

     In addition to his celebrated collaborations with these three powerhouse guitarists, Ozzy has also recorded, toured, and worked with a number of other very accomplished guitar players, including Joe Holmes, Gus G, Steve Vai, Jerry Cantrell and Alex Skolnick, but in this lesson we’ll focus on the work of Rhoads, Lee and Wylde with Osbourne, with a look at some exceptionally interesting and useful ideas that these three guitarists have effectively employed in their lead playing with him.

     Through his work with Ozzy, Randy Rhoads introduced two generations of rock and metal guitarists to the use of the natural minor scale (a.k.a. the Aeolian mode), diminished seven arpeggios, and classical-style chord progressions and song structures. The guitarist also has a signature lick named after him, an honor suitable for this highly respected player. Ex. 1a presents a version of the influential “Randy Rhoads lick,” shown here in the key of G minor, in third position. You can distinctly hear variations of this lick, in various keys, in several classic Ozzy anthems, such as “Crazy Train,” “I Don’t Know,” and “Mr. Crowley,” all from Blizzard of Ozz. The lick is based on a stock blues-rock string bending phrase built around the G minor pentatonic scale (G, Bb, C, D, F), but the Rhoads twist involves adding additional notes from the seven-note G natural minor scale (G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F), specifically the second, or ninth, A, and the minor, or “flatted,” sixth, Eb. Notice the descending finger slide down to the A note on the third string’s second fret at the end of the lick, which produces an ear-twisting melodic shift. Once you have this lick flowing under your fingers, shift it up 12 frets and one octave, as shown in Ex. 1b, and notice how the higher position and pitches change the overall feel of this famously cool lick.

     Ex. 2 presents another Rhoads signature—the classical-style use of diminished seven arpeggios with trills (fast hammer-on and pull-off combinations). The lick is based on a G diminished-7th arpeggio (G, Bb, Db, E) that ascends diagonally across the fretboard, two notes per string, creating a very intriguing, sinister sound, one that many metal and hard rock guitarists have been influenced by in the years since Rhoads joined forces with Ozzy. As you play the phrase, perform each three-fret trill (rapid, repeating hammer-ons and pull-offs) with your index finger and pinky, abruptly shifting your fret hand to a higher position with each string cross. This example is especially useful for developing strength, dexterity, and stamina in your fret-hand pinky, making it a worthwhile technique exercise to add to your practice regimen. The sustained b5 dyad at the end of the phrase, comprising the notes C# and G, reveals another signature Rhoads move.


     Ex. 3 is a fast, double-pick-tapped run based on major triad arpeggios and inspired by a section of Randy’s classic solo in “Flying High Again” (Diary of a Madman). The phrase entails an unusual and interesting reverse-diagonal movement that has you shifting a three-note shape on one string up the neck as you cross to a successively lower string while outlining a haunting A-F-D-Bb chord progression. Randy also employed this double-pick-tap technique famously in the opening phrase of his classic guitar solo in “Crazy Train” (Blizzard of Ozz).


     “Mr. Crowley” (Blizzard of Ozz) is another song that showcases Rhoads’ flashy, classical- style lead work and roller-coaster-like melodic phrasing on the fretboard, featuring lots of challenging licks, unusual phrases, and expressive melodic moments. Ex. 4 is inspired by the rapid-fire legato arpeggios Randy played in his second guitar solo on the track, and presents a useful melodic etude (musical exercise) and technical challenge for your fret-hand fingers, with lots of wide stretches and pull-offs. This classical style of arpeggio movement is actually common in the playing of every guitarist that has worked with Osbourne over the years, and you’ll find a few permutations of this idea later in this lesson.

     This next section focuses on some of the cool, exciting ideas that Jake E. Lee brought to Ozzy’s arrangements. Ex. 5 offers a variation on the alternate-picked triplets the guitarist plays during the interlude in the song “Slow Down” (Bark at the Moon). As you play through this figure, let the power chord hits ring freely, then apply a heavy pick-hand palm mute (P.M.) to the single notes in between, to make them sound tight and “chunky.” This type of riff is great for building strength in and coordination between both hands, so be sure to practice this example diligently.


     Performed in the key of B minor, Ex. 6 brings to mind a shifting lick Lee plays in his solo on “Shot in the Dark” (The Ultimate Sin) and demonstrates a similarly interesting movement and smooth, melodic way of shifting positions and connecting notes on the fretboard using only two adjacent strings, in this case the middle two. Mastering this lick will help you discover a fresh way of navigating the neck and connecting different fretboard shapes with ease, using finger slides and position shifts, so spend some time with this example and try creating your own variations on it. As you play through the figure, notice the interesting note selection and use of triad arpeggios, namely A major (A, C#, E), B minor (B, D, F#) and D major (D, F#, A), as we’re traveling down roads not commonly explored by most rock guitarists and targeting and accenting chord tones such as the fifth and seventh, as opposed to always gravitating toward the root.


     Ex. 7 is inspired by a passage from Lee’s celebrated outro guitar solo on “Bark at the Moon,” specifically the busy, expanding arpeggio motif heard near the end of the track. This flurry of notes includes lots of pull-offs, string skips, and wide-stretch fingerings and is great for building dexterity, strength, and speed on the fretboard, so be sure to practice the example slowly and as accurately as possible at first before ramping up the tempo.


     We now venture into the "Wylde territory,” with a look at one of the burly, bearded guitarist’s signature techniques, hybrid picking, or pick-and-fingers technique, which, like so many electric country players, he employs to play “chicken pickin’”-style licks, for which accented, fingerpicked notes alternate with down-picked notes on lower strings, typically in quick succession. When he first entered the spotlight alongside Ozzy, Zakk immediately drew attention from the rock guitar community by incorporating hyperactive hybrid picking and country-flavored licks into his hard rock and metal playing. Ex. 8 is a bluesy two-bar phrase inspired by one Wylde plays in his “Crazy Babies” solo (No Rest for the Wicked). It’s loosely based on the B minor pentatonic scale (B, D, E, F#, A) and features, in bar 2, hybrid-picked sixth intervals that shift up and down chromatically (one fret at a time) before resolving to a tasteful, bluesy finishing lick. Notice how using the pick hand’s middle finger to pluck the B-string notes, as indicated, makes the successive string skips so much easier and more efficient to perform quickly than if you were to pick all of the notes with the plectrum alone.

     “Perry Mason” (Ozzmosis) features lots of great licks and riffs from Zakk, and Ex. 9 is inspired by a fast, repeating ascending-triplets sequence the guitarist plays at the end of the song’s pre-chorus, after his main guitar solo. Play the figure slowly at first, keeping both hands relaxed, then gradually increase the tempo. Notice the combination of picked notes and hammer-ons employed here. This kind of mix-and-match picked/legato phrasing is quite common in the world of shred guitar and can also be heard often in the playing of other legendary rock virtuosos, such as Paul Gilbert, Eric Johnson, Richie Kotzen, and John Petrucci, to name a few.


     Inspired by Zakk’s climactic final solo phrase on the title track to No More Tears, Ex. 10 is a blistering arpeggio-based run that combines alternate picking and pull-offs. As you tackle this ferocious four-bar figure, notice the shift in the melodic shapes and note accents that occurs in bar 4, as we transition from sextuplets (six-note groups) to 16th-note triplets (three-note groups), as well as the wide stretch required to perform the five-fret pull-offs on the high E string, leading up to the final, aggressive high bend and vibrato. Interestingly, Zakk plays a similarly-structured run on “Fire in the Sky,” (No Rest for the Wicked), albeit in a different key.


     This is but a brief introduction to the many innovative licks and musical ideas that these three very talented guitarists have presented in their collaborations with Ozzy Osbourne. There are plenty of other interesting licks and useful playing concepts that you can learn and borrow from these players, so it’s up to you to study and investigate their work further. Good luck!