More memories of Randy from Quiet Riot bassist Kelly Garni
There are few people on this planet qualified to talk about Randy Rhoads’ early days as Kelly Garni. Besides playing bass in the original Quiet Riot from 1974 to 1979, he was also Randy’s best friend and bandmate during the early ‘70s when they played wild backyard parties just about every weekend in Burbank, California. And before that, it was Randy who gave Kelly his first bass lesson. So as that special person who observed Randy Rhoads’ evolution from a skinny teenager just barely able to hold his Dad’s guitar to the heavy metal hero who conquered the world with Ozzy, Kelly Garni now comes forth to share these rock’n’roll memories with the world.
When did you and Randy first hook up?
KG: We were both in the seventh grade, so this must have been around 1971. I remember that we went to our first Alice Cooper concert that year, which was a big thing at the time. Randy was already playing guitar and had been since he was seven. He had the rhythm thing down and was just starting on how to play lead; he was taking lessons every week, too. But he got good real fast. By the time he was 13 or so he was already making older guys look bad. A big influence on him at the time - one that isn't spoken about very much - was Alice Cooper's guitarist, Glenn Buxton. Randy liked all the weird noises and feedback that Buxton came up with and would always point them out to me. Then Mick Ronson came along with Bowie and he, too, was a noisy guitarist and Randy liked that. So he started coming up with his own strange sounds and noises and that proved to be the basis of his style. In fact, he started getting a style very young and, when later I heard his big solo on the live Ozzy Tribute record, I just kind of shook my head because there were all these licks that he used to play when we were kids. was thinking, "Well, that lick came from here and that one came from there" and so on. He'd been playing that stuff for years.
Would you describe some of your early musical adventures?
KG: Oh, we had bands with names like Mildred Pierce and the Katzenjammer Kids, which was named after the comic strip. And we played parties constantly. The basic routine was that we'd spend all week looking for a gig and then every Friday and Saturday night you could find us in someone's backyard in Burbank or wherever. This also was a great help to us musicians because you can take all the lessons you want but nothing is going to help you like real stage experience and playing in front of people. At times we n played in front of crowds as big as 700 kids. I should also mention that Randy had a band with his brother called Violet Rose for a while.
When did Quiet Riot form?
KG: We got together in 1974. It was me, Randy, Drew Forsyth and Kevin DuBrow, who we got partially because he had a business savvy that Randy and I didn't have. So Kevin was a guy who could deal with the business end and make things happen, like get real management and a real photographer, so that was a big help. We got a pretty big following right away, a lot of which came from the fact that Randy and I had played around Burbank for so long, everybody knew us already. The band also put on a good show and within a year of forming we were pretty much the biggest band around. Later we were a regular band at the Starwood, which is where all the local bands started out, and we had roadies and everything. They got, paid but we never did. Playing music and making money are two things that never went together in those days. Aside from playing guitar, Randy came up with a lot of the songs, too. You see, back then it was common in the L.A. area for club bands to play mostly originals, which might seem strange now. Anyway, Randy would come up with an idea and then we'd all jump on it; I think that's how a lot of bands go about. Randy was a very prolific writer, too - he’d always have something new. In the early years he and I came up with a lot of riffs to jam on, but later on when Kevin came in he and Randy wrote most of the songs.
Did Randy always do a big solo at every gig?
KG: From the early days that I knew him, Randy always did a solo spot. At first it was all fast stuff but later on he'd mix it all up and throw in feedback and noises, chords and then soft parts. The neat thing is that even though we'd be playing someone's backyard to a bunch of kids who were getting drunk or stoned, when Randy started to play, they all jumped to attention. That was another good thing about Randy: Even though it was just a backyard, he put on such a good show that you felt like you were in a coliseum at a major rock gig. He knew how to play and he knew how to dazzle an audience.
Describe Quiet Riot's relationship with Van Halen, since you were both coming up at the same time.
KG: We first heard about Van Halen when they were still known as Mammoth. They were playing parties down in Pasadena, which is like another world from Burbank - it's about 20 miles away. We'd hear rumors of how there was this great, loud band down there and Randy eventually got his girlfriend to drive him down to one of the parties to hear them. I asked him how they were when he came back but all he would say was they were "pretty good." Later, we played a gig with them at the Glendale College Auditorium after they had become Van Halen. And even though they became the house band playing at Gazzarri's, which admittedly was a nicer place than the Starwood and got a better class of people, they were still playing mostly cover tunes while we did mostly originals. And despite the rumors, Randy didn't mind it when his students would come in and ask to learn Van Halen licks. In fact, he always thought that he learned more from giving lessons than the students [did]. Of course, Randy was a very popular teacher and had about 60 students at one point.
What kind of gear did Randy use back then?
KG: I remember he had a Peavey solid-state head [Standard 130-watt] and some Ampeg 4xl2 cabinets. He was also a big fan of Electro-Harmonix effects, like the Big Muff. But he always played with one of their PBI power boosters. This was like a metal box about the size of a Walkman that you plugged right into your guitar jack and it boosted the output of his pickups from like 1.5 volts to 9 volts. And while the PBl jacks would always break off and he'd have to fix them constantly, he wouldn't play without one of those things. For guitars, early on he used his Dad's old Ovation hollow body. Yeah, it was funny seeing this tiny kid playing this giant guitar, but he managed. I also remember when he got his first Les Paul, too - it's the blond Custom that he later used with Ozzy.
Tell us about Quiet Riot's later years and your eventual exit.
KG: Well, we scored the deal to do the two Japanese albums and they did very well over there. I still have a stack of letters from fans there and we got some big write-ups in the magazines, too. They kept calling us the "Next Big Thing" and the "New Sound" in music. Of course, we never made any money off those records but I'm still proud of them. We didn't get to play there either, which is a shame because it would have been fun. Then in 1979 I left the band. I was 19 and had been playing music for the previous eight or nine years and had finally decided I wanted to do something that actually paid real money. I had always been interested in firehouses, so I became a paramedic.
Not long after I left, Randy went to join Ozzy, though we tried to keep in touch. He was away a lot, either touring bad or staying with Ozzy over in England. We saw each other a few times but I later moved to Las Vegas and that was where I saw Randy for the last time, not long before he died. The Ozzy tour was coming through town and Randy called me up one day and said, "Hey, I m in town at Caesar's Palace-come pick me up. "So I went down there and he's in the bar with Ozzy and the band. They all wanted to go to a show but Randy just wanted to hang with me so we left. We just walked around Las Vegas all night long, just going to all the hotels and talking 'til the sun came up. It's probably the best time I ever spent with Randy. The following night was the gig and I got to sit on roadcase on Randy's side of the stage. We kept making faces at each other during the gig and laughing; there was even some girl in front of him who kept pulling her top up and we laughed about that, too. And performance-wise, he was absolutely incredible! And that's the last I saw of him.
How did the new retrospective album come about?
KG: Kevin had this material around and I guess he just thought the time was right for it to come out. I think Randy would have liked this record, too. People say that he didn't like the old Quiet Riot records and if he ever said anything We about them in interviews, it was just because he was so humble. He was just a really good person and very modest. Aside from the album tracks, there's - some really early stuff on the record, "Force of Habit." We even have a Super-8 film of our first gig as Quiet Riot and there's talk that we might put it out as part of a video. The funny thing is that there actually was a riot at that show and, in fact, they had to call the entire Burbank police force out to put it down!
Had he lived, what do you think Randy would have gone on to, musically?
KG: Well, when I saw him in Las Vegas we talked about getting together in the a future for some projects. Around that time bands like Styx, Foreigner and Journey were getting big and we were both interested in the keyboard dominated sounds they had, so that was a, possibility. Plus it's no secret that Randy was trying to get out of Ozzy's band. He liked Ozzy a lot and thought he was a funny guy, but Randy didn't care for some of the people that hung around him. One time some guy came backstage with a dead goat around his shoulders and said, "Ozzy, I worship you, I worship you!" and all this other satanic stuff, which Randy wasn't into at all. I think had he left the band he would have pursued his classical interests - he wanted to go back to college and study with some true world-class classical players. I think he had gotten to the same point where I'd been when I left Quiet Riot, which is when rock'n'roll just doesn't mean as much to you as it once did. So I think Randy was just ready to move on.
It must be strange to see someone who was once just your junior high school buddy being elevated to a mythological figure of sorts.
KG: Yes, it is, but first and foremost Randy Rhoads was my friend and if I'm ever talking to anyone about him, I always say that he was a good friend of mine and, aside from that, he was also an incredible guitar player. We were really just friends who hung around each other for a long time. Then again I'm the only guy in the entire world who can say that I played with Randy Rhoads for nine years. But even when I saw him in Vegas that time we didn't talk about music that much-we were just two friends hanging out and having a good time. And that's how I mostly remember our days together.