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Ozzy Osbourne Talks: “All We Did Was Slow Down The Kinks”

Ozzy Osbourne stares, like an owl at daylight, at SohoJohnny and stabs his finger. “We didn’t invent heavy metal. We just slowed down The Kinks “You’ve Really Got Me,” we didn’t invent anything. We just retuned our guitars and made it sound heavier. Maybe we added to it, but I never really got my mind around the name heavy metal. We just did what we did through experiments. I am not one of those guys who are big on the legend of rock and roll… We just continued what came before us”.

At sixty nine years of ages, Ozzy Osbourne is the poster child for the redemptive qualities of sobriety. Six years sober, he looks younger than when he had more than a hand in creating reality TV with his “The Osbournes”  show in 2002. Today, after two years of wrapping up his career in the Black Sabbath tour and now his solo tour, he sits backstage in his dressing room at Jones Beach, National Geo in the background, and with patience and good humor answers the questions with a very English self-depreciation, and more than willing to set us all straight. For one thing retirement isn’t what it once was. “After the tour I plan to make a new album” he nods in his thick Brummie accent, where he eats half the words and skids on the rest. “It has to be extra special, you know. I haven’t done one before so it will have to be my Sergeant Pepper. ” he laughs.

It’s a cold and rainy day at Jones Beach, more like early November than an early September Saturday afternoon, and yet as it pours down through gray skies, Ozzy holds court with ridiculous flair. His hair is the best hazelnut mare that money can buy, flowing down to his shoulders, and he is dressed in black, including his signature fingernails with gold medallions down his chest (“my wife buys them for me”). His voice at an earlier soundcheck was in superb form, better than on the recent Black Sabbath final last time ever tour, to go along with this Ozzy’s “No More Tours 2” arena tour. Between his Black Sabbath and solo album releases, Ozzy has sold over 100M units worldwide, so you better believe it is sold out. “If I say No More Tours or whatever, it doesn’t mean I am finished making albums or whatever.”

The conversation veers towards the late guitarist Randy Rhoads, the former Quiet Riot and Ozzy lead guitarist, who died in a plane accident at the age of 25. “My wife and I were talking this morning about a friend of the family whose child just died. Death is that close, you never know when something terrible occurs, or you get killed in a car wreck, or whatever. It was a terrible time, I was fired from Sabbath, I was on the road, it was one thing after another. I really thought that was it for me. I’d go back to Birmingham and on the dole. I remember on a Thursday gig I said ‘I’m done, I can’t do this anymore” and Sharon (his wife) said “‘No’ without stopping. I know, without any doubt, if it was not for my wife I would have been on that plane. Randy was a great musician, you could put him in a room with any instrument, lock the door, and in no time at all he would come out playing it. He was a lovely guy”.

Ozzy’s appreciation for hard rock and pure musicianship dovetails neatly into a critique of modern pop which he slams as bubblegum. “There is no meaning to it anymore, it’s all manufactured with pro-tools, there is no musicianship involved anymore.” Later when I asked him about commercial successful for early Sabbath (“we didn’t expect it at all… we hoped for it”) he takes the opportunity to shout out his late friend, Lemmy. Which is nice enough, true, but the questions remain. Perhaps part of the problem is that OZzy is a little hard of hearing, or perhaps it is simpler: after 50 years in the business, he only hears what he chooses to hear. When asked which guitarist he would hire if he could hire any one, he ignores the questions and notes “I have only ever had the best, you know. Tony Iommi… he was an asshole to work with though.”

Ozzy decided to become a professional singer after hearing the Beatles at the age of fifteen (“I was blown away when I met Paul”). McCartney is 76 years old, which makes Ozzy second generation British Evasion. In 1970, he had his hand in recreating pop music and, while I didn’t mention it, also continued the working class ethos of the Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks, all of them. But Liverpool, even Manchester, that entire Northern ethos had a new art school buzz and Black Sabbath didn’t. They were Satanism as dreary hand laborers going absolutely nowhere. Is it any surprise mid-America glommed onto them?

There was something else.

I asked Ozzy about the draining out of r&b from Led Zeppelin’s template and he denied. “The first album was very bluesy,” he claimed. Perhaps we have different ideas as to what constitutes the blues, from the funeral pealing church bells to the forceful opening crunch to the end, this is sludge rock as the devil’s own template.

But if Ozzy is the devil’s minion, he is an exceedingly pleasant one, he might not answer the question you asked, but he was very thorough on the answers he did offer, and if you didn’t want to hear about Christmas at his mansion where he begged his daughter’s to spend one season of joy without their fighting why are you here? . “My girls do not get along, red flag, after five seconds they are throwing shit around. They asked ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ I said ‘For once, my family in the house in England, no fighting with the kids.’  It lasted five minutes… I was sitting alone, Christmas Day, among the garbage and everybody had scattered.” And there you have the Osborne paradox: The Prince Of Darkness as Father Knows Best, herding his brood forever. Introspective for a moment, Ozzy notes “We all have regrets but it’s part of the deal. If I changed anything I wouldn’t be sitting here now. Life is full of regrets but you just keep going on,” he says before returning to Sharon, who is somewhere in another room as we spoke, as really his guiding star. “I’m lucky in that I had a wife who I love. We’ve been married for 39 years now.”

If this all sounds a little white bread, once you get Ozzy discussing addiction it is scarier than any evil you can imaginable. “The thing about addiction is that no one can understand why I can’t stop. The idea comes, I’ll have a shot, then the next thing I know… I asked my mom once, ‘did my dad like a drink?” She said, ‘Oh yeah, but he’s nothing like you.’ I asked ‘What causes it?’ She said ‘Just don’t drink.’ If it was that easy, there wouldn’t be AA. I’m six years sober now but once I start, it’s over. I’ll wake up on my arse, blacked out. I thought blackouts were just a scare tactic. I went out to get drunk, I woke up the following morning in jail thinking ‘what the hell?’. I turned to the guy next to me and said ‘Why am I here?’ He said ‘you don’t know why you’re here?’ And he read me the charge: attempted murder. I could not believe it, I had no knowledge of it. It’s just mind blowing.”

Clean and sober for six years, in the midst of yet another retirement tour, star of a reality show with his son Jack (“Jack never asked me for a thing in his life” he says respectfully), Ozzy remains the light at the end of a tunnel who, whether he accepts it or not, is a major influence on an entire genre of music and a beloved character, 69 and going strong.

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