Rudy Sarzo: A Modern Day Success

By Jeb Wright

Rudy Sarzo has been in Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Dio, Whitesnake and Blue Oyster Cult. He has been featured in Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp on VH1 Classic. He has been around the world numerous times and he is considered one of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal’s best bass players. And now, he is doing something completely different.

Rudy has stepped down from his role as the man who provides the low end for BOC and joined a Japanese anime band called Antimetal USA. The band already has two Gold records in Japan and is now aiming their sites on the world. Rudy is dressing up in makeup, has become a super hero character and is playing some of the most physically challenging music of his career -- and loving every minute of it.

In addition to all of the exciting things happening in Rudy’s present day, Eagle Rock Entertainment has released a DVD titled Speak of the Devil, which was recorded in 1982, only months after the famous plane crash that killed his dear friend Randy Rhoads.

In the interview that follows, Sarzo discusses his new life as Storm Bringer, the bass playing anime super hero, as well as the difficulties he faced back in ‘82 when he had to take the stage sans Rhoads in order to finish the tour so that Ozzy Osbourne could stay busy and keep from killing himself with alcohol.

Jeb: Animetal USA is a trip, man. You are all dressed as characters, but the music is really heavy. Your guitar player is out of this world.

Rudy: The guitarist is Chris Impellittari, one of the best guitar players in the world. If the music got any faster then it would just be a blur.

Jeb: How did the band come together?

Rudy: Our singer, Mike Vescera, was in a band called Loudness, which was one of the most successful Japanese metal bands.

About fifteen years ago, there was an anime band in Japan that did the same thing we are, which is to play these anime themes as Metal. That band ceased to exist about ten, or twelve, years ago. Mike was talking to our record company about new music and he thought it would be a great idea to bring that back. To differentiate between the two bands we would add the ‘USA’ on the end so it would be Animetal USA. This would also give us the ability to go for a worldwide appeal, as anime is huge, right now, worldwide, especially with the new generation.

Mike said that they should get me because I have been touring in Japan for over thirty years and I am a big fan of anime, as I am into visual effects. He started looking for people who were musicians, fans of anime and were passionate about the art of animation, like myself.

Chris loved the idea and he became the guitar player. On our first album, the drummer was Scott Travis of Judas Priest. He got too busy with Judas Priest, so we had to find someone else and that is when Jon Dette became our drummer.

This band just released our second album in Japan a couple of months ago and now, around the world, it is distributed by Century Media and you can download it on iTunes and places like that.

Jeb: I have known you for a while but not many people realize that you’re a, so called, real artist, as well a bass player. That is probably not the way to say that…

Rudy: Yeah, what you do mean by that? [Laughter]

Jeb: How about I say that you’re a person that can draw!

Rudy: I am a 3D animator. The record company asked me what I wanted to do when I got to Japan and I told them that I wanted to go through an anime studio. They set it up with the largest one in Japan. It was really exciting watching the whole process. It is not so far from the process that I use to create my own animations. They use the same software that I do and some of the same techniques. I also do video editing, compositing and visual effects.

Jeb: Your background on this must really be good for the band when it comes to the visual aspects.

Rudy: If you go to YouTube and search “Animetal USA” then you will see a video that I did the visual effects for.

Jeb: The music is not typical speed metal, as it is fast, but it is also very melodic.

Rudy: It is really interesting because before we worked on any track on the album, we would listen to the original melody of the song. We have to come up with a Metal version that is acceptable by both the Metal community, and the publishers of the original songs, as they don’t want you to butcher their song, so it really does have to sound Metal, and melodic at the same time. It is a challenge.

There is a lot of hard work that goes into this music. I have never worked on a record where everything is under the microscope to the degree that this one is under the microscope. With any of the American bands that I worked with in the past, the albums were made for the American market and then released in the Japanese market. This album was made for the Japanese market and then, we released it everywhere else.

The Japanese A&R and executives hear things a little bit differently. They can tell if one note is off. We would think we had it perfect and they would say, “No, that one note is just a little bit off so you have to go back and redo it.

Jeb: How did you record the music?

Rudy: We worked with each other live on the arrangements and we got everything together and laid everything out. Once the whole arrangement was known by everyone, and we played it together, then we recorded it. The modern recording process is to record the music one person at a time. In the last year I have done five albums and I recorded them all this way; I recorded the bass part by myself, as that is how records are made.

Jeb: How hard it is to pull this album off live?

Rudy: It is challenging but it is really fun. It is like going on an amusement park ride. Every single song really is like going on a ride.

Jeb: Did the crowd just go nuts the first time they say and heard you?

Rudy: That is a good question. Our first show, ever, was at Loud Park in front of 12,000 people. We were added at the last minute. Our first album had just come out and went to # 1; both of our albums are Gold in Japan, which is very rare, nowadays.

Loud Park is the biggest Metal festival in Japan, they do it every year. Even though most people had never heard the record, they were singing along with all of the words because we happened to perform songs that they already knew from the anime shows. The songs were just Metal versions.

Animetal USA - The Spaceship Yamato from Animetal USA on Vimeo.


Jeb: Did you sing in English or Japanese?

Rudy: Most of the songs on the album are in English, but some of the tracks we recorded in Japanese. We have a song which is one of the biggest anime theme songs for a huge show. For Japan, it was recorded in Japanese, but for the American release, we recorded it in English.

We would be in Japan on a show much like Good Morning America and our producer would come in and say, “Listen, we need to sing this in Japanese.” He would phonetically write down the lyrics for us and we would be singing it live. It was eight o’clock in the morning and we were jet lagged, but we went out and there and did it.

Jeb: You are all characters in the band. Are these characters in any anime shows?

Rudy: It is anime, so we have to perform certain fundamentals of what the artwork is like. We have to wear Kabuki Japanese makeup and we have to become super heroes. There is a genre of Japanese performers which is what we fall under, which is very image oriented and also very character oriented. Right now, they are developing a series based on our characters.

Jeb: This has been a huge shot in the arm to your career.

Rudy: God is my agent – that is all I’ve got to say about all of these incredible blessings that have come my way out of nowhere.

Jeb: In America, they would not use a guy who has been around 30 years. They would get a bunch of hot young people and then have the vets play while they lip-synched. You have to give them credit for doing this.

Rudy: In order for it to work, and be legitimate, then we have to be legit. We are a real band performing. We can perform live and we have global appeal. We just finished a tour in Japan.

We did something that I have never experienced before, which was amazing. We toured with another anime-centric band from Japan called Jam Project. It is made out of the five most successful anime theme song vocalists of all time. We would each play and, then at the end, we would all come out and play together. It was a great collaboration. When you play an anime-centric performance, the people connect with you as a performer, the music you are playing and the theme song characters you are singing about. People show up at the venue dressed up as the characters from these shows.

A couple of weeks ago, we played at the Anime Expo here in Los Angeles. It was funny because here I am with all of the makeup. I was getting stopped by security wanting to see my pass because I looked like everybody else at the Expo. Everyone was wearing outfits and was dressed up. The fans are both grownups and their kids. Every race was there. It is really unbelievable how much this appeals to people.

Jeb: Is America ready to grasp this?

Rudy: I think they already have. We had 75,000 people at the LA Convention Center; it was really packed.

Jeb: Of course, this success has meant that you have had to step down from Blue Oyster Cult.

Rudy: I have Animetal USA, and I have another band I am in called Tread, and we just finished recording our album and are ready to hit the road. I also do a lot with Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. I also do Dio Disciples, as the schedule allows. All of this made it tough for BOC to maintain a reasonably stable lineup.

We left on great terms. It was the most amicable split I have ever had. I would not call it a split. I just play with other guys now. We still email each other and talk to each other. I have the highest regard for them, as people and as musicians. It was in honor to be in a band with them.

Jeb: You are also on the new official release of a new Ozzy Osbourne DVD that was recorded less than six months after Randy Rhoads died.

Rudy: I hadn’t seen the footage for thirty years until they sent me an advance copy of the DVD. It really brought me right back to having to go onstage wearing the same clothes with the same castle background and having to deal with those things. When the lights went down the first thing you would hear was Randy playing an acoustic intro of “Diary of a Madman” and then you would walk on stage and look to your left and he’s not there anymore. It was almost impossible to do. We had to go out every single night and just realize that what we were doing was in celebration of Randy’s friendship and his contribution, musically. He collaborated with Ozzy and he wrote all of these icon songs. Towards the ending we would do the Black Sabbath medley of “Children of the Grave,” Iron Man” and “Paranoid” but everything else we played was from Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman.

Jeb: Randy is one of my inspirations.

Rudy: Every time I get an email from a young guitar player telling me that he just discovered Randy and how much his music has changed their life, it is really rewarding. It is amazing how thirty years later he is still influencing people.

Jeb: Brad Gillis really did great, however, in a very tough situation.

Rudy: Brad allowed us to finish the tour with dignity and he allowed us to do justice to Randy’s memory. I will always thank him for that.

Jeb: If Brad had done badly then it would have been horrible. He had to learn all of Randy’s leads and riffs.

Rudy: We had another guitar player, Bernie Torme, who was not as good as Brad. Brad could play rhythm guitar like Randy. Randy really popularized that style of Metal rhythm guitar. Bernie was more loose and played more blues rock like Hendrix. He did that well and he is a great guy, he was just not right to represent Randy. We needed somebody that could do justice to the style of Randy Rhoads.

Jeb: Randy brought you into the band.

Rudy: The only reason I left the band was because it was so hard to go on stage every night without Randy. We did it, and we survived it, but it was always just chipping away at me. We had to continue the tour. It would have not changed anything if we had just gone home after Randy died. If we had cancelled that tour then Ozzy would have gone home and drank himself to death. The only thing to do was to keep him moving and to keep him from hurting himself.

Jeb: If you watch the DVD then you guys really rocked. You were not just going through the motions.

Rudy: You had to lose yourself in the music. It was really the only thing that we could do in order to get through that time. We really had to get lost in the celebration of Randy’s music. The show was in Irvine and that was our hometown gig, we were surrounded by family and friends. Irvine is not too far away from where, four months before, we had buried Randy in San Bernardino. At the end of the day, we had to ask ourselves, “What are we doing here?” We were there to celebrate Randy. In a nutshell, that is what that show was about. This is completely different than any DVD from any band you’re going to ever see – it is really different because of those circumstances. It is a celebration to the person who is not actually there. Randy was the architect, along with Ozzy, of what we were doing on that stage.

Randy was the reason that I was even there. I was in Quiet Riot when they needed a bass player. Randy told Sharon and the guys that I was the guy. He mentioned it enough times that they finally called me up and I got the audition. I had no resume at that time. They had no idea who I was. I could have been a drug addict and I could have been an irresponsible idiot on the road – they had no reference. They put their faith on Randy’s word that I was the guy. Sharon and Ozzy took a huge chance on me. Randy took a huge risk by recommending me.