The quintessential heavy metal vocalist Ozzy Osbourne turns 64 on Monday, December 3. Starting in 1969 he’s cut seven albums with Black Sabbath that helped define the genre and 15 more solo discs that did the same for a second generation of fans. It’s safe to say he’s toured the world’s stages more often than he can remember. And Ozzy’s been the central figure in a rolling heavy metal festival named after him as well as a reality TV star.
Sharon Osbourne isn’t the only person he couldn’t have done it without. A crucial part of Ozzy’s career has been his collaborations with a series of great guitar players, starting with Sabbath’s iconic black-leather-clad Tony Iommi and including, most notably, Randy Rhoads and Zaak Wylde. Since Osbourne doesn’t play an instrument, these musicians have helped define his sound on stage and in the studio.
Here’s a quick look at Osbourne’s history of fret-burning foils:
• Tony Iommi: This Gibson SG wielding wizard of evil tone isn’t just another of Ozzy’s guitar partners. The Black Sabbath kingpin is responsible for laying the musical foundation for Osbourne’s career. Iommi’s style is built around a devotion to flat-fifth chords, jazz phrasing, meaty hammer-ons and pull-offs, triple-tracked leads and other slick moves pushed out of a wall of growling low-voiced Marshalls. “War Pigs,” “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” — all songs that made Ozzy’s career, and every one driven into history by Iommi’s massive wall of guitar.
• Randy Rhoads: Speed, extended technique, brilliant chord voicings, a flair for making pentatonic lines sound fresh and a unique, rich creamy tone were all part of Rhoads’ trick bag. It’s an open question if Osbourne could have climbed to the top of metal’s Mt. Olympus again without the late, diminutive Les Paul Custom giant’s genius shredding on Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. As it is, Rhoads and Osbourne are destined to remain one of rock history’s greatest guitar-and-vocal tag teams.
• Zakk Wylde: For speed, power and tone, Wylde is an unbeatable force in modern metal. For 19 years, from No Rest For the Wicked in 1988 to Black Rain in 2007, Wylde and an array of hot-rod Gibsons – mostly his bullseye painted signature model Les Pauls and Flying Vs — prowled the world’s stages at Osbourne’s side, defining his sound and laying the groundwork for his own band Black Label Society, over which he reigns today. That makes Wylde Ozzy’s longest running six-string partner.
• Bernie Tormé: In contrast to Wylde, Dublin-born Tormé holds the record for the shortest stint as Ozzy’s guitarist — a mere three weeks on the road fulfilling Osbourne’s contractual touring obligations after the tragic death of Rhoads. He joined Osbourne after leaving Ian Gillian’s group. Post Ozzy he formed his own band and put together Desperado with former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder.
• Brad Gillis: High-technique shredder Gillis was juggling dates and sessions with Ozzy while Night Ranger was starting to build its career. His touring with Osbourne began immediately after Tormé left the group, supporting Diary of a Madman. Gillis’ sole recording with Ozzy is the live Speak of the Devil, a cut-on-the-road collection of Black Sabbath songs that, in retrospect, seems like a mere speed bump in Osbourne’s career. Ultimately Gillis opted to stick with Night Ranger, writing his own chapter in hair-metal history.
• Jake E. Lee: Lee’s debut with Ozzy was a blazing performance at the historic US Festival in 1983, beginning an era that included five years of touring and two albums, 1983’s Bark At the Moon and 1986’s The Ultimate Sin. With Lee, Osbourne added two classic songs to his cannon: “Bark At the Moon” and the hit melodic gemstone “Shot in the Dark.” After leaving Osbourne he co-founded the group Badlands and joined Enuff Z’Nuff, but for the past decade he’s kept a relatively low profile as a session player and instructor.
• Gus G.: Grecian guitar hotshot Kostas Karamitroudis, a/k/a Gus G., first came to Osbourne’s attention playing with the band Arch Enemy on Ozzfest dates. When Wylde left Ozzy’s band, Gus G. became the first draft choice. He made his studio debut with Osbourne on 2010’s Scream, another slight entry in the Ozzy’s historic discography.