Heavy metal guitarist Randy Rhoads delivered some of the wickedest guitar solos in rock history. He died young, 29 years ago last weekend, in a freak plane crash – and one way fans preserve his memory is with a graveside remembrance in San Bernardino.
A more personal pilgrimage for Randy Rhoads fans is available year-round in the San Fernando Valley.
Matt Dwyer's aunt is a friend of mine here in Los Angeles; Matt was visiting from New Jersey. He had just come from visiting Musonia School of Music in North Hollywood. And he couldn't stop talking about it.
Matt Dwyer taught me about Randy Rhoads.
The name Randy Rhoads is a shibboleth among guitarists and heavy metal fans. They'll nod, knowingly, when they hear his name.
They can talk, like Matt does, about neo-classical influences in heavy metal. But the respect that flows freely from metal to classical music doesn't always flow back.
"He basically made metal sound beautiful to me. It was amazing. It was art," he says. (For the record, Matt's not the kind of guy who says the word "beautiful" in day-to-day conversation.)
For the rest of the world, the nodding starts when you mention the Ozzy Osbourne song "Crazy Train" – which contains one of the crunchiest, wickedest, fastest, most virtuoso guitar solos in rock history. That's when I nodded, anyway.
I called up Kelle Rhoads, and he met me with his sister Kathy at Musonia, and showed me around. They say you can trace the history of the school – and clock the contemporary trends in musical instruments – through what has been taught in the 63 years Musonia has existed.
"All these rooms were filled with different musical instruments being taught," Kelle says. "You’d have a saxophone lesson, a violin lesson, a flute lesson, a piano lesson out here."
These days the school is less busy. "The dynamic of the school has changed. But it's become a place that people make a pilgrimage to," says Kelle.
The pilgrims come for Randy Rhoads.
Randy died in a freak plane crash 29 years ago, a few years after he had joined Ozzy Osbourne to tour and make legendary records like "Blizzard of Ozz" and "Diary of a Madman." Fans of his music with Ozzy and his earlier band with Kelly Garni, Quiet Riot, have not forgotten, and their love has not dimmed.
"These are the Quiet Riot amps – the original amps. You can see the tape is still here from where the roadies had to set the buttons. These aren’t his scrapbooks. They’re sent by people who donate them. Fans. This is a miniature mockup of this grave." Kelle points to the memorabilia around the room.
Kelle Rhoads has played in metal bands and written classical music. He’s got that aging rocker vibe.
Kathy is birdlike, delicate – she’s got a small nose and thin lips; everyone says they make her look like her brother. "This is a book that everyone who comes here signs," she says. Kelle jumps in: "Really really famous people, too. If you look in here, you’ll go: 'Is that really?'” And he nods, solemnly.
Even when it's quiet, you can almost hear the music pouring out of the walls. "This room is acoustically enhanced. That’s kind of like the opposite of being soundproofed. And the music sounds really good in here," Kelle says.
At home in Burbank, Delores nods with pride. "The wood is so alive it makes the sound twice as good as it is. That’s pretty good for a music school," she says.
The woman who founded Musonia is almost 91 now. Delores Kelle Rhoads took her first piano lessons when she was 7.
Then she took up trumpet. "My father was a physician, a family doctor, and he took this trumpet in on a bill. So he brought it home and said, 'Would you like to learn to play this?' And I said, 'Oh yeah, sure.'"
She chased music all the way through school, even to UCLA, where it was her major. But she couldn’t join the marching band – men only. Dee says men didn’t want women in professional orchestras, either. She turned to teaching, and Musonia filled her life.
When her husband left, she had to raise three kids on her own. She loved them and taught them what she loved.
Kelle and Randy grew their hair long and got into loud guitar music – and Delores loved that, too. "I’m never against any music as far as that goes, I’m always saying, 'Sure! There’s a place for rock. Let him spread his wings.'"
Delores is tiny, like her daughter Kathy, but she has might. And she brought that to Randy’s Quiet Riot concerts.
"She had whistles and devices to make noise. I’m going to say what she did, and it cracks my kids up. All right! Everybody would go, 'Whose mother is that? Look at that woman make a spectacle of herself!'" Kelle and Kathy, close, crack themselves up. "The Starwood! That club made my brother a Hollywood name. I mean, everybody played there – but Randy was the darling."
He was the darling of the family too. He called his mother up one day and told her he had written a song for her, and that song was "Dee."
Kelle grows very intense when he says this next thing. "Make no mistake about it – my mom lived vicariously through my brother."
The letters Delores still gets from Randy’s fans have brought her great comfort. She’s generally against making money off of them.
They as much as anyone nurture the musical wisdom she and her children share. "Just alone talent doesn’t cut it. You have to have the discipline plus the talent," she says, simply, plainly. "Then you do your job and you do it as well as you possibly can."
Matt Dwyer’s visit to Musonia was one of Delores’ last times there. He says he was so nervous when he met her that he doesn’t remember what he said. But the visit itself was indelible.
The big finish of the Musonia tour is the room Randy Rhoads taught and practiced in. Kelle opens the door on a rainy day.
In that room is a conductor's podium. Kelle says pilgrims leave totems in there – concert handbills, CDs. Matt Dwyer left something too: a file for his nails, a necessary tool of the trade for classical guitarists.
Matt is part of an ever-growing train of guitarists, coupled together in a long and unbroken love of Randy Rhoads, of this music, of this place and ultimately, of Delores. If there is a crazy train, like the song says – maybe Delores Rhoads has been driving it all along.