Musical producer

Producer Max Norman recalls recording Randy Rhoads’ remarkable solos: “You could see it in his face…he was getting ready to pounce”

In the world of hard rock and heavy metal, English producer/engineer Max Norman needs no introduction – his impressive discography speaks for itself. At Megadeth Countdown to power off at Ozzy Osbourne Ozz Blizzard, Diary of a madman and Tributewhen it comes to metal, Max clearly has a Midas touch.

We asked the esteemed producer about recording Randy’s timeless solos on Ozzy’s now-legendary first two studio albums.

One of the things that really stands out about Randy’s main work on both studio albums is the passion and fire that each guitar solo exudes. How was this often elusive “magic” captured so well?

He would often play what most people would consider a perfect take and say, “No, that doesn’t sound quite right – let’s do it again”

“There was a sense of occasion when it came time for Randy to record those lead solos in the middle of the song. The way we did them was this: while Randy was rehearsing to record a particular solo , we didn’t sit and listen to it; instead, we’d go up to the local pub for a few beers or whatever.

“Then I would come back and he would be like, ‘OK, I’m ready to take it! You could see it in his face on the studio floor; he was arming himself…preparing to pounce. There was a palpable feeling of excitement and momentum “Now we’re recording”.

Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne record Blizzard Of Ozz

Randy Rhoads in the sessions for Blizzard Of Ozz (Image credit: Fin Costello/Getty)

“Randy wanted to capture a performance, and he was trying to get the solo in the first two or three takes in its entirety. If he didn’t, he would say, ‘Leave another hour and come back – I don’t quite understand yet.’

“But, for the most part, he managed to get all the soloing to his liking in those first two or three takes. Randy was such a well-prepared and disciplined guy that he obviously wouldn’t say he was ready until he felt he really was. As a result, we would grab each solo very quickly and it would be a very fresh and whole take.

“Randy had a very clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. To that end, he would often play what most people would consider a perfect take and say, “No, that doesn’t sound quite right – let’s do it again.”

Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne record Blizzard Of Ozz

Rhoads, producer Max Norman and bassist Bob Daisley in the Ridge Farm Studio control room (Image credit: courtesy of Bob Daisley)

“Other times he’d say something like, ‘Damn, that was really good, but I didn’t catch the harmonic I wanted on a note, and it has to be there.’ I stared at him in amazement, thinking, ‘Are we really going to skip this great take and record over it?’ He’d say, “I’ve got that,” and then, of course, he’d play it again and hit the missing harmonic perfectly!

“Randy’s incredible attention to detail, as well as his wonderful combination of technique, feel, fire and musicality still spring forth and draw you in, even now, some 40 years later – that’s what makes him so unique . It’s amazing to me that it’s been over 41 years since we made those records.

Randy’s ability to double solos has long been “legendary”. That said, I vividly remember you telling me once that he actually tripled his solos.

“Yeah, if I remember correctly, all of those lead solos were triple-tracked. I could be wrong, though, because there are students who can even tell you what color shoes I was wearing on a certain day back then. ! [Laughs]

“Anyway, as I just told you, the main solo was the end result of a single performance. Then, once Randy had defined the exact solo he wanted, he would say, “OK, let me put a double on it,” and we’d do two more. Obviously, we kept the first one in the middle, and breaded the other two left and right by pushing them back a few dB, just to give the solo its overall tone.

“That said, on those two records, the outro solos are invariably the ones that Randy just ripped off at the time. They were first takes with no rehearsals. They were done that way either because we didn’t didn’t have enough time, either because Ozzy said, ‘Keep that one.’ It’s another way to capture the freshness, attack and ferocity of Randy’s game. You can really hear it go out too.

Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne record Blizzard Of Ozz

Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne record Blizzard Of Ozz (Image credit: Fin Costello/Getty)

“You have to remember that back then when you hit ‘Record’ it was a very limited thing, because we only had 24 tracks in total, and one was used for timecode! As a result, we didn’t have the modern luxury of being able to say, “Yeah, save that one, let’s do 50 more!” It was either “Yeah, it’s fine, we keep it” or “It’s not, let’s record over it”.

“Also, at the time, records were made very quickly, often in only three or four weeks. You didn’t have time to mess around; you had to make decisions on the spot and then live with them because there was no “undo” button. You didn’t get bogged down like people do today by spending days, weeks or even months on a solo, a bass part or whatever. You just went with your instincts and moved on!

How “exact” was Randy’s duplicate?

“I’m sure you know as well as I that doing an exact double doesn’t help; it’s the differences between the two that ultimately make them work together… or not! So once we had the lead solo in the box, we weren’t listening to the precision of its dubbing. Instead, we would listen to the interaction between tracks.

“The unique movement that the double gives to the original when mixed like a ghost behind it – the way certain notes flow together, the way they collide. We were in tune with the resulting texture and the uniqueness that the double adds to the main take. It was the sum of the whole, rather than the separate parts.