March 27th, March 1981
On April 17, 1979, Ozzy Osbourne had been fired from Black Sabbath for, in his own words, “being loaded all the time.” “I definitely don’t want to work with them again. They really have been arseholes,” he told Sounds’ Sylvie Simmons later, adding that his old bandmates wanted to sound like Foreigner and that their new material was impossible to play live. “I wanted to get back to good basic hard rock, like we were known for.”
This he had done with his solo debut, and metal landmark, Blizzard Of Ozz. A Top 10 hit in Britain in September 1980, this March it was to get its belated US release. With Sabbath set to release their album Heaven And Hell with new frontman Ronnie James Dio next month, the pressure was on. Rising to the occasion, Ozzy ensured no one at his US label CBS would fail to notice that Blizzard Of Ozz was finally coming out in the States.
On March 27 – coincidentally, the album’s American release date – words and photos emerged saying that he’d bitten the heads off two white doves at the CBS sales convention in Los Angeles. The plan had been for Ozzy to give a speech of thanks to his audience and then release three symbolic doves of peace. However, according to biographer Mick Wall, Ozzy had been hitting the brandy hard. “I just remember this PR woman going on and on at me,” he recalled to Wall. “I pulled out one of these doves and bit its fucking head off. Just to shut her up. Then I did it again… that’s when they threw me out. They said I’d never work for CBS again.”
“The bird was dead so rather than waste it I bit its head off. You should have seen their faces.”
Speaking to Sounds’ Garry Bushell three months after the dastardly deed, Ozzy gave a different perspective. “I wanted to make a real impression. The scam is the bird was dead. We were planning to release it there, but it died beforehand. So rather than waste it I bit its head off. You should have seen their faces. They all went white. They were speechless. That girl in the pictures was screaming. Eventually a bloke came up and said, ‘You’d better go.’” The dead bird, he added, tasted like “tomato sauce”.
On April 18 Blizzard Of Ozz had charted. Four days later, Ozzy’s first solo North American tour began, with a gothic castle stage-set, the singer waving a large cross and performing a fistful of Sabbath crowd-pleasers. The tour would stretch into September.
Diary Of A Madman
Alongside freaking out the CBS retail staff, Ozzy’s second solo disc, Diary Of A Madman, had been in production from February 9 to March 24 at Ridge Farm Studios, West Sussex, with Max Norman, Ozzy and guitarist Randy Rhoads producing. “The band would rehearse while Ozzy would bob up and down and listen to music,” Norman told Los Angeles rock station KNAC. “Ozzy would eventually come up with a melody line.” Norman also recalled recording strings at Abbey Road’s studio C with ELO/Hooked On Classics arranger Louis Clark. “Louis finally shows up one hour late all hungover, fucking hair flying in the wind… fuck, he got everything right the first go. It was unbelievable!”
Yet already trouble was brewing. Bassist and co-writer Bob Daisley, who noted dryly that he, Rhoads and drummer Lee Kerslake initially believed that they were in a band called Blizzard Of Ozz rather than an Ozzy solo project, recalled having to back the singer up when he refused to commit to playing two shows a day. He noted that Sharon Arden, Ozzy’s soon-to-be wife who had taken over day-to-day management of the outfit, was not impressed by this dissent in the ranks. That summer Kerslake and Daisley were out, their contributions to the November-released Diary of A Madman uncredited, with new boys Rudy Sarzo (bass) and Tommy Aldridge (drums) on the sleeve. Both Daisley and Kerslake would be involved in legal actions regarding their contributions to the album. But the outside world looked the other way and rocked on, with Blizzard Of Ozz peaking at US Number 21 in August; to date, it has sold quintuple platinum.
Ozzy’s solo career was up and running, and as the years rolled by, he would enjoy further platinum LPs, Black Sabbath reunions, and a place among hard rock’s immortals. And, inevitably, drunken chaos, as when he famously bit the head off a bat someone had thrown at him, mid-gig, on January 20, 1982, in Des Moines (he thought it was a toy, and had to get rabies shots). “In this world, for some reason,” as Ozzy sagely observed to the NME that year, “you have to do some pretty bizarre things before people begin to know what you’re about.”