We’ve Got A File On You: Ozzy Osbourne

Ross Halfin

We’ve Got A File On You: Ozzy Osbourne

Ross Halfin

A new Ozzy Osbourne album still feels like a major event. The 73-year-old singer is one of a scant handful of metal acts who can get the gears of legacy media turning when they release new music. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Metallica might be the only others who can do it on the same scale. Patient Number 9, Osbourne’s 13th solo studio album, currently sits atop Billboard’s album sales chart (he’s at #3 on the Billboard 200), and he got three full cycles of headlines out of a two-song halftime show at the Rams’ season opener: one when it was announced as his first live performance in four years, another when NBC only aired a few seconds of the set during their telecast, and a third when he released the rest of the footage himself. When Ozzy speaks, the world still listens.

Patient Number 9 also happens to be Osbourne’s best album in years. It sees him working for a second time with producer Andrew Watt, but unlike 2020’s Post Malone-featuring Ordinary Man, Patient feels like a throwback. Feature-level guest musicians still abound, but the youngest one this time is Mike McCready from Pearl Jam. (He plays on “Immortal,” which kind of sounds like Soundgarden’s “Spoonman.”) Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Zakk Wylde, and Ozzy’s former Black Sabbath bandmate Tony Iommi also make appearances; so does Taylor Hawkins, in one of his final recorded performances.

The all-star supporting cast doesn’t outshine Ozzy, who sounds terrific (if noticeably Auto-Tune-aided) throughout the record. The Iommi team-ups in particular turn back the clock. “No Escape From Now” is a vintage Sabbathian doom stomper, and “Degradation Blues” is a gloriously sophomoric ode to masturbation. It’s not exactly Leonard Cohen doing “You Want It Darker,” but do you really want a mature, reflective Ozzy? I didn’t think so.

We talked to the Ozzman about Patient Number 9, why he isn’t satisfied with the final Sabbath album, the reality TV stardom that came in the wake of The Osbournes, and his indefatigable hopes for returning to the road after his recent spinal surgeries.

Patient Number 9 (2022)

You have this murderer’s row of guest musicians on the new record, and one of them is Taylor Hawkins, in what ended up being one of his final recordings. How did that come about, and what do you think Taylor brought to the record?

OZZY OSBOURNE: My producer Andrew Watt, he was a really good friend of his. I wasn’t even aware that Dave Grohl had a drummer, because Dave Grohl was a drummer himself. I knew he sang up front, but I didn’t know that much about Foo Fighters at the time. I knew of them. I went down to the studio one day, and Taylor was there, and he was a really nice guy. He was a cheerful kind of a guy, you know. And I spent a few hours with him. I didn’t get to know him that well, but from those few hours, he seemed like a really nice guy.

You’re also going back to your musical roots in England in the late ’60s with a couple of these guests. Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton play on the record. What did it mean to you to have those guys involved?

OSBOURNE: Andrew suggested them, and I said, “I don’t think they’d want to fucking play on an Ozzy Osbourne record!” I was very surprised. Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck are two amazing guitar players, you know? But they agreed to play on the record, and what they did was fantastic. And Tony Iommi, this was the first time he played on an Ozzy record.

Yeah, I wanted to ask about Tony’s role, because I love those songs that he plays on. What’s that mean to you, being able to continue to play with him for 50 years?

OSBOURNE: Since I’ve been laid up with this spinal problem, he’s been very supportive, and it’s been kind of nice. So it just came about. I can’t quite remember how it came about now, to be honest.

Did you want this to be more of an old-school record, working with some of these guys who have been around the block as many years as they have? You know, with Ordinary Man you had Post Malone, and now you have Jeff Beck. Was that a conscious thing, to look back into your past?

OSBOURNE: Oh yeah, man. I was honored that they would even play on my record. And Zakk [Wylde], too. To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan of all-star records, because they get to be fucking too much, you know? But Andrew pulled it off well. In previous recordings of people having all these celebrities on their record, musically, it lacks a spirit, with all this overplaying that people do. The reason why I used Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton was the fact that they know how to play just enough.

Black Sabbath At Live Aid (1985)

You and Tony have had this on-again, off-again collaboration for all these years where you guys can always dip back into each other’s lives. I wanted to ask about the first time you played together after you left Sabbath, which was live Live Aid in 1985. What was that experience like?

OSBOURNE: Fucking hell. Going back a bit now. Well, they were managed by my father-in-law [Don Arden], and my father-in-law and my wife [Sharon] and I were in a fucking war. I was fucking served [a lawsuit] at Live Aid by my father-in-law, for interference or some bullshit, and nothing ever materialized from it. And I was drinking lots of fucking booze in them days, and I was bloated. It wasn’t a great experience. It was more like [an] “I’ll have my revenge on them,” kind of thing. Or no, it wasn’t revenge. It was just the first time I’d seen them all since the breakup.

It wasn’t a life-shattering experience where I went, “Fuck, why did I go and get fired,” and all this shit. It was just Sabbath. By that time, I’d felt freedom as well, whereas with Sabbath, I didn’t feel that important in the band. I used to feel I was just a sideman for their show. I’d come up with my own melodies and that, but I didn’t feel on an equal part with them, because I couldn’t play an instrument. But that was a long time ago, and when you start thinking about this shit now, it doesn’t seem necessary anymore, does it?

You did continue to get back together with them at a few other points. Did you feel at that time like that door was open?

OSBOURNE: It was for the fans who thought they would never get the chance to see the original lineup. It was a bit awkward because the fans would write and say, “Oh, we’d like to see the original lineup.” And Sharon would show these to me from time to time. But I never wanted to go back full-time on tour with them.

Black Sabbath’s 13 (2013)

It’s been almost 10 years now since 13, and that’s still the last Black Sabbath album. Do you feel good about where 13 left things?

OSBOURNE: Not really, because to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really get a charge from the album. Although Rick Rubin is a good friend of mine, I wasn’t really… I was just singing. It was like stepping back in time, but it wasn’t a glorious period. Though Geezer [Butler] did a lot of lyric writing for me, which he’s very, very good at. It wasn’t an earth-shattering experience for me.

Do you hope the door is still open, or is Black Sabbath totally done in your mind?

OSBOURNE: I would like to say it’s completely done. I think it’s time. The only thing I really regret, to be honest, is that Bill Ward didn’t play on the album. It wasn’t really a Black Sabbath album. I’m not saying that one day we might not all go in a room and come up with the perfect Black Sabbath album. But I’ll say, [13] wasn’t recorded the way Black Sabbath recorded records. We’d gone right back past the point where we took charge, back to when someone else had full control of our recording. Which we never did from Vol. 4 onwards.

Meeting Randy Rhoads (1979)

What first attracted you to Randy’s playing?

OSBOURNE: Do you know a guy called Dana Strum? [Dana is a record producer and member of the hair metal band Slaughter.]

Yeah.

OSBOURNE: He was the one who brought him. I’d never formed a band of people around me, and I’d never auditioned anyone. I didn’t know how to audition. I was in an apartment not far off the Santa Monica freeway, and he brought Randy ’round when I was fuckin’ three sheets to the wind. I’d been drinking all day. And this little guy came in, and I thought he was a girl at first. He was such a tiny guy. I said, “Fucking hell. I’m done. I’ve had enough of this. I want to go home now.” I thought, it’s never gonna work, I’m going home. And Dana said, “Just see this one last guitar player.” I was fucked up. I said, “I want to go home. Bring him back tomorrow and I’ll see him.” And I was still fucked up the next day. I went to this studio, and I didn’t know where the fuck the studio was. Randy shows up with this little amp and a white Les Paul, and he says, “What do you want me to play?” I said, “Whatever the fuck, I don’t care.” So he started playing, and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” Even in my stupor. I put it to him this way: “I don’t know if you’re as good as I think you are, but I’ll see you tomorrow.” So the next day, when I was sober, he blew my fucking mind off. He just blew my mind. He was fucking unbelievable.

He was.

OSBOURNE: The one thing about Randy Rhoads that I’m forever grateful for, is he spent time with me. He didn’t sit in the recording booth and give me some melody to do over what he played, regardless of whether I could do it on stage or not. Then you’d get this stuff that you couldn’t do on stage. But he would say, “It would be better if you could sing it in this key,” you know. He was very patient.

Let’s talk about Zakk a little bit, because he plays on the new record, and he’s the guitarist you’ve probably played with the most over the years. What do you love about playing with Zakk?

OSBOURNE: He’s always there for me, you know? He’s always there for me. He’s a member of my family.

And you’ve always had these great sidemen. Jake E. Lee and Gus G don’t get talked about quite as often, but they’re also incredible guitarists. What is it with you about having great guitarists by your side?

OSBOURNE: When you’ve got a crap one, the band is crap! But when you’ve got someone who shines…

Jake E. Lee was a fucking great guitar player, and the way it went was, Randy Castillo, my old drummer, had started to turn me against him. It was very sad because I had no qualms with the guy. He was a great guitar player.

Ozzfest (1996-2018)

Ozzfest is something I think about frequently because it was such a unique thing in history. There’s never really been anything else like it. What stands out in your memory of assembling the first Ozzfest in ’96?

OSBOURNE: I can’t remember the first one. I can’t remember doing the first one at all.

Really?

OSBOURNE: Well, it went on for, like, fucking years!

So you just got used to it at some point, that you had this every summer?

OSBOURNE: It just became a part of my life, you know? I wouldn’t mind doing another one at some point.

Oh, wow. Did you have any idea when you were doing those early ones that it was going to become such a big thing?

OSBOURNE: I didn’t have a clue. Why it happened, I remember, was Sharon tried to get me on Lollapalooza, and somebody said, “Ozzy is a bit like a dinosaur now.” And she went fucking crazy and said, “We’ll do our own fucking festival.” I said, “Are you fucking serious?” She said, “We’ll do our own fucking festival.” And it worked!

You were playing in front of a lot of new fans too, I imagine, with the younger bands that you booked. Did you notice the difference?

OSBOURNE: Well, some of them. Most of them would come up to me and say, “Sabbath were the best band. Sabbath started it all.” And I’d see these bands and think, “OK, I can see Sabbath’s roots coming out of there.” But other bands, I would just go, “What the fuck is that?” But then again, I’m not knocking it, because we became a genre for people who would not normally go to our gig. And I’m very proud and happy that we broke so many obscure, fuckin’ small bands out, you know? We had two or three stages, and it was great for these bands. We broke a lot of bands. Slipknot, Korn, a bunch of bands benefited from Ozzfest.

I remember when I would go to Ozzfest in the 2000s, it was incredible how many bands who were not of your generation or even of your genre. It was cool to see all that brought together.

OSBOURNE: You know what I was most happy about? You had different things to see. We tried to get a carnival kind of an atmosphere. At one point, we had tattoo artists, and different things like that. It was more than just a festival or a gig. It was a proper festival atmosphere. When I went to the other festivals, it was a fucking yard sale with a lot of people in the fucking burning sun, and there was three water taps and four toilets for thousands of people. And I said to Sharon, if we do it, don’t have one of them fucking things where you go in a shed with a trench full of human shit in it.

The Osbournes (2002-2005)

How was the idea of that show sold to you?

OSBOURNE: It kind of grew itself, because we did Cribs. Remember that show on MTV, Cribs?

Oh, yeah. I loved Cribs.

OSBOURNE: We kept getting asked to re-do our episode. Sharon said, “Why don’t we do an extended version of Cribs and see what happens?” It was kind of an experiment at first, and it just fucking took off.

It introduced you to people who maybe didn’t care about Black Sabbath or heavy metal, but they became fans of yours. What was that like?

OSBOURNE: I couldn’t believe how fucking fast it went. I remember one time we were on the road, and I wanted to go use the bathroom. And I said, “Pull over at the next McDonald’s or a fucking gas station,” because I needed a bathroom. So we come off the freeway at this really big fucking McDonald’s, so I think I’ll just sneak in really fast and use the bathroom. I get in, and by the time I leave the bathroom, I’m thinking nobody has seen me. By the time I come out the bathroom, the fucking car park was full of everybody at the restaurant, including the staff. It was like Beatlemania for a few weeks. I couldn’t go out, and people would come knock on the door. We filmed it in our real house. It was a real address, and people would come just to find our fucking house.

That’s crazy. And, of course, you were already a famous person from the music you had done, but this didn’t feel like that? This was a different level?

OSBOURNE: It was at a level that you could never sustain. The Beatles couldn’t fucking sustain that. It’s too much. Michael Jackson, Prince, all these people reached that level of fame, and you cannot afford to hold onto that. But you don’t want to. It gets to be dangerous.

How did you cope with it?

OSBOURNE: I did like I do now. I don’t go out anywhere, you know? I’d get up every morning and go to a fucking burrito joint, and the guy liked it. He sent me a gift card because I’d built the business up, because people would go to his burrito place, and there was fucking lines around the block. Sometimes I would walk in to get my daily burrito, and that fucker started going nuts.

So you had to start staying home more just to avoid that?

OSBOURNE: It got too much for us all. The kids were going to nightclubs and drinking alcohol and doing drugs. Every season, Sharon would sit us all down and go, “Look, do you want to do another season?” She would ask the kids and me. And I said, “You know what, I’m done.” It came to a point where I wanted to get back to what I was about. I don’t like doing TV. I’m not a big TV guy. I do bits and pieces for my son, Jack. But I don’t think I’m going to do that kind of a thing again. Although, when I go back to England, I’m doing something. I’m moving back to England, and when I go home, I’m doing a show for the BBC. But it’s not going to be like The Osbournes.

Spinal Surgery And Getting Back On Stage (2022)

I know you’re eager to be able to get back on the road and play shows again, so I just wanted to ask: How are you feeling?

OSBOURNE: Well, the surgery… That was the worst fucking surgery. It fucked me up bad. I still get pain. But it’s getting better. It’s a slow process. This morning, I was exhausted for some reason, so I didn’t make it, but normally, I work out for an hour or so every day.

How did it feel to get on stage for the NFL season opener? Did you feel good?

OSBOURNE: It was good to be up there, but I’m not back to the way I want to be yet. And my fans have been so fucking supportive. But for the moment, I’m so fucking frustrated. My balance is all fucked up. But the last surgeries that I had made me feel much better. I couldn’t hold my head up before. I can now. But the reason I had the surgery, was the surgeon told me if I didn’t have the surgery there was a good chance of me getting paralyzed. I was like, “Fuck that, do it.”

Well, I’m glad it’s moving in the right direction, Ozzy. I hope we get to see you on a stage soon.

OSBOURNE: I’ll tell you why I’m determined to get back on that stage. Why I am fucking determined. Because that’s where Ozzy Osbourne belongs.

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