40 Years Ago: Ozzy Osbourne Is Born Again at First Solo Concert
Ozzy Osbourne spent the first few months after his 1979 firing by Black Sabbath thinking he had nothing else to lose. He bought a pub in his native England and taken on the role of bartender, only to discover he was drinking all the profits and no one wanted to drink with him because he was too crazy. He then went to America and locked himself in a hotel room, curtains drawn, waiting for daily visits from his drug dealer.
Manager Don Arden eventually assigned his daughter, Sharon, to make something of Osbourne's future. With the goal-oriented attitude and abrasive manner she’d become famous for, the singer's future wife took him to task and began turning his life around. He found a guitarist, Randy Rhoads, and the trio returned to England to start work on what would become Osbourne's solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz.
Everything was gearing up to the band’s first stage appearance, which was to take place at the Reading Festival in late summer 1980. But Sharon realized the lineup – which also including bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake – wasn't ready to hit such a large stage. So she canceled the date, which gave the fading Slade the opportunity to return to the limelight as replacements. They embraced the opportunity.
Sharon was embracing every opportunity too. When Arden asked her to tidy up his Jet Records label, she introduced extreme measures to keep the company in business. In her book Unbreakable, she recalled telling bands as she dropped them from the roster, “You can trying suing, but we haven’t got anything, mate, so either join the queue or you can take 10 grand and fuck off, and if you’re good, you’ll make it, so good luck.”
The position also allowed her to make sure Ozzy’s album release was the label’s priority. “I knew it was important to make Ozzy’s band completely different from Sabbath,” Sharon recalled. “Ozzy’s approach was totally different, and the image of the band was totally different, though it was still Ozzy’s genre.”
But doubts remained. The Prince of Darkness had become an unruly figure, badly affected by drink and drugs, and most industry leaders didn’t want to touch him. He also had his own doubts. “I’d be talking out of my arse if I said I didn’t feel like I was in competition with Black Sabbath,” he said in his 2011 book I Am Ozzy. “I wished them well, I suppose, but part of me was shitting myself that they were going to be more successful without me. And their first album with [Ronnie James] Dio was pretty good.”
He was certain Blizzard was a “cracking album,” though, and that the follow-up, which was partly tracked during the first record’s sessions, would be equally good. “This was my chance, and I knew I was only going to get one,” Osbourne said. “Me and Sharon both knew it, actually.” So they took every opportunity that came their way. “Every record or ticket sold counted.”
Sharon gave him the option of going out as opening act for a bigger band like Van Halen or leading a headlining tour of smaller venues. She recommended the second, telling him, “That way you’ll always have sold-out shows, and when people see sold-out signs, they want to go.”
The first official concert was scheduled for the notorious Glasgow Apollo in Scotland – an audience known for angrily turning on a band if it felt cheated. Before that deliberate baptism of fire took place, Sharon booked two low-key warm-up shows. The first took place on Sept. 3 at the Norbeck Castle Hotel in Blackpool, Northern England – a low-budget version of Las Vegas. Instead of appearing under his own name, Osbourne with his new band were billed as the Law.
Sharon recalled that everyone in the entourage was “so nervous,” but there was a “real buzz of excitement” because the news of who'd be playing had leaked. “And then it began, and I was screaming and clapping to egg the audience on,” she said. “But I didn’t need to, because it was brilliant.”
The set included future classics “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Suicide Solution,” along with covers of Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid.” "I can remember crying because it was magic," Sharon said. (A second warm-up show took place two nights later, 250 miles away at the West Runton Pavilion in Norfolk.)
When Osbourne faced the infamous Glasgow Choir at the Apollo on the first of a year’s worth of headline shows, he received such a rapturous welcome that he told them, “I’m going to kiss this fucking stage,” knelt down and did exactly that. “It turned out to be a brilliant move,” he said later of Sharon’s headlining plan. “Everywhere we went the venues were full, and there were more people queuing up outside.”
Blizzard of Ozz went on to sell 6 million copies, and the rest – including, controversially, Daisley and Kerslake, and, tragically, Rhoads – became history. Back at the Blackpool guest house after the first show, though, Sharon admitted she “behaved very badly.” “Why? Because I could, because I was very happy … because it was like, Oh, God! We’ve shown them!”