On Thursday March 19 I take a couple of quiet minutes out to remember two guitarists who both died on the same day. The first event I have no recollection of. The second I remember only too well.
Paul Francis Kossoff died of drug-related heart problems on a flight from Los Angeles to New York back in 1976 at the age of 25. It’s heartbreaking that the Free guitarist, a kid of immeasurable talent, bowed out at such a staggeringly young age and in what was apparently a desperate state of mind. To those of us who just don’t have the talent to rip out such touching riffs seemingly at will, it seems almost impossible to imagine how a guy who could play like that could have been so deeply unhappy in his life. But the pathos in Kossoff’s demise only serves to make those soul-stirring songs he performed seem even more potent.
Kossoff truly felt the music. You can see it, touch it almost, whenever he appears on screen on the excellent ‘Free Forever’ DVD that was released a couple of years back. That curious beatific look that comes over the greatest rock guitarists when they’re totally lost in the moment was kinda invented by Koss. Halfway between agony and ecstasy, it looked like he was wringing every last drop of emotion out of the very depths of his soul. Anybody who dismisses white boy guitar music as nothing more than fretboard wanking carried out by automatons and robots really needs to get a grip and check out Koss performing, say ‘Ride On Pony’ from the Granada TV show Doin’ Their Thing back in July of 1970. Man, that performance is just dripping with soul. As far as I’m concerned Free’s minimalism, the way their music all but dropped away whenever Koss began a solo, is testament to the fact that even in an art form that’s hardly renowned for its subtlety, less can so very often mean much, much more. Kossoff’s death really was a tragedy, a human loss even above a musical one. And the soon-come Saltyrockz Koss RIP shirt is one I’ll always wear with pride.
I was already writing for Kerrang! when Randall William Rhoads died in a stupid flying accident. Like Kossoff before him, Randy was just 25 and again, like Kossoff, he’d pretty much redefined guitar playing by the time he took his leave. His style was more American than European, almost the polar opposite of Kossoff’s, and was way more dependent on technical ability. But Rhoads always had the savvy to put more depth and emotion into his guitar pyrotechnics than the hundreds, if not thousands, of guitarists who came after him trying to pay homage to his style. Ozzy described Randy’s arrival in Blizzard of Ozz as like “God entering my life”. It’s hyperbole, of course, but only just. Rhoads defined the ’80s metal guitar sound and style, but in stark contrast to many of the genre’s practitioners Randy was by all accounts a gentle and modest soul. That he should die so needlessly in a daft prank that went wrong, buzzing and clipping the band’s tour bus in a light aircraft flown by the band’s driver Andrew Aycock before crashing, makes the loss that much more tragic.
I never met Rhoads. I was still very much the cub reporter on Kerrang! at the time and big time acts like Ozzy were the domain of the established writers. I do remember being in the Kerrang! office when news of the accident came through, though, and nobody could quite believe that such a dumb series of events had actually led to Randy’s death. It just seemed so senseless. Because it was.
By some bizarre cosmic co-incidence two hugely talented players with vastly differing styles met their demise on the same day just six years apart. I think that’s worth a couple of quiet moments of reflection on my part this Thursday. Or maybe more fittingly, a couple of loud ones!
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HoJo rocked as a top journalist on legendary UK metal magazine
Kerrang! and now runs a way-cool rock T-shirt site at www.saltyrockz.com.