Crazy Train

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The First Time I Heard Crazy Train

Certain songs conjure up deep memories. They’re part of the soundtrack of our lives. I was a teenager the first time I heard Crazy Train. It was in the mid-90s, so the song wasn’t new to the world - just to me.

My older brother and I were aimlessly cruising the avenues of Colorado Springs, our favorite past time at the time. I vividly recall sitting in the passenger seat of his Chevy Beretta while rocking along to whatever KILO 94.3 was playing.

Then it happened…

I can’t recall what song came before or after, I just remember that sound. From the moment the signature lick dropped in over the rhythmic punches of the intro, to the creepy cackling voice over of the outro, I was utterly captivated. If hard rock guitar playing was akin to literature, then surely I must have been listening to the William Shakespeare of shredding.

Memorable riffs, feedback, pick slides, layered guitars, screeching harmonics, wild bends, lightning fast pull-off licks, and finger tapping whammy bar goodness. These devices were all part of the sophisticated heavy metal vocabulary that was melting my greasy, adolescent face off.

Each section of the song was memorable. Each transition seemed to scorch the earth behind it while driving towards an uncertain future. At the time, I had no idea I was listening to Ozzy Osbourne, and I certainly didn’t know I was listening to the guitar pyrotechnics of Randy Rhoads. All I knew was that the sound blasting from those factory installed speakers was fucking me up.

I immediately wanted another hit.

But I was shit out of luck. This event predated the Shazam music discovery app. In those days, if the DJ didn’t announce the song before or after it played, you had no choice but to wallow in mystery. I couldn’t even call the radio station, as this also predated the era of cell-phone carrying, teenage suburbanites.

So I waited...

 
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Who Is Ozzy Osbourne?

When I was young, it was common knowledge that Ozzy Osbourne was an agent of the devil who bit the heads off of bats to get his kicks.

Other notable antics?

  • Founding member of Black Sabbath

  • Famously pissed on the Alamo (sort of), resulting in a decade-long banishment from performing in San Antonio

  • Snorted a line of live ants because Nikki Sixx didn’t have any cocaine


Notable nicknames?

  • The Prince of Darkness

  • The Godfather of Heavy Metal

‘Nuff said.

In my small corner of the world, Ozzy’s reputation preceded him...even if it was embellished. This was long before The Osbournes took the nation by storm. The harmless, bumbling, cursing old man of the show was at one time an otherworldly force of nature - fueled by drug and alcohol abuse. I was aware of Ozzy’s mythology long before I was aware of his music.

I miss mystery.

 
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Blizzard of Ozz, Diary of a Madman & Tribute

Back to Crazy Train. Eventually, I was able to assemble the pieces of my musical scavenger hunt. I learned that the song was on Ozzy’s solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz.

I immediately purchased the CD with my busboy money. Shortly after, I began taking guitar lessons from a guy named John McDaniel. He was well-versed in the ways of Randy Rhoads and turned me on to Diary of a Madman and Tribute as well.

The unholy trinity was complete.

I listened feverishly, all the while feeling like I was doing something naughty. Colorado Springs is known for its evangelical Christian tendencies, and Ozzy was a man of contemptible reputation. In short, it was forbidden fruit.

I spent many hours listening to these records. Much of the allure was fueled by the guitar stylings of Randy Rhoads. For whatever reason, Crazy Train always cut me the deepest.

The solution? I had to learn how to play it.

I’ve always had a peculiar personality quirk that requires me to learn how to play a song in order to expel it from my head. To this day, it’s still the only known cure. Fortunately, my guitar teacher knew the Crazy Train riff.

 
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Who was Randy Rhoads?

Randy Rhoads was one of my early musical crushes. His guitar heroics on Crazy Train, Mr. Crowley, Flying High Again, and Diary of a Madman made a lasting impression on me.

It was haunting, moody, epic, and fast. Behind the raw power of his playing was an underlying current of classical tendencies. He helped bring neo-classical elements to heavy music, forging a unique sound in the process. His passion revealed a solid understanding of the components that all great music shares.

Melody, rhythm, tension...release. These devices work in every context.

Randy’s musical instincts were the catalyst for my Ozzy phase. The sound of his guitar was a neon sign that called out to me through the fog of adolescence. Sadly, his life was cut short when he died in a plane crash at the age of 25, but not before his musical gifts resonated with the world.

 
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Going Off the Rails: a Crazy Train Spin-Off Story

When I was in college, I played in a working band. We would do 4-hour sets at bars, military bases, and private events. One of the more unusual gigs was a birthday party for twin twelve-year-old girls...during a blizzard (possibly of Ozz).

Seriously, though, it must’ve snowed over twelve inches that day.

The booking agent specifically told us that the birthday girls wanted to hear Crazy Train, which in and of itself blew my mind. In a moment that was reminiscent of a scene from The Blues Brothers, they wanted to hear the song five or six times by the evening’s end.

It was surreal.

We played a mediocre but reasonably faithful version of Crazy Train for a handful of preteens...on repeat. It was bizarre. But I got pretty good at playing the solo by the end of the evening.

The shit I do for music...

Years later, I selectively recalled that evening while playing a backyard high school graduation party in Chico, CA for a group of visually impaired teenagers and their parents. Between songs, a particularly keen young man smirked as he aimed his head in my direction and asked, “So what’s the second most awkward show you ever played?”

Well played, kid. For someone who couldn’t technically see, he saw plenty. I laughed, mentioned the twins’ birthday party, and continued my set.

 
 

Crazy Train Cover

This leads me to my recently recorded Crazy Train cover. Stylistically speaking, it sits in stark contrast to the original. The original is an uptempo hard rock number that prominently features the electric guitar as it chugs along in the key of A. My version is a mid-tempo shuffle that calls for togetherness in an overwhelming world as it strolls along in the key of C.

The whole thing happened organically. I was playing an acoustic guitar with a capo on the 3rd fret and started playing the Crazy Train chord shapes with a swing feel. After fumbling around with some half-baked melodies my mind made the connection. I started singing Crazy Train.

It felt good. Really good. I played it for Ryan Madora while preparing for a gig in Nashville last summer. It was a trio consisting of her, Derrek Phillips, and myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but that gig ended up being the catalyst for The New Album, which I co-produced with Ryan Madora. Playing the renovated version of Crazy Train live made it apparent that it should be recorded that way. It just felt so damn good.

While the original recording of Crazy Train draws attention to driving guitars, my version highlights Ozzy’s overlooked lyrics. Other than the Cold War shout out, which I amended, it’s strange how relevant his words are at this point in time. Music production is an amazing thing. The same song can be conveyed in very different ways depending on the production style.

So far, the feedback I’ve received about my Crazy Train cover has been overwhelmingly positive. And for those that don’t care for it, I can’t say that I give a shit. I must admit, I was a bit nervous about re-framing a classic song that had nothing wrong with it, but I see no reason to record a cover if you’re not going to make it your own.

A friend of mine said that he instantly loved my version - that it was like collecting dividends on an investment he made years ago. That made me smile. Such is the power of a universal classic.

 

Crazy Train Players

  • Ryan Madora: bass

  • Ellen Angelico: electric guitar

  • Mike Hicks: organ

  • Derrek Phillips: drums

  • Craig Haller: acoustic guitar and vocals (all the vocals)

 
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Crazy Train Lyrics

Written by Bob Daisley, Ozzy Osbourne & Randy Rhoads

[Verse]

Crazy, but that's how it goes

Millions of people living as foes

Maybe it's not too late

To learn how to love and forget how to hate

[Pre-chorus]

Mental wounds not healing

Life's a bitter shame


[Chorus]

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train


[Verse]

I've listened to preachers, I've listened to fools

I've watched all the dropouts who make their own rules

One person conditioned to rule and control

The media sells it and you live the role


[Pre-chorus]

Mental wounds still screaming

Driving me insane


[Chorus]

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train


[Bridge]

I know that things are going wrong for me

You gotta listen to my words, yeah, yeah!


[Verse]

Heirs of the old world, that's what we've become

Inheriting troubles, we’re mentally numb

Crazy, we just cannot bear

We’re all living with something that just isn't fair


[Pre-chorus]

Mental wounds not healing

Who and what's to blame?


[Chorus]

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train

 
 
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