In the 1980s, Ozzy Osbourne had a reputation for launching the careers of talented younger players. His original guitarist, Randy Rhoads, was a classically-trained wunderkind whose untimely death in early 1982 punctuated the brightness with which his star burned. There would be a succession of six-stringers who passed through the former Black Sabbath vocalist’s camp: Brad Gillis would have mainstream success with the band Nigh Ranger, Jake E. Lee would become one of the great unsung players of the ‘80s. Zakk Wylde who is, for some, the quintessential Oz axeman, remains one of the most influential voices on the instrument.
Less discussed? Osbourne’s drummers. He brought seasoned pros such as Carmine Appice and Tommy Aldridge onto the stage and into the studio with him but it was Randy Castillo, whose unmistakable booming playing opens 1986’s The Ultimate Sin, that finally gave the music a strong percussive presence.
Castillo, who died in 2002 at the age of 51, is the subject of a documentary titled The Life, Blood and Rhythm of Randy Castillo. Directed by Kansas-based filmmaker Wynn Ponder, the picture follows Castillo from his early days in Albuquerque, New Mexico through a series of club bands to Los Angeles, where he was thrust on the world stage at the height of hard rock’s glory years.
With testimonials from his Ozzy years bandmates Phil Soussan and Mike Inez plus close friends such as Slash, Lita Ford (who provides narration) and others, we learn that Castillo was an apparent rarity in the world of rock: A gifted musician whose levelheadedness never left him and whose formidable talent seems to have almost been overshadowed by his everyman demeanor.
It’s worth noting how short his time in the spotlight was. His first major album was Ford’s 1984 effort Dancin’ on the Edge, his final LP was with Motley Crue’s 2000 effort New Tattoo. Between those posts, he contributed tracks to Osbourne’s most commercially successful album, 1991’s No More Tears, formed the industrial-influenced Red Square Black with John 5 and developed a reputation as a consummate showman whose bass drumming was top tier.
What might be underplayed is his transition into Motley Crue. Though that band was on a commercial decline in the late 1990s, the drummer’s throne was a coveted spot, one that had been held, until 1999 by co-founder Tommy Lee. Despite the quartet’s reputation for light, ephemeral music, Lee’s playing was always central to the outfit’s sound and he remains an undisputed master of the hard rock kit. For Castillo to have taken the spot and filled it so ably was no small feat. That it would such a short-lived endeavor remains one of life’s cruelest tricks.
As Crue prepared for a new tour in 2000, Castillo was diagnosed with cancer. His plans to take to stages around the globe were put on hold. Though treatment for the disease nearly killed him (as revealed in drawings he made during the time) he persevered and was eventually declared cancer free. The victory lap, however, was short. Within months of that declaration, the cancer returned and Castillo underwent another round of treatments before being felled by the disease.
Since his death, Castillo’s presence has remained strong, especially among his friends and family but the larger musical community as well.
The Life, Blood and Rhythm of Randy Castillo screens at the Orpheum Theatre Friday evening (6:15) as part of the Tallgrass Film Festival.