Now with Deep Purple, Airey played on Osbourne’s early albums and was part of the touring band when Rhoads died after an airplane stunt went wrong in 1982. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Airey recalled his early impression of his bandmate.
“I first met him at the studio, Ridge Farm,” he said. “He was very quiet. He gave off this lovely vibe. He was a sweet guy, a good-looking guy. You saw him and went, ‘He has a real rock god kind of thing.’ … He had a very gentle sense of humor, and he wanted to know all about Gary Moore from me.” He added that Rhoads “had some lovely quirks about him. He used to carry a little portable television with him. If there was a lapse in the conversation, he’d just take it out and plug it in and start watching cartoons or something.”
The band continued their tour after Rhoads’ death, and Airey recalled: “We couldn’t believe what had happened. We were like, ‘What have we done to deserve that?’ It wasn’t like the band was a mad bunch of party animals. Sharon [Osbourne] kept a tight rein on everything, which I loved. It was a great band to be in. There were no drinks backstage and hardly any drinks on the bus. It was great.”
He continued: “I think about Randy every day. I can still hear him. I remember the last time I spoke to Ozzy, I said, ‘I can still hear his guitar in my head.’ I can still hear his laugh. He had a very infectious giggle if he liked something. He’d have this laugh. When I first joined the band, we’d go in the back of the gig and there would always be a live tape of the show.… If Randy liked something when I played it on the tape, he’d let out this laugh. I knew I was doing alright. He was a lovely guy to work with, but he was also a very imposing figure. He knew what he wanted, and he was a force to be reckoned with.”
Airey confirmed that Rhoads wasn’t “a very happy guy” in the weeks leading up to his death, matching other people’s speculation that the guitarist was thinking of quitting Osbourne’s band. “He wasn’t happy with the way things were going,” the keyboardist reported. “I used to say to him, ‘Don’t worry about it, man. In 10 years’ time, you won’t think anything of this. You’re young. You get ups and downs and disappointments. You’ve just go to ride it.’ It was hard work being on the road with the Ozzy Osbourne band. It was five or six gigs a week.”