Interviewed: Rudy Sarzo, Musician Extraordinaire and Animal Activist

Rudy SarzoLegend is a term that gets tossed around a lot, especially in music, and the term can be highly subjective. But if the subject of your attention has played on a number of records that have sold in excess of 30 million copies, I think that makes a very solid case for legendary status. I’m talking of course about bassist Rudy Sarzo. Rudy has played with Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Blue Oyster Cult, Dio, and many other notable acts. He’s been an active musician for over thirty years. He’s had four different companies release a Rudy Sarzo signature bass.

I could stop there, that surely is enough to qualify someone as a legend, but what is the stuff that legends are made of? True legends give something back; they give it to the fans, and sometimes they give it to a group that can’t speak for themselves–rescue dogs. Rudy Sarzo devotes time and more to two of his favorite endeavors, helping find homes for homeless shelter animals, and acting as a counselor at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.

Rudy and I first met each other at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp; my camera seemed to seek him out, he has the look of a rock star; some people just compel you to shoot their picture. I posted a few photos of him on social media, and then I started following him, and what I found was a very humble, caring guy who seems to spend more time helping and promoting dog rescues than he does himself. He may look like a real badass, but in reality he’s quite the opposite. So, as a fellow rescue dog enthusiast, I couldn’t let his story go un-noticed.

Read on as Rudy takes you through his journey, from an aspiring kid wanting to fit in with local musicians, to his rise to the top of the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal heap.

 You do a lot of work with dog rescues; I’ve seen you doing it while on the road.  Why do you devote so much of your time to this endeavor?

Honestly, it helps me to look at life from a more pure perspective.  They show you how to focus on what’s really important, instead of all the petty problems that enter our lives from day to day.

 What got you started working with dog rescues?

Social media can be used in many ways, to complain about political issues, to create awareness; I prefer to use it for positive purposes, to help animals.  I want to eliminate kill shelters in America.  Strays get 48 hours before being put on a kill list, if pets are surrendered, they get 24 hours, and it’s not enough time.

I had a Yorkie named Tory who recently passed away, but I’d been doing this prior to her passing.  It was the unconditional love that she gave my wife and I that inspired me to do this.

How long have you been doing this? 

4 or 5 years.  I got into this after Tory passed, when she was 17.  We’re not ready to bring another dog into our home and our hearts just yet, but when we do, it will get the love and adoration that they deserve.

It seems like rescue dogs can tell how lucky they are.

It’s not a case of humans rescuing pets; it’s more like pets rescue humans.  When you rescue a pet, you get unlimited love from them.  It almost seems that these creatures have a sense of the danger that they’re in; they’re in a place where they can hear agony, screams, and suffering.  When they get the “freedom walk” it changes their lives, and in return it changes the people who adopt them.

 Are you breed-specific?  Do you have a favorite?

This is our third Yorkie, and recently I got involved with an organization out of New Jersey called “Save A Yorkie”.  These filmmakers Adam Green and Joe Lynch raise a lot of money for Yorkies in need in the New Jersey area.  I’m fond of Yorkies, they are my favorite breed, but I love all animals.

Do you devote more than just time?  Do you donate materials or money?

That what I do with Joe and Adam, we try to raise money for the cause.

How much time do you typically devote to this?

I don’t really measure it.  Pretty much any time I go online on Facebook, I use the time to help promote awareness.  I focus a lot on the Carson rescue, and I repost almost every one of their posts.  I have about 70,000 followers on Facebook, and another 40,000 on Twitter, so hopefully somebody will become aware and find what they’re looking for when they see my posts.

I think it’s great that someone of your stature is using their fame to help a worthwhile cause, rather than just promoting themselves.

 There’s a lot of anger, loneliness, and negativity on social media.  I think that if people had a pet to give them so much unconditional love, there wouldn’t be so much negativity.

You recently commented on a photo of Sinatra and his dog, where you pointed out his dog.  Dogs are a magnet and your kryptonite, aren’t they?

They are.  They just melt me.  There are a lot of breeds that have bad reputations, like Pit Bulls, and I hope to dispel some of that, it comes down to the owner and how the pet is raised.  A lot of people misuse dogs, like when they use them for security.  If you want security, get an alarm system.  I like feeling protected, but not at the expense of an animal’s emotions.

You could always get a flock of Geese.  I hear some people use them because they’re so noisy.

That’s kind of funny, but I don’t think they’ll keep criminals from breaking in [laughs].

 Don’t you wish people could be more like dogs?

This would be a much better world if people could have the unconditional love of a pet in their lives.

Have you tried to enlist the help of other musicians to help the dogs?

I have many musicians involved in this effort, my brother Robert is involved, Frankie Banali and his wife Regina, I would say that just about every musician that I know is involved.

Frankie Banali was best man at your wedding wasn’t he?

Yes, that’s right.

 I see you posted that today is your 55th anniversary of leaving Cuba.  You left Cuba for the USA when you were 11, in 1961.  What was that like for you?

We came here after a year of paperwork.  It was very tough on my parents, trying to assimilate, and not knowing the language.  My dad wanted to work but there was a language barrier.  We went to Miami, and back in those days there wasn’t a large Cuban community, so we were relocated to New Jersey.  That was a real cultural shock because not only were we much further away, but the weather was something we just weren’t prepared for.  We’d never experienced cold or snow in our lives.  So coming to America was a series of shocks to our systems.  But we were so grateful to the United States for providing us with the freedoms that had been taken away from us by the Castro regime, we didn’t notice the hardships.

Do you hope to perform in your homeland some day if/when conditions there improve?

I would love that.  As soon as it ceases to be a communist country!  Ironically, we spend a lot of time touring in Russia.  We have many young fans that know nothing of communism, but we also have many older fans that remember a time when we could never have performed for them.  It’s a very emotional experience for me.

Did you follow The Rolling Stones in Havana? 

I did a little bit, but it was really a case of the same old same old.  Maybe the perception of Cuba changed a bit from the outside, but inside the country, nothing changed.  And they have more members of the Castro family that they’re grooming to take their place, so we’ll have to wait and see.

 How long did you stay in Miami?

About two years.  We left for Jersey in 63 and then came back in 67.

Were you living there during Jaco’s time?

Yeah, I used to see Jaco play around town all the time.

That must have been pretty awesome for a burgeoning bass player.

Awesome and scary.  I thought, “There must be a thousand guys around like this”.  I didn’t realize there was only one Jaco.  He was amazing though.  Every time I saw him he would morph into something different.  Without Jaco opening doors for the rest of us, people would still be playing with their thumbs.

What did you think about the documentary?

The part that grabbed me was when he had a little girl and decided he had to be the best bass player in the world in order to support a family.  I can’t think of a better reason to be the best at anything.  I’m really glad that Robert Trujillo did it, and he did it for all the right reasons.

How so?

He didn’t do it for the money; he did it for the love of music, and his love of Jaco and Jaco’s family.  He wanted to get his story out there, so others could enjoy his artistry.

 What started you on the road to playing bass? Did you choose bass, or did it choose you?

I started out playing guitar, an old craftsman acoustic.  Every block had a band back then, and I went to the local band and asked to join.  They told me they already had enough guitar players and I’d have to play bass.  It didn’t hit me until recently when someone asked me that question; I’d been living my life according to someone else’s idea of what I’m doing.  But no matter how much I play guitar, I always go back to the bass, it’s my home. When I put the bass in my hands, it’s like a clean canvas.

Describe your current rig.

A TC Electronics Amplifier.  I wasn’t aware of how good it was until I used it, and when I did I was just knocked out.  I was previously only familiar with their pedals.  It’s got a huge amount of high fidelity tone.  It’s taken me years to find that perfect tone.  For the cabs, I match it with the HK 2 x 12’s or the 4 x 10’s.  It’s great, it’s a small, lightweight cabinet, and it fits easily in my Prius.

What was it like working with Peavey on your signature model?

I’ve had a few signature models.  The first was a Washburn, then a series of Peaveys, and recently I did one for Spector Basses, and another one for Ovation.  The Ovation is an electric acoustic model. [On Spector’s site, Rudy is listed as “Legendary Bassist”]

You’ve played with a diverse lot of musicians, what thread ties it together? 

Quality!  I always want to play with people better than myself, that’s what I live for.  That’s what keeps me going; keep playing and learning.  There’s always room to grow as a musician.

Which drummer did you form the most cohesive rhythm section with?

Drummers are so different, they have an inner clock, and it’s like a heartbeat.  The ones that come to mind are Tommy Aldridge and Frankie Banali.  I played with Tommy in Ozzy’s band and in Whitesnake, and with Frankie in Quiet Riot.  Those were my highlights career-wise.

 Ever tackle the fretless? 

I started playing the fretless when I was with Ozzy back in 1981.  No markers, no dots, nothing!  On Speak Of The Devil I used a fretless on the track Over The Mountain.  The fretless allows me to play more melodically; it’s like a human voice.

What do you love about being a counselor at RRFC, you always seem to be the happiest guy in the room.  How did you end up with RRFC? 

The camp is a very close-knit family, and you have to be brought in by somebody to become a counselor.  Bruce Kulik was the one who brought me in.  I’ve been doing it for eight years now. When a new counselor is brought in, I’m the person who acclimatizes them to the whole thing, I tell them what to expect from the camp, and what’s expected from them as a counselor.  I want the camp to be successful, and I want every camper to have a great experience.

Why do you continue to do it?

It allows me to give back; it’s an incredible vehicle for that.  It allows me to directly interact with fans and people who wanted to be musicians but never took the leap.  It’s a very personal thing for me.  At some point in your life you want to be able to take what you’ve earned and give back to others.  There are a lot of people at the camp who for many reasons were never able to fulfill that dream they had of being professional musicians, and it’s my responsibility to help them reconnect with that identity.

What’s on the horizon for you? 

Heart of the Storm, it’s a combination of an American rock band and a Russian ballet company.  It’s all original music and I was asked to play fretless on it.

Rudy Sarzo’s Website, Facebook page and Twitter @rudysarzo

Ivor Levene

About Ivor Levene

Ivor Levene likes to interview musicians, write about music and musicians, play music, listen to music, read about music, photograph musicians, and anything else you can think of with music. He has been involved with the music scene for over thirty years and his posts have appeared all over the place! Ivor says "I'm going to write about music as long as I have something to say".
This entry was posted in Animals, Interviews, Live Music, Music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply