Ask any hard rock or metal fan to name the best and most influential bassists of the early genre and certain names will repeatedly pop up; Billy Sheehan, Steve Harris and Rudy Sarzo will all likely be among them. The Cuban born Sarzo may be among the most overlooked of the three mentioned, but his chops are excellent. You don’t get gigs playing for Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Whitesnake, Blue Oyster Cult and Quiet Riot simply because you look good. Sarzo has always had a trademark style all his own, and at 62, he looks and plays as if he will continue to influence young bassists for ages to come.
This week, Sarzo took some time from his amazingly hectic schedule to discuss his new Animetal USA project with fellow well known musicians; vocalist Mike Vescera (Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen) guitar legend Chris Impellitteri, and drummer Jon Dette (Slayer, Testament). Sarzo also talked about memories of Dio, Ozzy, and his late friend, Randy Rhoads.
After a long and storied resume one might assume that Sarzo would be slowing down after all that he’s accomplished in his legendary career. However, that is not so. “I’m just getting started,” he iconic bassist laughs. “The reason I say I’m just getting started is, with technology musicians have more creative freedom then they have ever had before. So right now I’m entering a new phase of creativity and I think I’m not alone. A whole new generation of musicians are sharing the same creative freedom.”
With the advent of ProTools, drum machines and other digital technology, the sky is the limit for musicians at all levels. “Yeah, it’s totally different when you can record in your underwear,” Sarzo chuckles, “rather than go to The Record Plant and having to record with your full clothes on.”
When Sarzo was not busy rehearsing or performing, he found a taste for technology and art. He combined the two into a passion for graphics and found ways to include it whenever possible into his day job. This includes the background graphics for one of Dio’s big tours. So it should not be surprising that the Japanese art of anime caught his attention. While some might see anime as simply glorified cartoons or fantasy film work, it has become a major trend that has stretched from Japan to become very popular in America as well.
“Basically it’s an art form, and it goes beyond cartoons. In Japan you turn on television and anime is on all the time. Especially after midnight. Anime can be about anything. There’s a track on our album called ‘Touch’ which is about a baseball team. You know, we grew up watching Yogi Bear and The Flintstones and there’s some logic to it. Let’s say Yogi Bear, he talks, but he lives in Yellowstone Park. So that makes sense. He hangs out in the woods. That’s sensible. Whereas if Yogi Bear was in anime, his best friend would be a robot and they’d be going to like all these different galaxies and fighting evil empires. So it’s a whole different approach. It’s more like freedom of imagination. If you can imagine it, you can throw it into the storyline. That’s basically anime”
Japan has also long carried the torch for American rock and roll, so it is not surprising to find that the two art forms have so readily connected. Thus Animetal USA was born, however it had its early foundations as a Japanese band. Sarzo discusses the project:
“What we do is perform the theme songs from popular anime series as a speed metal band. Or speed metal versions of it. And in this band we are super heroes of course because we are part of the anime world. We wear costumes and Kabuki make-up because it’s very Japanese-centric. The whole concept started a few years ago. Our singer, Mike Vescera was a member of a group called Loudness. So Mike was living in Japan for about three years and he became a huge fan of anime. So about a year-and-a-half ago, he got together with our record company in Japan and talked about the concept of reviving the original Animetal. Which was all Japanese; all the members were Japanese, but reviving that concept then naming it Animetal USA with the focus of being more of a global band. Musicians that are known not only in Japan but around the world. So I got the call to join the band, and of course I embraced the whole concept completely, not only because I love anime but I am also a 3D animator.”
Of course one cannot talk to Rudy Sarzo without discussing his many bands and the legends he has worked with. He was kind enough to touch base on many of them including Randy and Ronnie. You can hear everything he had to say in the interview below.