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Still Ozzy after all these decades

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Want to know the real reason why 47-year-old metalhead Ozzy Osbourne is still alive and kicking, six years into the decade they say killed heavy metal music?

The answer's summed up in the title of his current world tour.

Retirement Sucks.

"I got very antsy," he says, describing the three-year break he took after finishing the No More Tours concert trek in 1992. "I had this habit of going to the refrigerator, opening the door, looking at all the stuff inside and closing it, like, dozens of times a day."

Sounding suspiciously like a member of that clueless fictional metal band, Spinal Tap, Osbourne offers the kicker: "It wasn't too long before I thought, "That was dumb.' "

That's vintage Ozzy. He may not be the smartest or most sophisticated guy in the world, but when he makes a mistake, he admits it.

He also clearly remains one of the best hard rock/metal vocalists around _ nearly 30 years after his band Black Sabbath helped create the genre known as heavy metal.

So it might come as some surprise to learn that Osbourne resists any effort to hang the metal tag on his own work. "I never really acknowledged that," he says, dismissively. "I'd much prefer people just called it Ozzy Music, because, even when there was metal, it went from Bon Jovi to Metallica to me."

Still, the sounds that fill his latest album, 1995's Ozzmosis, are classic metal touchstones _ from the crunchy distorted guitar that powers the bruising rocker Perry Mason (complete with an ominous excerpt from the classic TV show theme) to the ponderous, keyboard-heavy ballad I Just Want You.

But it's not all hard rock crunch and posturing. Osbourne and Co. even manage a textured take on Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles with the gothic-style lament, Ghost Behind My Eyes.

It's an impressive record that shows just where singers like Glenn Danzig and James Hetfield learned their eardrum-busting vocal chops. And it becomes even more impressive when you consider his backing band _ featuring former Sabbath bandmate Geezer Butler on bass and ex-Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman.

"That record was tough . . . (Producer) Michael Beinhorn made me work like a f___ slave," Osbourne says. "It was like (being) a woman who's pregnant and somebody else is coming 'round saying what the baby will be. You've gotta have fun . . . I mean, how can I make a record for people to have fun with if I'm not having fun m'self?"

Of course, Osbourne also freely admits to having a little too much fun with alcohol and drugs during his 28-year career _ culminating with a mid-'80s stay at the Betty Ford Clinic to kick his habits.

He also owns up to the fact that many of his most outrageous stunts _ from urinating on the Alamo (where he was arrested) to biting the head off a bat thrown onstage (he says he thought it was a rubber toy) _ may have resulted from his own talent for indulgence.

These days, Osbourne's drugs of choice are Prozac and Valium, taken to combat emotional issues he has struggled with since attempting suicide at age 14.

"Before I had Prozac, I would wake up in the morning and a problem would escalate into a catastrophe . . . My wife would be running away (or) I'd be getting ripped off," he told Reuters wire service recently. "The Prozac . . . kind of nips it in the bud."

It helps that his career seems back on track, with the legendary frontman hip-deep in a world tour with another equally impressive backing band, boasting Faith No More's Mike Bordin on drums and Infectious Grooves bassist Robert Trujillo.

"I was the guy back in school who had a different Black Sabbath T-shirt for every day of the week," Bordin told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "I even once stole a neighbor's car . . . to go see Sabbath . . . in 1977. So this is really a great honor for me."

"Every other band I've had, there's been a spanner in the works," Osbourne says, using a British term for a pesky problem. "Here, everyone just plays the songs as written. I can't wait to do a new album with this band . . . I want to do it yesterday."

Ask how he views the '90s metal scene and the tattooed frontman _ he wears 11 total, according to his press kit _ offers a characteristically simple analysis.

"A lot of these bands . . . they don't do anything for the audience," he says, passionately. How could anybody (like British chart-toppers Oasis) compare themselves to the . . . Beatles? The industry feeds this (stuff)."

What amazes him most, however, is those who are still trying to ape Sabbath's classic sound, nearly 30 years after its first record. "People would ask me how we got that sound _ well, we used to snort this white powder, and drink a gallon of this liquid, fall about and then plug in.

"The first Black Sabbath album was recorded for $800 and it's still selling 28 years later . . . because the feeling is there," he adds. "I just give it my best effort. And if the audience dwindles to where people don't want to see me anymore, I'll just bow out gracefully into the realm of rock 'n' roll history."

AT A GLANCE

Ozzy Osbourne appears Wednesday with Type O Negative and the Rollins Band at the ThunderDome, One Stadium Drive, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $25.75 and $32.75 for the 7:30 p.m. show. 825-3333.