In the summer of 1989, I interned with D.I.R. Broadcasting, producers of the nationally syndicated radio show, King Biscuit Flower Hour. The requirements of the internship were largely administrative, but a few weeks after I started, I was asked if I was interested in being a production assistant for Ozzy Osbourne at the Tower Theater for the first-ever King Biscuit TV concert. The job was unpaid, but it didn’t matter because I was given something that money couldn’t buy – an all-access backstage pass to the concert.
Gazing out the window as we arrived by bus at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA, I was thankful that I wouldn’t have to walk through what seemed to be a pretty seedy neighborhood. Or so I thought. It didn’t take long before an arrogant, dismissive supervisor proved that production assistant was not the glamour job that I pictured in my mind. As the low men on the totem pole, a fellow intern and I were sent on a wild goose chase to buy blank tapes on a Sunday night with almost every store in the area closed. The fact that it we were on foot in a bad area was of little consequence to the supervisor.
After a fruitless, nerve-wracking search for blank tapes, I helped run some wires and then put my all-access pass to use.
The first person that I met backstage was Zakk Wylde, who had joined Ozzy a few years prior. Being hand-chosen by Ozzy at the age of 22 would give most people a huge ego, but Zakk is not most people. When I walked into the room, he was walking around strumming his trademark guitar as he sang “Welcome to the Jungle.” His singing was impressive, as was his guitar playing, but the thing that I remember most was how humble and friendly he was to me. Years later, we would get together for dinner and drinks, a story for another day.
After leaving Zakk, I made my way up a narrow flight of stairs. Even though I had an all-access pass, I kept waiting for someone to stop me as I walked into the room where Ozzy was riding a stationary bike to warm up for the concert. His hair stylist worked on his hair as he pedaled away, spraying liberal amounts of hairspray from the instantly recognizable purple can of Aussie Mega. I had never been backstage before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured that there would be plenty of booze. There were a few beers, but mostly just bottles of water in the cooler as Ozzy was not drinking at that point.
It was a surreal hard rock daddy moment being in a room with Ozzy, Sharon and their kids who were 3, 4 and 5 at the time. Two of these adorable kids would later become known to the world on The Osbournes, an MTV reality show that revealed a side of the “Prince of Darkness” that few knew existed. However, long before the Osbourne family achieved pop culture status and became a household name, I witnessed Ozzy’s childlike innocence firsthand after a concert experience that I will never forget.
The sold-out crowd of approximately 3,000 at the Tower Theater was a much smaller audience than a typical Ozzy concert. Some would call it an “intimate” crowd, but frenzied would be a much more accurate description. With the exception of Ozzy dousing me, along with the recording equipment as he threw buckets of water at the crowd during “Shot in the Dark,” things went relatively smoothly until the final encore.
As the band launched into “Crazy Train,” Ozzy motioned towards to the crowd and said “come on, everybody go crazy!” The frenzied crowd took Ozzy’s encouragement as an invitation to rush the stage (see video below). As the fans piled onto the stage, they nearly trampled me, everyone else in the pit area and the recording equipment.
Exhausted and shaken from the experience, I pulled myself together and made my way backstage. After praising Ozzy on his performance, I said “that was pretty crazy at the end of the show.” He looked at me with and with a childlike innocence said “I didn’t think that they would all come up on stage.” It was clear that he was genuinely surprised by what had just transpired.
Despite some scary moments, it was still one of the best experiences of my life.
Before that day, Ozzy seemed larger than life to me. By the time that we shook hands after the show, I realized that he was a regular guy, a loving family man who just happened to be idolized by millions of fans around the world.