What Ozzy wants, Ozzy doesn’t always get. In 1982, Ron Kayfield was showing off a new guitar to the legendary-rocker-turned-reality-TV-star before a show at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. Osbourne was so impressed with his playing that he offered him a spot in his band for the next album. “The next thing you know, my wife, Marsha, and I have tickets to fly to England and work with Ozzy,” he recalls.
Or so he thought. Upon landing, Kayfield was intercepted by Osbourne’s bass player, Pete Way, who’d just been fired. Way told the Upper Darby High School grad that he was starting a new group, and he convinced Kayfield to join then and there. Dubbed Waysted (get it?), the band cut an album and went on tour.
Kayfield has enough of these unlikely stories to fill an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. The Drexel Hill-based guitarist has been playing music since he was a kid, and he started earning a living at it before he graduated high school. His considerable skills have taken him to Los Angeles, London and across Europe. He’s hung out with rock royalty, played with a handful of seminal artists, and crafted guitars for members of the Cars, Heart and others.
Talk about being present at the creation: Kayfield was at the Whisky a Go Go nightclub in 1970 when Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood and English blues master John Mayall played there. Kayfield isn’t a name-dropper, but he is a legitimate messenger from rock’s past, before it became about the money—or all about the money.
Want to get an earful? Just head over to Arpeggio Music in Drexel Hill, where you’ll find him making Korina wood bend to his whims. “Building something one of a kind excites me,” says the master guitar maker. “I like the individualism of it.”
Kayfield’s independent streak showed itself early in his life, when he won a 1969 talent contest as a student at Upper Darby High School. He promptly flew to L.A., taking up with the house band at the Whisky. Evidently, Mom was OK with it; she’d been a Rockette and had done some film work with Warner Bros. “She wanted me to finish school, but I had a great opportunity,” he says.
Before he headed west, Kayfield made a stop at a New York music store, where he was outfitted with the guitar he’d use at the Whisky. While in the store, he spotted Hendrix in the corner, picking away. “He was just sitting there quietly, not calling attention to himself,” recalls Kayfield. “I didn’t want to bother him.”
Once in L.A., Kayfield settled in fabled Laurel Canyon and worked on improving his guitar skills by hanging out with some of the masters. His mother had provided a foundation early on, giving him records by the Yardbirds and Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and introducing him to the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles. Back then, there wasn’t tight security around the stars; sometimes there wasn’t any.
Wood was with Rod Stewart’s Small Faces at the time, and Kayfield remembers one particular conversation. “We were talking about René Magritte, and Wood was upset that Jeff Beck had chosen what he considered one of Magritte’s worst pieces for the cover of his Beck-Ola album,” says Kayfield.
When his gig at the Whisky was up, Kayfield came home and finished high school. In the mid-1970s, he got mixed up with controversial early punk band the Heartbreakers. It featured the hard-living Johnny Thunders, who died a mysterious drug-related death in 1991; Jerry Nolan, later of the New York Dolls; and Richard Hell, who went on to form the highly influential outfit, Television, with Tom Verlaine. After losing a guitar player, they asked Kayfield to try out. “I mimicked the energy they played with,” he says. “They watched me and said, ‘You’re in.’”
The Heartbreakers played Manhattan’s CBGB, the China Club and other landmark punk and New Wave venues that would make the late ’70s one of the most exciting periods in rock history. Around the same time, Kayfield met Bruce MacLaren, who ran a music store in Delaware County. Within a few years, Kayfield was helping MacLaren sell handmade guitars to musicians booked at the Spectrum.
Back when he was 12 and learning to play, Ron Kayfield had met Eric Schulte, a guitar maker who’d established himself as a force in the rock world. “I saw him take a piece of wood, and it became a neck and then a guitar,” Kayfield recalls. “I said, ‘That’s who I want to be.’”
By the early ’80s, though, Kayfield was on the road with Waysted. The group had a pretty good run, even opening for Mötley Crüe. “We had an MTV video, but working with Pete Way was tough,” Kayfield admits. “He was volatile.”
After a few years in England, Kayfield left Waysted and returned to America, forming Saints & Sinners. The band put out a string of albums on the CBS label before losing its contract.
Finally, Kayfield had the opportunity to go back to work for MacLaren. In 1992, his boss asked him to take over. He changed the name to Arpeggio, which is now in the back of his Drexel Hill home. “Our goal is to take all the good things from the vintage era and use modern electronics to make it more convenient,” he says.
Kayfield also nurtures two bands, Get the Led Out, a well-known Led Zeppelin tribute act, and Ron E. Kayfield & Company, a power trio that blends old favorites with originals. “We do some Van Halen, Zeppelin and Cream—and we throw our own stuff in,” he says. “I don’t want to play big stadiums again.”
Perhaps Ozzy’s to blame for that. Visit www.ronekayfield.com.