Zakk Wylde. The man, the myth, the lesson, the legend.

Written by on December 9, 2010 in Cover Story, Interviews - 8 Comments
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Whether it is his unforgettable 20+ year run as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, his own band Black Label Society, or the hard road of rock he has paved..there’s no escaping this steam roller.

Most recently, Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society have nabbed their highest album debut ever, with the stunning new album ORDER OF THE BLACK (E1 Music) coming in at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 Album and #1 on the Billboard Hard Music Album charts at a time when record sales are down across the board (and have been for years), this bow is all the more impressive since it significantly surpasses the debut of the last Black Label Society album (SHOT TO HELL) in both units and chart position.

None of this  comes as a surprise to his fans and followers.

Zakk WyldeIn the two decades since Ozzy Osbourne hired him away from his job at a New Jersey gas station, Zakk Wylde has established himself as a guitar icon known and revered the world over.  Wylde has won nearly every guitar award imaginable, graced countless magazine covers and is a major influence to a new battalion of rock guitarists.  Writing and recording with Osbourne led to multi-platinum success, inspiring him to create the now iconic Black Label Society in 1998.  In the decade plus since, BLS has turned the notion of what a rock band should be upside down by inspiring legions of fans (known as Berserkers) all over the world to follow the mantra: Strength, Determination, Merciless, Forever.

Wylde and his Berserkers have established a heavy metal institution true to the vision of uncompromising, unfiltered and unrestrained rock n’ roll.  To date, Black Label Society has sold more than 3.5 million albums worldwide and continues to be a massive presence on the worldwide touring and merchandising circuits.

Wylde gained even more notoriety this year when it was announced he was no longer with Ozzy, health problems were reported and he suddenly walked away from his hard drinking lifestyle …the rock world was stunned and anxiously awaited and wondered what was next..and Zakk, true to form, brought it.

Front and center.

As luck would have it, on Ozzy’s birthday Zakk and I spoke about everything from his new album to his new found appreciation for Kegel exercises. Enjoy…..

AAM: Hey Zakk- thanks for taking the time to speak to us today…I know this is a busy time for you.

Zakk- Yeah well with all of Kegel exercise I am doing…and going to my palates classes we’ll knock this out as fast as we can.

AAM: So obviously you have the new cd Order of the Black/ Christmas Tune, tour, etc: Tell our readers about what they can expect from BLS now that you are 25/8.

Zakk: Well , outside of the Kegel  exercise and palates (laughing)our quest for global domination is just moving along nice and fine…starting off with our Black Label family just getting bigger and bigger and more reliant with a number 4 hit , a number one on the charts and the fact that I am looking more and more like Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt every day (laughing) the juggernaut  that is Black label cannot be stopped!

AAM: Tell us about the latest Berzerkus tour?

Zakk: With the Black Label church meetings, we’re just like one big family gathering and we’re just a house band, we always have a blast, the fact that we had Children of Bodom, Clutch it was just one woven brotherhood on the road, we had a blast  —-it was great seeing everybody again.

AAM:  So today is a certain Prince of Darkness’ Ozzy Osbourne’s birthday so we have to ask the inevitable question…he  actually gave you the name Zakk Wylde and then after 20+ years decided on a new guitarist yet no animosity, why?  Many people in your position may not have taken such a high road..

Zakk WyldeZakk: It’s all fake, he hates me and I hate him that’s the way it goes.. (pause)….(laughing) No seriously, with Oz , between Mom and Oz I love them like my parents..Oz is like an older brother and best friend to me. Father figure, mentor and all..and I love him..so regardless, put it this way if Oz had even said, “Zakk, Im going to take a break for awhile and I’m done, I did it”, I’d support him any day after that in any way he wanted. I’d play guitar, record solos, just tell me when to show up..it’s that easy with Oz…just like with the boss, musically whatever, he wants to do…our relationship is bigger than the music anyway..you know? He’s the Godfather of my son, and he’s always been straight up with me…so even back when we were doing No More Tours and  we were touring with AIC… and we were all buddies..without Oz, Mike wouldn’t be in Alice, I wouldn’t have Black Label, you know? It’s like all of the amazing things,  and off shoots that he has had and created so I mean it’s a matter of being grateful for what you got..with Oz I talked to him not too long ago, and I’ll be calling him today for his birthday. And like with Gus, the Black Label Family wishes him well and we want him to do good…it’s all good and cool and why wouldn’t it be? Without Oz there wouldn’t be a Zakk Wylde or BLS, no signature guitars, amps, strings, pedals, and there wouldn’t be a #4 record…and all that crap that goes along with it without Oz giving me the opportunity in the first place.

AAM: Speaking of amps , strings and pedals…is there any product you don’t endorse?  At this point you could put a BLS design on a Yoga mat and make it official..!

Zakk: Chuckling, well now, they are all quality products…but we may have to branch out into some Kegel and palates products…and with Black Label you know you’re getting good quality. Top shelf.  (laughing)

AAM: You contributed songwriting and guitar to the No More Tears album, while Lemmy wrote the lyrics for four songs., in my opinion it’s the album that put Ozzy back in the forefront and in front of a new audience , where do you draw your song writing process from? And is it easier writing for BLS vs another artist?

Zakk: Any song I always say is the good Lord, he’s the dj and it’s just a matter of tuning in to the right radio station to get the songs.. and it’s like, thank you Dude for that one…I can get inspired by anything, I can hear “Heart of Gold” on the radio and get home, and record a song in that vein and in that style..you can get inspired by other songs, other great musicians, you know? It’s all around…and that’s the joy about music . It’s just endless. It’s absolutely endless. Like Paul McCartney of the Beatles , after that it was like ‘I guess he’s never writing another good song” and then all of a sudden there’s Wings, so there’s all this insane more music coming out..there’s no end to it, you know what I mean?

AAM: You’ve talked about  Black Label Society and the colors are black and white for a reason. There are no gray issues. Life is black and it’s white. There’s no in-between. A lot of people believe in the grey, so how do you apply this as a personal philosophy?

Zakk: Yeah, that’s our philosophy you know..you look at the running joke is  “the psychiatrist in BLS”, like the drill sergeant mentality, like the one guy in that Geico commercial..would a drill sergeant make a terrible psychiatrist? ‘You know what makes me sad” and then its “get yourself some friggin’ respect you cry baby” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhlWddAXSRA) . The grey issues , you are always going to have them..you know we could be on tour and you wake up in the morning and have a flat tire, now we gotta get to the gig and get beer for everybody, or we got shot at three times on the way to the liquor store, we get the tire fixed but then Joe’s wife has a baby in the back of the tour bus but you know what, nobody cares about any of that stuff. All they want is when the kabuki drops and BLS hits the stage at 9 o’clock. So, all of this crap, you got in between? I don’t want to f’in hear about it. All that stuff would be great for a Seinfeld episode but in between all anyone cares about is when you hit the stage..That’s life in general nobody cares about any excuses or crap..

AAM: BLS isn’t just a band, you’ve made it a lifestyle, brand, a community …You took what could have been  a good marketing approach and made it a movement …..was there a plan or did it happen naturally and How has sobriety changed that..?

Zakk: Well you know the whole thing was we always drank and had good times but once again it’s our old motto GIFD… the doctor is telling me you’ve got the blood clots ..and then it was no more drinking, you are done drinking, that’s it.. you –are- done. And I don’t need to go spend $20,000 at a rehab with someone telling me what I already know. You want to get good on the guitar you practice.. you want to pay me $20,000 for that, I’ll take the money. I’ll teach you everything you need to know, I’ll teach you the scales, I’ll show you how to play “Stairway to Heaven” but you gotta practice, I cannot do that for you. So, some things in life you gotta do for yourself …I can’t do it..I can’t hold your balls and wipe your ass too and all that candy ass shit…I can’t do it…you gotta do shit on your own and you SHOULD want to do shit on your own…you know what I mean? You know my kids, people are like “Oh Zakk how do you raise a family…and this and that” ..well you know my kids come out on the road and they see things that only some kids read about in a book ..not for real…but at the same time they are individuals and they can roll on their own..which you want to be..you want to be able to do shit on your own.

But as far as the sobriety thing, I was never wasted when we were making any of these records, or making any decisions anyway. I mean you can talk about something when you are hammered, and go like this, man this is going to be cool and come up with ten ideas, at the pub one night. Maybe two of them may be kind of cool and you can work with them but the rest of them are like what the f#%k were we thinking? So…. which is funny, but whenever we were recording I was always stone cold sober,  so I could make sure everything’ s in pitch when I was recording them anyways..having a couple of beers is one thing..but I was not sitting around chugging away three cases of beer while I’m trying to do a guitar solo or double my guitars or work on my vocals..I may have been nursing a beer all day like I was drinking coffee..but it was more of a thing when we would finish recording , friends may come over to check something out , obviously we would be cranking them and tying one on, and then I’d just go to sleep in the studio, pound some coffee the next morning and listen to everything and get back to work..so I was never, “dude I don’t even remember making those records..those two albums  I was so f#%ked up I don’t even remember making them”  I know people who have told me that! And I was like really dude? Are you kidding me? And they were like,” No I literally don’t remember making those records”, let’s put it this way no matter how crazy things got with BLS , fights and sh#t like that, ridiculously  stupid shit, but I always remembered everything the next day.

And we would laugh about it…but we always had good times..but the chaos that comes with it , you gotta know that going in..that’s all part of it. But now people are asking me , “So Zakk you got any road stories?” And I’m like no, cause now I go to the gig, we hold our church service, its over, then back to the submarine and then we’re off to the next town. That’s how it is…back in the day, in the Animal House days that’s where all the crazy shit goes down. All of the crazy road stories I got are from that period and I’m not going to go out and get crazy, I’m back in the submarine watching Family Guy. That’s the extent of the insanity going on you know what I mean?

AAM: So you’ve obviously achieved guitar god status, and many look up to you..so you wake up in the morning and say damn, I’m Zakk Wylde..so who do you admire..I know you’ve mentioned Tony Iommi. What other guitarists have inspired you and why?

Zakk: Yeah, I tell that to Barb every time we walk into the bedroom (laughing)

Jimmy Page, I love him…everything that he did..just saw John McLaughlin..whoa wait a minute.. (conversation between Zakk and Barbaranne…and then…) Hey Kim I’m going to have to call you back, hon..I have back doctor’s appt so they are going to try and glue me be back together in time for the next rock show…Barb has your number so we’ll give you a call back ok?”

That works..talk to you then.

And he did….that night at 9:25 ,at the exact moment I left my office to get something to drink, my phone started ringing, rushing through the doors, I saw my screen flash “missed call”….

Zakk left a message and said he would call back, but as schedules are prone to get in the way, it took another week before we could catch up again….

Part II:

Zakk: “Hey Kim, it’s Zakk ….what are you doin’?

AAM: Oh Just waiting on you, Zakk!

AAM:So Zakk, we had to run the magazine without you, you’re on the cover and there’s a placeholder for our interview so you are already out there!

Zakk: You know it’s the story of my life, I just found out I have a wife and three kids!

AAM: Well let’s get back to where we were, we were talking about other guitarists that have inspired you or that you admire..

Zakk: Well obviously its Tony, Jimmy Page..I mean they really wrote the template for all of the rock bands you hear. That style of riffs …Obviously everything evolves and mutates, but the core essence of it…Sabbath and Zep those are blues based  riffs, I mean that’s what’s so cool about history, you can trace back something today back to where it actually started which is always awesome. I find it crazy with kids, I remember meeting one at an Ozzfest he was 14 , and he told me I was the reason he had picked up the guitar, and he told me that I was his favorite Ozzy guitar player..

I said “Aww no, Randy is the man”, and he said “Randy who?”

AAM: He did?

Zakk: Yeah , I go you gotta be kidding me , Randy Rhoades and the kid was like ahh..ok…it is amazing. I see it even when I watch foot ball, I’ll see some college kids will talk about how great Walter Peyton was as a running back and they will mention that was before my time…That was the Super Bowl of 1985  it’s not like he was playing in 1902! And when they ask Derek Jeter about Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and he doesn’t know who they are! You’re the captain and you don’t know who the first Captain of the Yankees was.? He says “Im not sure” Dude it was Lou Gherig! He was on tv, and he didn’t know, but the young kids today don’t know any history.

AAM: As a sidebar, I work with a 23 year old and we were discussing popular music today and she didn’t know who Madonna was. I’m not a big fan but I recognize she paved the way and no matter how hard I tried—still she had no idea who she was but she knew who Lady Gaga was.

Zakk: Yeah it’s like Lady Gaga now , and Gwen Stefani but they don’t know who the f#%k Madonna was , that’s f#%king crazy.

AAM: So another crazy thing is the hilarious video for Overlord…you obviously aren’t afraid of making fun of yourself and I heard through the grape vine that if they do another Death Wish or Dirty Harry…you’d love to go walking around with a 44 magnum. Now that you have tapped into your inner Kill Bill persona…any more plans…?

Zakk:  Oh without a doubt,  you know  I wanna start doing movies with Nick and Eric like how we were doing the Overlord video , it was like you see movies like Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels , and you see all of these actors…who are they? Between all of my rock star friends and athletes I’ve got all my famous knuckle headed buddies to be in this movie,  the fact that they have no acting skills? I go exactly! That’s what will make this movie really suck! That’s the whole point I don’t want professional actors! Or you put professional actors in the movie, so you show how much the other guys can’t act!

AAM: Or it balances out your production?

Zakk: Yeah…(laughing)Take the Mel Brooks or Quentin Tarrantino spin on it, his movies are great..and you see famous actors, and his movies are brilliant. But with me working off Nick and Eric as a foil, besides the rock videos they have worked in cinematography, they love that stuff as much as I love playing guitar, it’s just a perfect team..I would love to write scripts and just come up with the goofiest, stupidest shit…and then make serious stuff as well..but like you said it’s just another outlet, BLS is the tree and  it’s the mother ship..you can have all of these other offshoots.. like the hot sauce, beef jerky, coffee, I want to do these Doom Crew Pubs, it’s all these awesome things that come outside of the band…

AAM: You mentioned once about how everything is so disposable nowadays…kids are lucky if they even get 15 minutes of fame, it’s like a minute and a half. What’s the one thing in your opinion guitarists on the rise do wrong?

Zakk: I don’t know that you can do anything wrong..or make any mistakes b/c a lot of the time when you make mistakes that’s what gives you your own style, your own thing..NOT going by the rule book..my whole thing is that there is –no matter what –two sides to every coin..there’s the head and the tails, and the head is the part to consume as much knowledge as you can, you can never learn too much, it’s something else you are adding to your arsenal , doesn’t mean you have to use it…but you got it..then on the flip side, if you’re only limited to 5 chords and one pentatonic scale, you gotta learn how what different combinations you can use these  5 different chords in, you know?  So you’re constantly using your imagination it’s like giving someone 4 or 5 different kinds of food, and ingredients..and you gotta make different dishes out of it.. It’s like I’m going to give you chicken, and that’s it but as far as the other ingredients go you have to make 5 different dishes out of one chicken breast. You’re having to use some serious brain power there to jimmy up five chords.

AAM: This new album has hit the charts faster and more furious than any other BLS release, what in your opinion is the reason behind it- did you approach the album or recording differently?

Zakk:  Well you know we stole the cymbals from Led Zeppelin, the magical stars aligned, also the BLS family is getting bigger and bigger..the cherry on top though was the payola, hookers and cocaine (laughing) I think it really had  a lot to do with everything. (laughing) I mean everybody was saying Zakk that stuff is dead, it’s dinosaur stuff..I proved them all wrong..yeah number 4 record, number one in the hard rock charts..and you’re telling me that hookers and cocaine and payola is dead I think not my friend (laughing)!

AAM: So there you have it the trifecta of rock according to Zakk Wylde…and of course let’s not forget your Kegel exercises. I won’t mention the 4th that you just did! Ok let’s get serious for a moment..

Zakk: Wait I thought we were being serious? (Laughing)..

AAM:  You and Barbaranne do some extensive charity work- I opened up this interview  to questions from some of our readers and one,  Mya in England , told me to thank you and Barb for your work…her daughter had a brain tumor and was successfully treated here in the US and it was made possible by St. Jude’s and your generosity so I know those kind of stories have to make you feel good…but can you tell our readers how you got into the philanthropic side of rock?

Zakk- That’s great, it’s those kind of stories that make it all worthwhile..It really all came from the fact that Barb’s parents had supported St, Jude’s and so had mine so we decided to keep it in the family. We kept it going, if you’re in a position to help people you just do the right thing, you know what I mean?

AAM: Tell us about own record label, Panworkz. Other bands you’d like to work with?

Zakk: I’m willing to sign anything..If I’m in a hotel lobby and I see Sarah McLaughlin I’d sign her right there and produce her album..or if I see the next Guns and Roses in a bar…they’re in..or  a super heavy band like Pantera….the cool thing is it’s about being in a position to help people.. for me it would be like Randy Rhoades seeing my band and producing my record, hell I’d be jerking off all of the time..I love it! I think it’s definitely cool..and of course we’re going to steal all of their publishing and their merchandise it really is a way of not giving back it’s a way of getting back everything that was taken from me… I will get it back now…!!! (laughing)

AAM: It balances the charity work right? (laughing)

Zakk: Yeah, you know getting back not so much giving…everything in BLS is a balancing act..we’ll give to St Jude’s but we’ll take from the artists and rape them..it’s just like in Seinfeld, everything evens out in Black Label..(laughing)

AAM: So a few questions from our readers..Benjy asked if there was any chance of ever doing any “Pride and Glory” or “Book of Shadows” songs for the hardcore fans in the future and if so would you do it with BLS or another lineup?

Zakk: Right now at the end of January we’re thinking of doing a DVD for BLS entitled “Unblackened” of us doing an acoustic set, and we’ll do some of the catalogue stuff, older Pride and Glory or Book of Shadows, I mean we have mellow songs on every album…but also for the deluxe edition of the record we took a batch of songs and did for ex. an acoustic version of Overlord, the sky’s the limit…I don’t think we could  be on stage doing a six hour show though..

AAM:: But wouldn’t the cocaine help with that?

Zakk: Yeah, well (laughing) maybe we could…with the Viagra and cocaine, we can last for 6 hours and we wouldn’t call a doctor! (laughing)

AAM. Another fun question from one of your fans.. Jon wants to know how much money would it take for you to shave back down to your bare face (he mentioned he was just watching a ZZ Top DVD)??

Zakk: I remember they offered that to ZZ Top  for the Super Bowl, I would do that for not that much, I’d just grow it back..if they were going to give me a bunch of money I’d give a batch of it to St. Judes just grow it back– no big deal…

AAM: Now come on Zakk..really would you give it all to charity?

Zakk: Well it is a balancing act like we said, I’d give a batch to St. Judes and then to the cocaine dealers and the hookers for their hard work! (laughing)It’s a matter of taking care of everybody!

AAM: So we can look forward to the DVD , what else can our readers expect from the BLS camp this coming year?

Zakk:  Were talking with beer companies, coffee companies…anything that is sure to make you violently ill, I love it!..(laughing)

AAM: Zakk you know this means you are a marketing whore and I mean that in the nicest way possible!

Zakk: Yeah I love it.. but I actually use all of those products! I never understood the guy who endorsed Marshall amps, but ran his sound through different amps, so since you like it’s just a matter of having them make you something you want.

AAM: Good point…Well, Zakk our time is up and my tape is out ..so thank you for speaking to us twice. Good luck with the rest of the tour and with everything else you are involved in especially your Kegel exercises…

Zakk: (laughing) Thank You Kim! You take care.

Kim Thore

Special thanks to Carise Yatter at Hired Gun Media, fans Mya Fawcett, Benjy Johnson, and Jon Epstein for their questions. This interview is dedicated to Johnny Puff in NY, who was the person to lend me my first BLS cd, The Blessed Hellride …and the past 7 years have indeed lived up to that title.

Interviewer’s note- In the 10+ years I have been a music journalist, I have been incredibly lucky to have met and to have interviewed a few legends. A big thanks to Zakk for being the first icon to make me laugh and just have a normal conversation , his down to earth , irreverent sense of humor and self effacing charm were a refreshing change from the norm you find in rock. SDMF