There is a video up on YouTube that shows a very young Zakk Wylde
. Very, very young. It's an illuminating vid and not because the teenaged guitar player has long blonde tresses any Hollywood groupie would be jealous of. In fact he looks like a transvestite hooker sitting there along side Ozzy Osbourne
and he'd be the first person to admit as much. No, what is so extraordinary about the clip is that Wylde is still searching for his inner identity, the person he'd become. His words are tentative and he's not quite sure who he is or who he wants to be. But he'd soon find that persona and emerge as the great metal wild man we all love.
You can hear some of that wildness here in a conversation with Wylde when he phoned in from Florida. Black Label Society
were there in Tampa for some shows supporting Judas Priest
and then continuing on the tour that would find them opening for Guns N'Roses
In the midst of all this touring, the guitarist found time to write a book Bringing Metal to the Children
bang out a theme song for a baseball news show and record a new three - song EP of Christmas music called Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good
. In typically crazy spirits and cranked up to 11, Zakk broke the ice by talking about the Judas Priest tour.
UG: What has the Priest tour been like?
It's awesome, man. I mean they're all super cool dudes to begin with aside from being an amazing band and legendary and all that stuff. I mean they're just super cool people. I met the guys back on the Ozzfest when they first hit the Ozzfest years ago and I became friends with the guys then.
You got to know the band during that 2004 Ozzfest?
I remember I got Glenn an old SG from Gibson and I got a red-and-white pickguard V for KK back then. You know like the two guitars they had on the back of British Steel so I just got those as presents for the guys to say, Thanks for the guitar lessons over the years and the inspiration and all that shit. We all went to dinner last night and I've known Scott [Travis, drummer] for years and Richie [Faulkner] now playing guitar for em; Rich is like slammin' it and killin' it every night.
Richie Faulkner is a really good guitar player.
Yeah, he's like slammin', dude. I mean killer technique and chops up the ass. He's great and he fits in great with the guys. I mean it's whatever happens between bands and K.K. and why isn't Bill Wyman still in the Stones? You know what I mean? To me and you on the outside lookin' in you just go, How hard could it be to be in a band? Like me with Ozzy? We never got into an argumentwe were too busy laughin' our balls off.
Playing with Ozzy was a really fun time for you?
All the years in Ozzy, all the guys in the band it's just that we'd all hang out. It's like, Steve, do you want to go to a tit bar tonight? Steve, we're gonna go hit a Hooters. You know like we all hung out. I've never been in a band where I didn't get along with anybody.
That's the same dynamic as in your band?
With Black Label nobody ever quits or gets fired. It's just kinda like, Yo, Zakk, I've gotta go home. My wife's pregnant now.
What happened with Craig Nunenmacher?
Like when Craig left, he was like, Zakk, we're not tourin' all the time. Between the wife and the bambino, I think I'm gonna do some other things. Because Craig wanted to get into the medical field and he wanted to have a steady income all the time cause in music it's up and down. And like with Ozz it would either be we're workin' and the money is comin' in and then when you're not workin' there's a lull. If anybody wants to leave Black Label for those reasons or you get a higher paying gig if you go out with Celine Dion, I'm not gonna stop you. It's like, Steve, you can always come back here. I'm not gonna stop you from makin' more money. Go and make the dough and if one of the guys wants to jump onboard a Whitesnake tour or something, you can always come back here.
Black Label is a real democracy.
That's the way we roll and that's what makes it unique. Cause we all still talk and hang out and I mean even the guys that aren't in the band that are playing in other bands. Like with the K.K. thing and the Bill Wyman thing or with Axl or Slash and all that. Between the wife and the kids and worrying about Black Label 25/8 and 366 days a year, I really don't have time to be talkin' to Dr. Drew and seein' a psychiatrist. I really don't have time for this, dude.
You bring up Axl and SlashBlack Label is going out on the road with Guns N'Roses. What are you expecting?
I get along great with Axl. When I was playing with the guys in'95 or '96, I had known Slash for a while and Duff and Steven and then I met Matt when he was playin' in the Cult. We ran into each other and we'd always hang out and everything like that. I've known all the guys forever and the only guy I never met was Dizzy and that was about it.
What was that like when you auditioned for Guns N' Roses back in the day?
Axl called me up and he was like, Hey, Zakk, we're talkin' about guitar players and we were talkin' about you. Do you want to come jam with us? I was like, Yeah, no problem, man. We'll have a blast. So we were jammin' on stuff and everything like that but whenever I'd hang with Axl he was a good dude. He's not an asshole or anything like that. It is what it is.
Could you have seen yourself joining Guns N' Roses?
Yeah, why not? I mean I'm friends with all the guys and I can play with anybody, dude.
Obviously you could have covered it musically but would it have satisfied all your guitar urges?
"With Black Label nobody ever quits or gets fired. It's just kinda like, Yo, Zakk, I've gotta go home. My wife's pregnant now."
Let's put it this wayas far as being a guitar guy, being an Ozzy guitarist, like I always said, It's the house that Rhoads built. It's the pinnacle of playing and there's no higher honor than being a guitarist and playing for Ozzy. You know what's expected out of you after Randy. Randy was the Babe Ruth and the Jesus Christ of Ozzy's guitar players and always will be and that's the way it should be. Randy started it just like Babe Ruth. Being an Ozzy guitar player is just putting the uniform on. And you know what's expected out of you and you're supposed to win a championship every yearthat's what's expected out of an Ozzy guitar player cause Randy set the bar. From playing with Ozz, where you gonna go from there?
If you had joined Guns N' Roses, would you have been able to write and do all the things you do with Black Label Society?
When the guys asked me about jammin' with GNR, yeah, as far as being in a band thing. But with me I love singin'; I love writin' lyrics; I love producing and playing the piano. I love the acoustic stuff and the heavy stuff and being there for the mixing and dealing with all the merchandise. I love dealing with the backdrops and the production and everything. Now we're doing videos and I'm involved in everything. I'm like George Steinbrenner [owner of the New York Yankees].
With Ozzy you weren't able to fill all of those positions.
Being with Ozzy, I could be Mickey Mantle. You have St. Rhoads and he was the Bambino [nickname for Babe Ruth] and then you got Jake E. Lee who was Lou Gehrig; I was Mickey Mantle and now Gus G. is Derek Jeter. Like I said, being with Ozz I couldn't ask for anything more being a guitar player. But now I'm involved with the trades and I'm involved with the free agency and who we're drafting. I'm involved with the way the stadium's gonna be built and the way we want the lawn cut for Christ's sake. You know what I mean? Everything. Who are we gonna get in trade? What kind of pitchers are we getting in and the whole nine yards. I'm involved with everything. But being with Ozz was just like being at home with your parents and you couldn't ask for anything more because you've got the coolest parents on the planet. But now me and you got our own apartmentknow what I mean?
Since we're talking about Ozzy, they have your audition tapes that you sent to Ozz on YouTube. Have you heard those recently?
What is that? Is that me playing classical guitar? I guess it was to show him I could play a bunch of different things. Actually somebody played it for me because I haven't heard it in years. I don't even have the tape; I don't even know how that thing came about. But it was funny listening back to it and all the classical guitar stuff and that. It was cool.
There's another video of you and Ozzy doing an interview. It's really interesting because it shows Zakk Wylde before you had really developed into Zakk Wylde. Does that make sense?
I have no idea. You figure I started when I was 19 or 20 years old and I look back at the pictures and it's awesome, man. A lot of people are like, Oh, dude, I don't even wanna sign the pictures. With the big poofy hair and everything? I've just got to take the piss out of it. It's like high school photos and the running joke was that Barb [Zakk's wife] actually wanted to have sex with me. I go, That's when any chicks wanted to have sex with me [big laughs]. And then if I was on Santa Monica Boulevard [a gay section in West Hollywood], guys as well [more laughs].
You're not choosy.
Going back really early, there's a YouTube video of you doing a solo in Zyris, one of your first bands.
It was the same thing with Zyriswe always had a good time and it was a lot of fun. Packin' the gear and throwing it in the back of my Delta Royale and me and Barb going to the shows. I'd have to throw my gear in there and we'd make $20 a night and that was basically for the gas for me to do the gigs. But I was mowing lawns then and giving guitar lessons and obviously saving up all my money for Marshalls.
What were you using with Zyris?
I had the Laneys then cause I got them because Warren DeMartini was playing them. The Ratt guys were all using Laneys. So I was like, Man, I wanna get Laneys. I had two Laney heads and two cabinets. But then Dave Dipietro and TT Quick when I saw them opening up and Dave was using all Marshalls, I was just like, Oh, my god. His guitar tone was ridiculous and I was just like, Dude, I've gotta get a Marshall.
You've always had this type of camaraderie with in the bands you were in.
Dude, I had just as much fun then as I do now. It's just that there's more people. When we played keg parties it was always a blast cause even though there's like 180 people there, it looks like Madison Square Garden because there's people everywhere and it's just the coolest.
At the end of the solo, do you start playing the riff from Bad Company's Rock Steady?
Yeah, probably. I was going, Why aren't we playing more music like this? because our originals were the worst, cheesiest shit. Cause I remember Johnny Iacoves, the singer, loved Bad Company, Zep and Van Halen and everything like that. I was totally into Sabbath and Randy and Ozzy's solo stuff and then I remember our drummer Andy Marcus was a huge Bonzo freak and loved Zeppelin and Johnny loved Zeppelin.
Your originals didn't sound like Zep or Sabbath?
Somebody was like, What does Zyris sound like? Cause with Black Label I can say, Well what does Black Label sound like? There's tons of Sabbath flying around in there and Zeppelin. Whether you've got Allmans influences or Creedence and Skynyrdy-type things floating around. If you were eating soup or something you'd go, What am I tasting here? Is that cilantro? Ginger? Is that tobasco? If somebody wants to know what Black Label sounds like, I can just rattle off these bands. And it's just like, Well it kind of sounds like these guys. That's what it's gonna taste like when you eat this shit.
How would you describe Zyris?
I remember I was thinking about that and Scandal came on the radio with Goodbye To You [Zakk sings the chorus line]. And then I've Done Everything For You [sings the chorus. Rick Springfield. Didn't Sammy Hagar originall write that song though?
He may have.
I think I heard Sammy do that one years ago but the Rick Springfield version? That's what we sounded like. And I go, There's no guitar solos and if there was a guitar solo it was the melody of the chorus. I remember when were doing the demo tapes with Zyris it was like, Oh, we're going into the studio and this is where all the magic happens and blah blah blah. All I remember is when we were in there, I was trying to put some scale thing in there, some Randy-type thing or some thirds or some pentatonic thing or whatever. I got done doing the solo and these guys J.B. Moore and Robert Ford stopped the tape. They produced Kurtis Blow and shit, this rap stuff, and they wanted to get into the rock thing. So they put three-grand up for the studio time for us to do this fuckin' pile of shit. But I remember one of them stopping the tape and he lit his lighter like he's at a rock concert and he goes, Alright now that we've got that out of our system, can we play the solo?
Did that really happen?
I kid you not, dude. I'm like going, Unbelievable. What the fuck am I practicing for? What am I spending 12 hours a day playing the guitar for?? I'm listening to Randy Rhoads the whole time and Eddie Van Halen and Spanish Fly and Eruption and Tony Iommi kill it and Frank Marino. And you want me to playnothing? This is ridiculous. I guess this is how it works: We do this kind of crappy music first and then when we sell a lot of records then we can make our Black Label album with Crazy Horse' and Overlord' and everything like that.' I go, Dude, it doesn't work that way. Alice in Chains was Alice in Chains from the get-go and they didn't write cheesy, poppy Bon Jovi songs. They didn't write songs that made Bon Jovi look like a death metal band.
You're saying that you have to believe in the kind of music you want to play.
The only advice I give to kids is just like, Oh, Zakk, you got any advice starting out? I'm like, Yeah, what music do you love? And they're like, We love Dimebag and we love Pantera and Metallica. And I go, Good. You know what? There should be elements of that floating around in there. I go, You know when you play a Metallica song or a Pantera song or an Alice in Chains song or whatever? Or Soundgarden? You know how good that makes you feel and you're like, Man, this song is awesome.' That's what your songs should make you feel like. You should be playing it going, Wow, I can't believe we wrote this song. I feel like I'm playing a cover song.' That's what your song should feel like and that's when you know you're doing the right thing.
You never had that feeling with Zyris?
No; it was all contrived and cheesy. It was just ridiculous. How are you gonna have your own identity if you're writing stuff you don't even like? Cause you're writing stuff that's horrendous. I listen to Robin Trower every morning when I get up but Trower's stuff, that's the way he plays the guitar. He writes riffs that are pentatonic-based and you got James Dewar singing and it's a three-piece band and there's killer solos going on and that's the kind of music he writes, man. I mean Zeppelin writes what Zeppelin wants to write. I mean just write the music that you love writing. And when you listen to it at the end of the day, you go, It feels like I'm playing a cover song. Because I like the song so much it actually feels like I'm playing a cover song.
Did you have to wait until Pride and Glory before you were really able to write songs that made you feel good?
I just remember one day on stage we needed to play more songs at the Stone Pony with Zyris and we just broke into Rock and Roll by Zeppelin and now all of a sudden it's like we've all got massive hard-ons because we're playing cool music. Then it's like you've got to go back our originals and our originals were songs I didn't even want to play. I mean I hate this music. I wouldn't even listen to this kind of music. What am I doing? I just tell kids, Do yourself a favor and save yourselves a couple years and don't do what I did. Cause I'm telling you right now it's just a waste of timea complete waste of time.
Jumping to the Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good EP, you actually did your first Christmas instrument with Father Steve Vai for his Merry Axemas, Vol. 2: More Guitars For Christmas album back in 1998.
"My parents always made sure we had killer Christmases. And being a parent now it's always awesome with the kids and everything like that."
Years ago. Stevie asked me, Hey, Zakk, you wanna knock this thing out? So I was like, Yeah, no problem. I remember we recorded it when I was doing the first Black Label album and we were down in Miami at Criteria Studios. All I remember is Steve says, Which one? I go, Did anyone do White Christmas,' Stevie? And he goes, No, Zakk and I go, I'll do that one. He goes, Well that makes sense since you're in Miami. All the cocaine. Oh, yeah, White Christmas,' that's a good one.
That was the first time you ever worked on a Christmas instrumental?
Yeah, for that thing because Stevie was just like, Zakk, why don't you knock something out? and I said, No problem. I'll just do an acoustic version of it. I mean I love doing em anyway. I mean I had a blast when I knocked these three out [on the new EP].
How did the Glorious Christmas Songs EP come about?
After I did The First Noel thing on The Song Remains Not the Same, iTunes called and said, Mind doing another thing? Because as far as I'm concerned, I love listening to John McLaughlin and Father DiMeola; Paco [DeLucia] and Christopher Parkening and any of the great [acoustic] guitar players. Any of the guys that are just killin' it on guitar and it's awesome to have these outlets to do it. Like when I jammed with Father Sherinian where it's a fusion thing so it's my fusion home when I'm jamming with Derek and stuff like that. When I got a chance to do these instrumentals, I love doing em.
I'll Be Home For Christmas combines acoustic and electric guitar and a bit of piano.
Yeah, and I got the string section in there.
That song has a bit of a Jeff Beck/Les Paul feeling to it?
Yeah, totally. Without a doubt. When I listen back to it that's the first thing I was thinking. Kind of like a Les Pauly or Jeff Beck thing.
Your tone on I'll Be Home For Christmas is pretty clean and almost has a jazz sound to it.
I'm just using the Vertigo Les Paul, the new one they gave me, straight into one of my JCM800s. That's it; I didn't use any of my pedals. I actually went into my pedal boards but I didn't [turn them on]. If I wanted the chorus the chorus on or my Rotovibes or something, I had access to the pedals. Or if I wanted to use the wah and set it back like the cool Michael Schenker thing and get that tubey sound, I had access to it. But I didn't even bother using the pedal board. All I did was just use the volume [on the guitar] and the settings on my amp were the same settings I use all the time and I just had the volume rolled down a little bit.
You really captured the essence of the song with that cleaner guitar tone.
Without a doubt. When I listened to it I said, It sounds killer the way it is. It just sounds like your classic Les Paul and the Marshallyou can hear the tube and it sounds real glassy. The high end is real sensitive and glassy, which is a beautiful electric guitar tone.
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem had that same arrangement of acoustic and electric and piano. Also a bit of a Jeff Beck feel here?
Yeah, without a doubt. I mean he's the king of that stuff with tones and just makin' the guitar sing. And every now and then I'd put a fast thing in there or something like that. Before when I was listening to some of the takes it was more doodleah doodleah doodleah [imitates a manic guitar riff] and I go, Zakk, what the fuck am I doing, dude? It's like people will be spilling eggnog all over the house. It's like, Dude, calm down a little bit and just play the song. Everyone knows you can play kinda fast, dudejust play the melody.
You could really hear the articulation and the vibrato and it wasn't covered up with distortion and effects.
Cool. Thanks a lot, brother.
You also did an instrumental version of the Baseball Tonight theme for ESPN.
Oh, yeah. It just goes to show you the strength of the Black Label family. They're the knuckleheads that voted me in on that. As far as the winners of that thing, it's more the Black Label family having a good time and being a bunch of goofballs. Because everybody else that did it had slammin' stuff too. It was no big deal, man.
You mentioned that John Pizzarelli was a pretty insane guitarist who did a version.
He's ridiculous. John was on Letterman or he might have been on Conan one night and he was just absolutely killin' it, dude. I mean blitzkriegin'. Cause I mean like dude, he plays as fast as Father DiMeola and McLaughlin and everybody. You know diddla diddla diddla [another speedy guitar lick] and it's just ridiculous. And with all the jazz chops and the chromatics it's like out of control, dude.
When you were arranging the Christmas songs for the EP, where did your sense of harmony come from?
I'll Be Home For Christmas had some jazz chords in that thing with some 7ths and things like that instead of your normal power chords and riffs on one string. I mean a lot of Black Label riffs are on the low E string. You literally play them like Smoke On the Water or Iron Man or something. Like I said some 7th chords and some diminished chords are in there like actual jazz chords you hear in jazz.
You listened to the originals to learn the basic arrangement?
I'd be sitting at the piano learning the songs and I'd keep the bass note, the root note, and you can hear the 7ths and the 13ths and 9ths flying around in there. You can hear them in there. So it's just a matter of dickin' around and going, Well give me a second, Steve, hold on a second. I'm just figuring out what chord they're playing right there. So you just dick around with it and then you finally get it.
It's A Wonderful World was a very cool arrangement with nylon string and electric with the piano. How did you track these songs?
We had a YouTube of Al Jolson doing It's A Wonderful World [Zakk probably means Louis Armstrong] and we just sat and listened to it. I was just playing the bass notes [on the piano] and then I'd put the chords to it. So then I'd just play it on the guitar and then I'd go in there and track it on the piano and then I'd put a string arrangement to it. Then it was time to do the solo. Game on.
While we're talking about holiday music, we're now going to find out everything you wanted to know about Zakk Wylde and Christmas. If somebody attended Christmas with the Wylde family, what would they experience?
Little kids runnin' around and cocktails flowing. And you always wondered why your dad was drunk every Christmas because he had to put everything together, man.
Have you ever dressed up as Santa Claus?
No, I haven't done that yet. We've never done that but we've done stuff for the kids where they'll put out carrots and vegetables and stuff like that for the reindeer. Where like me and you will just munch on the stuff and the kids will come out in the morning and they'll go, Oh, my God, the reindeer at them! Then I'll take my Rottweiler Dorian who's like 150 pounds and I'll take his footprints and put em outside the house and everything so it's like there were reindeer all over the place. I mean Barb clued em in cause now the kids are in college but they were like, I can't believe dad did that all those years ago. We got em all the time with that.
Did you believe in Santa when you were a boy?
"Whenever I'd hang with Axl he was a good dude. He's not an asshole or anything like that."
Yeah, of course, man. It's awesome. My parents always made sure we had killer Christmases. And being a parent now it's always awesome with the kids and everything like that. We always made sure that whatever stuff they had, every Christmas cause they're getting new stuff, we'd always go down to Goodwill and give tons of this stuff that they had laying around over the years back to the kids.
What was your favorite present as a little Zakk Wylde?
I remember at one point I really wanted the Six Million Dollar Man doll [laughs]. It was over at my grandmother's and my aunt's; they were the ones that had it cause they knew I wanted that thing the most. We went over to grandma's and they said, Santa left something here for you. I opened it up and I just went ballistic because I had my Six Million Dollar Man doll.
Did you ever get a guitar for Christmas?
No, I think the first thing I had was an acoustic guitar or something like that. Yeah, with the action five feet off the neck and the whole nine yards. But you don't know you know what I mean? It's like going to buy a caryou'll buy anything because you don't know. Unless you're going to go get a guitar and it's like, My nephew wants to get a guitar. And I'm like, Dude, let me go down there with him and make sure he's getting something where the action is good on it and it's actually a decent guitar. So he's not miserable after a week of it and going, This sucks. I don't wanna play guitar. It's no fun, man.'
When you were in school did you ever sing Christmas songs in the choir?
No, I didn't do any singing in choirs or anything like that. Or maybe I might have when you're in kindergarten and all that stuff. But not when we were getting older or anything like that. I took a music class and theory but that was high school.
Bringing Metal To the Children, your first book, is coming out in March.
Oh, yes. It's a literary masterpiece of doom.
What is your most savage Christmas memory?
I remember one Ozzy tour, mom came out to the one show and it was on the Merry Mayhem Tour with Rob Zombie. I remember they remember had Santa up on the crucifix and then the crucifix would go on fire. I remember they had the fire marshals there and it was a big deal and the whole nine yards. And all I remember was right before we were coming out to do Crazy Train at the end of the show, all of a sudden the next thing you know we just look over to the side and the fuckin' backdrop caught on fire. You wanna talk about Keystone Cops shit, bro. Mom is sitting there looking, What the fuck is going on? and our production guy, Opie, and the fire marshal is going fuckin' ballistic cause this fuckin' thing is torching up like it's nobody's business, man. Just to see the fuckin' look of sheer panic and terror on fuckin' everybody. I mean we weren't gonna burn the place down but it's like sitting at the dinner table and the fork is slightly out of place and everybody goes fuckin' nuts. I'm just sittin' there havin' a chuckle out of this bullshit [laughs].
Next year you have the Unblackened record coming out?
Yeah, that's actually gonna be the next DVD. So we're gonna do the whole thing with a four-piece string section, a pedal steel guy, and I'm gonna have some of my musician buddies sit in on some of the songs and stuff like that. So yeah, I'm lookin' forward to us knockin' that thing out. We're gonna have two solid weeks of rehearsal and then we're gonna knock this thing out.
Unblackened will be all acoustic?
Yeah totally. Well, acoustic/electric type of thing. Kinda like how the Christmas record is or like how we did The Song Remains Not the Same where you've got an acoustic and then you can put a rippin' solo something. So I'll still have the Marshalls going with the acoustic stuff. It'd be almost kinda like if Pink Floyd was doing an Unplugged thing and they did Comfortably Numb but Dave will be sitting down but he'll still rip that solo out. It'll still be electric and then we'll have the string section behind it and the whole band and it'll be killer.
Any feelings about the original Black Sabbath getting back together and recording?
Yeah well more Sabbath is always a good thing. It should be slammin', dude. Father [Rick] Rubin is gonna be producing it so hopefully it will come out ridiculously awesome.
Have you read Tony Iommi's autobiography, Iron Man?
I haven't gotten around to that one yet. I'm sure it's gonna be slammin' though. I saw one of the sections in there and it was talking about Zeppelin and Deep Purple. And he felt there was more of a thing going on with Deep Purple than they did with Zeppelin. I didn't know that John Bonham was the best man at his wedding and all that other stuff.
Sabbath and guys from Zeppelin were all from Birmingham.
Yeah, it's kinda like Father Cantrell and Chris Cornell and all the Pearl Jam guys and it was all coming out of that same place.
Everything else is good with you? You're feeling healthy and wise?
Oh yeahthat's the reason why I'm gonna start drinkin' again immediately [laughs].
You fooled me with that last time.
Oh my god. Fuckin' ridiculous. It still is funny when people will go, What do you do when you're out on the road? I go, I don't know. What do I do when I'm home? Do I still shit in my pants? When I'm on the road I still shit in my pants. What do you want me to tell you? I do everything I did before except I don't drink. I still go to bars but I don't drink.
That's amazing willpower.
Well you know, when I pass Chippendales I go right past it now. It's willpower, man. Back in the day I'd pull right in there.
Thanks for calling, Zakk.
Alright Stevie, I'll see you in a bit, man. Tell the rest of the gang I said hey, buddy. Take care, Steve. Bye brother.
Interview by Steven Rosen