Black Label Society
's The Song Remains Not The Same
is not so much an unplugged album as it is a reworking of songs from the band's last album, Order Of The Black
. Zakk Wylde
has completely redone songs like "Riders Of The Damned
" and "Darkest Days
" while covering songs like Black Sabbath's "Junior's Eyes
," Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home
," and Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water
." The Song Remains Not the Same the title is, of course, an homage to his favorite band, Led Zeppelin features Zakk's acoustic playing, a feature he brought to the fore years ago on his Book Of Shadows
spoke about the new record, his new book, being a Trekkie, and getting the crap beat out of him by two folk singers.
UG: Zakk Wylde as authorwho would have believed it? How does it feel to put book author on your resume?
Great. It's about all the comedy and all the bullsh-t artists and every day you've got another story. You know what I mean? It's a never-ending tsunami of stupidity, dude. The running joke is, I'd just say if I'm a welder, I went to school for it and I have a license to do welding and if I'm a scuba diver, I can scuba dive and weld. And somebody went to UCLA Medical and that's the reason why you're a doctor or a psychiatristyou have a degree and you actually have a license because you went there to do it.
Any knucklehead can be a musician, right?
The music industry or any entertainment business? There is no qualificationsnone. When you're gonna sign Soundgarden you don't go, Wait, hold on a second. Did Chris Cornell go to Berklee or MI? It's like, No, well, forget himwe ain't signin' him. You know what I'm saying? You don't need a degree to get into the music business. It's just like a car salesmanyou've just gotta be a big bullsh-t artist and that's about it. You've got a piece of junk Volkswagen bug that's been bashed around but you can bullsh-t so good, he goes off the parking lot thinking he's got a $180,000 Merdedes. The music business, bro, you know what I mean?
You appeared with James Durbin on American Idol doing Sammy Hagar's Heavy Metal. How did that happen?
It's awesome now that my kids actually talk to me and my wife actually makes me coffee in the morning and my Rottweilers don't bite me anymore. So, thank you American Idol!
Now you're a bigtime rock and roller, huh?
Well, I'm somebody now [laughs]. The whole thing is, Steve, it's like 20+ years with the Boss with Ozz and then 13 years in Black Labelthree minutes on American Idol and now my kids like me and people know who I am. It's hysterical.
You played on the Jasta track, The Fearless Must Endure.
Yeah, Jamey just gave me a call and was like, Zakk, I've got somethingcould you throw a solo down? I said, Yeah, no problem, man. It was just like with Chad and the guys in Nickelback called me up and Chad goes, Zakk, I got a bunch of friends, The Darkest Days, they're buddies of mine and I'm workin' with em and producin' em. Dude, I got a tune and I was just thinkin', Man, it would be killer to have Zakk play a solo it.' So I said, Yeah, no problem, dude. Basically I'm friends with all the guys.
Now we move onto The Song Remains Not the Same. People think of you as this monster metal player but your gentler acoustic side has always peeked through. Going as far back as the Book of Shadows album.
Well, it even goes back to Mama, I'm Coming Home.
If Book of Shadows had really taken off, could you have seen yourself doing more of the acoustic rock thing ala Neil Young?
That's the beautiful thing about Black Label and the Stones and Zeppelin. I remember reading this thing with Keith Richards who was busted for pissin' in Hyde Park or something like that. He goes, Oh, we're the Rolling Stones and we'll piss wherever we want to piss. Musically with the Zep and the Stones, musically they'll piss wherever they want to piss. We're Led Zeppelin, dude. It's like, You can't do The Crunge.' It's like, Really? You don't think so? Watch! You know what I mean? What didn't Zeppelin do musically? They were all over the map but it sounded like Zeppelin at the end of the day and the same thing with the Stones. The Stones do Wild Horses and then they'll do Street Fighting Man or they'll do anythingwhatever they want to do like Waitin' On A Friend and then they'll do Satisfaction or Gimme Shelter or somethin'.
You love the acoustic side as much as the electric side?
The thing is I love the mellow stuff as well. Cause somebody was like, Oh, well you can't do that and I was like, Dude, Guns N' Roses could do Welcome To the Jungle' and then knock out Patience.' My whole thing is if it's a good song, it's a good songit really doesn't matter. I mean put it this wayeverybody talks about Sabbath being heavy and this and that. I said, The one most important ingredient that everyone is forgettin' here is that they're actually good songs. Yeah, they're heavy and it's dark but they are good songs and great melodies and great performances by the band. It's a lethal combination so, you know, gimme a break, man.
Of all the Sabbath songs you could have covered, what made you choose Junior's Eyes?
I've always loved that song and I always loved that album [Never Say Die]; when I was a kid, I had that album and played it all the time. But I remember it definitely sounded different than the other Sabbath records. I go, Man, I always loved that album, Ozzy. He goes [Zakk does a perfect impersonation of Ozzy's semi-unintelligible English drawl], Oh, yeah, Zakk, Never Say Die, he goes, That was the end of it for me. He just goes, Yeah, that album didn't even go tin [heavy laughter] I said, Well I bought a couple copies. He goes, Well you're probably the only one. He's hysterical.
Never Say Die was a really good record.
Yeah, Never Say Die was a killer song and there's a whole bunch of killer songs on that record so I like it. But the whole thing is I was just sittin' down jammin' out on the piano and I think I had it in the truck and was listenin' to Never Say Die in the truck and listenin' to Junior's Eyes. I actually recorded it and it was right around like Father's Day and I sent it to Ozz because that song is about him and his dad. Yeah, but I sent that to Ozz and he was like, Oh, Zakk, it came out cool, man.
Ozzy dug it?
"To get into the music business you've just gotta be a big bullsh-t artist and that's about it."
Yeah. He was like, Oh, dude, it almost sounds like a gospel thing in the beginning. And I said, Oh, yeah, thanks Ozz. I dig taking like a cover song and Black Labelizing it.
You Black Labelized the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, Helpless. Your voice sounds really good on this one.
Thanks, brother. The cool thing is and the way I always look at singing is you can use your voice like different guitars. I use a Danelectro on the Black Label, Jimmy Page-type stuff and then obviously the Les Paul is slammin' for other things and when I use my Juniors with the P90 pickups is a different sound. Then the acoustic is a different sound or if you go to pick up a slide it does something different. The voice is kind of the same thingyou can do different things with it, which is always a cool thing. I remember the first time I heard Guns N' Roses, I was like, What? Do they got like three different singers in this band? with Axl's other 48 personalities. But I mean I was blown away. I was like, That's really one singer? They only have one singer? And it's just like, Yeah, it's this guy Axl or whatever. I was like, Dude, he's awesome. [Zakk sings verse from It's So Easy] I've seen your sister in her Sunday dress and he's got the low voice and the high voice and the middle voice and I was like, Dude, it sounds incredible.
You've created the Zakk Wylde choir with all the background vocals as well?
Yeah, cause I love doin' the harmonies anyways. I'm a huge Eagles fan and everything like that too; I'm insane when it comes to the Eagles' harmonies. I think J.D. did some singin' on that with me as well.
Are you more of an Eagles harmonies fan than what Crosby, Stills & Nash do harmony-wise?
I love Crosby, Stills & Nash as well. Actually I was just watching Jimmy Fallon last night and they go, Ladies and gentleman: Neil Young. And it's Jimmy sittin' there with a hat on and an acoustic and a harmonica just like Neil and he starts singin' some cheesy song [Miley Cyrus' Party in the U.S.A.]. Graham Nash and David Crosby walk out and the spotlight comes on them and they start singing the cheesiest lyrics but these amazing harmonies. It was freakin' hysterical, man. But none of them broke out and started laughin', which made it even funnier. You know what I mean? They're damn sickass harmonies as well. That's what I always said with Alice [In Chains]. With Jerry [Cantrell] and company it's like Sabbath riffs on steroids-meets Crosby, Stills & Nash with all the harmonies they had. That's what makes Alice so unique.
As a matter of fact, Buffalo Springfield have reformed with Neil, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay.
Oh, they are? Yeah, well I mean it's cool the guys still get together and knock that stuff out.
Your version of Bridge Over Trouble Water was a tremendous version. You were a fan of Simon & Garfunkel back in the day with songs like America and At the Zoo?
Yeah, I remember growing up and hearing those songs all the time and you still hear those songs nowadays. Cause I heard it on the radio and go, Dude, that song just kicks ass. I heard it on the radio and then we got back to the Vatican [Zakk's home studio] and I just got a copy of it on iTunes and I just started learnin' the song.
Bridge Over Troubled Water is one of the most ridiculously incredible songs ever written.
Somebody asked me, they go, Zakk, were you afraid of covering a classic like Bridge Over Troubled Water? I go, Umm, yes, it's funny that you do mention that. I was actually terrified. And he was like, Really? And I go, Yes. It was just brought to my attention by my buddy Eric [Hendrikx] who is in the mixed martial arts field who said, Paul Simon's style of Jeet Kune Do would be a rival for the deadly venom of Black Label.' So you know what? I'm just kinda scared if I run into a back alley with Paul Simon and if my Five Deadly Venom Black Label style of Kung Fu will be able to match the Jeet Kune Do of Paul Simon [manic laughter].
You'll have to come at Paul Simon as the Overlord [Zakk's riotously funny character in the Overlord video].
Exactly, dude [more laughing].
So you heard Bridge Over Troubled Water and sat down at the piano and learned the chords and the voices?
I just sat down and learned it; you just start hearin' it and find out what key it's in.
Your interpretation of the song was pretty much like the original with keyboards and stringsyou didn't want to add any guitars?
Just because I'm like a guitar hero guy, at the end of the day nothin' for nothin' but there's more to me than just playin' solos. Let's put it this wayif I heard the Eagles doin' a cover of it, does Joe Walsh have to put slide guitar on Bridge Over Troubled Water? [laughs]
You did Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Home. You were a fan?
Uh, yeah, without a doubtit's Eric and anything Clapton did. I always loved that record.
Did you like Stevie Winwood more in Blind Faith or Traffic?
I think the Traffic stuff is cool, too, but Stevie Winwood has a great voice. If it's a killer song, it's a killer song no matter what's going onuntil I get hold of it and ruin it!
On Can't Find My Way Home you replace Clapton's acoustic fingerpicking parts with piano.
Like I said, Black Labelizing it and doing a different version of it. Otherwise what's the point in doing it if you're gonna do it exactly the same. I was sittin' down playing the piano and singing it and said, Let's just do it on the piano. Then I put the electric solo at the end.
The key line in that song is I'm wasted and I can't find my way home, which would have referred to you two years ago.
Hey, man, I'm so wasted I'm high on life!
You do that cool guitar instrumental of The First Noel.
We ended up doing that for St. Jude's Hospital who was giving away all the money during Christmastime. And then the rest of our Black Label family were saying, Dude, where can I find that damn song? So everyone kept asking about it so I just said, Stick it on the record so they can get it.
Can we expect a Zakk Wylde Sings the Christmas Classics album come this holiday season?
Oh, yes, why not?
What you call Black Labelizing is really virtual rewrites of the songs from Order Of the Black?
The songs are similar. You can't call the record Unplugged because the only song that's like that is Overlord because it's like an acoustic version of the same type of riff and the melody and everything like that. But I mean Parade Of the Dead, the only thing it has in common with that is the melody and the lyrics but as far as the music goes, it's completely different. Then you've got Riders Of the Damned and the only thing that thing has in common with the original is the title and the lyricsthe melody is different and the music's completely different. It's a whole nother song.
You recorded everything at home at the Bunker?
At the Black Vatican, yeah; that's what it is. It's killer. Whenever we get ideas, I call Adam [Hamilton, engineer] up and then Adam will come down and engineer whatever we're recording.
You recorded Iron Man with William Shatner for his Searching For Major Tom album. What was that like?
"I dig taking like a cover song and Black Labelizing it."
We had Father Shatner and we beamed him aboard the Black Vatican and we had him come over there. One of the guys that was working on it, I knew him years ago and he said, Zakk, I'm workin' with William Shatner. Would you want to do this thing with Iron Man'? I said, Yeah, of course, dude. William Shatner was part of my childhood growing up. I used to go to the Star Trek conventions and all this other stuff so we were talkin' about that when he was there and everything and he was just laughing. A super cool guy. You know what's so crazy? I'm thinking like he's Jimmy Page's age, 67 or 68, a couple years older than Ozz. Dude, he's 80 years old and when you see him he's walkin' fine and he looks like he's about 58 years old. A really super cool guy. I'm fortunate that I met like all my heroes and I caught em all on a good day.
Who are some of your heroes that you met?
Everybody: Ozz, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant. Playing with Geezer and Bill Ward was amazing. Everybody I've ever met, they're all iconic legendary guys and all really super nice. Gregg Allman. Everybody I've met have been really super cool guys. I filled in for Dickie Betts. It's out there: Zakk Goes Wild With the Allman Brothers. You can pick that thing up on a bootleg.
You never met Randy Rhoads?
No, when Randy passed away I was 15; I don't even know if I was 15, I might have been 13 or 14 years old. Because Randy passed away in '82 and I was, yeah, 15 years old then. But I never got a chance to see Randy either because we got our tickets for Madison Square Garden and Randy was on his way up and he was probably 10 shows away. I saw Ozz play with Bernie Torme before Brad Gillis came in and he opened up with Over the Mountain and we were like, Oh, my god, this is the test, man! Because it had the rippin' solo and everything like that. But actually J.D. saw it too and J.D. and me are huge Randy disciples and stuff like that. J.D. was saying, Man, I wish I could get a bootleg of that show cause I remember that Bernie did a great job on Randy's stuff.
Had you started playing guitar when you saw the show?
I just started playing the guitar so I couldn't play the solo to Flying High or any of the solos yet. But we were all high fiving each other and saying how it sounded like the record and going, This is the greatest.
How difficult were Randy's solos to learn?
Like anything, once you start dialing your technique in, it makes it easier to play other people's hard stuff or whatever. You just keep getting technically better. But it was Randy's composition because it goes beyond how hard certain solos are to play; obviously certain solos are gonna be harder to play than other ones technically. But they were all songs within a song and that's what makes em so brilliant.
You appear on the Thirty Years After the Blizzard DVD blazing through some of Randy's licks.
Nothin' for nothin', the best thing for Randy was hookin' up with Ozzy. Me and J.D. were talkin' about it. Where is he putting Diary Of a Madman on a Quiet Riot record? Where is he putting Revelation' on a Quiet Riot record? Or Over the Mountain' or Goodbye to Romance'? To me, we were trying to figure out what Quiet Riot sounded like and I actually heard a song. You know who they sound like? Sweet. Remember that band? I listened to those Quiet Riot records and go, It doesn't like sound Queen but you hear influences. And you know what was so funny was you listen to all of that and Zeppelin was at the height of their massiveness and Randy wasn't into Zeppelin at all. No Zeppelin anywhere or Sabbath. Randy even said it. He goes, 'I never liked Black Sabbath.' He loved Alice Cooper and Leslie West. I remember reading that in Guitar Player magazine that he loved Leslie West and he mentioned Steve Lukather and he mentioned Earl Klugh. He was talking about Eddie and said, 'Man, I really dig Eddie Van Halen. I really love his playing' and stuff like that. He mentioned Leslie West and he goes, 'Man, it just sounds so mean and nasty the way he played the blues.'
You bring up the point that no one ever seems to mentionthat Randy really flourished once he joined Ozzy's band. In Quiet Riot, to be honest, Randy was just another good guitar player floating around Los Angeles.
Neal Zlozower [famous rock photographer] had seen him and he goes, 'I know you love Randy and he's your guy but I saw him back in the day with Quiet Riot and it was just like, ehhh.' Just like pretty much what you're saying.
Because Eddie Van Halen was just destroying everybody. Then Neal took those classic pictures of Randy sitting on the couch with all his guitars, and he said, 'Zakk, when I took those pictures when they played the Inglewood Forum [17,000-seat arena], I went, What did they do? Just lock him in a room for like 12 hours and make him play guitar?' He goes, 'Zakk, it didn't even sound like the same guitar player.' And nuttin' for nuttin' but you listen to those Quiet Riot records and then you listen to Diary and Blizzard? It's like, Ahh, get outta herethis isn't the same guitar player.
Randy changed dramatically when he started working with Ozzy.
When you listen to Randy's live solo, it has snippets of all his unique traits that he had in his playing. I'm talking about the actual live solo in Suicide Solution. Me and J.D. were listening to it and I was like, Dude, it's all in there. Just snippets of the diminished stuff; him muting with the scales; him with the legato and classical stuff. Just in that short little guitar solo; it's amazing.
You really liked Randy's live sound?
I thought it was better than the Blizzard Of Ozz sound; I think the live sound was way better. Because the chorus that he had on his guitar just sounded huge, massive and warm. I think the actual production overall was better on the Diary Of a Madman album. Mind you it was the second album. It's like when I listen to Black Label records, I know for a fact that this last album we did production-wise and fidelity-wise is the best sounding record I've ever done. Because I listen to all of em back to back and it's like when you listen to Zeppelin records. They all have their own unique character but definitely Zeppelin IV [is the one]. If you were gonna say to Jimmy, You can only leave one record for people to know what you did on this planet, you've gotta leave that one because the production is beyond phenomenal; the songwriting is amazing; and the stars aligned when they did that album. That's their Sgt. Pepper's, you know what I mean? With Metallica, it's the Black album; with Guns, it's Appetite; and with AC/DC, it's Back In Black. The production and the writing is amazing. It's a marriage of all the things that make it great.
Diary Of A Madman was the high point of that Ozzy/Randy collaboration.
"The whole thing is, it's like 20+ years with Ozz and then 13 years in Black Labelthree minutes on American Idol and now my kids like me and people know who I am."
Randy's tone on Flying High Again and Over the Mountain [was amazing]. I know the albums were recorded real close together but maybe it's the way Max Norman mixed it. But to me, I think it's a better-sounding record overall.
If you had to leave one record behind, which one would it be?
It would have to be the new one: Order Of the Black. Cause it's got Chupacabra, the little solo piece; we got the mellow stuff on there and then you've got the heavy stuff. So, yeah, I'd have to go with the last album.
So it all comes down to the music.
All the bands we were talking about, our favorite bandsthe Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, Sabbathit's all down to their tunes. Hands down.
Even in the 80s when you had that explosion of guitar players, those bands still had some good songs.
As phenomenal as the guitar playing was in the 80s with Warren DeMartini, Vivian Campbell, Yngwie, and Jake E. Lee, when Ratt came out with Round and Round and Way Cool Jr., their thing was songs. And in the 90s when Alice In Chains came out, Jerry was such a phenomenal songwriter, it didn't matter how heavy Alice was, there were great songs there. It doesn't matter if Jerry's not playing as fast as John McLaughlin on steroids or Paco; that's not what it's about. Jerry's strength is his songwriting so it always comes down to the songs. With Nirvana, it was all the tunes. Curt would have been the first one to say, Zakk, I can't play a Randy solo. Did I miss the boat on that? And I woulda been, I completely missed the boat on the whole punk rock, Black Flag thing because I was into Eddie and Randy, Al DiMeola, McLaughlin, Paco, Frank Marino, Robin Trower and all that other stuff.
Are there any new guitar players that you dig?
Put it this way, the guys in Five Finger Death Punch obviously practice and know how to play the guitar. When the guys in Shadows Fall came out, they practiced.
Do those bands have great songs?
The whole thing is, as far as technicians and everything like that, me and Dime were sitting there one day at the Ozzfest. And he was going, Zakk, we had Eddie and Randy. I guess it's a sad state of affairs if these kids look up to you and me then we've failed miserably! [lots of laughing] I go, Dime, I think it's safe to say we're the only clowns up here that can actually get from the low E to the high E and back. But then again at that point, being technically proficient kind of went out the window for a little while. As far as I'm concerned, I always said, Good guitar playing will never go out of style. Randy Rhoads will never go out of style; Eddie Van Halen will never go out of style. It will never happen. It's like a t-shirt and jeansit just won't go out of style.
We're still talking about Randy Rhoads all these years laterwho are the current guitar players we'll be talking about in 30 years time?
What I think is gonna be the real interesting thing is because of the Guitar Hero game. I remember somebody baggin' on it and I go, Let me tell you somethingthat's probably the best thing to happen to the guitar since Eruption.' I go, You'll see, the next Jimmy Page or Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen or Dimebag is gonna come flyin' out of that game. Some kid is gonna go, Yeah, I used to play that game when I was a kid and it was a lot of fun and now you know what? I wanna get a real guitar.' I can't wait to hear that.
You can see monster players all the time on Youtube.
I remember Steve Lukather was saying, Zakk, nowadays it's awesome. Back then nobody could figure out how to play Eruption.' People were going, What the hell is he doing?' Now you can go on YouTube and learn how to play Over the Mountain' or something. We had to learn that by puttin' the needle on the record and keep constantly going back and something has to be said for that, too. Then you're really discovering different things and unlocking stuff and you're like one of those guys who goes out and discovers artifacts and stuff like that because you're constantly digging and digging and digging away. Somebody asked me, Do you advise taking guitar lessons? I go, Well, dude, it's just like drivin' a carif you can get somebody to show you how to drive a stick shift, why wouldn't you? I remember when I used to have buddies and they'd go, Oh, I slaved my Marshall into that and I go, What is that? Slave your amp into something? To me it just seemed like you had to go to NASA to learn how to do all this stuff. But if you can show somebody the beginning tips to get you started, it's like learning how to ride a bike and having training wheels so you can get your balance.
Everything else is good with you? You healthy and clean?
Well, now that I've started drinking again, I just got locked up the other night! It started getting too boring around here.
Normal doesn't work for you for too long, huh?
Yeah, the heroin wasn't working.
What your fans are waiting for is to see you as Zakk E. Stylze, the kung fu Overlord in a feature length film. That would be the funniest movie ever made.
We'll film the fight at the Coliseum between me and Paul Simon because Paul Simon is pissed at the way I performed Bridge Over Troubled Water. He feels it's inadequate and it's a horrible representation of the song and he'll kick my ass!
Interview by Steven Rosen