This has been a busy year for Zakk Wylde
. He released a sort of retro/best-of CD/DVD package called Skullage
that contains some obscure Black Label Society
songs as well as a collection of the band's videos and live footage. Gibson
released two new signature guitars. Then several months ago, he began experiencing severe pain in one of his legs and after an emergency trip to the doctor was told he had multiple blood clots that could have killed him had they not been caught on time. On top of all that, his long-standing relationship as Ozzy
's guitarist came to an end with the Black Sabbath
vocalist decided to bring in Firewind guitar player, Gus G
. All in all, a pretty intense 2009.
But like he always does, Wylde
took it all in stride. He has been taking medication for his clots and when Ozzy
told him his services were no longer needed, he simply told the singer there were no hard feelings and focused his attention on BLS
. Here, in some depth, Zakk
talks about his experience with Osbourne
, the Skullage
project, his near-death encounter, and his new guitars.
UG: First of all, I spoke to Kerry King the other day and mentioned I'd be speaking to you.
Oh, how is Kerry doing?
Slayer have a new record out.
Oh, totally, what the hell is the name of that? Paint the World Blood?
World Painted Blood. Have you heard it?
No; there's always some blood thing flying around with the boys.
Kerry had nothing but great things to say about you.
Yeah, Kerry is awesome, man.
You're doing good? You're feeling OK after your health scare thing?
Yeah, well, I had those blood clots. We were out on the road with the Mudvayne boys and it must have been going on for about a week that my leg started killing me. I was like, What the fuck is going on? It was behind my knee and my calf was killing me and it was going down into my heel and everything so I figured I tore my calf muscle or something. I didn't break anything because I didn't fall on stage; I didn't trip; it wasn't like I was messing around and I fell down or tripped or slammed something. I was just trying to figure out what it was from lifting weights or whatever.
If you mess yourself up the bottom line is people look at you and I say, Dude, I fucked my ankle up; I don't think I broke it but I just sprained it. Just give me a week and I'll be back to normal. But this was going on for about a week or so and then it kept getting worse. I'd be icing it down after the gig and go to sleep with it. I'd get up in the night and take a leak and that was like a full-on production. I'm like, What the fuck is going on with my fucking leg, man? I couldn't even put any pressure on it or wanna walk on it.
So you decided to get checked out.
It was just like we had a 100-mile drive and I talked to Mark [driver] and said, Mark, before we do this drive can I just go an get an ultra-sound? I wasn't gonna get an x-ray because I knew I didn't fuck my knee up or anything like that. So I get the ultra-sound and he goes, Oh, yeah, dude, you've got two massive blood clots behind your leg and going down into your calf. Exactly where all the fuckin' pain was. I was just like, Uh, fuckin' blood clots, what do we do about that? And he goes, Well not good, man. If those things go up past your fuckin' leg, we don't want those things going into your fuckin' groin and then the next place is your fuckin' lungs. Then you have a pulmonary embolism and you fuckin' die or it goes up into your brain and you have a fuckin' stroke. I said, Are you fuckin' kidding me? He goes, No, yaddah yaddah yaddah and I just go, What'll you do?
Did he recommend surgery?
"We were out on the road with the Mudvayne boys and it must have been going on for about a week that my leg started killing me."
I was like, Is there an operation or some shit and get my life back to normal? And he goes, No, you've got to take this coumadin which is like a blood thinner and all this other shit. And this other shit, lovenox, that's the stuff with the needles. I had to shoot myself in the stomach twice a day and then I was taking this coumadin, this oral medication to keep the clots in one spot so they wouldn't move.
Did the doctor have to monitor you on a regular basis?
Every two days I'd go in for blood work. It was like Evel Knievel right from the fuckin' stage to the jump right to the hospital. It was fuckin' terrible and a pain in the ass. Because every town we had to go to another doctor. They'd check INR levels and if your blood pressure was high and just check your medication everyday.
And did that work?
I think we were in Oregon and my leg was hurtin' and they gave me a cat scan and they told me three of the things went through my fuckin' lungs. I was like, Are you fuckin' kiddin' me? I said, If I get a heart attack will my arm tighten up and get shortness of breath? And he goes, No, you'll just be hangin' out and just fuckin' die. You just collapse. It's not like, Dude, Steve, get me to the fuckin' hospital! It's, No, you're done; that's it.
It could have happened; I could have been on stage or me and you could have been watching Monday Night fuckin' Football and I could have got it.
So how do you get rid of these clots?
He said, The only thing you do is make sure you take the coumadin and your body dissolves em. You don't get a shot where the blood clot is at where they shoot it and it dissolves just like Liquid Drano and now your sink is runnin' right. It's fucked up so I've got to take this shit for like a year and maybe for the rest of my fuckin' life.
What about the beer?
As far as the drinking and shit like that? You can't even drink or otherwise you start bleedin' internally, your ass starts bleedin', your fuckin' brain, everything, dude.
That's a good thing with no more drinking.
Yeah, the drinking is gone so now it's on to heroin.
Shooting in your eyeballs.
Yeah, why not? It's something new.
Good to hear you'll be around for a while. Which means having to deal with the Ozzy situation. What happened? Why would he want to replace you?
Well, you know, I love Ozz and I've always got his back so whatever it is he wants to do. Without Ozzy, there'd be no Zakk Wylde; there'd be no Black Label. When Ozz would do the Sabbath stuff, he'd say, Guys, I'm going away for a while; I'm gonna be doing Sabbath. This is back when Mike [Inez] joined Alice in Chains and I started doing the P&G stuff even before Black Label. He was like, Guys if anything comes up, you guys should do somethin' because I don't know how long I'll be with the guys [Sabbath]. It could be a year or two years.
Ozz has always been cool. Even when we did Down to Earth Ozz was like, Zakk, I write these songs with all these other guys and I don't want to fuckin' rewrite a whole record. Can you just come in and wail on the fuckin' songs and shit like that? And we'll go out on the road. And I said, Yeah, Ozz, no problem; whatever the fuck you want to do, man.
It didn't bother you that Ozzy was auditioning other guitar players and didn't really say anything to you?
I mean with us there's never any arguments; there's no fights or nothing. It's just, What do you want to do, Steve? It's like, Ahh, Zakk, I want to go jam with these guys now. It's like with Slash and Scottie and all the guys and if they're gonna stop doing Velvet Revolver for a while. And then Scott is going to do Stone Temple Pilots; Duff is gonna do Loaded; Slash is gonna do his solo thing; Matt's gonna be jammin' with the Cult again and then they're gonna get back together. It's just like no big deal. It's like Genesis there's Mike and the Mechanics and Phil is doing his solo thing and the keyboard player is doing movie soundtracks. And then it's like, Let's get back together and do a fuckin' album.
I love Ozz and Sharon; Sharon is like my mother. Barbara Ann [Zakk's wife] still hangs out with Sharon all the time. They go to Dancing With the Stars to see Kelly and all that shit. They hang out and have lunch and just chill and have a good time.
I always told everybody when the day would come when Ozz would say, I don't feel like doin' this shit no more. What are you supposed to do? But you better figure somethin' out. You know what I mean?
Certainly Ozzy has every right to play with a new guitar player. But he didn't even tell you to your face what he was doing and that seems wrong.
Neil Zlozower [photographer] was doing a photo shoot with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and he heard that I wasn't playing with Ozzy anymore. And I just go, That's cool. I guess if Uncle Gene says that, I'm not playing with him anymore. People were asking and I'd go, Fuck if I know, dude. Because I was out on the road anyway doing Black Label shit. The last show I did with Ozz was with Metallica down in Dallas and that was already a year ago in June. And obviously Mike was out with Faith No More.
I remember it was during last year's [baseball] playoffs when the Dodgers were playing the Phillies and that's when we were over at Ozzy's just throwing riffs down and Mike was over there and just fuckin' wailin' every day. We were just recording shit and I did like 16 or 18 songs. So we had that and I figured when we were off the road, it was like, Oh, yeah, Ozz will have a chance to put some vocals down or whatever. The game plan was to get that done, another Black Label album, and start touring again.
But I didn't know. I talked to Ozz and I was like, Hey, buddy, what are you doing? And he goes, Oh, Zakk, I just wanted to say thanks because I know your time is fuckin' crazy with everything that's going on. I go, Let's don't make a big deal out of it, Ozzy. I was in the middle of doing shows that we were doing [with BLS] and I had already committed to the guys to doing the shows. I was gonna blow one of the shows off and fly down and do this show with Ozzy, knock that out, and then the next day fly back out on the road and do another Black Label gig on the Pedal to the Metal tour.
So Ozzy found another guitar player for the show.
Yeah, Ozz was like, Zakk, I think on this one I'm just gonna use somebody else. I said, Oh, okay, Ozz, no fuckin' problem. Just let me know if you ever need me you know where I'm at. I'm a phone call away. I love you, bro. And that was about it, man.
Have you heard Gus G. play?
I'm sure he can fuckin' wail if he's got to play Randy's stuff and Jake's shit. Obviously he knows what the fuck he's doin'.
He's a good guitar player.
Cool; good for him. It was just like when Joe Holmes was playing and if Gus is gonna be jamming or anybody, I wish them all the fuckin' best. If you're gonna be playing with Ozzy, I hope you have as good a time as I did. Or just a quarter of it would be fuckin' slammin', dude.
You released the Skullage CD and DVD a while ago.
"If Gus is gonna be jamming or anybody, I wish them all the fuckin' best."
Yeah, we knocked that thing together; it's just like almost a best of type thing of the 11 years of us doing this shit.
One of the interesting moments on the DVD is when you perform Spoke in the Wheel and walk out into the audience and all these fans are just all over you. You take off your guitar and leave it in the audience and then get back onstage. That says a lot about you and your relationship with your fans and how much you think of them.
They're fuckin' awesome. We don't even have fans like fans, it's like one gigantic family. That's what the whole cool thing is about Black Label. I mean it's like when the [Grateful] Dead were around and you had people from all over. There are Black Label chapters and everybody is all over the fuckin' place. We have a Dallas chapter hookin' up with the Seattle chapter; and then the Chicago chapter is gonna cruise out and make a run and hook up with the Jersey chapter or whatever. You know what I mean? So it's fuckin' cool.
Do you dig being part of the video experience? Do you come up with the ideas and the concepts and do you like being in them?
I have the fuckin' ideas and then Eric Zimmerman and Nik Jamgocyan [director/producers] who I work with are fuckin' great. If they come up with something, I'll go, Yeah, that's fuckin' awesome; let's do that one. That's what's so cool about the whole fuckin' thing is you just let everybody be themselves.
Did you have any input into Ozzy's videos at all?
With Ozz when we would do the stuff, it was always my job to just be the music department. I never did no lyrics, no melodies or anything like that; it was just the music. I'd never be around for the production or the mixes. Production-wise, I'd get tones and stuff like that but when it came to mixes, I was never around for that.
But with Black Label, you've got a hand in everything. So I just wear more hats down the fuckin' merch, down to the fuckin' videos when we shoot em with Eric and Nick, and everything like that. Down to everything: the mixes, the production, you just control the whole fuckin' thing.
You obviously control all the writing so tell us about Machine Gun Man.
Obviously that's an Allman Brothers/Hendrix/Skynyrd-type influence and everything like that. I remember writing that one on acoustic originally then we put the band on it. It's just like a little Bad Company/Allman Brothers/Skynyrd/Hendrixy thing. That's what that one is all about.
Dead As Yesterday.
That just reminds me of like a Paul McCartney-type thing like Yesterday. Yeah, exactly, Dead as Yesterday [laughs]. Just some of my own stuff.
In This River.
When we're on the road, I listen to tons of mellow stuff especially at the end of the night when we're driving after the gigs and stuff like that. I listen to Neil Young and the Eagles and all that good mellow shit. So that always creeps into the music. When we're in the studio I'll be jammin' on a ton of the heavy stuff and I just want to take an ear break and that's when I'll sit behind the piano and stuff like that. Or pick up an acoustic guitar.
And New Religion.
I'm trying to remember where I got the riff. Usually I'll write all the riffs on the bass so it gives you even less stuff; less to work with. You know what I mean? Basically the riff is only gonna be on the low E string or the E and the A string. I just put tons of distortion on it and going through a Marshall it sounds like the biggest fuckin' guitar tone in the world. That's where that one came about. I was just in the studio and I was thinkin' when I wrote that one that it's almost like Whole Lotta Love. It's just a riff and we kind of constructed it so that it's the riff and the vocal and then the drums will come in later on. I think we were listening to Zeppelin on the way down to the studio; I think they were on the radio or something. I said, It would be cool if we could get something like this where it's just a riff and all you have is just the riff and the chorus. There's no pre-chorus and if you were to take out the crazy bit in the middle where Zeppelin is just fuckin' going insane right before the guitar solo comes up, you've got basically that riff. Do-do-do-do dooo chunka-jun chunka-jun [sings riff to Whole Lotta Love]. That's the whole freaking song really. And I thought it would be cool if we could do something that simple.
The Welcome to the Compound part of the DVD was a riot. You are hilarious in those different segments. It's obvious you don't take yourself seriously and I think people like to see that in musicians.
I have my Barbie doll collection! I dig it, brother. Yeah, Kerry King gave me this little princess! with the red dress. Yeah, raining blood.
And then when you're talking about working out and you're drinking the beer. That is the funniest thing I've ever seen.
And at the one point where I go, This is where I get away from all the fuckin' chaos and insanity. I'm in my gym which is like Superman's Fortress of Solitude and I go, I just come in here to get some piece of mind and this is where I lift and the fuckin' plate falls on my foot. That fucked me up.
Besides the Skullage project you have new Gibson and Epiphone guitars out?
"After I did the stuff with Ozz last year, I went back out on the road and was touring all the time."
Yeah, the Gibson BFG and the Epiphone Graveyard Disciple. Like 10 years ago I got one of the prototypes. I was going through the factory one day and I remember grabbing all the tops that they had [before] they match the flame tops and everything like that [to the bodies]. They just had a bunch of tops and I guess a batch of them were drying and they weren't smoothed out and beveled the way they are when you see the finished project. They're kind of bumpy and shit like that. So it was actually before they smooth em out. I said, Dude, you know what would be awesome? If they actually just had the guitar so the top is like this. Put em on the guitar with no lacquer, no nothin'. I mean so it's nothin' but bare wood. I mean that's all you're getting.
This was like 10 years ago. I said, No binding, you don't have to put nothin' on em, man. Really all you're getting is the wood; nothing is gonna bind it; no lacquer; no paint. The only thing that's gonna breathe is the existing wood that's on the thing. I remember playing at one of the Gibson showrooms out in California and they had one of Peter Frampton's prototypes and it had no pickups in it but it was strung up though. But it didn't have any paint on it; they hadn't painted it black yet or nothin' like that but it still had the binding on it and everything. I was jamming on it and the cool sign of any electric guitar if it's gonna sound good, if the thing sounds slammin' acoustically without plugging it in, you know the thing is gonna sound great. I was just jammin' on it and I said, Dude, this thing sounds fuckin' awesome. You know what would be killer is if they did something like this. And that was like 10 years and they made me a prototype but it isn't how we ended up with the BFGs. And those things are routed so it's gonna give you more fuckin' high end on those things. They did an awesome job on that. Anybody who complains about the weight of a Les Paul is gonna love this thing. If you pick this thing up you'll go, What the fuck is this? The thing weighs like two pounds.
Have you been working on any new music?
We've been touring the whole time. After I did the stuff with Ozz last year, I went back out on the road and was touring all the time. With me, I'll noodle around with riffs and everything like that and just record em and if I jam on something on the piano. Most of the time I'll have a planned set of shit I want to do when I get in the studio. Like, Oh, we're gonna record this and that. And the next thing I know when we get in the studio, and you have the headphones on and the studio is so conducive to writing, as soon as you get in there you start writing [new songs]. It's just because everything sounds slammin'. I'm like, Steve, what happened to those other five songs? And you're like, Zakk, I wrote like 12 more songs. And you're always more excited about the new shit that you do because it's new. Usually I'll just save it until I get in the studio. Because I've done it so many times where I write a batch of shit and by the time I get in there, I go, Dude, this stuff is fuckin' old already. I just start pumpin' out new shit.
And they're building a studio at the house right now and it's comin' out fuckin' slammin'. So I can't wait. This way I'll have a studio all the time.
And everything else is good with you?
Yeah. When the studio is done, I'm sure we'll do an article on it and when we do the next Black Label album, Stevie, we'll have you come up. Alright, Stevie, take care of yourself and I'll talk to you in a bit.
Interview by Steven Rosen