ZAKK WYLDE (Black Label Society, OZZY) talks about his book, his friends and shoots the shit in general
Everyone knows Zakk Wylde is a world class guitar LEGEND but probably one of the most endearing things about him is his sense of humor. In a world of cocky, aloof and moody guitar wizards hung up on the “artist” trip, Zakk still basically comes off like a normal guy. Granted, a normal guy with otherworldly six-string skills but still, you get the idea. The dude is a blast to talk to, he can speak a mile a minute about practically anything and DOES. We finally had the pleasure of interviewing Zakk about his new book, BRINGING METAL TO THE CHILDREN and he didn’t disappoint. The book doesn’t either, it’s a profane and powerful peek behind the curtain at the insanity that has been his life since his baptism by fire entry into the music business. From his New Jersey teenage beginnings to recording with Ozzy to touring the world with Black Label Society, it’s all there and then some. We talked about the book, the band’s connection to their fans and a lot more. Read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Zakk, your book, BRINGING METAL TO THE CHILDREN is some hilarious shit. I was sucked in from the very beginning of the book where you and your wife, then girlfriend Barbaranne show up for a recording session at XXX legend Ginger Lynn’s house and are confronted at the door by extraordinarily large black genitalia. So it’s NOT a kid’s book?
Zakk: (laughs). That was for my first recording (laughs). One of my buddies actually thought that it was a CHILDREN’S book, he was like “Well, Zakk I know you’re doin that children’s book” and I had to tell him “It’s not a kid’s book you jackass (laughs).” Like I am Madonna or some shit.
LRI: What prompted you to put all these stories together and collectively drop the world’s jaw?
Zakk: Just the overall stupidity of the music business in general, the insanity of it all. It reads just like I’m talking to you John, like we’re talking shit, as old friends who’ve known each other for ten years and been through all this shit. I say right in the introduction that I’d like to thank God, Jesus Christ for giving me this life and creating this cast of characters that he’s blessed me with. Really, honestly, my buddies, the people in my career, you couldn’t MAKE these people up, it’s more ridiculous than Seinfeld. My friends will say to me, “Zakk, these are just stories that actually happened to us and you’re elaborating and detailing the events” and I’m like “Yeah, I know!!” (laughs). I wish I HAD made some of these things up. Sometimes my mind is blown by the shit my friends will be like “and then remember that time we were out and there was that hooker” and I’m like “Woah, what?….you’re kidding me” and they’re like “No dude, that actually happened to Joe one night when we were all out drinking at the Irish pub in Jersey”. It was after a few hundred exchanges of “No, I’m not joking” that I decided we had to put it all down in a book. It really is all the truth and everybody I talk to whether it’s my brother in-law or my manager or anyone, they all have these stories and most of them are mind-blowing. I say in the book that the one thing about the music business is that there is no rulebook. It’s not like the NFL or something where there’s four downs to get ten yards or baseball where it’s three strikes and you’re out. There are rules. There are no rules in the entertainment business. It’s always been that way, going back to like Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin. They’d be telling him that they’d keep 90 cents on the dollar and he’d get ten cents and he was like “No, you know what, it’s the other way around, WE get 90 cents and you get a dime.” They told him he was breaking the rules and they had ten other bands and he said they could keep those ten pissant bands cause he had ONE Led Zeppelin. He said “You’ll make more money on our dime per show than you will with all those other little crap bands combined”. This biz makes the rules up as the game happens and people like him can and DO change the rules or create them as they go. It’s a crazy, unpredictable world.
LRI: Were you surprised at what you found in the business after you made it?
Zakk: Of course John. It’s like what you or I thought of this business or these stars, it is all your vision of the Emerald City. It’s like the Wizard of Oz, you’re hoping and dreaming to make it to Oz and you find out it’s just a little guy behind a curtain. It’s unbelievable. The whole time you’re scared and on pins and needles and you see this big face on the screen and think he has all these powers from beyond and then discover it’s all just a trick. It’s like “Oh, that’s how he does it” (laughs). Each day you’re debunking another myth. I know you know what I mean from talking to all these people. When you’re 14 or 15 years old dreaming about this business you have no idea of the realities.
LRI: I was pretty convinced that Ozzy was a fire breathing dark lord and got backstage to find a gentleman jogging in place with a robe on who had a team of handlers.
Zakk: Yeah, I know. Put it this way, it’s like a magic show. You get on the other side and you start to discover how the magic tricks happen, you learn how they get sawed in half. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s the Caligula, Led Zeppelin-esque stories on steroids, I’ve witnessed a bunch of them. It’s just like anything though, you and I could go out looking for debauchery and easily find all that and more on the town where everyone gets hammered and the comedy just starts going down. If you wanna put yourself in those positions that’s inevitably what will occur but there’s plenty of times where it’s just a mellow guys night out and you catch a movie. That’s how it can be on the road too, sometimes it’s insanity, sometimes you have a cigar and a cocktail and go to the bus and you’re out cold, you know? It depends completely on what you’re looking for and this book reflects that. If you want the insanity you can find it (laughs) or you can find shuffleboard, bingo and all night Seinfeld marathons (laughs). It’s just so funny how much different the reality is from that 15-year-old perception you had.
LRI: We talked to Jack Ponti, another Jersey guy who also has more than his fair share of music business stories. He said he knew you from wayy back in that east coast scene. Did a lot of that old school Jersey attitude make it into the book?
Zakk: Of course, of course, there’s no way that it COULDN’T. Jack’s been around and I’m sure that despite his success he’s had his fair share of being burned. There’s a way we deal with things. Like one guy asked me recently, “What did you learn from being with Ozzy all those years ??” and it’s the same thing I learned from hanging out with my father, lions hang out with lions. A lion knows what it’s supposed to be and it knows what it instinctively does. You can’t beat a work ethic into anyone. You just have to wake up and decide you’re gonna do it and go for it for yourself. Like you doing this website, you could’ve said “Hey I wanna do this or I’m thinkin about doin this” or whatever but instead you just did it. Like the Kelly Garni book you’re doin on growing up with Randy Rhoads, you had to decide that you believed in it and wanted to go through with publishing it. You could ask me “Zakk, do you think I should?” all day long but I can’t put a gun to your head and get you to actually see it to the finish line. That’s kind of the ethic of people where I’m from. Someone can approach me and say, “Dude, I wanna learn how to play guitar” and they do. I mean I could sit down and try to teach you how to play “Stairway to Heaven” or “Over the Mountain” but you’re gonna have to be willing to practice and commit to getting it done on your own or it won’t get done.
LRI: It’s cool that you brought everyone in your life along for the ride in these stories, even your family. Was there ever a concern that you were being too honest?
Zakk: No, because first and foremost it’s mostly all just comedy and taking the piss out of ourselves anyway. Like whenever I read that “Blabbermouth” stuff it just cracks us up because I actually know half of the people writing comments on there. People are like “Zakk, that doesn’t bother you??” and I’m like “No, because I know that’s Joe on there and John’s writing some of that and that’s Andy on there and on and on……That’s the mellow stuff, you should see what they really say when they’re going off!!” (laughs). My bandmates in Black Label are just ruthless. Everyone’s always breaking everyone else’s balls all the time but it’s all fun, noone gets out of line because everybody’s always laughing their balls off. Man, talk about taking the piss out of me, that Zakk Wylde Roast, they were really taking the piss outta me about the booze and the whole nine yards. I know a lotta guys where they would have been like “Ok, now have fun but no matter what you do don’t take any shots at so and so about their past with the drugs or the blah blah” and it’s always like “Well, why not, isn’t that the point” and people are like “Well, just be cool, he’s very sensitive about this or that” and it’s again like “WHY??…it’s true, it’s funny and it happened”. In my band we are always taking each other down and laughing our asses off. In this business it is an absolute must. I know guys in this biz who will NOT sign pictures of themselves that were taken during the big poofy hair phase and it just cracks me up (laughs). Are you kidding me? It happened, you might as well just embrace it as part of your past or at least laugh at it. Seriously, if you can’t find a way to poke fun at your high school yearbook photos there’s something wrong. Whatever. It’s like Ozzy lookin at his old 70s stuff with the jackets and the bell-bottoms, he hates it but he at least can make fun of himself and laugh at it. He’s like “God, I look fuckin stupid” and me, I’m all about the 70s so personally I think that shit looks cool as hell. I’m telling him “Oz, you look fuckin awesome”. He’s like “I look like a jackass, get that thing away from me” (laughs). You have to have a sense of humor about yourself in this line of work and be able to take some shit with a smile.
LRI: Do you ever get tired of people constantly questioning your drinking or lack of drinking or is that just par for the course?
Zakk: You saw the roast! (laughs). People will ask me like “Zakk, do you have advice, do you wanna be a counselor” and all I can say to them is what I’ll tell you. It’s okay to go out and have a good time. Go hang with the gang and get baked or get hammered or whatever and do what you wanna do but the MINUTE it starts getting silly or really stupid you gotta be able to know and take a look at yourself and say “Dude, I gotta chill out”. Or maybe just stop, you know? It’s like the same thing with too much of anything, If you’re an actor and you gotta get ready for a movie you have to know when enough’s enough and you have three months before filming begins to get in shape. One day you have to say “Okay, no more junk food, tomorrow its nothing but clean food and cardio”. Sometimes you just have to say “That’s it” and wake up every morning, drink a couple of cups of coffee and go after it.
LRI: Preach on Brother Zakk. Have you heard any of the criticisms directed towards people who write these books about times in their lives when they were partying so hard it’s difficult for people to believe they remember it all?
Zakk: No, cause everyone who knows me knows that I can still remember what went down last night (laughs). If you and I go out and get absolutely annihilated I swear to you I will remember every moment of the madness. No matter how hammered we get I will remind you of how you were out on the floor whipping your schlong out and dancing with old ladies. I will tell you about how you drank a pint from the tap or how you told me that the Heineken tastes the same warm as it does cold and how we all laughed cause you were really drinking piss. It will be memorable, trust me and nobody will get hurt and everyone has a good time but I will remember every nasty detail even if we are beyond bliztkrieged. I remember talking with Alice Cooper where he told me that there were entire records and tours that would pass that he just did not remember. I told him pretty much every record we’ve ever made we were drinking and having a good time but I never got so hammered that I don’t remember creating the record (laughs). Dude, I mean pretty much every album I did with Oz we were drinking but never wasted writing or recording the stuff, it just doesn’t allow you to get much done in the studio if you are. I mean, if you get towards the end of the night’s sessions and you’re starting to get hammered and the takes aren’t tight enough and you’re doing take after take eventually you reach the point of diminishing returns and it’s best to come back fresh in the morning. We’d wake up and listen to the good stuff in the morning and see what we needed to do, that’s how we always worked. That’s how we always made records, it was never like I got so blitzkrieged that I couldn’t remember entire stretches of time. People will say “Well, do you think your stuff is better now than it was then when you were all fucked up?” and I’ll be like “No, I think it’s the same because I wasn’t wasted during the process back then and I practiced then like I practice now”. I just don’t know what to say to people who think that now I don’t drink beer so therefore I can play better. I mean, of course, obviously if you’re too hammered and you’re onstage then you’re just shit but there’s a difference between being onstage and having a glow and being onstage completely lit and off your balls wasted. It’s one thing if you’re just hanging out at an open mic or a jam at a bar but it’s a whole different story to be fucking up your own shows.
LRI: I’ve always admired your connection to your fans from the very beginning of Black Label Society. You treat them like they’re just an extension of the band, part of the inner circle. Is that important to you?
Zakk: Absolutely. That’s because they are John. That’s why we don’t call it a fan club, we call it a “fam” club because it’s all just one, big extended BLS family. The way I look at it, that’s exactly what it is really. Not for nothin but these are really people that we have grown to know over all these years and we’ll see at shows or around town and that. I’ll see Joe and be like “Hey, how’s it goin, how’s Susan?” and they’ll be like “Oh she’s pregnant with our third child” and it’s just like that. I know all these people and they are a part of it all no doubt, including this book. It’s way cool. We’re like family and we’re honest with each other and can poke fun at stuff like I’ve done shows that didn’t go so good. It happens every once in a while and we just say “Man, that show fuckin BLEW” (laughs). What are you gonna do? Just move on and have a great show the next time.
LRI: Let’s talk about music for a second while I’ve got you. I love your mellow stuff like the “MUSIC FOR HANGOVERS” or your last album “SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME” or even “BOOK OF SHADOWS”. You’re so well-known for the roar and the pinch harmonics and shredding but sometimes I think your critics overlook your sense of melody and piano playing. Is that something you’re going to keep incorporating going forward?
Zakk: Of course. It’s just something that’s always been there. I always play an acoustic or play piano around the house. I mean I love songs like “Born To Lose” or “Overlord” but I also love “Shallow Grave” or a song like “Darkest Days”. Some of those covers on “Song Remains Not The Same” are songs I’ve just always loved but maybe people don’t expect like “Can’t Find My Way Home” or “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. John, if we were in a submarine with my band and we were just driving around and listening to tunes, mellowing out watching the world go by beneath the sea this would be our soundtrack. I’ll pour you a cocktail or a coffee or whatever you’re drinking and we’ll just drive for 16 hours talking about our favorite bands or the NFL bounty or religion or politics or whatever while listening to timeless, cool, mellow songs. I mean there’s always a time to listen to Dimebag or Meshuggah or Machine Head no doubt but there’s also something to be said for the mellow stuff for chilling out. I’ve always had that side to my stuff.
LRI: What’s next in the immediate future?
Zakk: Promoting the book, going out all summer touring. I’ve got a tour I’m doing now is eight weeks in Europe with Black Label and then some stuff with Metallica and then some stuff booked with Oz over in Europe where I’m playing some shows with Oz and then also doing my solo shows as well. Then we come back and I have something special planned for the States in August called “UNBLACKENED” which will be featuring acoustic guitars, electric guitars, strings, my buddy Derek Sherinian on Hammond organ and it’s gonna be a blast. It will be sort of along the lines of Song Remains Not The Same.
LRI: I know from working on the editing for Kelly Garni’s book that you were both out at the gravesite for Randy’s 30th anniversary. Obviously Randy Rhoads means the world to so many people including you, what did it feel like being out there with the family and all those fans?
Zakk: Randy always meant the world to me and he still does. I still have pictures of him up on my wall to this day. It’s awesome seeing the kind of outpouring that still exists for him. I mean, Randy is like Hendrix in that the work he achieved will live forever. I mean, we’ve all heard the stories about how he was considering leaving the rock touring business and going off into the sunset to study and teach classical but that didn’t happen. Sadly, he could have been teaching and teaching into his golden years. His recordings that he left us are his legacy, his guitar playing speaks for itself. It’s SLAMMING. That’s why people are gathering thirty years later, his playing had that much impact. He will always be an iconic guitar player, always.