Zakk Wylde: Don’t Throw House Shows + Rent a Hall Instead
Guitar god Zakk Wylde was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The Black Label Society leader and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist looked back on his earliest days as a musician in the New Jersey club scene, even detailing the "Demolition Fest" house party, which he advises kids not to repeat.
Mentioning that any serious musician looking for a career in playing is either a lifer or not, simple as that, Wylde stresses now is the time to seize control of your own destiny with the ability to record, release and promote your music without record label support.
As for how he's changed as a guitar player, there's some things that will never change. Yes, Zakk Wylde still practices his scales, which is probably why he can shred with a guitar held behind his head for minutes on end without missing a damn note.
Read the full interview below.
The latest record from Black Label Society is Grimmest Hits and we were just talking about Jersey a second ago because I can't help myself. You came up playing in a pretty prolific New Jersey club scene. What effect did that environment and the work ethic of those bands have on you?
Well, I mean, I came in at the tail end when it was really banging — when the drinking age was 18... When T.T. Quick was playing, White Tiger, Prophet, you had Zebra — all those bands. Obviously, I miss that. Everybody that was there had told me the clubs were just packed every night. I'd imagine that's how Sunset Strip was when I first got out here with Ozzy back in '87 when Guns 'N' Roses were just blowing up.
Whenever I went out to any of the clubs out here, it was mobbed because everyone was going, "Oh, this is the last time I'm gonna see 'em when they play clubs 'cause they got signed." There was electricity going on. I can only imagine what it was like when Van Halen was rollin' and Quiet Riot. You had Eddie Van Halen and Saint [Randy] Rhoads... George Lynch was crushing it.
You had all these amazing guitar players and the bands. It is a scene and there's an electricity and a vibe going on. That's what everybody would say about the clubs back in the day.
For me, it was just really no different experience-wise, because I wouldn't have been able to get into the clubs anyways to go see any of these other bands. I was working, basically, doing a gig — that's the only reason why I was able to be in there.
For me, I could have been playing a keg party at my friend's house in their kitchen. Which I have done. Ketchum's Kitchen — that was a legendary gig. Then the Bobbi Bush demolition fest. I remember we played in her living room - her parents had moved out.
Her parents went up to the Poconos for the weekend. Remember that movie Weird Science? Basically, everybody's at the house and just destroys the house. It was exactly that. Even with the people driving the motorcycles inside the house. It was good times. I just wish Kelly LeBrock would have shown up. That would have been pretty stellar. I remember that the house was completely demolished.
As a homeowner and a dad and having your kids - probably best idea. Rent a hall for them. It's probably a very good financial move as opposed to trying to repair the Demolition Fest home that you once lived in. Do you know what I'm sayin'? Just think smart. There's nothing wrong with your kids having a good time, but understand what a good time is gonna cost.
This year you're touring in celebration of Sonic Brew, the album that started Black Label Society. How much of what Black Label Society are today did you envision back then?
Well, there's definitely way fewer brain cells. And then you figure our livers are in dog years now since the golden elixir, Animal House years for early Black Label. Now, I mean it's just kind of shifted over. People are like, "Well, Zakk, you don't drink anymore. What did you replace it with? You know, exercise or anything like that?" I go, "Nah, I still exercise and fondle my genitalia and, you know, fist my prostate to make sure my diet is on point and I have a clean bill of health."
I still do that - just like I did back in the day. I've just replaced the booze with paint chips and gallons of glue, and the results are astoundingly the same. I wake up with my pants around my ankles and all the fellas tell me, "Zakk, you were friggin' hilarious last night." It's fewer calories, so, therefore in Black Label it's always bikini season, and I don't want anything to ever interfere with my inner thigh gap. Cause I have to have that power. When my thighs are together you can see that gap. That's very important to me.
Ozzy singing is distinct and his influences are apparent in some aspects of your own singing. What appeals to you about Ozzy's voice?
Just that it's crushing and it's awesome. The whole thing is whenever my voice ends up going into those registers and it's like, "Man, kinda sound like the Boss on that one." I just go, "Just leave it." This way when people want to buy the record, they'll just buy it thinking it's the Boss and they'll be thoroughly disgusted, but just like a piece of exercise equipment, they'll be too lazy to send it back. There is thought that goes into this.
Zakk I feel like you've got it all figured out.
Well, put it this way. We have, you know, me and JD (BLS bassist Jon DeServio) are still figuring it out. We were blessed having the Boss in my life and then having our Black Label family. JD always said, "Well, what [else] would you do?" I said, no, like I always tell other musicians, you would play music. It doesn't matter. Everything revolves around music and therefore, we would have our cover band, our wedding band, and anything but it all revolves around paying the light bills with us doing music. In a cover band, I'll do Ozzy's voice. JD has a low voice. He can do Lou Rawls and Jim Morrison.
I'll do, another voice — I'll end up doing a little bit of Neil Diamond. It's who can do what voice comes the closest to whatever, depending on how smashed everybody is. They wouldn't know anyway. So, it's kinda good. It doesn't sound anything like Neil Diamond, but you know, after you've got about four bottles of Jack Daniels in you and two bottles of Crown [Royal], it's like, "Gosh, he sounds spot-on."
I think you had it pretty down, I don’t know, I was impressed. [laughs]
Exactly. But Oz, his voice truly is amazingly unique. It's so crazy, when you listen to those records, his voice sounds so melancholy and lonely and Tony [Iommi]'s riffs are just so dark, and Ozzy's voice just sounds like it's in despair. It really is peanut butter and jelly, man. I mean it really is like it's the Reese's of doom, it's chocolate and peanut butter. It's just a lethal combination, and I don't know anyone that doesn't like Reese's or peanut butter and jelly.
You can't trust anyone who doesn't like Resse's
Totally. It's a lethal combination. Perfect.
So, okay you play with Ozzy, you get all this recognition and you turn it into the Black Label Society brand. What was the most important thing about establishing that identity?
If any parents ask, "Zakk, do you have any advice for my son or my daughter? They're musicians," I go, think about it, back before social media and the Internet and everything, if you didn't get a record deal by the time you were 30 years old, the dream is over. That was the perception — you better get a real job and forget about playing. You might as well take down your Jimmy Page posters and all your favorite bands and Rush and everything.
I just tell them, "Either you're a lifer or you're not." If you really love music, then that's all you're gonna do. Don't settle for doing something else. Let's look at the chessboard of life — how are we gonna make this work?
You've got social media now and if anything, now you can be accountable and be your own boss. Do you know what I mean? You don't need a record deal. Make the record yourself. Start your own little mom and pop's shop and build it from there. It's a good time anyways because everything revolves around your band.
If you're not practicing or you're not writing or doing stuff like that, or recording, or doing gigs, everything should revolve around artwork, the merchandise, work.
Put it this way — you own the New York Yankees; if the three of us own the Yankees, the whole thing is, we're involved with the trades, free agency, the restaurants in the stadium. And you'll have these ideas of what we should do with the stadium when it's not being used when the games aren't being played. Why don't we just put a giant mall in this place, so it's a living, breathing entity when we're not here?
And then you're like, let's put condominiums in this place or apartment buildings, so people can actually live here, and never even care about seeing a baseball game. Do you know what I mean? Down to the way the grass is cut, we're involved with everything. Look at Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin is his entire life! He curates everything and it's just like every day he's got cool ideas to preserve the history of the band and everything like that.
Everything revolves down to the artwork, the records, the remastering, finding old tracks that you can salvage that everybody sounds good on it. It really is his life's work and it's his passion. So I I just tell kids to do that. There's no reason why you can't be your own boss.
It sounds so easy.
I'm just telling you. And then after that, go fondle your genitalia and give yourself a present for all your hard work. You deserve it.
You grew up listening to Ozzy. What changed about your love and appreciation of that music when you went from listening to it to playing it?
The music that you really loved when you were like 14 or 15 years old really goes with you forever. My father loved Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, all that stuff. When Elvis came in and Chuck Berry, my dad was like, “Well, I'll take a pass on this." That's how it is with everybody in every generation. My kids, they have their favorite bands and they're now 26, 25, 16, and 6.
Our youngest son, Sabbath Page, he's 6, and his older sister is 26. So he's gonna have his own music that he listens to. And Ray, our daughter is probably gonna go, "God, the stuff he listens to is horrendous." At least we had cool music when I was a teenager. Every generation says that.
They always say, "What are these kids listening to these days?"
That's just the way it rolls. I don't fight it, I just roll with the water — no sense in fighting the tide. Like no sense in fighting a prostate exam. You just go for it and you just enjoy it. And you just go, "Actually, can we make this appointment a little bit longer, please? Thank you. Let's just do it again."
Growing up, you invested a lot of time in the guitar. What's different about the time you spend playing now?
I still run scales because I enjoy it. Like I said, if you're not fondling your genitalia, or coming up with merch ideas, you're going to be running scales. You can't be fondling the genitals at a PTA meeting. It's just really not good. You'd rather just be running scales because you're not really going to bother anybody unless you're plugged in.
I still practice. You get to a point where you keep your chops up and there's maintenance and everything like that, but if there's new licks you want to learn - jazz licks or whatever to try and incorporate into your playing, that's cool too. But I think it's more writing, you're just writing all the time.
If you ask all musicians that's pretty much what it comes down to. No matter what level of skill you're at, it's a matter of maintaining your chops and everything like that. But I still enjoy running scales and practicing and stuff like that. Like I said, I think it's more down to writing songs - riffs and coming up with things and then recording them.
I know these Ozzy dates have been rescheduled for next year. Have you seen him since he came out of the hospital?
The last time I saw him was in the hospital and he said, "Zakky do me a favor, tell these doctors the Elmers is just not cutting it. Tell them to use either crazy glue and a combination of Gorilla Glue and bond me back together. And when they wrap me with duct tape, to make sure the stuff mends, tell them I don't like the shiny black duct tape. I prefer the flat black gaffer tape."
I asked why and he said, "I just think it looks cooler." I said, "Okay, I'll tell them that, boss." So right now, he's waiting for the Gorilla Glue and the crazy glue to set and and then he starts his training for the next Oz-mageddon Powerlifting Meet that we have scheduled for 2020. So once his deadlift totals, his squat and his bench numbers get back to these Oz world class levels, he's ready to hit the lifting platform once again.
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