Zakk Wylde

by Greg Prato

As far as heavy metal guitarists go, one of the more larger-than-life personalities is Black Label Society and erstwhile Ozzy Osbourne shredder Zakk Wylde. Sporting a ZZ Top-worthy beard, heavy-duty chain wallet, and various instruments emblazoned with his now-trademark target design, Wylde is instantly identifiable to metalheads worldwide - both at first glance and at first listen.

Wylde was a 20-year-old unknown when he first joined Ozzy's band back in 1987 as Jake E. Lee's replacement. His first few releases with the ex-Black Sabbath singer (1988's No Rest for the Wicked and 1991's No More Tears) spawned such classic tunes as "Crazy Babies," "Mama, I'm Coming Home," and the latter album's title track - all of which featured Wylde's fleet-fingered guitar.

Since the late '90s, Wylde has led his own band, Black Label Society, whose 2010 album Order of the Black debuted at #4 in America. The band has toured with Judas Priest, Guns N' Roses, and as part of Ozzfest. And while they integrate seamlessly into this hard rock brotherhood, Black Label Society touches upon non-metallic styles as well, as evidenced by a stripped down cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

Zakk (real name: Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt) chatted with us about his favorite songwriters, James Bond, the different Ozzy line-ups, and YouTube commenters that don't get the joke.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's talk about the new release, Unblackened. From what I understand, it's being issued as a DVD and as a live CD with some extra tracks, right?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah. We got approached to do another DVD [Unblackened] because it's been a bit since we did the Doom Troopin' one. We've got new material now, so we can do another DVD with the heavy stuff and the production, but everybody always asks us - you know, the Black Label Berzerker Nation over there - they're just like, "Are you guys ever going to do like an unplugged or do some of the mellower tunes?"

A lot of the mellow songs never see the light of day. We'll wheel the piano out and do "Dime Song" or "Spoke in the Wheel" or "Darkest Days," but we don't do a half-hour set of the mellow stuff [a CD version of Unblackened includes several acoustic selections not found on the DVD]. We'll just break out about two songs and then go back to the walls of doom - Marshalls and everything like that. So yeah, it was just a perfect opportunity for us to do the mellower stuff. It's like, "Oh, yeah, let's knock this out."

Songfacts: How did the idea come up to cover "Ain't No Sunshine"?

Zakk: I always listen to classic rock, and me and JD [bass player John DeServio] will always watch The Midnight Special and stuff like that. They'll have guys like Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers on, and we were just talking about how amazing those musicians are. I mean, you had to throw down back then. Everybody knew how to play and the singers were just phenomenal.

We end up doing a lot of covers. On The Song Remains Not the Same [2011 Black Label Society album], we did "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Can't Find My Way Home," "Helpless" - I've done a couple of Neil Young things, as well. Because whenever they want bonus tracks and stuff like that, I'd rather do a cover than give away another song that I want to put on a record.

It's killing two birds with one stone, since covers by your favorite artists are always fun to do - you can do your spin on it. And then on top of it, this way you're not messing with any tunes you want to use for the next record.

Songfacts: I recently interviewed Jason Newsted and we were talking about all the great old songs from the soul bands of the '60s and '70s, and how we were surprised there aren't more hard rock bands today that go back and listen to a lot of that great music from the '60s.

Zakk: We were talking about that the other day with some of the younger bands coming up. Some of them can shred, but as far as any blues licks and the playing, it's not in the music. But then at the same time, you have to dig that kind of music to want to play it. If you tell someone, "You ought to learn how to play jazz," they may say, "I can't stand jazz. I'd rather play metal."

And as far as history goes, I've noticed with a lot of younger kids, they'll know who Derek Jeter is, but they don't know who Babe Ruth is. But they're a huge Yankees fan. It's like, "Wow, you're a huge Yankees fan and you don't know who Babe Ruth is." It's like, "I don't know, should I know who he is? What year did he play? Did he play before Derek Jeter got there?" It's mind-blowing. Just forget about even asking, "Do you know who Thurman Munson is?" or "Can you name me another Yankee captain?" "No, but Derek Jeter's the best, man." It's like, "Wow, okay. Never mind."

One kid actually said to me at one of the Ozzfests years ago - he looked 12 or 13 years old - he said, "Zakk, you're my favorite Ozzy guitar player." I go, "No, that would be Randy Rhoads." I said, "This is the house that Rhoads built." And he just goes, "Who's Randy Rhoads?" I was just like, "Wow. You know who I am, but you don't know who Randy Rhoads is?" That's pretty amazing.

If you're into Led Zeppelin, you should know that Led Zeppelin listened to Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon. Your favorite blues band should not be Led Zeppelin.

I love guessing the dates on movies, so when the guys are all sitting around and a movie comes on, I'll put $20 down and whoever gets it gets the 20 bucks. Like The Black Label Price is Right, whoever's closest to it. Moonraker was on the other day, and that came out in 1979. That was the first Bond movie I ever saw, and I remember telling my buddy's older brothers that it was great. They're like, "Oh, Roger Moore, he sucks, man. That ain't a Bond movie." Because I had no idea who Sean Connery was. They were like, "Sean Connery's Bond, dude."

My first introduction to the Bond series was Roger Moore, but I needed to go back to check out Sean Connery as the original Bond.

Songfacts: I understand.

Zakk: But it is funny. Even the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, they have to know who Roger Staubach was, or Bob Lilly, or Dandy Don Meredith. They actually have to take a quiz and know who these people are.

Although he is known first and foremost as a guitarist, Wylde is also a talented songwriter. He has co-penned many a tune with Ozzy Osbourne ("Crazy Babies," "Mama, I'm Coming Home"), and is the main songwriter for Black Label Society and for his short-lived southern rock outfit, Pride & Glory. Zakk also wrote the songs for his lone solo album, Book of Shadows (1996).
Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your favorite songwriters?

Zakk: Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Obviously, I love Led Zeppelin and I love Sabbath. Neil Young, I love.

As far as guys my genre, Chris Cornell is beyond amazing. Father Cantrell - Jerry's amazing. I love the guys in Stone Temple Pilots. The Guns N' Roses guys.

Dime. It's amazing with the Pantera stuff, even with Doug, because I always tell everybody what Dime's legacy is. Tony Iommi created that whole genre of music, then Dime and the guys took the Sabbath thing and added gasoline. He added nitrous to it and created his own new thing.

We'd go to these festivals and hear these bands that definitely love Pantera, and that's where they're coming from - they're all branches of the Pantera tree. The brute strength and the force and the volume - the actual riffs in the songs, for as heavy as it gets, it was just memorable stuff. It wasn't all about just screaming and yelling and how fast they could play.

It was the same thing with Black Sabbath. Why are they so much better than all these other bands? It's because they have great songs. We saw them the other night. I've seen Tom Petty, and he's another amazing songwriter, he and Mike Campbell and all the guys.

Me and Barbaranne [Zakk's wife] went down and saw Tom Petty, and by the time he got done playing, I was like, "Wow, he hasn't played this one, that one, this one, and that one." I mean, he's got like a greatest hits jukebox on him.

Sonically, Tom Petty and Black Sabbath are two completely different things, but the thread that ties them both together is great song after great song. Sabbath is just one great insane classic riff after another. Same thing with Tom Petty on these songs we've heard a million times.

Songfacts: And something also I think is pretty cool, when you think about it, bands like Sabbath and Zeppelin and also Queen, it took those four members to actually create that music. If you took one of those guys out, I don't think it would have been as great or as special.

Zakk: Yeah. I was reading this one great thing about John Paul Jones. They asked him, "How similar are you guys? Do you hang out?" He goes, "No, when we're not touring or working together, we don't even call each other and we hang out at home. But the cool thing is, about Zeppelin, if you were to go to Jimmy's house and look at his record collection, it's completely different than mine. And if you looked at Robert's, it's completely different than all of ours. And if you look at John's [John Bonham's] it's completely different than all of ours. We turned each other on to different types of music."

They were all into different types of stuff individually. He said each one of them had a different record collection than the other one, which is pretty cool.

Songfacts: Definitely.

Zakk Fact:

He has a son named Hendrix Halen Michael Rhoads. The "Michael" comes from Mike Piazza, a star baseball player who was on the Mets at the time. You can probably guess the others.
Zakk: When we look at different genres of music as far as songwriters go, we can look at Al Jourgensen. What Al brought to the table with Ministry was the inception of that whole genre, really. He's the king at what he does, as well.

And when you talk about the heavyweight champs of all time, you have to go with Paul McCartney and John Lennon, George Harrison - The Beatles. And obviously The Stones and The Who. As far as all the classic rock stuff goes, Bad Company, Skynyrd, Allman Brothers all had just amazing songs. Performance is a side of that, but they're just great songs.

Songfacts: And I think a band that never gets the credit is the original KISS line-up, which wrote some really great songs, as well.

Zakk: I was never a KISS guy growing up as a kid, but my friends were just complete KISS freakos. They had the dolls, the whole nine yards. Nick [Catanese] is a complete KISS freak and so is JD. The thing that got him into playing bass guitar was Gene Simmons. He got into Jaco Pastorius and all the cats, every insane bass player; Victor Wooten and all the guys, but that was later on.

But his introduction, the reason why he wanted to play bass was because of Gene Simmons, because he loved KISS. But I was always more of a Sabbath guy and Zeppelin and stuff like that, and I dug Elton John.

If you listen to those KISS records the production on those records is phenomenal. And they're great songs. They really are. It's great classic '70s riffs and just well structured songs. Very hooky songs.

Songfacts: How would you say that you write your best songs?

Zakk: I don't think it's so much writing. I remember reading this thing on Robert Plant, and he goes, "I don't think it's so much you write them - you receive them." [Plant would spend considerable time explaining that he did not receive Stairway To Heaven from Satan.]

It's like God is the radio station that it's all coming from, and it's just a matter of tuning in until you hit His frequency. A lot of times I'll just sit in the morning, having a cup of java just chillin' out. If I sit at the piano or I sit at the acoustic guitar and I start writing something mellow, it's going to be what it's going to be. But if I sit behind an amp, between a Marshall, that always dictates what frame of mind I'm going to be in. If I sit down with an electric guitar what's going to come out are Sabbath/Zeppelin type riffs, but if I'm sitting behind a piano late at night, I might write something like "Desperado." You're not going to write "Desperado" between a wall of Marshalls and thumping, crushing volume.

Songfacts: Let's talk about the song "Stillborn." What do you remember about the writing and recording of that song?

Zakk: It was just a matter of trying to write something that's so minimal. You listen to a song like "Helpless" by Neil Young, and it's three chords. That's pretty much it. Or "All Along the Watchtower," or "Knocking on Heaven's Door." They're three chords and that's it, but when you're listening to it, it doesn't seem that repetitive. It's the melody and then the lyrics. If you're just listening to the backing track, it'd be like, "Dude, enough already. Do I have to hear these three chords again?" It's just like, "Well, wait till you hear what we have over top of it. Because that's just the foundation."

You listen to something like "Whole Lotta Love," even "Paranoid," there's three parts to it. You have the opening riff, you have the verse, and you have that little section and then it gets back to the verse again. "Stillborn" was just a matter of trying to write with as few chords as I possibly could.

A lot of times on Black Label songs I'll write with just the E and the A string, so it's just a riff. It has to be a riff.

When I first started playing guitar, I could play "Smoke on the Water" on the low E string. Obviously, you'd have to throw Deep Purple under great songwriters, as well. Because it's great riffs, the whole combination. But yeah, it's just something like "Smoke on the Water," "Iron Man," but you could play it on one string. If I gave you one string on the guitar, the low E string, and I said, "Here, write me a song," you could play those songs on one string. With Black Label songs, a lot of times it always comes down to pretty much that. With "Stillborn," that's all it really is.

Songfacts: What about the song "No More Tears"?

Zakk: We were just messing around in rehearsals. Mike [Inez] started jamming that on the bass, then Randy [Castillo] started playing drums, and then John [Purdell] started doing that keyboard bit.

I always say with songwriting, it's your Rolodex of knowledge, so if I'm going to approach a guitar solo or something like that, I draw from all the guitar players that I love. I will say, "Greg, which solo do you like better, the David Gilmour one or the Al DiMeola one?" And you're like, "Well, Zakk, actually, I'm thinking the David Gilmour, the 'Comfortably Numb' one on this one. More of the mellow thing as opposed to the rippin' thing, the Al D thing." Or vice versa on other solos. You're like, "The Al D thing sounds more exciting on this one," or whatever. And that's why I always call it "The Rolodex of knowledge."

And when it comes down to production, you go through it. "Remember on that one record, you know how Hendrix did on that one album, on Are You Experienced? that one thing right at the end of that song, we'll do something like that."

We'll put our own thing on it. It's like having a box of crayons: "Let's put a little orange here, mix red with a bit of white - now we've got pink." It's the same thing with songwriting. You could say "A Whole Lotta Love" is that beginning riff, then the vocal comes in, then the drums come in, and then if it's a mellow tune, it's "Stairway to Heaven," the drums come in almost past the midway point. The verse will go on for a bit, then the drums will come in. So you just reference things.

Because at the end of the day, that's how you learn: from listening to other great bands or great artists. You're going to be inspired by the music you love listening to.

Ozzy Osbourne and the late, great Randy Rhoads were not the only creative forces behind Ozzy's first two solo albums, the classics Blizzard of Ozz (1980) and Diary of a Madman (1981). The rhythm section on those two discs, bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake, played a major role in the music's creation, as Osbourne/Rhoads/Daisley are listed as the songwriters for most of the debut (including the tracks "I Don't Know" and "Crazy Train"), while Osbourne/Rhoads/Daisley/Kerslake penned the majority of the Madman album, including "Over the Mountain" and "Flying High Again."
Songfacts: And something I'm curious to get your feedback on: with those first two Ozzy solo albums [Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman], how much do you think that Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake played a part in the songwriting? They seemed to be a pretty big part of the songwriting with those albums.

Zakk: Yeah. Bob's always been great with Oz. Just a great pairing like the Elton/Bernie Taupin thing. Bob's a great lyricist. He worked with us on No Rest For the Wicked, he worked on No More Tears. So yeah, I think Bob's great.

The aforementioned Osbourne/Rhoads/Daisley/Kerslake line-up never made it to American soil (although they did perform in Europe throughout 1980). By the time Ozzy's solo group toured the States in 1981, the band had shifted to include a new rhythm section, comprised of Rhoads' former Quiet Riot bandmate, bassist Rudy Sarzo, and ex-Black Oak Arkansas/Pat Travers drummer, Tommy Aldridge. The Osbourne/Rhoads/Sarzo/Aldridge line-up would sadly never make it into the recording studio, as Rhoads died in a plane crash on March 19, 1982, at the age of 25.
Songfacts: I've always wondered what that original Blizzard of Ozz line-up would have gone on to do if they had stayed together.

Zakk: I think that original line-up was phenomenal. You can't even argue that. Just listen to the records. They're timeless, classic albums. Hands down, that line-up was fuckin' sick. When they were making the record, they didn't know. Randy didn't know any of the guys. Randy never met Bob Daisley or Lee Kerslake before. I'd mean, if me and you took four complete strangers, stuck 'em in a room, and then they ended up coming out with two amazing records - what are the chances of that happening?

Songfacts: And I've always wondered what the second line-up with Ozzy, Randy and also Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge would have come up with in the recording studio.

Zakk: I think it would have been a completely different thing. How could it not have been? Look at it like the Patriots - Ozzy and Randy, would be [Bill] Belichick and [Tom] Brady, but now we're going to have different wide receivers, different running backs, different defenses. Obviously, we don't have to worry about Captain America and Father Belichick, since we know what they're going to deliver. But the rest of the team around it, without [Wes] Welker there, let's see what happens now.

Without a doubt, even when I play with Black Label, when we have different guys I play with, everyone always brings their own magic, their own flavor to the soup, hands down.

You listen to Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio in it, and it's not Black Sabbath. They should have just called it Heaven and Hell right from the beginning. Because you listen to that Heaven and Hell album, that doesn't sound anything close to Black Sabbath. I mean, that sounds about as much like Black Sabbath as Blizzard of Ozz sounds like Black Sabbath. If you were to play Black Sabbath for me - and I'm a huge Sabbath freako - and then with Father Dio over there, I'd be going, "Oh, cool, what band is this? This is good stuff." I mean, the songs don't even sound Black Sabbath-y. I mean, "Neon Knights," could you picture Ozzy singing over that song?

Songfacts: No, I can't.

Zakk: I can't either. It's weird. It's a whole different band. But like you said, there are different dynamics by bringing different people in, especially if it's a songwriting team.

With Nine Inch Nails, it's all Trent Reznor. So when we get a new record from Nine Inch Nails, it depends on what side of the bed Trent's waking up on and what he's been eating lately and what he's been into. Because he's preparing the whole meal.

It's not like a songwriting team where everybody's throwing stuff at it: you came up with the pre-chorus, I had the main riff, Mike came up with that middle bit right before the guitar solo, and then the ending bit Joey came up with. That's like a band dynamic right there.

But if it's a Nine Inch Nails thing, that's all Trent's everything. He's the Salvador Dali of the whole thing. And then talking about songwriters, when you take Paul McCartney and you have him in Wings, that's a completely different thing. His songwriting throughout was insanely good, as well. "Maybe I'm Amazed" and everything like that can hang with all the Beatles stuff he wrote.

Songfacts: John Lennon's first few solo albums were also great.

Zakk: Yeah. Without a doubt. Not only that, that Double Fantasy record was slamming. There's killer songs on that record.

"Maybe I'm Amazed" would have been on a Beatles record if The Beatles would have never broke up; "Imagine" would have been on a Beatles record. Even the George Harrison songs, when he did his solo records, the great songs that were on those records, if they were still all together, they would have thrown them on a Beatles record.

Songfacts: And something I've always wanted to ask you, were you friends with Shannon Hoon from the band Blind Melon?

Zakk: We did some shows together a long time ago. I didn't roll with him or have his phone number, but whenever we all hooked up, he was always a cool dude.

Songfacts: Because I wrote a book about Shannon a few years ago [A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon] and I recall a few people I interviewed saying they thought you and he were friends at some point.

Zakk: I wrote a song called "Throwin' it All Away" about him when I did the Book of Shadows record.

It was weird, because I ended up meeting Shannon's daughter when we were out with Guns N' Roses, when we were doing shows with them. I guess Axl keeps in touch with the family still. And when we were doing Indiana, they all came down and they were all on the side of the stage hanging out. I was like, "Hey, how you doing?" And they said, "Oh, Zakk, this is Shannon's daughter." And she's the same age as my daughter now. She's 21 years old. And so I was like, "Hey, what's happening?" It was kind of weird. What am I supposed to say? "Oh, your dad was really cool." But yeah, for everybody that I knew that knew Shannon too, they're just like, "Dude, he was super cool, man."

Songfacts: I forgot to mention before - I think that's great that you showed your sense of humor in the video for "Ain't No Sunshine," because that's something else that seems to be lacking with heavy metal and hard rock, with bands that take themselves way too seriously.

Zakk: We were having too much fun laughing at ourselves. We were laughing our balls off, just taking the piss out of ourselves. You've got to read the comments on YouTube about the video. The comments are even more funny and more goofy than the video! One guy actually wrote, "The guitar solo was so out of synch. I couldn't even believe I witnessed that and even watched it. I can never listen to this band ever again." It's like, "Really, it was out of synch? Was it because it was in slow motion, or was it because Father Vinnie [Paul] does a terrible air guitar?" [Laughing]

One comment was, "You ought to be ashamed or yourself for making such a mockery of a great black American songwriter." Oh, now we're getting racist. [Laughing] The people that beyond hate it are fucking priceless, dude.

Songfacts: You should definitely take that as a compliment that you could bring out such vitriol.

Zakk: Such hate. It's like me and you being wrestlers, us being a tag team and everybody loved us and now we turned heel and we're the biggest douchebags on the planet, and the boos that we get when we come into the arena now.

Actually, talking about that, Chris Jericho and all my buddies that are professional wrestlers, they said that whenever they've turned heel, they're like, "Dude, it's so much fun. It's unbelievable." [Laughing] Because it's so fuckin' easy. They just come out in the ring and go, "Look at all you maggots, you idiots." And everybody is just booing the shit out of them. He said it's priceless. I told Jericho, "I don't know how you're not laughing when you're in there, dude. You're yelling at the audience and I'm trying to keep it together."

But we had a blast making that video. The best is that people are like, "What did the horse mask mean? What's the meaning behind the horse mask?" "I don't know, you're a fuckin' idiot?"

Songfacts: Or you could say, "No, you're a horse's ass."

Zakk: Exactly. "Are you for real? It's a joke, dude." Ridiculous.

Songfacts: Thanks for taking the time out for doing the interview. It's great to hear about your tastes in music.

Zakk: Without a doubt, man. The stuff you hear nowadays, when you hear something come out that's great, like Adele or whatever, you go, "Man, that's amazing." When new stuff comes out and it's good, it's good.

Songfacts: Totally agree. I think the last Soundgarden that came out [King Animal], I personally thought it was great. I don't think it got nearly the credit or the full attention that it deserved.

Zakk: I know what you're saying, it didn't get the commercial success as a Superunknown or something like that. I think Chris is awesome. I love his solo records, too. A lot of Soundgarden, you can hear tons of Jeff Buckley stuff in there, too.

All right, brother. I guess I'll talk to you next time we come rolling around on the East Coast.

January 6, 2014
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Comments: 3

  • Alice Pal from Naples FlZakk Thank you for the Beautiful Song Throwing it all Away. Shannon was Special that's 4 sure!!!
  • Renee Goforth from North Carolina I loved the interview with Zakk Wylde. I learned so much more about him. I have a suggestion for Zakk and I hope you can relay the suggestion to him. I love his music, especially the guitar solos. He has great vocals. BUT.....I would love for him to play some songs with just his guitar. No singing. All these great guitarists. And not one of them ever comes out with just an instrumental (Guitar) song. You can't find hardly any music with just guitar playing. Unless it's someone like the late great Chet Adkins. Thank you for letting me comment.
  • Victoriam from Detroit, Mi. Nice interview. I felt as if I was right in the same room w/ you and Zakk! Thanks for the the comical "horses ass" comment at the end of the interview. Nice Job!
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