It’s difficult to get a serious word out of Zakk Wylde. A monster guitar player, the leader of Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne’s right-hand man for more than three decades, the New Jersey native is a hilarious raconteur. With an new Ozzy album – ‘Patient Number 9’ on the way, as well as a return to the stage for his own BLS however, there is plenty to discuss. We sat down with Zakk at Download Festival for a chat about the above, his Donington history, and the chances of seeing a return of Pride & Glory. Horse called War; Eamon O’Neill.
Welcome to Download Festival Zakk, how are you doing today?
I’m doing good, buddy. Just hanging out, getting ready to roll with the Download Chapter Berserkers over here.
You’re no stranger to Donington Park; you’ve played here quite a few times, haven’t you?
It’s crazy, because I never played with the boss, I’ve never played here with Ozz. Like, we didn’t play on the ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ tour, we didn’t play out here, we didn’t play on the ‘No More Tears’ tour…
And Joe Holmes played with Ozzy when he did it in the ‘90s
That’s right, Bobby Joe played here. That was probably ’96 or so. So, in all my years with Ozz, we never played here. But we played here with Pride & Glory, I think in ’94.
I was just going to bring that up.
Yeah, it was Aerosmith, Extreme, Pantera, and there was a couple of other bands, and we opened up the main stage.
You opened up the festival before the Pride & Glory album had been released, so did you feel a lot of pressure in doing that?
No, zero pressure because they were like; “we don’t even know who the hell this band is!” So yeah, it doesn’t matter, you know, whether the amps all go out, whatever happens; whether, you know, I pull a fallopian tube or I blow out my uterus, it doesn’t even matter, no one’s gonna remember anyway.
You played a pretty beat up Gibson Les Paul that day with the Confederate flag on it and bottle caps hammered into it; how did it end up that way?
I’m from Jersey, so I’m from the Union, so I mean, the Rebel flag, I got that because of my love for the Allman Brothers, [Lynyrd] Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet; all the southern rock movement. So I put that on there, and we were doing a photo session and then Ozz and the guys were like; “Zakk, I think your guitar’s outside”, and I go out and there’s like a ten-foot flame burning off the guitar! They just wrapped it in like newspaper and stuff like that, lit it on fire, and they were all cracking up.
But anyways, that’s how it got burned, and then eventually I was just drinking beer one night, listening to tunes, and I just threw the bottle caps in there just to cover it up. I saw, I think Brett Michaels had one of the guitars in a Poison video [with the Confederate flag design] , and I didn’t want people to think, well I’ve got a Brett Michaels guitar. There’s nothing wrong with that because I’m friends with Brett, but it was like; “what, have you got the Brett Michaels model over there?”, so I was just like; “well, I’m just pounding a bunch of beers, let me just nail the beer caps in there", so that’s how the beer caps got in there.
So you’d relic’d it, before it was a thing!
Yeah! So it was customising a nice, beautiful Les Paul Custom. But anyways, that’s how that all came about.
All these years later, there is still a real hard core fanbase for that album; are you aware of that?
Yeah, all eight people that enjoyed that album! I think it’s great, you know?! [laughing]. No, we had a great time making that record with Jamo [James LoMenzo, bass] and Father Brian [Brian Tichy] over there, so no, it was a blast. We had a great time making that record, and the tour was fun on that thing, but sadly we ran our of beer funds, and that was the end. It was like, we had to go home.
Have you ever had any thoughts about bringing the band back again?
Yeah, we could always do that. I mean, Jamo’s playing with Megadeth now, Father Brian’s with The Dead Daisies. Yeah, we’re still all buddies, so there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it. Just go up to the Vatican [studio], and we could even make another record, let alone, or just tour on the one that we did, you know what I mean? So yeah, we could always do that.
Bringing things back to the present, and last year Black Label Society released ‘Doom Crew Inc’.
Oh, for a lot of people unfortunately, they’re like; “ugh, not another Black Label album”! [laughing] But like I said, for all the five people that enjoyed the album, they enjoy it thoroughly! But no, we had a blast making it. It was kind of crazy with the Covid thing, just being home for two years. I mean, the kids actually call me ‘dad’ again instead of uncle Frank! The dogs aren’t biting me, and Barb actually knows that she’s married again. For me, I was doing like 200 shows a year, between Black Label, Ozzy, Zakk Sabbath, Generation Axe with the fellas, and then Experience Hendrix, and then performing at circumcisions and weddings.
You mentioned Zakk Sabbath, and the band played a killer show in Anaheim around the time of the 2017 NAMM Show.
Oh yeah, at the Grove. It’s awesome, I mean, everyone seems to really know the material, singing all the songs! It’s great.
Your voice was incredible that night; you sounded like a young Ozzy.
You know, my years of studying at Ozzy Osbourne university, that’s aside from having vocal lessons from Ozzy himself, and then, also drinking lessons from the boss himself. I mastered in alcohol consumption and mixing, and puke-bucketing, you know what I mean, along with the vocalisation techniques that the boss uses.
Speaking of Ozzy, 2021 saw the 30th anniversary of ‘No More Tears’, your second album with him; did you go into that one a little more self-assured?
For me, looking back on it, ‘No Rest’ ['No Rest For the Wicked', 1988] was obviously; “let’s see what he’s got” kind of thing. My first year with the team, and the drinking and the partying and the good times and the laughs pretty much carried on from that album into ‘No More Tears’. It wasn’t like there was an epiphany for me, but more things were creeping in, like country licks or whatever.
Like on ‘Mama I’m Coming Home’?
Yeah, on the intro lick, and like, ‘I Don’t Want to Change the World’, with certain licks and stuff like that, but I mean, everything has to be built within a framework of what Saint Rhoads [Randy Rhoads] and Ozz did. Within those templates of those first two albums; between ‘Blizzard’ [‘Blizard of Ozz’, 1980] and ‘Diary’ [‘Diary of a Madman’, 1981] is how, you know, a Mercedes is built, you know what I mean? So, it’s like, we can kind of have new models, but it has to be within the framework of what a Mercedes is, which is awesome.
I have to talk to you about the guitar solo in ‘No More Tears’; you hit on something that is up there with those great Ozzy solos.
Well, I think with Saint Rhodes, what his legacy is, is his writing. Aside from the amazing technique and everything like that, it’s his writing. The reason why you still talk about Beethoven and Mozart is because of what they wrote, not how fast they can play or anything like that, so, Randy’s solos, for any aspiring guitarist, the education you get from listening to Randy is the construction; those solos, they’re songs within a song. And Ozz would always say that to me, he’d go; “Zakk, when you’re going to do a solo, it’s got to take you on a journey”, you know, like how ‘Hotel California’, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, you know, the solo in ‘Free Bird’, the live version, it elevates the song. I mean, that's in all the great solos that we love; ‘Mr. Crowley’, ‘Flying High Again’.
Do you remember constructing that particular solo?
You just sit and you write ‘em, you know what I mean; it has a beginning, and a middle and an end. Actually, the ‘No More Tears’ one it was kind of like improv, and then I remember I said; “well, let me try it a couple of more times”, and it was; “no, no, no, we got it!”
The solo in ‘Perry Mason’ is another great example of one of the great solos; you start with a real bluesy bend in that one.
Well thank you. Yeah, a Richie Blackmore lick; ‘Smoke on the Water’. Where you get all your education from is all the guys you listen to.
Before we wrap up, we need to talk about the new Ozzy Osbourne album ‘Patient Number 9’.
I did do the last one [‘Ordinary Man’, 2020], but not the one before that [Scream’, 2010], but my relationship with Ozz is like, he calls me up to bring over some milk and eggs, I’ll do that, and then he’s like; “Zakk, I need you to watch the dogs; me and Sharon are going for a business dinner” or something like that; “make sure the dogs get fed!” And I’m; “yeah, no problem, Ozz. Whatever you need”.
What can you tell us about the album?
The album is slammin’. Him and Andrew [Watt, producer] wrote the record. Actually, Andrew came up to the Black Vatican, my studio, just going over certain parts where Andrew was like; “no Zakk, I did it like this”, or whatever. So, yeah, it was a blast. The stuff’s slammin’, and then Ozzy’s singing great, and I get to put my little fiddly-diddly bits all over it. And on top of it, being on an album with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Lord [Tony] Iommi; I mean, if you would have told me when I was 15 years old that I’m going to be on a record with Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, I would have been; “forget it!, Lights out!” It’s a huge honour, man.
Are you playing on certain songs, are you doing all the rhythm guitars; what way has it worked?
I mean, obviously the songs with Lord Iommi and the other pontiffs on there between Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, yeah, I’m playing guitar, so it’s pretty awesome.
What’s happening for you going forward?
More dancing, more lip gloss, more rouge, more eyeliner; the important things.
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