Guitar heroes don’t come much more iconic than Zakk Wylde. A bona fide six-string maestro, his trademark sound, style, and look have marked him as one of the most influential players of all time. He’s also one of the busiest; holding down the groove with Ozzy Osbourne on and off for thirty years, as well as leading his own Black Label Society for the last two decades. We sat down with the New Jersey native to talk about his career; from Ozzy to his brief tenure with Axl, Slash and Duff in Guns ‘n’ Roses. Toe'n the line; Eamon O’Neill
Hi Zakk, how are you?
I’m good. I’m just hanging out, just getting ready to start the day, brother. We’ve got another hot-rocking, genital plough fest tonight with the Belfast chapter. Then we’re heading home, and then I guess we start firing up the Ozzy boot camp in about two weeks, to get ready to roll with the boss.
Tonight’s show is the last night of the tour; how does it feel to be wrapping it up?
It think on this one, since we started for ‘Grimmest Hits’, we’re about eighty-something-odd shows in, almost like ninety shows. It’s great. I look forward to it every night. It’s like a workout.
Click HERE for eonmusic's report from the final night of Black Label Society's 2018 European tour.
It might be the final show, but you are one of the busiest musicians out there; you never seem to stop.
I’m probably doing about, I don’t know, I must be closing in on about three-hundred shows a year; in between doing Black Label, and now I’m going to be rolling with the boss again, Zakk Sabbath, then Generation Axe rolling with the fellas, and then Experience Hendrix. But I’ve got friends the same age as me, when we first started with Oz, they were just like; “I’ve just had enough, I wanted to go home, and hang with my family”, and this and that. I have a family, we have four kids, and I just used to laugh; can you imagine if your dad said; “I want to go home for a while!” – “And how are we paying for food and to keep the lights on?” *Laughing*.
One of the highlights of this run had to be Black Label’s appearance at the Royal Albert Hall.
It was amazing, man. So many of our musical heroes have played on that stage. The night we were going to be playing, we were watching some Zeppelin from Jimmy Page’s birthday in 1970 or 1969, when they played there, so it’s just incredible to be playing there. So, it was pretty min blowing, for sure.
You get to emulate another of your heroes in your band Zakk Sabbath; it’s incredible how close your voice sounds to a young Ozzy Osbourne when you perform those shows.
Actually I have a guy behind the curtain; It’s actually Ozzy, behind the amps, doing it. *Laughing* The running joke that we have is it’s like I was playing these songs when I was sixteen years old in a band, playing keg parties, people’s kitchens, basements, and people’s back yards, and here I am fifty-one years old, and I’m still playing Black Sabbath songs except there’s more people. There’s a couple more people, but it’s still keg parties, so yeah, it’s pretty funny, man.
Those shows look like a lot of fun for you.
Yeah, without a doubt. It’s always a blast. And the great thing is everybody knows the songs, so I don’t have to worry about people not knowing the tunes.
You mentioned that you’re gearing up for Ozzy’s retirement tour; how does it feel to be stepping into those chaps again?
It’s awesome. I’ve always said it’s a miracle any work ever gets done, because we’re always on the floor crying laughing. All you’ve got to do is hang around Ozzy for like, two minutes; I mean he takes the piss out of himself, and everything that’s going on; whether it’s current events, and bands, or whatever – he’s got to take the piss out of everything. I remember one day we were talking about how certain bands, nobody sounded like them, before them, or after, and you wonder where they got their influences from, or their inspirations or whatever, because with all bands, we could always say; “you got it from this, or that”, and that’s what you’re tasting in the soup. We were talking about like The Doors, The Cars, and I go; “Oz; I got to be honest, even you, with your voice – no one’s sounded like you before or after”, and he just goes; [*does perfect Ozzy Osbourne impression*] “Maybe there’s a reason why”! [*laughing*] He’s hysterical, bro.
You’re set to close Download Festival 2018 with Ozzy; is it a big thing for you to play at Donington again?
Yeah. The first time I ever played there was with Pride And Glory, and that was like a huge big deal, because obviously, being a music fan, you always heard about Donington, and so to play it, it’s like the Royal Albert Hall; it’s a big deal. But playing anywhere with Ozzy’s always a good time; whether it’s a prison, or whether it’s in front of five people and we’re playing in a phone booth; it’s always a good time to play with the boss. But I’ve never done Donington with Oz. We just did it a couple of years ago with Black Label, and that was a good time. So yeah, definitely looking forward to it again, man.
Was the 1994 Donington slot a tough gig for you, given that it came before the Pride And Glory album was released?
Yeah, I think that’s why we ended up playing ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, just so that everyone would think; “Wow, I can’t believe they wrote these songs” [*Laughing*].
That album came on the heels of Ozzy’s ‘No More Tears’ release, which fans still rank as of Ozzy’s best.
Yeah, I mean, I love all of them, but, it’s always cool how people actually enjoy that record. But all the Ozzy records I’ve done with the boss, I’ve had a great time making every one of those records. I have memories attached to every one of them. Obviously, ‘No Rest [For The Wicked, 1988]’ being the first one, and my first time ever making a record, like a real album and everything like that, that was pretty surreal. And the writing of it, and everything like that, I mean, that will always be a highlight, that one.
What about the other albums you’ve made with Ozzy?
The second one [‘No More Tears’, 1991] was a lot of fun. Obviously, ‘Ozmosis’  was a blast, because we were in New York city making that one, and Paris, tracking that one. But I mean, all the records I’ve done, you’re working with super cool people. Everyone that did the records together, whether it was [producer] Michael Beinhorn, I just had a blast, every record we’ve made. Whether they were more successful than the last one or whatever, you’re hanging out with everybody you dig hanging out with; I mean, you’re hanging out with your buddies and you’re making a record, so how can that suck?!
You joined Ozzy’s band in 1988 following on from Randy Rhodes, Brad Gillis, and Jake E. Lee; did you ever imagine that you’d still be working with him, thirty years later?
The crazy thing is Ozzy’s been in my life since I’ve been eleven years old. Obviously I was listening to Sabbath, and then when Saint Rhodes came on board, and then him and Randy made those two monumental classic records, and then me and my buddies were all huge fans of Jake, and then I’m in the band. So, I mean, it would be like me being a huge Manchester United fan and a fan of all the players, and then all of a sudden then I’m wearing the uniform. So, it’s pretty surreal.
You’ve got a particularly close relationship with the Osbournes.
My relationship with Ozzy and Mom [Sharon Osbourne] – I lovingly refer to her as ‘Mom’ because she’s been like my mother since I was nineteen years old - I love them both, so the whole thing, whether I’m in the band, or I wasn’t in the band; me and my good wife Barbaranne, we would always keep in touch with them for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, their birthdays, the kids’ birthdays, the holidays, Christmas and everything; we’d always check in with them or go out to dinner with them.
You last played with Ozzy when you stepped in to play a few dates on the 2012 ‘Ozzy and Friends’ tour
That whole time Gus [G.] was playing with him, and Gus is a buddy of mine, and Gus is phenomenal, we all know that. Gus’ wife was having a baby, and they were like; “Zakk, Gus is going to go home for like, three weeks, for he wants to be home with the mother beloved and the bambino; can you help out and just fill in for Gus for the three weeks?” And I was like; “Yes, give me the set list, I’ll come out and knock it out”. So, that’s pretty much how my relationship is with Oz.
Moving on, and something that is rarely talked about is your brief tenure with Guns ‘n’ Roses in 1995; how did that come about?
Axl was telling me that him and the other guys were talking about getting another guitar player. He said they were just talking about guys and this and that, and Axl just said; “Well what about Zakk?” I know all the guys, but I’d never met Axl before, but I knew Duff and I knew Slash, so it was just kind of just throwing it around as a joke, and then it was; “Why don’t we just ask Zakk what he’s doing and have him come down?” So, I just went down to jam with the guys. It’s not even like an audition at that point; Jimmy Page is not going to audition for The Rolling Stones, it’s just like; “Jimmy, do you want to come down and jam with us?” It’s just like; “Yeah, okay, no problem”. So, it was more that; just a bunch of clowns getting together and jamming.
How far did things go with those Guns ‘n’ Roses sessions?
We jammed a bunch of things, but nothing was happening at the time with the fellas. It was Slash, Axl, Duff, Matt, Dizzy was down there; so all the guys, and then I just came in, and it was jamming. We did demos and stuff over at Duff’s house in the studio. We just had a bunch of riffs and stuff like that, but nothing was going on; it was in limbo, it was just laying there, and I was like; “I’ve got such an outstanding booze bill, I’ve got to pay this debt off”, so I said; “Fellas, I’ve got to get back to work, and just let me know what’s going on”.
At this stage Ozzy was getting ready to work with another guitar player.
I remember Ozzy was just like; “Zakk, are you going to be jamming with the fellas, or are we going to do this?”, and I said; “Oz, I have no idea. I’ve got to ask the guys, and I’ll see if I can get you an answer”. Then it kept going, and then it prolonged, and Ozzy was like; “Zakk, I’m just going to get somebody else, dude. I can’t be sitting around, because I’m getting ready to tour”, and I was like; “I completely understand”. That’s when Father Joe [Holmes] came in and was playing with the boss. And then I’d got all these riffs laying around, and I thought; “To hell with it, I’ll just do it myself”, and that’s when Black Label was born, and here we are twenty years later.
Finally, we’ve talked about so many great musicians that you’ve worked with; is there anyone left that you’d like to that haven’t already?
Well no, I mean, the whole thing is if I get afforded the opportunity to work with any of my heroes, or any of the musicians that I love, it’s always a good thing. But, I mean, people are like; “If you could put together a band from the past, who would you put on it”, and I go; “I love the band I’m in right now.” I wouldn’t trade it; the fellas I’m playing with right now. It’s always been that way; it’s like a fraternity and a brotherhood, so I wouldn’t change my situation for anything. And then when I’m playing with Oz, I’m rolling with Blasko [Rob Nicholson, bass], Tommy [Clufetos, drums] and Adam [Wakeman, keyboards] and the guys, that’s always a blast and then when I’m playing with Zakk Sabbath, I’m rolling with Blasko and Joey [C, Drums]. All the fellas that I roll with, aside from being my buddies and my brothers, they’re all amazing musicians, so I’m truly blessed.
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Black Label Society's 'Grimmest Hits' is out now via Spinefarm Records. Zakk plays Download Festival with Ozzy Osbourne on 10th June 2018. For ticketing, click HERE.