Monday, February 12, 2007

Zakk Wylde

[While my own opinions on a plethora of subjects, from the worthiness of Kurt Cobain to the existence of God, are the polar opposites of Zakk Wylde's, he was hugely entertaining company for this Kerrang! feature, which ran in September 2006.]

It’s only “ten in the fuckin’ morning” at the plush Los Angeles home Zakk Wylde shares with his wife and three kids, but the legendary lead guitarist, Ozzy’s faithful sideman and leader of ornery rockers Black Label Society is already “fuckin’ pounding the cold ones”, planning a home-studio to be installed on the premises.

“Then tomorrow I’m working with Oz, and then there’s Black Label rehearsals,” he chuckles. “I’m not the dude wasting his life on the sofa playing video games, got shit to do. The whole ‘Kurt Cobain’ thing ain’t the Black Label way. If you’re gonna be man enough to stick your dick in a piece of ass and have a kid, you better be man enough to stick around and put food on the table and put a roof over their fuckin’ head.”

On the wall opposite him hang framed posters of his idols: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. This is, in his eyes, a house that ‘rock built’, paid for by his work as Ozzy Osbourne’s lead-guitarist, and fronting his own gang of feral shitkickers, Black Label Society.

Zakk only has one picture of himself in his house.

“It’s a picture of me with my dad. He was a World War II vet, fought in D-Day, the whole nine yards. He taught me everything. The bottom line is this: you fuckin’ thank the Good Lord for everything you got. Family, honour, respect. If you ain’t got that shit, you ain’t got nothing. Someone asked me the other day, do you believe in God? I said, dude, he made beer – of course I believe in God! And this dude said he didn’t… That’s a pretty fuckin’ sad existence. Like, I know I’m gonna see Dimebag again. He’s up in God’s tavern; it’s got the best jukebox on the fuckin’ planet – Bad Company, Zep, Sabbath, Elton John, everything – and the drinks are free.

“You never forget what got you here,” he adds. “What got me to where the fuck I’m at right now, is practicing my balls off.” Inspired by his hero, Ozzy guitarist Randy Rhoads, the teenaged Wylde would skip school so he could practice guitar, playing over ten hours a day.

“With Randy, it wasn’t a fuckin’ hobby,” snarls Wylde. “All the greats, they bleed, eat, shit music. Some guy told me rockstars just pick up guitars to get laid – but I never had posters of the Charlie’s Angels girls on my walls as a kid. I had posters of Page, Hendrix, Rhoads.”

Zakk was fifteen when Rhoads died tragically in a plane-crash, in 1982. “I remember my mom asking, why are you crying? I said, ‘cuz Randy Rhoads died. But she said, ‘You don’t have to cry anymore – he’s in you now, if you love him that much’. The next thing you know, I’m here, talking to Kerrang! magazine!”

It was 1987, when a 19-year old Wylde’s demo-tape made its way to the Dark Lord Osborne. Wylde was working at a gas-station and playing in local groups in his hometown of New Jersey, when Sharon Osborne phoned him and told him to fly out to LA at her expense, and audition for Oz.

“I had a trail of shit pouring out my ass, man! But Oz was like [affects perfect Ozzy Brumn drawl] ‘Zakk, just play with your heart, just be you’. That’s the first thing he told me, and I’ll always remember that. He’s the greatest. The weird thing is, as a kid, I’d stare at Ozzy on the sleeve of Sabbath’s ‘Sabotage’, and I always had this feeling I’d end up hanging out with him.”

Zakk was never a ‘mere’ lead guitarist. With Ozzy, he wrote, he produced. “It was like playing for your favourite football team,” he explains. “Other teams might offer you more money, but you wanna wear their jersey.”

But he also felt a need to try his luck (or, more accurately, his talent) outside the nest. In 1994, he released a sprawling double-set of southern-rock with his group Pride & Glory (“We were the greatest jam band, we’d play two minute songs for an hour!”). The following year, a temporary falling-out with Oz saw him record a solo LP, Book Of Shadows, before forming his Black Label Society, who’ve already amassed a hefty back catalogue of grizzled rock greatness.

“You can’t live in momma and dadda’s house your whole life,” muses Zakk. “I grew up with Oz’s music, that was my ‘home’. I learned from the best. But what’s the point, if you’re aren’t gonna go out and do it?”

Blunt, opinionated, old-fashioned – that’s this self-confessed New Jersey Redneck in a nutshell, but he has enough gruff charisma to win you over. He’s 39 now, and pondering a fourth child, and perhaps a move towards the gentler rock’n’roll grace of Neil Young’s ‘Unplugged’ album. Nevertheless, only a fool would challenge Zakk Wylde’s enduring ability to rock.

“Remember Crazytown? We toured with them on Ozzfest. Sweet guys,” he grins, crocodile’s teeth showing. “My beloved wife saw ‘em on MTV and said, ‘Ooh, the singer’s good looking!” It was like that scene in Raging Bull, when DeNiro says of his pretty-boy opponent, ‘We’ll see how fuckin’ good lookin’ he is when I’ve finished with him!’

“I said to my wife, the fuckin’ beating I’m about to put on this band is beyond frightening. Crazytown were getting bottled offstage. We owned them every single night. I shouted from the stage to my wife, ‘Ya still wanna fuck him, Barb?’”

You never forget what got you here. For Zakk Wylde, it was (willingly, joyfully) practicing for hours a day, training himself to be the best, never accepting second best. He’s not in it for the money, or the fame, but to play rock’n’roll. All those other distractions can just go to Hell.

“You see these other guys doing reality TV shows,” he growls finally (excusing his boss’s The Osbornes, because it was first and best). “Like Dave Navarro: what the fuck are you doing, man? You shouldn’t be embarrassed, you should be so fuckin’ ashamed of ‘Rock Star’. They tried to get me to do one of them shows, but when you’re too busy whupping fuckin’ ass, you ain’t got time to do goofy assed shit like that.”

He looks up at the photographs on the wall, fires off a wicked grin.

“Jimmy Page didn’t have time to do a goofy teevee show, he was too busy ruling the fuckin’ world!!!

(c) Stevie Chick

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