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Zakk Wylde really feeling at home with Black Label Society

Guitarist Wylde chats about the new Black Label Society, and, of course, his former boss, Ozzy Osbourne
Zakk Wylde. Photo credit Clay Patrick McBride

Zakk Wylde. Photo credit Clay Patrick McBride

By Pat Prince

The split between Ozzy Osbourne and guitarist Zakk Wylde was about as amicable as any separation between two professional rock stars. No matter how much they respected each other, moving on was inevitable. Ozzy was looking for a change. Black Label Society had been Wyde's side band since 1998 and it was becoming obvious that the line of creativity was becoming blurred. In an interview with Goldmine, Ozzy confessed "I started to sound like Black Label Society.” There are those who believe, however, that nothing Zakk Wylde had done with Ozzy sounded as good as the music of Black Label Society. And knowing that he had created a powerful band in Black Label, Wylde was not willing to give up on it.

After leaving Ozzy's band behind, Wylde was then struck down by personal hardships. Among them, in August 2009, Wylde was hospitalized due to blood clots, and it was questioned whether he would ever play again. The positive spirit of Wylde persevered and the band's newest album "Order of the Black" (the first in four years) is a powerhouse. Released in August, the album is packed with strong, heavy songs where riffs crunch and chug, with a force that hammers the point home. Zakk's vocals are rough and tough — but not growling — and they even dominate the album's mature ballads.

Goldmine recently chatted with Zakk Wylde about playing and recording Black Label music, and, of course, his former boss Ozzy Osbourne.

It seems like you haven't missed a beat in your break of four years?
Zakk Wylde:
I can't believe it's four years already. I remember in high school… those were the four longest years of my life. I was like 'Dude, I can't wait to get out of here.'

And now the years just zip by.
Yeah, without a doubt. (laughs)

And your music's as strong as ever.
Just gotta keep listening to Zeppelin and Sabbath and I'll be fine. (laughs)

There's seems to be a nice balance of heavy songs and ballads on the new Black Label Society album. Was that intentional?
No, every Black Label album has the mellow stuff because as much as I love listening to Sabbath and Zeppelin, I love Elton John. I love when Neil Young does all his unplugged stuff … I love the mellow stuff, too … like when the Stones are doing "Wild Horses" or The Beatles' "Long and Winding Road." So there's always that balance when you get a Black Label album. You're gonna have the mellow stuff, too.

Your vocals came out well, too. It's good to hear someone sing instead of growl over heavy music.
Well, There's an art to doing that type of music as well. It ain't easy. (laughs) Ozzy's so hysterical. I remember Ozzy on the side of the stage … it was Sepultura, Alice in Chains and then the boss [Ozzy]. Ozzy's watching Sepultura — and you know how Sepultura is, it's beyond heavy. That's the style of music. So Ozzy is looking at me and he just goes, 'I'm not responsible for this, am I?' (laughs) 'I know they really like Black Sabbath and everything. They say that. … Where?!!'

You hear a lot of Ozzy and Sabbath influence in your band. It's always been there. Of course, considerably heavier but I hear the tempo changes that could be off of something like Sabbath's 'Sabotage' album.
Sabbath … that was their M.O. And Ozzy's singing on that particular record — I'll put that up against any rock singer. Ozzy's vocal performance on that is just amazing. I remember asking him, 'Oz, what were you taking vocal lessons specifically just for that album?' He goes: 'No Zakk. A lot of drugs.' (laughs) I'm like, at least the boss is honest.

When you play live, what do you think the most effective song on the new album is?
Live we do "Crazy Horse, "Overlord," "Godspeed Hellbound" and "Parade of the Dead," obviously, so I'm enjoying playing all of them, man.

"Overlord" is a standout track.
Like I said, I'm enjoying playing everything off the new record. But, then again, it is new, you know what I mean?

There's a lot of death and doom, and Satanic imagery in, for instance, "Overlord." Do you think that becomes somewhat of a trite thing in heavy metal?
I guess, but I read about everything. I read all the [Aleister] Crowley stuff. I've read the Satanic Bible. I'm Catholic but just like if I was a history teacher, I love the history of everything. It's just so interesting: religion and everything like that. The Illuminati and stuff like that. I just think it's funny when they say the New World Order and The Illuminati defines everything. It's just like Dr. Evil, you know, in Austin Powers: 'And then we will take over and destroy the world.' Yeah, but that means you're gonna die, too. 'Oh.' What's the point of taking everything over if you're gonna destroy it? Then we can't have any more fun, dude. There's no more tit bars. There's no more beer. There's no more sports. There's no more movies. All the things we like. It's like 'Oh, that's right.' (laughs)

You've had 'Doom Trippin' Live DVD come out on Blu-ray this year. Do you like the way live DVDs come out?
Wylde: The 'Doom Trippin' thing came out great. Also, the'Boozed, Broozed & Broken-Bones one came out killer , too.

But I always tell everybody: live is a free-for-all. The majority of the time, when you're there, between the volume, the light show and everything, you know, all the distractions, it's like going to a strip club, you see a chick and between the lighting, the music, you've got a decent buzz on, next thing you know, you go back home with her, you wake up in the morning and you're like 'Aaaahh! What the hell is this?!' With the live thing: I"m sure the show was great, it felt great to you but when you listen back to some of the playbacks … some of them, you wanna cringe. But I'll have my buddies out front and they'll say 'Dude, that was a slamming show.' Because you're hearing it live and I don't care what artist it is. You can take Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand — and we know how badass they are — and they can listen and go turn it off, and say it sucks. And we're going: 'You sang your ass off. What're you talking about?' And they go, 'It's terrible. I don't even wanna hear it.'

There have been a lot of lineup changes in Black Label over the years. Does that bother you?
No. I mean, it's a beautiful thing. It's real unique in what we do in Black Label. Because once you're in, you're always in. The cool thing with Black Label is that you can always come and you can always go. And then you can always come back. If you can make more money playing with Celine Dion, you got it. Go. Seriously, man. And the whole thing is. You can always come back. It doesn't matter. This is your family and this is your home. Craig [Nunenmacher] leaving, he was like 'Zakk, unless we're touring all year, financially I gotta take care of the wife and the little guy.' And I completely understand. He's talking about getting in the medical field, you know what I mean? You gotta do what you gotta do. That's the beautiful thing about it, too. Cause then there's no arguments, there's nothing. No sense of bitching and moaning. There's none of that.

Which is a nice atmosphere.
Yeah, because everybody gets along and everybody has a good time. Which is the way it should be.

So you released this new album on vinyl, too.
Yeah, I'm looking at it right now.

Are you surprised by the resurgence of vinyl?
It's a necessity because of all the downloading and things like that. Nowadays, if you only have one paddle you gotta make a means to get to shore. And if the paddle breaks we'll figure something out. I mean, but we gotta find land. So the whole thing is a necessity. It's kind of like, now you're buying it for the packaging. 'Cause the music is gone now. The days of 'Thriller' and 'Appetite for Destruction' are gone. Gone! I mean Lady Gaga sold nine million records and those are all purchased downloads. Could you imagine how many albums she would have sold if you had to go buy the record? Forget about it. Think about Michael Jackson. He sold 44 million records in America. Could you imagine how many downloads that would have been? I guarantee he would have sold 12 million records (instead). I mean, when you really break it down.

You want to get the vinyl. Now you can do what they actually did back in the '70s. Ass-kicking records and the vinyl is cool as shit. You're getting the artwork and you're getting the whole thing, and you can read it while you're listening to it and everything like that.

So how do you feel?
I was on the blood thinners awhile so … the only difference is, I've been lifting weights and all the usual crap I do, but I just haven't been drinking beer. That's about it.

Didn't your doctor tell you to quit drinking.
He said 'Zakk, look at it this way. You're on blood thinners. Alcohol is a blood thinner. You can be getting hammered with the guys watching Monday Night Football at Hooters and next thing, what's gonna happen, is you'll be sitting there — you won't even be in any pain — you'll be keeling over. In fact, you'll be bleeding out of your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your dick, your ass, every orifice of your body, you're gonna bleed out.' And he said, 'That will be the last time you will ever be entering a Hooters again. You'll be entering the morgue right after that.'

You really don't need to spend $40,000 dollars at a rehab for someone to start going, 'So, Zakky, how you feeling today? Do you have the urge to drink?' I'm not gone spend $40,000 dollars. You General Patton up, you Black Label up, and you go 'That's the end. You're done. The Black Label Pub, for you, is closed. You are now the designated driver. There you go.'

Ozzy is sober, too. He said something to the fact that it was hard for him to be around someone who was drinking.
Yeah, and when Oz quit it was the same thing with him. I mean, with Ozzy, he quit, after all the rehabs, he said they didn't work. The bottom line was he said 'I stopped when I wanted to stop.' And I think that's true with anybody. It's like you don't need to hire a personal trainer. You really wanna get in shape, just start working out, dude! If you want to stop drinking, you go 'I'm done.'

You and Ozzy are on good terms now, right?
Yeah, I mean, put it this way. I was just laughing. Someone goes to me, 'Oh man, you must be mad.' I go 'Let's take a look at it.' I had all those years with the boss — which I cherish every moment of — and all been hysterical. And it's been an amazing ride and he is still in my life like my parents. Because I'm not playing with him doesn't mean I love him any less. I've got Black Label. I've got a signature guitar. I've got guitars named after me. I've got amps named after me. I've got pedals named after me. Strings named after me. Black Label is raising money for St. Jude's, doing all these benefit things. We've got hot sauces, beef jerky, coffee, beer. We're talking about doing pubs that are sports bars with live entertainment. I'm writing a Zakk Wylde Guitar Bible, I'm writing a script for a movie … all these amazing things going on. The shit-to-do list, when I get up in the morning, before I put my foot on the ground I got a million things going on. And all thanks to the boss. So, I don't understand. What's bad here? I have no idea.

You always had a lot going on. Did you ever find it overwhelming doing both Ozzy and Black Label?
No, not at all. I just found it to be music. It would be like if, me and you, we decided to do a jazz project on the side. To me, it's just music. And with Ozzy it would be like it was Black Label and Ozzy. You take this new Black Label and have Ozzy sing on it, you got a new Ozzy record.

He made a comment that he thought the Ozzy material was starting to sound like Black Label.
Well, I remember Oz said that to me years ago even when he did 'Stillborn,' when he sang the harmonies with me and everything. I remember the boss saying, 'Zakk, I don't want to be the lead singer in Black Label.' And I understand what he's saying. I always told everybody 'Let's be real. If St. Rhoads was still jamming, and Rand was going off and doing Quiet Riot and coming back to the boss and then Quiet Riot and then back ... eventually the boss would have said 'Rand. We're starting to sound like Quiet Riot now.' And if Jake [E. Lee] was doing a Badlands thing and Ozzy, he would have said the same thing. It's only natural, dude.

We did an interview with Ozzy recently. And he said that you're still really close. And you weren't fired or anything.
No, no. It's not being fired. It's just like 'Zakk, I want to make a change.' It's like being in Van Halen and saying 'I want to do different things than things sounding like Van Halen.' I mean, Eddie Van Halen is your guitar player, it's gonna sound like Van Halen!

Even the new guitarist, Gus G., has said he wouldn't be surprised if you played with Ozzy again.
Yeah, but Gus is the man. In the Black Label community, we are all rooting for Gus. We support him, so it's just like if I played for the Yankees. I wore the pinstripes. Now Gus is playing for the Yankees but I'm still involved doing PR for the Yankees. You know what I'm saying? I'm still in the camp. I'm just not playing. I'm doing public relations, talking about the new guitar player and telling you how great Ozzy is. That's why I say, 'it's win-win all around.'

Do you like 'Scream'?
Yeah, I mean, Gus is playing his ass off. We knew that anyways. Gus is an awesome player. Oz is singing great and everything. He's having fun making the records with [producer] Kevin [Churko], and I love Kevin, too. Kevin is super talented.

I have this great quote from you, back in 1989, when you first started playing with Ozzy. About playing with Ozzy, you said, it was like "living a dream.' So you still feel that way?
Without a doubt. You gotta figure, it's not like I'm not in music anymore and doing some crappy job that I can't stand and I'm not even playing guitar. Like I said, without Ozzy, all these amazing things wouldn't be happening.

And you were only 21-years old at the time. Did you feel like you were naive, that you had a lot to learn?
Yeah, definitely, I had a lot to learn, but you know how to behave yourself. And I was always around all the guys anyway, so … Oz and the guys made it real easy because they're such pros. And they're super cool people so, you know.

And you joined with Geezer [Butler] playing with Ozzy.
Geezer was playing, and I hung out with Bob Daisley. I mean we wrote the record with Bob. And I love Bob. He's super cool and fucking amazing. And those Randy records, they were part of my musical education.

Being with Ozzy all those years, is there any advice for Gus G.?
Well, I mean, Ozzy never had to tell me anything or teach me anything. He just led by example. He always answered the bell, even when he was drinking and doing everything. Shit always got done. Put it this way, if he ever beat himself up, I'd go 'Yeah, but Oz, at the end of the day, you're a good egg. You've never did anything to hurt anybody. Even if you were hammered and you did something, you were always the first guy to apologize the next day. And, Oz, not for nothing, it wasn't like you weren't getting work done.' One thing with Ozzy _ and it's the same thing with Black Label — no matter how banged up we ever got, you still gotta answer the bell. You still gotta get stuff done. I don't care if you got the flu or got wasted with the guys last night, Chop Chop! It's GIFD. Get It F***ing Done! At the end of the day, no one cares about how you woke up in the morning and you've got a show later on that night. No one cares that you and me went to the liquor store, got shot at, and then the bus had two flat tires and your wife gave birth in the back of the bus. All this insane shit happens but all anyone cares about is that at 9:30 at night, us hitting that stage. That's all that people care about. Suck it up and realize that's what goes on. If someone goes, 'Zakk, you've had a rough year. First you found out you're not playing with Ozzy. Then you got the blood clots. You got three pulmonary embolisms, your father died. What does that make you feel?' And I go, 'Dude, that's before lunch in Black Label.'

You have to have a good outlook.
We can talk about it and crawl in a hole. You gotta keep stormtroopin'. It's like, you lost the championship this year. It definitely sucks. I'm definitely pissed. Losing definitely sucks. But the only way to fix this is by winning.

You're right. What's the alternative?
The alternative is quit. Quit then. And quitting is very easy. Anybody can quit. It takes someone with a set of balls tot get up and fight back.

For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
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• Get the newest Ozzy book,"The Wit & Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne"
• Download Goldmine's Guide to Led Zeppelin (PDF download)