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The World According to Zakk Wylde

Ted Drozdowski
|
05.27.2009
Zakk WyldeIn a world where rock stars often seem like they’re skipping English lit classes to make gigs, Zakk Wylde is a refreshingly foul-mouthed larger-than-life force.

Wylde, who became Ozzy Osborne’s main axeman in 1987, when he was just 19, looks like a Saxon warrior both on- and off-stage. He wields his signature Gibsons — the Zakk Wylde Les Paul Bullseye and Flying V, and the horned-and-finned ZV Custom — as if they were broadswords, daring other guitarists to challenge him. His fat, roaring tone and nitro-fueled picking technique make him one formidable opponent.

Black Label Society Skullage DVDWe caught up to Wylde in Denver earlier this month as he was getting ready to play a show with his Black Label Society. The springboard for our conversation — with almost every one of Wylde’s sentences sprinkled liberally with F-bombs — was Black Label’s new Skullage, (enter to win a copy!) a one-CD, one-DVD best-of set that mixes studio and live performances, and offers some surprises.

There’s a tongue-in-cheek tour of Wylde’s home that begins with him cleaning up after his pack of mutts. But the best extra is Wylde’s commentary on his songwriting, where he espouses his thoughts about family, religion, friendship, responsibility and his love for the late Dimebag Darrell Abbott. It's proof there’s sensitivity beneath his swaggering exterior.

But enough about that. When he called Wylde had two hernias and a show to play, so there was just enough time to talk about:

Zakk on Songwriting
“I don’t just write lyrics; I write about things that are real to me. Let me tell you something that was hysterical. I was working on Down to Earth with Ozzy and they brought in these professional songwriters. Meanwhile, I’m writing all these songs that later went into Black Label — like ‘Love Reign Down,’ with that power riff that Ozzy sounds great singing over it, which was about my mother passing away, and ‘Bleed for Me,’ which is about God …

“But what do I know. I guess I’m not a real songwriter, because these guys, I shit you not, decided to write a love song for Ozzy and came up with: ‘Girl, you are so pretty/girl, you are so fine/girl, I brought you this flower/girl, would you be mine?

“And Ozz is just sitting there saying nothing, and I’m saying, ‘You’re joking, right? Am I getting punked?’ The truth is everybody just wants to get their two-cents in, if they’ve earned it or not.

“I laugh when I go into a music store and there’s a title called How to Write Songs. You can’t teach someone how to write a song. Angus Young didn’t read a couple books to learn how to write ‘Hells Bells.’

“All the bands and musicians I grew up on and loved, like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix … it’s their names that are on their songs. That’s the beauty of buying a record by a real artist. Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction was written by Guns N’ Roses, not some weak-asses like those lame songwriters for Aerosmith.

“Aerosmith wrote great songs like ‘Dream On’ and ‘Back in the Saddle’ when they were on booze and drugs. Next thing you know, they get sober and bring songwriters in and then it’s the most watered down s***.

“If you can’t write songs you’re just a puppet as phony as Britney Spears and all those boy bands. If you can’t sit behind a piano or pick up a guitar and write a song, then you don’t have any business making records.”

Zakk WyldeZakk on Metallica and Some Kind of Monster
“When I saw the guys, I said, ‘What were you thinkin’?’ Who needs a psychiatrist? Like I need marriage counseling? I’ve been married for 24 years. Look, I’m gonna get in fights with the wife and that’s life, man. You got the high and the lows. You’re in a band, you’re gonna fight, you’re gonna get over it or it wasn’t meant to be any more.

“The bottom line is this: Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

“Once Mom sent me to Promises rehab. I said, ‘Promises rehab?’ I’ll make you a promise right now: either I’m going to cap myself or some mother is going to die in this joint.’ And one of the bylaws of Black Label is ‘suicide is not an option.’ I got in there and had no time for those weak-willed assholes. One guy said he just couldn’t get out of bed in the morning to get to the group therapy meetings. I said, ‘Hey, sometimes I don’t want to get up on that stage but you get your damn jock strap on, you man up, and you do it.’ I’ve got no time for weak willed bull****. I was cut from the same cloth as General Patton.

“Hey, lions are born lions. They are not made. Berserkers are born berserkers. They are not made. Marines are born Marines. They are not made. Get tough or get out.”

Zakk WyldeZakk on Developing Chops
“You can’t make somebody pick up a guitar and practice. I learned this back when I was teaching kids how to play guitar. You have to want it and practice you balls off. They’d ask me, ‘Zakk, how do you practice that Randy Rhoads thing; how do you practice that Jimmy Page thing?’ And they’d come back the next week for their lesson and nail it. I was proud of them. I’ve got no time for bullshit. If you want something, you step up for it. And it’s practice, practice, practice, bro. That … and lots of porn.”

Zakk on His Gear
“I’m playing the Pauls and the ZV, and the Flying V and the double-neck for ‘The Blessed Hellride.’ Me and Nick [Catanese] both play double necks for that one in Black Label. It’s cool. And we have our signature Marshalls — JCM 800s. And we both go out of two of them each, and we both go out of two cabinets and we’re in quad sound. Nick uses Paul Reed Smiths, too, but I play the Gibsons. And then I have my pedals: chorus, distortion, Eddie Van Halen phase shifter, the Zakk wah, and the Roto-Vibe. Let’s put it this way: any 15 year-old kid could have my set-up.

“It amazes me when people say, ‘Hey check this new amp out, or this new rack gear. It sounds just like a vintage Marshall.’ Well, why not get a vintage Marshall? Nuthin’ sounds better than a Gibson plugged into a Marshall.

“And next time we get to Nashville I’m thinking about having Gibson design me a custom guitar that looks like a motorcycle joined with a Flying V. They did a great job on the ZV, putting together the horns of an SG with the wings of a Flying V and a Les Paul Custom neck on it. That thing slams.”

Zakk on 22 Years With Ozzy
“The fact that I do dishes, I do laundry, I feed the dogs, I clean toilets … it’s those unique qualities that set me apart for Ozzy. When I do laundry, my whites are whiter than anybody elses. That’s what Ozzy sees in me.

“I gotta be honest. We’re both goofballs. He’s the greatest. He doesn’t take any of this shit seriously, either. Making great records and putting on great shows — we take that seriously. But to buy into your own ‘Prince of Darkness’ bullshit and all that, you’ve gotta be an idiot.

“God bless Kurt Cobain, but he made only two records. Led Zeppelin was only around for 10 years or so. Ozzy’s been making recordings since 1968 and he’s still around doing it. Something’s gotta be said for that. He’s not just a guy on a sprint.”

Photo Credit: Joel Faurote

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