Zakk Wylde is an unapologetic, heavy guitar icon, holding true to the power of a single six-string and a player with strength, talent and drive.
Wylde, of course, has a long run in support of Ozzy Osbourne on his résumé, as well as work fronting Southern-friend metal collective Black Label Society. His latest release with Black Label Society is a three-song acoustic Christmas EP, Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good (available on iTunes), featuring the traditional Christmas songs “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “It’s a Wonderful World.”
Now, Black Label Society are gearing up for a run of dates with Guns N’ Roses in December. A few weeks before the run, Wylde chatted with Gibson.com about playing with Slash and the GN’R guys and why he tells budding guitar players that after acquiring a Les Paul, “You’re never going to have to buy a guitar again.”
What inspired you to put together a Christmas EP?
I got asked by iTunes to do this Christmas collection, Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good. Years ago, Father Vai called me up – Stevie Vai – and he just said, “Zakk, I’m putting together this Christmas record with some amazing guitar players,” and I was like, “Of course, I’ll do anything for you, Steve.” So, I did “White Christmas,” and that was years ago. Put it this way: Anytime you can go in and record and do something, it’s always a blast, anyways. If you can go and record something, it’s always a good time going into the studio.
When we put this together, we just went into my recording studio, the Black Vatican, and knocked it out. I knew Sarah McLachlan did a bunch of Christmas things, so I just YouTubed some Sarah McLachlan stuff to see what Sarah did. I found a whole bunch of Christmas songs Sarah did, and I checked out some songs and thought, “Well, that’s good. I’ll do that one.” So, I knocked that out over a couple of days. For me, all I had to do was learn the song, put the string section to it and put some guitars to it. So, I really enjoyed doing it.
What’s your favorite thing about the holidays?
I really don’t care what religion you are, the whole point of it is caring about the ones you love, and giving. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s the whole thing. I know how awesome my parents made our Christmas for my sister and I, and so now, being a dad, it’s great. We have three kids, so every Christmas is just awesome.
Black Label Society are sharing the stage with Guns N’ Roses in December. Stoked?
Without a doubt. Axl is a good dude, and I’ve been friends with them for a long time. I love Slash and Duff [McKagan] and all the guys. All the guys are great guys, so who knows, whatever is going to happen, Lord only knows, knowing us. So I’m looking forward to seeing all the guys. I first met Slash when Appetite was blowing up, and my first tour with Ozzy, and Slash and I have been buddies since then. I’m buddies with all those guys. They’re all cool dudes. The only guy I’ve never really met is Dizzy [Reed].
What are you most looking forward to on the tour?
Everything. Just as long as people show up and we get a chance to go on stage and have Black Label mass for an hour, it’ll be great. So, every night is going to be awesome. I’m just pumped, because we get to see the guys jam every night. It’ll be cool to see the rest of the guys. DJ Ashba, I remember when he was playing with Beautiful Creatures on Ozzfest, and he’s a great guy and a killer guitar player. So, I’m just pumped to go hang out with everybody and say, “hi,” and catch up with everybody.
What initially drew you to Gibson over other guitar manufactures?
Being a kid, it’s the coveted grail. When see all your favorite players playing a Gibson Les Paul. Obviously, seeing Jimmy Page play one was a huge influence on me, and obviously Saint Rhoads – Randy. That was the thing: to try to get a Les Paul. I just love the body shape of it, the sound of it. To me, it’s a perfect guitar. Les Pauls, you have the custom guys and the standard guys. Like, Slash is strictly a standard guy. But other guys, like Randy and me, I just love the way a custom is, for the style of music that I do. But, I have a bunch of standards, as well. I think for that classic rock tone, it can’t be beat.
What inspired your now-famous Bullseye design?
Obviously, being a huge disciple of Rhoads, I had an alpine white Les Paul when I started out… when I joined Ozzy, between the blonde hair and the white Les Paul, I thought, “Oh, it feels like this is a Randy Rhoads tribute band!” [Laughs] And obviously Randy also had the polka-dots, and what I wanted originally was the Vertigo design for the Hitchcock movie, and my buddy Max, who built Slash’s original Gibson Appetite for Destruction guitar, he painted my guitar. I had a photo shoot, and I said, “Max, I want this spiral thing, and I’m doing a cover shoot for all these things, and can you get it done before Tuesday?” And when I opened the case, it was a bullseye. So I was like, that wasn’t what I wanted, but obviously I did the photo shoot with the guitar, and the rest is history.
What makes Gibson guitars special?
It’s the history and the quality of the instrument, too. It’s an amazing instrument. It’s like a cheeseburger; it doesn’t go out of style, no matter what generation. Whether somebody picked a Les Paul up in ’58, that same guitar still works today. It doesn’t go in and out of fashion. And that’s because it’s a great instrument. It doesn’t matter what violin player is going to pick one of these up and whether it was made 10 years ago or 100 years from now. You pick up a Les Paul, and it’s always going to sound great. When you buy it, it’s an investment, and you’re never going to have to buy another guitar again.
On the Christmas record, I used my Vertigo. Out on the road, I have the ZVs with me, I’ve got the Flying V, I have the Epiphone Graveyard Disciples and I’ve got the Les Pauls. Anything I endorse, I use. I always find it so odd when someone endorses a product and doesn’t use it. It’s like, what are you endorsing it for? You have to make it what you want.
What’s your go-to guitar?
The 1989 Rebel and the 1981 Grail sound amazing, but it’s also because the value of the history that I have with those instruments and the memories attached to those guitars. I wrote my first Ozzy song on the Grail. That guitar was on all the albums. So, as far as that goes, it’s the stories behind those guitars. I keep the Grail and the Rebel in the house, back in the Vatican. The ones I bring out on the road, the Zakk Wylde guitars, are amazing-sounding instruments. Anyone that owns one of my guitars, that’s exactly what I play, when I’m up on stage.
A lot of people don’t know you have a strong Catholic faith. How did it help you get through the blood clot situation and health scare?
Yeah, I’m never afraid of that stuff. If that’s what He has planned for me, that’s what He has planned for me. I never asked for anything; I always thank. I’m just thankful for the time and the moment that I have here. You never ask; you always thank. So, I never question, “Why me?” I think, “Why not?” [Laughs] I go, “Okay, is this the next test? Let’s go!” As a soldier of Christ, you never walk alone. There’s never reason to be afraid.
What playing tips do you have for our readers?
Learn the instrument and practice. What you put in, you’ll get back tenfold. If you practice for a half an hour, you’ll get a half an hour better.
Photo credit: Sakura, RockPhotographer.net