“I dig working,” says Zakk Wylde. “You can bitch and moan sometimes about having too much on your plate, but it’s gotta get done, and this is what I do.”
It’s a good thing Zakk likes to work, because he may well be one of the hardest-working men in music right now. On top of helping Ozzy Osbourne write songs for his next record, he’s just putting the finishing touches on Shot To Hell, his first Black Label Society album for Roadrunner Records. Produced by Zakk and Michael Beinhorn (Ozzy, Korn, Soundgarden), and recorded with longtime pals Craig Nunenmacher (drums) and John “J.D.” DeServio (bass), Shot To Hell takes the ferocious hard rock of such BLS albums as 2003’s Blessed Hellride and 2005’s Mafia to a whole new level of “brewtality.”
“I never run out of ideas,” Zakk says. “We just came in here and started knocking it out. That’s how you make records.” That take-no-prisoners attitude is all over such snarling tracks as “Concrete Jungle,” “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” and “Give Yourself To Me,” while reflective ballads like “Lead Me To Your Door” and “Sick Of It All” mix moody melodies with screaming guitar solos.
“It’s a real cool mix of heavy shit and mellow shit,” Zakk explains. During the recording of Shot To Hell, Zakk and crew turned Ameraycan Studios in North Hollywood, CA into a cross between a Guitar Center and a teenage boy’s bedroom. “We had a Mellotron in here, a Hammond B-3, a ton of Marshalls and just about every guitar I own,” Zakk recalls. “It looked like Sanford and Son out in the parking lot — a whole garage-sale going on with the equipment, you know? And we had pictures taped up on the walls of Randy Rhoads and Jimmy Page, just for inspiration, because you’ve still gotta listen to music with a fourteen-year-old’s ears. Remembering when you were like, ‘Dude, we’re going to see Zeppelin this weekend!’ — that’s what it’s all about, man. Because once you lose that, then you shouldn’t be doing it anymore.”
In the two decades since Ozzy plucked him from obscurity (at a gas station job in New Jersey) and hired him to be his new guitarist, Zakk has established himself as a guitar icon on the same level as Rhoads, Page and Eddie Van Halen, thanks to the impressive work he’s done with Ozzy, as a solo artist, and as the leader of Pride & Glory and Black Label Society. He’s won practically ever guitar magazine award there is, and he’s regularly cited as a major influence by the latest wave of metal guitarists. For Zakk, such recognition is humbling and gratifying, especially since he and his late pal Dimebag Darrell were about the only guitarists still flying the flag for seriously shredding solos during the nu-metal Nineties.
“Me and Dime would always say to each other, ‘Are we the only two assholes who can still get from low E to high E and back safely? Does anyone even practice scales anymore?’” Zakk says with a laugh. “But if what I do inspires some kid to pick up a guitar and jam, that’s the shit, without a doubt. You can always get better, though; that’s how I look at it. You never turn your back on practicing — that’s what got you where you’re at. You could be the heavyweight champion of the world, but you’ve still gotta train, you’ve still gotta focus on what got you there. When you lose sight of that, then everything just falls to shit. I’ll tell ya, brother, I talk to God every day, and thank him for everything I’ve got.”
Indeed, Zakk has plenty to be thankful for. Despite his gruff exterior and rowdy reputation, he’s a devoted family man who’s still married to Barbaranne, his high school sweetheart, and who dotes lovingly on his three children and his seven dogs. “People say, ‘Zakk, you must get a lot of chicks,’ and I always laugh,” he reflects. “When you’ve got filet mignon at the house, why would you go to McDonald’s? I mean, I’ve got buddies with chicks in every town, but I’d rather just go to a pub and relax, talk to the bartender and solve the problems of the world. This business is like being in an insane asylum, and you need time to relax and get away from it all. What works for me is being with my family, drinking a beer, hanging out, and lifting weights.”
The summer of 2006 figures to be a busy one for Zakk. Not only will Black Label Society be headlining the Second Stage at Ozzfest, but he’ll be playing guitar for Ozzy’s selected Ozzfest appearances. “Ozzy’s scheduled to do about ten shows, “ he says, “but I know him — if he’s having a good time, and his voice feels fine, he’s gonna wanna keep doing more. I’ve got no problem with that, because I love playing with him.”
Black Label’s Ozzfest appearances are certain to draw a large contingent of what Zakk terms “The Brotherhood” — Black Label’s network of diehard fans, who sport their BLS “colors” and local chapter affiliations at every show. “It’s just like one big family,” Zakk says. “The beauty of it is that it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than the band. It’s become a lifestyle — just like how Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle. All the chapters come down to the shows; we all hang out and take the piss out of each other — the Boston chapter roaches my ass all the time, because they know I’m a Yankee guy. And whenever we’re near a big city on Ozzfest, we’ll check and see if there’s a baseball game happening that night, and we’ll round up our troops from the local chapter and hit a game.” Zakk’s a major sports fan, and an ardent supporter of the Yankees, New York Giants, New York Knicks and New Jersey Devils. Baseball legend Mike Piazza is the godfather of Zakk’s son, Hendrix, and Zakk has had the honor of playing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium, Shea Stadium, Staples Center and Madison Square Garden.
“Whenever I play it, the home team always wins,” Zakk laughs. “If I can keep my streak up, I won’t have to perform live anymore — I’ll just hire myself out to play the National Anthem. The phone’s definitely gonna get busy around playoff time!” Happily for fans of gut-busting, ear-blasting, engine-revving rock and roll, Zakk won’t be retiring from performing or recording any time soon. If Shot To Hell is any indication, Black Label Society still has plenty of juice left in the bottle.