Heart of Steel: Interviews

Zakk Wylde
The Blessed Hellrider!

By Chris Hawkins

Somewhere along the way, it seems music fans turned their eyes away from the shredders of the 80s. Perhaps it was the pure simplicity of Grunge and Punk that distracted everyone from the wealth of talent out there that had been polluted by corporate flashiness. Perhaps the debate should be left to the high-brow "Rock Historians". Without a doubt, through it all, Zakk Wylde never went anywhere. From joining Ozzy in the late 80s to the present, his playing has progressed constantly, and in fact, become more brutal as of late. When the world needed a hero, Zakk Wylde stepped up to the plate. His ability to shred is rivaled by his sense for what is tasteful. Perhaps future and former shredders should take note that underneath the lightning-fast, intricate guitar work that Zakk wields lies quality songwriting. "The Blessed Hellride" is the soundtrack for Metal people across the board, an ode to the gods of barley and hops, loud guitars, strength, pride, and conviction. Read on as the Guitar God speaks!



Perhaps this isn't the most appropriate opening question, but I wanted to mention the last time I saw you. I went to see Down, and I've got to say I enjoyed your performance on the opening movie…

Oh what? Throwing stuff out the window. We were just heaving shit. Those guys are hysterical…

What's the story behind that?

It was when we were out on the Ozzfest. We were all just hanging together. That's all. We had a suite and were just heaving stuff out the window, you know, brutality.... (or brewtality).



You guys had a blast on that tour I take it?

Oh yeah, totally.



Are you getting geared up for the Ozzfest this summer?

Oh yeah, without a doubt. Jason's going to be tearing it up with us. Jason's a great guy and he's a kick-ass bass player.



He's all over the place in Metal now. Have you ever jammed with him before?

No, I've really never met him so it will be great.



How have the reactions to "The Blessed Hellride" been for you?

I don't really pay attention to the stuff. It went straight in to number 50 on the Billboard charts. We're in the top ten on radio or something like that. It's doing really well.



The album has more of a live feel to it. Was that something you were going for?

Not at all. All we do is get a bunch of booze, go in the studio, and whatever comes out, comes out. There's no preconceived idea. We don't need that crap.



The drums sound huge. Craig sounds awesome…

Craig's an awesome, awesome drummer…



You did all the bass?

Yeah, I knocked all that stuff out.



What type of bass did you use?

I just used a P-Bass.

I never really took you for a bassist…

You talk to most guitarists…put it this way, it's not like I'm just shredding on the bass. You want to play like a bass player on the thing because you don't want to sound like a guitarist on the bass.



When you tour with B.L.S., do you have anyone in mind to play bass?

Yeah, we've got Mike Inez with us. He's handling all the bass duties.


Is he going to be a full-fledged Black Label member?

Oh yeah, Mike's been in already and then he left. The cool thing about the band is that it's bigger than just one bunch of guys. Robert Trujillo was playing bass with us and now he's with Metallica so if Metallica's not on the road it's like, "Hey, Robert, you want to come back on?" Everyone's welcome to come and go as they please.


It's like one big Black Label family…

Yeah, without a doubt, it's the best.



So nothing is written out before you go in to the studio?

Nothing. We just get in there and knock it right out.



That speaks a lot for the chemistry. In the vocal department, you've always had an angry-Greg Allman type of feel…

Oh yeah, I dig it, man. It's just like my favorite singers are of course Greg Allman, and obviously, Ozzy. Obviously Ronnie Van Zant and Ray Charles, those are all of my favorite singers there. If anything is going to come out, those are the influences.


They seem a bit more melodic this time, though…

I guess so. There's people who have been saying that. I don't know. I guess it's just my Ozzy influence.



Was there anything in particular that inspired you for "The Blessed Hellride"?

I just sit there and just start knocking it out. We'll get the riffs and I'll just start jamming. It's like, "Hey guys, give me about half an hour. Go watch Seinfeld and let me come up with some of the melodies and the lyrics." That's the easiest way to do it.



Was "Stillborn" written with Ozzy in mind?

No, not really. We just did it, and my voice just sounded a lot like his on it. Obviously, Ozzy was the obvious choice for backups. Ozzy came in, kicked some ass, and drank some beers with us. He just listened to the rest of the record. As soon as he got done singing, he goes (in Ozzy voice), "Is that good? Does it suck? Is it good enough?" It's like, "Ozzy, it sounds great." He's like, "Do you have any beer here?" I'm like, "Yeah, of course. What do you think? Is the Pope Catholic? What are you waiting for, grab me a beer!" It's hysterical, man.



What's your beer of choice these days?

Anything that's non-alcoholic.


So if faced with Doctor's orders, would you rather not drink beer, or drink non-alcoholic beer?

What are you gonna do? Just don't take the medicine. Just pour beer on it, it will fix it! (laughs)



(laughs) Is there ever going to be a Black Label beer?

Hopefully. That stuff would get you blasted. After a six pack, you'd croak. (laughs)

(laughs) So it's fermenting as we speak?




I think the stand-out on the new album has to be "Stoned and Drunk".

Thanks, man. That's the Black Label motto.



I think "Funeral Bell" will definitely fire up the pit…

Oh yeah, definitely. We're playing that one live. That's a cool song to play live.



Are there any specific tracks that stand out to you?

Yeah, "Stoned and Drunk". We were doing that and people knew the words already. We're doing "Funeral Bell". "Destruction Overdrive", we've been cranking that one out. The next tour we'll probably do something like "Doomsday Jesus". Obviously we're doing "Stillborn". It's cool.



Personally, the only time I've seen you solo was with Pride and Glory. I missed you with Crowbar…

Oh man, that was a killer tour…


I hate that I missed it. Do you guys ever do any Pride and Glory stuff live?

No, we haven't been. All we've been doing is all Black Label stuff…



Do you think you may ever resurrect that?

Yeah, you never know. I still talk to the guys all the time. They came down to the last show we did. It was way cool.



I'm from NC where Southern Rock is a staple alongside grits and rebel flags. How did you get so into Southern Rock being from NJ?

Just hearing it all the time, Skynyrd and stuff like that. My friends turned me onto it then the Allman Brothers. I listened to Skynyrd and the Allmans and stuff like that. People laugh. I always get that Southern comparison and people think I'm from the South. I go, "South? South Jersey? I don't know what you're talking about?" (laughs)



Well, you play it with the same conviction…

It's from copying it too. With Lynyrd Skinhead and things like that, with all the cover bands, you know…



Skynyrd and the Allmans were true Hardcore. Those guys lived it. It must have been awesome when you got to fill in for Dickey Betts…

Oh yeah, I know. We had a great time. That was like a dream come true.



Do you ever talk to those guys?

I haven't talked to them in a while. They've been out busy. Everybody has been working. They're awesome. Warren's got the Govt. Mule thing going, and that's totally ass-kicking.



Derek Trucks has a good thing going to…

Yeah, totally. He's an awesome player.



Being a guitar player, it's amazing how simple your set-up is. Is that really all you use is the Marshall and a couple Boss pedals?

Yeah, totally. I've got that Boss Super Overdrive, the Chorus pedal, Roto-Vibe and then a Jimi Hendrix Wah. That's it.



It must have been an honor for Marshall to make a Black Label amp.

It was definitely an honor for me, man.



You and Slash are the only ones who have had that honor.

Yeah, other than Jim Marshall's. It's awesome. The only made like 600 of them. I remember the first day it was gone at the NAMM show.



Do you have anything else lined up with Marshall?

All I have are my JCM 800's. That's all I ever use. Nick goes through the same set-up as me. That's it. You know it's just Les Pauls and Marshalls.



You have such a recognizable tone. How did it evolve?

I don't know. I think a lot of it has to do with a guy's hands and stuff like that too. I think it's just a matter of practicing all the time. That's all it is.



What's your practice regimen like?

Just a lot of scales. I go through a lot of different Modes and stuff like that. I go through Pentatonic and then Diatonic. It's just constantly picking all the time, and then learning other things, maybe off records, anything.



So theory is definitely a part of it?




What would you say to those who argue that you don't need theory to play Metal?

You don't have to read music. When I learned how to read, that's one thing I've never used since I've been playing with Ozzy. I guess if I was doing a different style of music, especially if I was a session guy, I would have to know how to read charts.



How thought-out are the solos?

I just improvise sometimes for a bit, and then I'll just go through it a couple times until I get what I like. Ozzy always told me, "Zakk, anybody can just shred over the thing. Come up with something that's kind of like the song that has a beginning, middle, and an end."



There's always a dynamic there, the peaks and valleys…

Exactly. It's like the Randy Rhoads School of solos. That's what made Randy so great.



"Mr. Crowley" is still the best solo ever written.

Without a doubt! I ought to know. I get to play it every night. (laughs)



That's got to be surreal, and also to have such a long-term working and personal relationship with Ozzy Osbourne.

Totally. He's the godfather of my boy. It's awesome.



At the end of the day, would you rather be known for your songwriting skills or your guitar abilities?

Either-or, man. I can't complain with either one of them. You've got to have the tunes. That's what made Van Halen so great. That's what made Randy so great, Hendrix, and stuff like that. It's not just listening to the guitar playing. You've got something to listen to, and the solos are just like icing on the cake.



The solo that stood out to me on the new one the most was on the title track.

I dig it. It kind of fit the song. I was playing on a '57 Special, a single cutaway. We just had the Marshalls turned up real clean.



How many Les Pauls do you have?

I don't know. 20-something, I think. Some people collect cars. I've just got Les Pauls.…not a bad habit.



When is Black Label going to tour again?

I guess after the Ozzfest, we'll head back out. We'll see what happens. It's going to be up to Ozzy. After we get done with the Ozzfest, if he wants to go back out again, or if he's just going to chill out. Everything's up in the air right now.



Why weren't you guys on the Ozzfest?

Well, we've been on it the last three years so Sharon wanted to give some other bands a chance.



Is there anyone in particular that you're excited to see?

Yeah, I want to check out Shadows Fall. Those guys are cool…two young kids shredding on the guitar. I'll go check them out.



-The Blessed Hellride-