Interview with Zakk Wylde: From Jackson Memorial High School to Ozzy Osbourne to BLS
By Phil Stilton
Zakk Wylde, a Jackson Memorial High School band kid who turned international guitar-rock celebrity through his time as lead guitarist of Ozzy Osbourne and his own band, Black Label Society took some time this month to talk to us about his time in Jackson and what it’s like to come from a small town like Jackson and be thrust onto the stage of one of the most successful and controversial heavy metal artists of all time, Ozzy Osbourne.
Q: You were still a teenager when you got the call to play with Ozzy. You had some big shoes to fill with Randy Rhodes and Jake Lee. What was going through your mind at the time?
Zakk: I went from being this massive, huge fan of Ozzy. I had just seen Ozzy play with Jake at the Spectrum a few weeks before with Motley Crue on that Shout at the Devil Tour. I went from being in the audience to realizing, now I’m on stage. There were guys showing up who played pretty well, but they couldn’t care less about Black Sabbath, Randy Rhodes or the history of Ozzy. For me, that was like sacred material. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Q: So do you think Ozzy realized at the time, these other guys where here for a job and paycheck and this kid loves our music and can play too?
Zakk: Yes, without a doubt. It’s like being a huge Brett Farve fan or Green Bay Packers fan growing up and now you’re quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. You know what I mean, you want to go out there and win a Super Bowl. That’s your ultimate team. You didn’t just make it to the NFL, you’re playing quarterback on your favorite team. That’s what it was like. Something I always dreamed about as a kid.
Q: So you got the job, the next 4 albums sell a combined 60 million copies. Did you actually know what you were stepping into at the time?
Zakk: People always told me “Zakk, you don’t understand what you’re getting into.” and telling me about when you’re that young and you’re making that kind of money don’t let the fame get to you. I joined Ozzy when I was 19, but I knew what I was doing. Put it this way, if you’re a scumbag before you even get there, it’s just a matter of putting water to a seed. It’s only going to make you grow into a scumbag tree. You’re either an A-hole or you’re not. Fame doesn’t turn you into one, so I don’t buy into any of that stuff. You still know, no matter who you are, say, taking a purse from any 80 year old woman is a scumbag move. I don’t care who you are, where you came from or how hard you had it on the streets. You came from your dad’s %$^&# and mother’s $%@# just like I did. All of the people I’ve played with and even all the guys that roll with Ozzy, they’re like the coolest, nicest guys in the world.
Q: The best selling Ozzy album was “No More Tears”, how much influence did you have on that album?
Zakk: Well, we all write the music, I write the riffs. Ozzy would ask “Well, what have you got?” That’s my job. The whole this is really the house that Rhodes built and I’m just happy to wear the pinstripes. Randy set the mold for what the sound of Ozzy’s music is supposed to be and also what’s expected out of an Ozzy guitarist.
Q: Ok, flash back to 1979. Ozzy just left Black Sabbath and you and Randy show up for the gig. Who’s walking out with the job?
Zakk: Well, I learned from Randy. Randy is the messiah. I’m one of his disciples.
Q: How is with you and Ozzy these days, I see he has a new guitarist. How are things now on the personal level?
Zakk: Gus is an amazing player and good kid. I did some shows over in New York with them and we all hung out. My relationship with Ozzy is bigger than the music. You know, if Ozzy calls me and needs something done at the house, it’s no problem I’ll come over, it’s bigger than the music though.
Q: How do you describe the synergy between your band, Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne going forward?
Zakk: Well, the boss will be out soon on the Black Sabbath tour and do some dates with them would be an honor. We just got done with some dates with Judas Priest and Guns n Roses, so ya, without a doubt, it would be an honor. We’ve done some Ozzfests with them and that was always cool. We’d get done playing and go out and watch Sabbath kick some ass.
Q: So you graduated from Jackson Memorial High School, what are some of your memories of the school and the town looking back on it?
Zakk: I had a great time growing up in Jackson. Between all my friends and everything, I had blast growing up there. Between all the music, playing guitar, I wouldn’t change anything about it.
Q: And you were also in the Jackson Memorial Band under the guidance of Director Bud McCormick, how did that help you?
Zakk: Bud was awesome. There wasn’t that many of us in that class, so it really allowed us to get things done. Between learning music theory and everything else, I loved going to Bud’s class. It was killer. Mr. McCormick is such a cool guy.
Q: You had a busy year with BLS, a new album, a Christmas release, opening for Guns N Roses and Judas Priest. How do you top that? Where does BLS go from here?
Zakk: We’re going to be working on putting out “The Song Remains Not the Same”, it’s going to be on DVD, it’s just mellow versions of the songs. That will be the next DVD we’re going to do. We’ve done heavy ones and live shows, now we’re going to do the “un-blackened” thing. We’re going to knock that out in January. It’s going to be like a Neil Young sort of thing with pianos, we’re really going to blow it up. I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: You could have been the guitarist for Guns N Roses, what happened there?
Zakk: That was back in ‘95. We were jamming for a while, but I didn’t get the call. The whole thing was up in the air at the time. It was the original band, but it was like “Are we doing this? Are we not?” My name was in the mix, we did some demos, but nothing really happened. I was sitting around with a whole bunch of riffs in my mind and I decided, you know what, I’ll just go do it myself and that’s really how Black Label Society started later in ‘98.
Q: When people look back on your career, what do you want them to most identify you with?
Zakk: I just them to think that for an Irish Catholic from Jackson Memorial High School, he wasn’t that bad.
Q: Any chance of a reunion with Ozzy?
Zakk: Well, ya that door is always open, I’ll do whatever he needs, like if he calls and says “Hey, Zakk, can you come over here and do some guitar riffs for me for something I’m working on?” I’d be like “Ya, no problem, I’ll be over there in half an hour.”
Q: Any parting comments for your fans and friends here in Jackson?
Zakk: Growing up and going to Jackson Memorial, I had a blast, along of course with the Brookwood Bar & Grill (now Cee Gee’s),