Zakk Wylde: Wylde World
Two months after our St. Patrick’s Day conversation, Guitar World meets up for a beer or three with Zakk at the Saddle Ranch Roadhouse, a Sunset Boulevard faux-cowboy joint, complete with mechanical bull. He’s about to begin rehearsals for Ozzfest, but Shot to Hell still isn’t quite finished. Just the other day, in fact, he found himself in the unusual position of having to lengthen a guitar solo in an attempt to garner radio airplay.
“The record company is talking about making ‘Blood Is Thicker than Water’ the single,” he says, “But they told me that, at 3:28, it was actually too short for rock radio formats—it needed to be around 3:40. We just went back into the studio, and made the guitar solo two bars longer. The solo is the thing that usually gets its ass kicked in an edit, but this time it was, ‘Ooh! I get to make it longer!’ I never thought I’d ever hear that in my life!” he howls. “That’s like if [porn star] Rocco Siffredi’s pounding a chick in the ass, and she’s saying, ‘Y’know, I could use a little more!’ ”
This afternoon, the Roadhouse’s video screens are serving up an odd combination of contemporary “big hat” country and Eighties hair metal, and a clip of Winger’s ‘Seventeen’ catches Zakk’s eye. “It’s so crazy, man,” he reflects. “When you’re a ‘chick band’ like that, you’ve made your deal with the devil. If you think you’re gonna have a long career in music, forget about it. But if you’re a dude band… Look at Sabbath, Zeppelin, Metallica, whatever. They still have careers, because guys ain’t fickle. Guys will stick with their band.”
Sure enough, even though there are several serious SoCal babes hanging around the place, the fans that find their way to Zakk’s table today are strictly male. They all want to buy him a drink, talk about some show they saw him play, or tell him about their new T-shirt line. Zakk is unfailingly friendly and down to earth with all of them, even the pushy drunk one who wants to write lyrics for him. “Let me give you a song, bro!” the guy insists. “I’ve got some good shit! I’ve got this song about the war, dude! It’s amazing! I’ll give you the hook—‘You’re feeding another war/With your pedals to the floor!’ You know what I mean? It’s really fucking good, man!”
“I can dig it, brother,” Zakk nods, shaking the guy’s hand and taking his phone number. “You know, everybody wonders why I never go off the bus,” he chuckles, as the would-be songwriter staggers out of earshot. “That’s why I never come down here, because everybody’s always networking. You can’t blame him for fucking trying, man, but come on!”
Even if Zakk was in the market for some creative assistance, it’s more likely that he’d turn to one of his many longtime pals in the music biz. After all, Zakk is nothing if not loyal. He’s still married to his childhood sweetheart, Barbaranne, and he’s been friends and jam mates with JD DeServio since they were both in their early teens. Next May, it will be 20 years since Ozzy took the teenage gas station attendant from New Jersey into the limelight, and Zakk is still generally more than willing to drop everything whenever his old boss needs a hand.
“I’m about to go up to Vancouver to mix Shot to Hell,” he says, “But Oz wants to start doing some jamming pretty soon for his new record. We’ve already got, like, 20 songs. It’s gonna be a piece of cake, though obviously that record’s not going to be done until after the summer. There’s just no way.” When asked what he means by “a piece of cake,” Zakk explains, “Me, Blasko and Mike go into the studio and bang all this shit out. Except for the solos. Usually I overdub the solos after Ozzy puts down his vocals, because you’ve gotta hear the vocal lines. You know where the solo section is, but if you want to put some guitar fills in here and there, it’s gotta be around the vocal. The vocal line is the most important thing.”
Despite all his fame, awards and endorsements, Zakk knows his work with Ozzy will always overshadow his Black Label music, but he seems completely cool with it. “Really, the stuff Randy [Rhoads] did with Ozzy is the House That Ruth Built,” he says, and laughs. “I’m just Mickey Mantle—the other drunk dude!”
As for Shot to Hell, he says, “it’s just something ass kicking to listen to once you’re done wearing out the other records. And now you can have eight friends over to your house for drinks, instead of seven. There’ll be Black Label coasters for everybody!”
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