Zakk Attack: Zakk Wylde Discusses Working with Ozzy Osbourne in 1989 Guitar World Interview
"So, how can you top what he's doing? Play it faster? That's like some guy playing' 'Eruption' faster. I mean, could you bore me some more? Eddie Van Halen already mastered the fingertapping technique, so it would be very hard to do it better. It's such a definitive style, that Eddie's the first guy you think of when you hear someone play like that, just as Yngwie's the first guy you think of when you hear super-fast classical licks.
"Like Yngwie," he continues, "I was also heavily into Al Di Meola. I put a lot of effort into learning the licks from his Elegant Gypsy and Land Of The Midnight Sun albums when I was seventeen, because I wanted to do the Di Meola trip in a rock context. But as soon as I heard that someone else was doing it, I immediately branched into other areas."
Zakk often combines chicken pickin' with crunching distortion in a style that will eventually distinguish him from other players. ''I'm not breaking any new ground yet," he admits, "but hopefully on the next album I will I don't think anyone else is doing chicken pickin' in a metal band. I want it to be my trademark, and I'll be doing more of it on the next album.
"I do it on stage now," he adds "I don't think Ozzy will ever say to the crowd, 'No chicken pickin' allowed tonight.' I remember telling my friends that I wanted to play some country-type licks onstage with Ozzy, and they'd say, 'I don't think the kids are ready for your chicken pickin' -- you'll get bottled.' But it hasn't happened yet. The thing is, once I'm blaring through loud amps, I ain't gonna sound like Albert Lee. I tried to explain that to Ozzy when we were doing the album, but he wouldn't listen to me. I also wanted to play more slide guitar and use the wah-wah pedal more. But the minute Ozzy hears a wah-wah, he immediately thinks of Jimi Hendrix. I could be playing 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' with a wah-wah, and he'd be going, 'Hendrix, Hendrix, Hendrix.' "
Zakk has come a long way for someone playing guitar for only seven years. His first instructor was Leroy Wright, his football coach's Les Paul-toting son.
“Leroy had long hair and a Harley-Davidson," remembers Zakk, "so I thought he was really cool As soon as he got me going on guitar, I got so into it that I no longer wanted to pursue a career in football. He taught me the stuff he grew up on -- Frank Marino, Hendrix, Trower, players like that -- but when I saw an Albert Lee videotape, I ripped off every lick on it. Leroy got my ear in tune, taught me diatonic and pentatonic scales and how to change keys. He eventually suggested that I take classical lessons and sent me to a guitar teacher in Freehold [New Jersey]. After that I took lessons from this guy in Manhattan who studied with Christopher Parkening.
"I took classical lessons because I wanted to play something really hard on guitar," elaborates Zakk. "Every time I'd go into my local music store, these jazz-heads would be behind the counter. They had such closed minds, they didn't like any of the rock licks I'd play. I thought, I'll learn something so hard, they'll never be able to play it.' It was very challenging. The more I played it, the more I liked it. Once you know counterpoint and theory, it automatically improves your songwriting ability."
New Jersey-area players Dave DiPietro of TT Quick and Ken Dubman of Prophet also played important roles in Zakk's development. "I was never able to play with phrasing until I saw Dave and Kenny play," he notes. "I used to wail out on total diatonic scales, but they were playing blues licks. When you're playing blues, you're not actually playing scales. You're bending and phrasing notes, jumping strings -- much closer to how a singer sings. I mostly played scales up until the time I saw those guys play. I'd much rather wail out to some Di Meola stuff than anything else.
"Jimmy Page's 'Heartbreaker' lick was one of the few blues licks I liked playing. John McLaughlin played pentatonics too, and he'd play 'em a million miles an hour."
Before long, Zakk himself started to give lessons. "I was charging only ten bucks an hour," he remembers. "I was making more money doing construction, but I almost fell off a roof a few times; I said, 'The hell with this,' and got into teaching guitar. I was saving all my money to buy Les Pauls. I was such a pennypincher, I didn't even treat myself to McDonald's. Teaching guitar certainly wasn't going to make me rich as Hugh Hefner.
“At one point I had close to forty students. Some of them got to be really good players. I'd show 'em something and three weeks later they'd come back playing almost as good as John McLaughlin! Most of the other students liked playing guitar just for the fun of it; they didn't have the hunger that's needed to play really well. When I told them I was auditioning for Ozzy, they were all happy for me. They knew I could play every Black Sabbath and Ozzy lick upside down and backwards."
Of the three pivotal guitarists to have played with Osbourne during the past twenty years -- Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee -- Zakk's style falls somewhere between Iommi's rhythmic attack and Rhoads' carefully structured, often maniacally melodic playing.
"Iommi was the master of the riff," says Zakk. "He never puts in many fills, and neither do I. Since I've always been a massive Black Sabbath fanatic, he's had a huge influence on my playing.
"Randy was ahead of his time," Zakk continues. "He was the first guy to do the all-out classical trip in a metal band. I've been told that my playing is reminiscent of Randy's, but the main similarities between us are that we both favor Les Pauls and we're both blonde-haired. I would love to play more classical stuff with Ozzy, but it would be stupid for me to do something that Randy was such a master at. And besides, Ozzy hired me because he wanted me to be different.