Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne Open Up in 1990 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with Ozzy Osbourne and his guitarist at the time, Zakk Wylde, from the June 1990 issue of Guitar World. The original headline was "The Good, The Bad & The Ozzy: Or How to Become a Heavy Metal Guitar Hero in One E-Z Lesson."
Ozzy Osbourne, clad in a screaming yellow suit and black crucifix, and Zakk Wylde, attired in custom-made flared jeans, sit side-by-side on a couch. They rise as one at my appearance, their solemn, polite handshakes suggesting men of infinite wealth, taste and breeding.
Then all hell breaks loose.
Like two disruptive, spitball-throwing delinquents, Ozzy and Zakk proceed to crackle with nervous movement, swap barbs and tell tall rock 'n' roll tales, laughing idiotically all the while. When the conversation turns to life on the road, Osbourne looks around and quips nostalgically, ''Back in 1971, when I was touring with Sabbath, you could've fit all our equipment into this hotel room."
Zakk rolls his eyes like someone forced to listen to his father rehash ancient family history for the millionth time. Ozzy, catching Wylde 's smirk, sarcastically points at the guitarist's 24-inch bell-bottoms.
"He's giving me a hard time about living in the past? He's the one that's living in the Sixties. Jeez, I've got the only guitarist in rock 'n' roll that looks like he's been drafted into the Navy. This has got to stop," says Ozzy, turning to Wylde with mock-disgust. I'm going to start enforcing a bloody dress code."
I try changing the subject. Casually, I mention Zakk's solo concert spot, a topic that usually elicits serious commentary from even the most jaded guitar hero. But this is to no avail; the demented -- some say demonic -- duo are off and running.
"My solo -- that 's when everyone goes to the bathroom," Wylde laughs.
"One day," chortles Ozzy with a mischievous look, "Zakk says to me, I've got a great idea! During my solo in 'Suicide Solution,' I'll jump off stage and play it in the crowd ..."
Wylde slaps himself in the forehead, groans, and continues the story. "I wanted to dramatically leap right into the audience, but couldn't because the pit in front of the stage was too deep. So I ran backstage, went down a flight of steps and came out from behind a side curtain. But nobody saw me come out. Instead, everyone was looking at the stage, straining to see where the hell I went. I walked all the way through the audience to the back of the arena and not one person took notice of me. It was so embarrassing."
"On another occasion, during my solo, I was trying to get the crowd to clap along, so I screamed, 'All right, Let's see some hands!' I wasn't hearing any response, so I squinted through the lights and saw all these people with blank looks on their faces showing me their hands. I swear."
"One time," says Ozzy, warming to the subject, "I was yelling, 'Everybody, stand up!’ And some guy yells back, 'We are, you dummy!"'
"Spinal Tap lives!" says Zakk, cracking up.
What's a journalist to do? Remembering the approach used by junior high school teachers through the centuries, I decide to split the two up and interview them separately.
What follows is a two-sided look at what it takes to get one of the most coveted gigs in rock. Ozzy thoughtfully recalls what made each of his great guitarists special, and elaborates his criteria for choosing a guitarist, his audition process, and his theory on why it's good to be bad. On the flip-side, Zakk tells what it's like to play with Ozzy and describes his struggle to carve a unique identity.
If only half the rumors about him are to be believed, it's amazing that Ozzy Osbourne is still alive. Yet, after 21 years of twisted public behavior, the man who brought you songs like "Paranoid," "Bark At The Moon" and "Children Of The Grave," looks incredibly healthy and ready to take on the world. Ozzy recently celebrated over 20 years in the business by polishing off a live greatest hits EP Just Say Ozzy and is currently at work on his next studio metal masterpiece.
GUITAR WORLD: Let 's start by looking at your past guitarists. How did you find Randy Rhoads?
OZZY OSBOURNE: Thinking back, it was quite extraordinary. I had been in Black Sabbath since high school, and suddenly Tony Iommi fired me from the band. It was a shock because Sabbath had always been there. I was out of my brain on drugs and alcohol and I was stuck in the position of getting a band together. I had never auditioned anyone before and I was petrified.
The auditioning process was so embarrassing. How do you tell someone that they’re not what you're looking for? Back then everyone was trying to clone Jimi Hendrix. I heard nothing but "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady" riffs. One guy even hooked up several tape recorders and echo units so he could play both the lead and rhythms to Hendrix tunes simultaneously -- it was a nightmare!
I had almost given up when somebody told Sharon [Ozzy 's wife and personal manager] about this great guitar player in town named Randy Rhoads. Shortly afterwards, Randy came over to my Los Angeles apartment. He was so frail, tiny and effeminate that I thought, "Oh no, oh hell." But out of politeness, I invited him to play the next day. Unfortunately, when he turned up, I was stoned out of my mind -- I mean, I was on another planet. Some guy woke me up and said, "He's here!" I looked up and Randy started playing from this tiny amp. Even in my semi-consciousness he blew my mind. I told him to come by the next day, and that he had the gig.
The next day I told someone I dreamed that I hired a guitar player. They told me I didn't dream it, and that he was coming that day. I thought, "Oh god, what have I done? I hope he can play!"
How do you know when a guitarist is right or wrong?
OZZY: It's like shopping for a new suit -– there may be a whole rack of blue suits, but only one will grab you. There's no ritual, there's no formula. I've just been lucky that everybody's liked my taste in guitar players.
What were Randy's weaknesses as a player? Was there any aspect you had to help him with?
OZZY: He didn't really have any weaknesses. I was the one that needed work. I had just come from Sabbath, and Tony Iommi was a bit of a tyrant. His attitude was that I was the singer, I was allocated a space, and if I couldn't come up with anything then I was screwed. Whereas Randy would work with me. Randy had patience because he was a guitar teacher. It was potentially a very frustrating situation for him because I couldn't play a musical instrument. But he was always supportive and would say things like, "Try bending a note here" or "Try this key." It was a bit like going to music school. Randy was very instrumental in bringing me out of me. The first two Ozzy albums are by far the greatest things I've ever done. He was too good to last.
You and Randy had a chemistry.
OZZY: Yeah, and now I think it's gone, but you never know. I was never sure whether my work with Sabbath was any good. I used to think it was all too ordinary, but it seems to have stood the test of time. You never know what you got 'til it's gone.
You must have had more confidence when you found Jake E. Lee.
OZZY: Not really. I knew a guitarist had to look good and have a good attitude, but other than that ... Randy was the exception. He was from somewhere else.
Randy came to me one day and said, "I've had enough of this rock 'n' roll stuff, I want to get a degree in music from UCLA." I said to him, "Why don't you wait a few years and get some money and success behind you. You can always get a degree when you're 90, if you want." But he wanted to study right then and there. He started spending hours practicing and writing out his own formulas -- diads or niads or whatever you call them. Day in and day out, whatever spare time he had was spent plucking on his flamenco guitar. He was a musician in the true sense. The instrument was an extension of his personality.
When we were recording Diary Of A Madman, he would disappear into the studio for days. I'd ask him what he was doing and he would say, ''I'm working on this solo and I still can't get it." Finally, it would come to him and he would call me and say, "listen to this." It would always tear my head off.
That's the difference between guitar players. There are guys who'll go wingly-wangly up and down the fretboard, and some have emotion and others don't. Randy and Eddie Van Halen were at the winning post, and everyone else is a close second. I mean, this Yngwie Malmsteen guy must have the capability to do some amazing things -- but it's too cold, it's too much for the mind to take in. And watching Steve Vai is like watching a good mechanic strip down a good engine in three seconds and rebuild it. He makes things run perfectly, but there 's no nice little errors that make things sound human.
All I can say to anybody out there who wants to be good, is follow Randy's path: Practice and put your heart and soul into it. Not Jimi Hendrix's heart and soul, not Eddie Van Halen's heart and soul or anyone else’s. If your heart is there, and you're playing with your heart, then you have to be the best one in the world. I hate people who clone! It's been the year of the Guns N' Roses. Everybody 's wearing headbands and walking like snakes. It's stupid. Imitators always look like pricks. There's already one Guns N' Roses.
Okay, but what about Jake?
OZZY: Well, Jake was fine for the first three days, then he wanted to take over. Randy wasn't like that -- he was one of the cool guys. I wouldn't say Jake and I got along, but I wouldn't say we didn't get along. But in the last few years he became very reserved and it was hard to communicate with him. We lived together in a house in Beverly Hills and we never spoke! It wasn't because we didn't like each other. We just didn't have anything to say.
It was similar to the relationship I had with Tony Iommi. We'd get together to rehearse, write a mediocre song and then go our own ways. It's not the relationship I wanted with Jake, but a festering cancer set in. I wouldn't have it. If I ask, "What do you think of that?," I want a reaction. If it's negative we'll try something else -- that's not a problem. But Jake would shrug his shoulders, raise an eyebrow, and walk away.
The word "band" means a band of men -- an army, a platoon, a unit. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If there is a communication breakdown -- hey, that's a great name for a song -- you've got no unit. To be fair, Jake did have a fantastic presence and he was a great guitar player.
What made Zakk stand out?
OZZY: This is a bizarre story, but it's the god's honest truth. It was a bad period for me because I was sick of auditioning people -- drummers, bass players, keyboard players -- you name it. Now it was time to audition yet another guitar player. The spark had gone out of it; probably due to my various battles with drugs and alcohol. I had a lot of personal hang-ups about a lot of things, plus I was tired.
I asked the guys who were in the band at the time to put out the word that I needed somebody and to have people send me resumes. I auditioned about fifty guys. Some of them were hilarious. I asked one guy to play something in a specific key. He said, "I think it would be better in another key." I said, "No it wouldn't. Just play it in the key it was written in." He protested again and I just thought, "What the hell am I doing here? I'm jetlagged to the max, arguing with some idiot guitar player ..."
Then there were all these Eddie Van Halen clones on steroids. They played like Van Halen while standing on their heads and hopping on one leg. One guy even played like Eddie while eating a fucking sword!
One morning I was confronted with a mound of tapes and I remember picking one up out of thousands and saying," Look here, a Randy Rhoads clone." It was a picture of some guy with long blond hair playing a Les Paul Custom. I couldn't even bring myself to listen to his tape. I tossed it back in the pile and forgot about it.
Then about six months later, my drummer, Randy Castillo, walks in and says, "I found this great guitarist from New Jersey, and his name is Zakk." I walked into the audition, and I knew I had seen him before, but I couldn't remember where. He plugs in and plays my whole catalog, note-for-note. I then asked him to play something of his own and he played some acoustic stuff and some classical stuff. He had a bounce and a spark about him. Then I realized where I saw Zakk before. He was the Randy Rhoads clone in the photo! The one tape I had picked out of thousands. Only it turned out that he wasn't a Randy clone at all. Randy would've looked like an ant next to Zakk.
There were lots of benefits in choosing Zakk. He had followed my career and he knew my songs better than I knew them myself. We knew it wouldn't be hard to break him in.
Now that you've worked with Zakk for a while, what do you think his strengths are?
OZZY: That's a difficult question. He's still very young and still very impressionable. I think he 's still finding his own feet.
What are the drawbacks to working with young players?
OZZY: I keep thinking I would love to work on a project with musicians my own age. I guess I'd better do it quick because with each passing year the number of people my age gets smaller. I'm starting to feel like a daddy or something. I don't want to be the wildman of rock 'n' roll for too much longer.
You could go the David Coverdale route and hire established guitarists, yet you seem to prefer to discover new talent.
OZZY: I want someone that's hungry. I want somebody who wants to go out and kick Eddie Van Halen's ass. I look for that hunger -- that ability to succeed.
What was your most bizarre auditioning experience?
OZZY: There's been thousands of them. One guy did a break dance, and spun around on his back on the floor while playing wild guitar licks. There were lots of guys who were great, but horrible to look at -- I mean, there 's always cosmetic surgery, I suppose. Besides being a great guitarist you 've got to look the part -- you've got to be able to attract people. Some of the people I've auditioned looked like they should've been in a sideshow at the circus.
I'm never worried about finding players, though. If Zakk walked through the door and said, ''I'm leaving," I'd say, "God bless you, goodbye." There's an abundance of guitar players jamming in their rooms who are brilliant. In fact, I often wonder why they aren't out doing something.
You've got to have an interesting front man.
OZZY: Yeah, you're right. There is a lack of good frontmen. Axl Rose is the best I've seen in many years. I appeared in a movie called The Decline And Fall Of Western Civilization, Part II: The Heavy Metal Years, along with a number of bands. I couldn't believe the amount of horseshit in that film. It seemed that all anyone talked about was partying and getting laid. What about being in a band and playing music? Guns N' Roses is a great name for a band and they seem committed. I'm not trying to be trendy, but that's what I think. I think they've got a great image, as well. Everybody likes the bad guys.
Take that band Stryper -- that's the highest form of hypocrisy. They wear the same clothes as me, but they carry crucifixes and Bibles. The difference is, nobody likes to hear a good person. I discovered that many years ago, when I was rehearsing with Black Sabbath. There was a movie house across the street that played nothing but horror movies. I asked myself, "Why is there a line of people with money in their hands, paying to get the shit scared out of them?" It's because people get a thrill out of being around evil.
What's your assessment of Tony Iommi? He's left-handed, his fingers are chopped off, he had to detune his guitar three steps, yet he ended up defining a genre.
OZZY: In the beginning he was brilliant -- he was the master of heavy metal riffs. He was very clever. But I never really knew Tony; we rarely spoke. He was the god almighty figure in the band and verged on being a bully. I must have learned something from him though, because when I left I did pretty well on my own. I still keep in touch with the rest of the band, but I don't speak with Tony because we never talked when I was in the band.
He's very intimidating. To be honest, towards the end his playing bored me because everyone else was progressing and he wasn't. That's probably not fair, given his problems with his fingers. I should be grateful for Black Sabbath. But Tony needs to stop writing about devils and bullshit -- it 's already been done. Ultimately, I think it was good that I moved on when I did. It was starting to get frustrating, because Tony would get a good headbanger going, then he 'd start doing all this weird stuff. It started getting too complicated.
Except for "Shot In The Dark," your live versions of songs stay pretty close to the originals.
OZZY: I've seen bands who've played endings that are longer than the actual song. I always think, "Jeez, c'mon, end it already'" I'm old-fashioned in the sense that I like the song to sound like the song. I don't even like live records; I haven 't really acknowledged the release of Just Say Ozzy. Those songs have already been done, why do them again?
Aren't you ever tempted to rework songs to keep them from getting boring?
OZZY: No, if I don't get off on something, I just drop the song from the set. I've got enough tunes in the pipeline.
Millions of bands have tried to cop your formula, yet you endure. What is it about your songs that make them stand the test of time?
OZZY: God only knows. I was touring with Metallica a couple of years ago and I went backstage to talk with them. They were hanging out and all of them were staring at me in a very strange manner. Then a couple weeks later I wandered backstage and they were playing Sabbath tunes. I asked 'em if they were trying to give me a hard time. And they said, "No, we' re mad for Sabbath." They were big fans. I thought, "What, Sabbath-mad?" It's incredible to me that people still like that music.
Sabbath was a band that used to pull into an arena, play and never see a fan on the street. We came, we saw, we conquered and went home. I'd see an occasional acid freak wandering around San Francisco like a zombie mumbling "Black Sabbath." But we had no real contact with the fans, and we had no idea of the extent of our impact.
What are your favorite albums?
OZZY: Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman. I relate more to the period of time than to the actual album. If I was having fun, then it was a good album. If I wasn't, then the album was crap. We had a blast making Blizzard and Diary -- screwed-up and always laughing. Those first two albums were my revenge because I was fired from Sabbath. I thought, " Man, I'll show them what it's about!" I always come out with my best when my back's up against the wall. It's always when the luxury and financial rewards come piling in that I begin to lose it.
What would make you hungry again?
OZZY: I am, in a way. This is the first record I've ever done sober, I'm five months sober, and it's very difficult. I don't know whether it's good or not. I'm writing mellower songs. Not to say the album will be mellow -- Zakk will make sure it's not. He's crazy. In fact, he reminds me of me.
During rehearsal, I'll sit down with the road crew and have a can of Coke, Geezer will walk in and quietly join us, then Randy. But Zakk, you hear him from a mile away, screaming or whatever -- he's like a circus coming to town. Geezer cowers when he hears Zakk coming. There are so many cool-guy guitar players with their sunglasses and all that, but Zakk is one of the boys. He's a real shit-kicker. He always says "Hi" to people and takes the time to talk to the fans -- he 's always on. One of the key things about him is that he 's always got some time for the people. That's a big asset. When people find success, they tend to get big heads and 18 bodyguards. They forget that without the fans they wouldn't have a flash limousine and the money to pay for the bodyguards.
You shouldn't make yourself over-available, but you shouldn't make yourself invisible either. I have to be careful, because in a lot of areas not only are there a lot of people who like me, but also a lot of people who hate me. I don't want to be the next John Lennon.
Trying to clean my act up was a major step in my life. I'm suddenly stone-cold sober in this zoo and the lions are trying to pick the lock. I was stoned for 21 years. Most rockers get stoned to break down the inhibitions, paranoia and shyness that stem from personal hang-ups carried around since we were kids. We all want to communicate with our fellow man but we're too frightened to try. Getting drunk allowed me to relax. But after a period of years, that stopped working for me. So I had a real dilemma. I was getting high and it was killing me. Yet, I was afraid of being sober. Things began going drastically wrong for me in my personal life. I had hit the bottom and all that was left was death or insanity. Now with the grace of God, I've kept my sobriety, but I still take it one day at a time.
On the next studio record I've decided to take a whack at writing a love song and things I actually feel. I may also write a song called, "Son Of A Bitch, Everything's Real." [laughs]
Someone once described you as a nuclear bluesman. The analogy fits -- you often write simple, guitar-oriented songs about the woes of modern man.
OZZY: Just the other day I was watching an old video of me singing the song, "Paranoid. " I listened to the lyrics and thought, "Hell, where were we when we wrote that?" It was really strange because I had this smile on my face while singing this heavy, heavy song.
I mean, Sabbath grew up in Birmingham, England, which was in an industrialized pit. That was a billion light years from San Francisco's hippified flower power, where you'd hear some guy singing about wearing flowers in your hair. Meanwhile, my life was shit. I was frightened by fear. Fear has been my closest friend throughout my life. That's why we drank. That's why we' re all fucked up.
But I have no real regrets, except that I wasn't up to keeping Randy Rhoads from getting on that plane. I'm no superman, no person from another planet -- I'm just a lucky guy.
Filling the considerable shoes of Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee is like following Lincoln at Gettysburg. But considering his fine guitar work on No Rest For The Wicked and Just Say Ozzy, not to mention the astonishing array of hot licks executed before my very eyes during the course of our interview, I'd say Zakk has little to fret about.
Ozzy's description of his guitarist is dead-on. Wylde is a "shit-kicker," just "one of the boys," and a hell of a nice guy. His growth as a player is astounding and he is just chomping at the bit to prove himself. His marriage of heavy metal and country, combined with an expanded three-fingered picking technique, will undoubtedly provide new food for thought for guitarists looking to expand their horizons. No longer content to stand in the shadows of Ozzy 's previous players, Zakk Wylde is ready to take center stage.
I ran into the guys from Exodus the other day. Gary Holt has a blood clot in his eye and Rick Hunolt has bruises on his head. They said you were responsible for the damage.
WYLDE: [Laughs] Yeah, that was a wicked night. I think I tackled Gary into a parked car. We were just out to lunch. One of the guys in Exodus is getting married so we were out partying in a rental car that we ended up trashing. At some point during that same evening I was punching a wall, and this guy walks up to me and says, "You ain't gonna hurt anyone doing that." So I said, "Okay, you'll do," and punched his lights out. Two other guys jumped in -- it was insane.
I called Gary the next day and said, "Sorry, dude."
In the four years you've been with Ozzy, what have you found most surprising?
WYLDE: How quickly I grew up. I joined the band when I was 19, and I'm 23 now. It really forces you to find yourself. I know what I'm all about now. I know who Zakk Wylde is. Becoming a real musician is about finding a unique style and voice. You don 't develop by thinking, "If I act like Elvis and play like Buddy Holly, I'll become something new." You develop personality and style by living.
Playing with Ozzy must also focus you. There are a lot of players who are trying to develop, but have to do it in a vacuum. You get immediate feedback on your playing by some pretty knowledgeable people.
WYLDE: Yeah, when I first joined Ozzy I was into Hendrix and Frank Marino, and if I sounded like anyone on the first album it was one of those guys. But I don't think that's true anymore. In guitar terms, these days I'm playing almost purely pentatonic scales; I'm playing in a country vein.
What is Ozzy like as a band leader?
WYLDE: If I wasn't working with Ozzy I'd probably be back home playing with a good band, but mentally I'd be nowhere near the level I'm at today. Ozzy gives me immediate feedback. He'll tell me whether something blows or if he thinks it 's good; he also gives me hints on what to do on stage. If I was hanging with my friends, probably nothing would be said.
At first, was it hard for you to take Ozzy 's criticism? Did you feel insecure?
WYLDE: Definitely. He would always say, "That sounds like Hendrix -- just be Zakk." The first few times he said that, I didn't know what to do. I mean, how do you get your own style? There aren't any manuals. I'd try to defend myself by saying, "Well, this is the way I play, this is Zakk!" Then I'd go home at night and practice until I was blue in the face, trying to figure which way to turn, but never sure whether I was on the right track. I eventually realized that Ozzy was right, and he helped me weed all those copycat licks out of my playing. But it was a little frightening.
Ozzy helped me get through the stage where I idolized people; now I simply appreciate their playing. I love a lot of other guitar players, but now I'm happy with myself.
You've indicated at other times that you 're heading in a country direction. Is that what helped you find your way?
WYLDE: Absolutely. I've been incorporating country licks into my playing -- it's the underlying theme. I found that instead of modeling myself after a particular player, it was easier to maintain my identity by thinking in terms of a particular school of playing. Yngwie nailed that harmonic minor classical thing, Hendrix had the blues as his major point of reference, but not many rock players have tried to incorporate country music into their playing. It sounds really cool.
I can see how country licks fit in well with rock 'n' roll -- both styles make extensive use of pentatonic scales and both have their roots in the blues. I also noticed that on No Rest For The Wicked and on the new live ep, your picking is very crisp and full of authority -– highly reminiscent of, say, Ricky Skaggs or Mark O'Connor. What do you do to achieve this kind of crisp articulation?
WYLDE: Again, I learned that kind of pick attack from country players. Guys like Albert Lee play at incredible speeds, but without any distortion or muting -- each note is as clean as a whistle. When I practice at home I rarely use distortion. Playing with a clean setting really alerts you to any discrepancies or sloppiness in your phrasing. Also, I use EMG pickups, which really seem to bring out the attack of the pick.
No one in rock plays pentatonic scales anymore, either. There are certain rock hammer-on and pull-off Jimmy Page-esque clichés that are based on pentatonic scales, but rarely do you hear someone being creative with them -- with the exception of maybe Eric Johnson. Ever since Yngwie and Randy, it seems guitarists have been in a diatonic rut.
Eric Johnson has been a major influence. The way he rips pentatonic scales and picks almost every note has had a huge impact on me. Nobody else is playing like that. It's all pick, technique-wise. Did you ever notice how picking each note gives the illusion that a line is much faster than it really is?
It's probably a combination of picking and playing metronomically. To demonstrate the importance of using a metronome, one of my guitar teachers would perform the same two-measure 16-note run twice -- once played precisely in time, the second time at the same speed, but slightly out of time. The difference was dramatic. The line played in time sounded twice as fast!
WYLDE: [Politely] That's interesting.
I know you 're working hard at avoiding clichés, but aren't things like harmonic minor scales, false harmonics, tapping and whammy bar dives just part of the modern guitarist's vocabulary? Do you really think that if you play a harmonic minor scale, people will think you're ripping Yngwie?
WYLDE: Yes. If I hear some guy playing all harmonic minor scales I will automatically compare him to Yngwie. I would have done mega-scales' all over the last record, but instead I forced myself to take another approach. It wasn't entirely successful, but it was something I could live with. The record was okay, the solos were all right, but I didn't do any serious ripping on it -- the next studio record will be much more intense.
I have to do some serious smoking on the next record because I realize I have to play for those frustrated guitarists out there who would love to be in my position. I feel obligated to them-the people who hear me live and always ask, "Why didn't you play that way on the record? But again, the problem was that I was trying to find myself, constantly editing myself to avoid sounding like anyone else. I've gotten so 'much better through constant practice and I'm much more uninhibited. I can talk about it forever, but every dog has his day and I’ll have to wait until the next record comes out.
Do you remember your audition?
WYLDE: Certainly. This guy named Dave Feld, who works for Atlantic Records, saw me playing in a club and asked me if I ever considered playing for Ozzy. I said, "You gotta be stoned, you gotta be puttin' me on, man." Playing with Ozzy is something you dream about. He asked for a picture and a tape and gave it to a photographer named Mark Weiss who got the tape to Ozzy's manager, Sharon. She called me and they flew me out.
When I walked into the audition, I couldn't believe I was meeting Ozzy. I was thinking, "Holy shit, it's really him, man." The only way I could picture him was on the stage of a huge arena; I saw him, with a bunch of my friends, when I was 14. We spent all our money getting to the show and had no idea how we were going to get back. I was so naïve! When the lights flashed into the crowd, we screamed things like, "He's looking at us, man!" Ozzy had so much power over the crowd. I was in total awe.
The audition went really smooth. Ozzy was very supportive and once the band kicked in, it was easy. I was afraid he was going to stare at me with his arms folded and say something like, "Okay, let's see what you can do." Instead, it was all very casual. The first thing he said to me was, "I see you play a Les Paul instead of one of those things with the kitchen sink on it." He also said, "Zakk, I know you can do it, just play from your heart." We played "I Don't Know," "Suicide Solution," "Crazy Train," "Bark At The Moon," -– plus several other things. Ozz was getting excited and kept saying, "Let's do another one." I thought, "Yeah, okay, this is cool."
How are Randy Castillo and Geezer Butler as a rhythm section?
WYLDE: Excellent. Randy is terribly under-rated and Geezer and I are really working on doing a lot of harmony and unison lines on the next record that should be amazing. We want to show off our chops.
The other guys in the band are quite a bit older than you. Is it hard to relate to them?
WYLDE: It's not like I'm hanging with a bunch of yuppies. I still act pretty giddy and goofy, though the experience has helped me to carry myself in a different way.
Aside from the extended solo in "Shot In The Dark," the live EP stays pretty close to the original recorded arrangements. Did you play them that way out of respect for the original guitarists?
WYLDE: I saw Ozzy twice before I joined the band -- once with Jake and once with Bernie Torme. Both times the band played Ozzy's hits almost note-for-note. I really appreciated the fact that they stayed so true to the record, because I was an Ozzy fan -- I wasn't there to see the guitarists. That stayed in the back of my mind when I was preparing for the live show. To me, the original solos are a part of the song. It would be like Ozzy singing different lyrics or a different melody.
The way you bend the string behind the nut and apply finger vibratos is often imitative of the way others would use a whammy bar. Why do you choose not to use one?
WYLDE: I guess I'm not that good with one. I think if you really want to develop a distinctive voice using a bar it takes a lot of time and I'm not that interested in it to take the time.
What is it about Les Pauls that appeal to you?
WYLDE: They have an incredible bottom end to them. There are a lot of thin guitar sounds these days, which I find annoying. Everybody's using single-coil, Strat-style guitars, which cut real well but have no meat. Les Pauls represent the best of both worlds. Just listen to the sound our producer Keith Olsen got on "Crazy Babies," off No Rest For The Wicked. My guitar sound has a lot of honkin' bottom end, yet still maintains its high end as well. The Les Paul has the most bottom of any guitar I've played. The only problem I've encountered with Pauls is that they tend to get muddy, but that's why I use EMG pickups. Their active electronics system keeps that muddiness in check.
How did you discover EMGs?
WYLDE: Years ago, a friend of mine had this little Fender Mustang with EMG pickups and he asked whether he could play through my rig. I told him to go ahead. He plugged in and I couldn't believe the sound; everything was crystal clear. It was a revelation because previously I had always had problems getting good definition when using distortion with stock humbuckers. With EMG's I discovered I could play open chords in the nut position and pick fifths on the lower strings without a trace of mushiness.
Since you are a country fan I'm surprised you don 't use single-coil pickups, which seem to dominate Nashville.
WYLDE: I like the single-coil sound, but I just can't use it live -- they just sound too thin on stage.
What do you admire about Ozzy's previous guitar players?
WYLDE: I admired Randy's songwriting and the way he constructed his solos. I try to work in the same manner. I would much rather hear something well thought-out than something spontaneous!
I really like Jake's vibrato and his pick attack. I can always pick Jake's stuff out immediately. His Badlands record is fantastic.
What can we expect on the next record?
WYLDE: We' re going in a bluesier direction, more like "Crazy Babies." There will also be a few other surprises. I'll be playing some piano, some classical guitar and singing harmonies. I'm also starting to study pedal steel with a teacher. I'm trying to go for the stuff that no one is into. My girlfriend hates all the country stuff I'm into. She thinks it's a crock of shit and says I'll never be able to use it. But the thing people miss is that it doesn't have to sound country. Randy played classical, but it didn't sound that way. Jimmy Page used mandolins and pedal steel and it didn't sound wimpy. It'll sound smokin' in a different context. I don't want to copy, it's just a point of departure. I'm looking for a new blend. It 's just a new way to focus my energy.