Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne Open Up in 1990 Guitar World Interview
Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde discuss Wylde's audition for Ozzy, Ozzy's previous guitarists and a whole lot more in this interview from the June 1990 issue of Guitar World.
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.
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