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.
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.
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