Zakk Wylde Talks Les Paul, Iridium and Auditioning for Ozzy: "It's Like Being a Yankees Fan and Playing in the Same Stadium"
Tonight, Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde will pay tribute to a six-string innovator — Les Paul — at New York City's Iridium Jazz Club, aka "The Home of Les Paul."
Wylde, who is known for his six-string skill, serious work ethic and custom bullseye-painted Gibson Les Paul, was recently invited to take part in the club's ongoing 98th-birthday celebration for the late guitarist and inventor, who died in 2009.
The Iridium celebrates its patron saint, who performed at the club weekly for more than a decade until his passing, every Monday night by inviting guest guitarists to sit in with the trio.
Wylde's extended appearance at the club will include two additional shows — June 11 and 12 — during which he will perform acoustic versions of his own material, host Q&A sessions and read from his book, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker's Guide to World Tour Domination, which recently was released in paperback.
Following his performances, Wylde is scheduled to return home and complete Unblackened, a DVD filmed at the Nokia Theater that also coincide with an accompanying CD. Black Label Society will then begin gearing up for this year's Gigantour, which also features Megadeth, Newsted and other metal greats.
I spoke with Wylde about his Iridium shows and Les Paul. We also discussed his days with Ozzy and Sharon Osborne, two people he still affectionately refers to as "the Boss" and "Mom."
GUITAR WORLD: When you think of Les Paul, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
I got to know Les over the years, and he was a very cool guy. People always think about just the guitar, but Les was also a tinkerer and an inventor. Not only was he a working guitar player and a successful recording artist, but he was also the one who invented multi-track recording. That alone would have been a monumental achievement, aside from putting together the electric guitar. It's really amazing just how much he created.
What can fans expect from your Iridium shows?
I'll be sitting in with the Les Paul Trio doing a bunch of songs for the first show. I've sat in with them before and am really looking forward to it. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nick [Catanese from Black Label Society] and I will play.
Let’s discuss how you got the audition with Ozzy.
I was teaching guitar, working at a gas station and mowing lawns. I was doing anything I could to save up money to buy more Les Pauls and Marshalls. I remember I was playing in clubs, making little money and then having to pack up all of my shit and head home. But I loved it. It was always fun playing out in front of people.
One night, this guy Dave [Feltz] saw me playing and asked if I had ever thought about auditioning for Ozzy. At first I figured he was just some idiot talking trash and dropping names. But he said he had a friend named Mark Weiss, a legendary photographer who had just finished shooting Ozzy a few days ago. He couldn't make any promises, but he told me that if I could get a picture and a tape together, he'd give it to Mark, who could get it to Mrs. O.
For me being such a huge Ozzy fan, getting the gig was like Mark Wahlberg's character in the movie Rock Star. Having a shrine of these guys hanging up on the wall and then suddenly you're in the band. Being with the Boss and standing where Randy stood is like being a Yankees fan and playing in the same stadium where all of your heroes played and wearing the same uniform they did.
Tell me a little about your work ethic when it comes to practicing.
When you think of "practice," it sounds like it's a bad thing. But if you really love music and playing, it's not a chore. It's kind of like video games, where you're having fun and trying to get to the next level. For me, it's no different from learning patterns, scales and arpeggios. If you really want something, hours will go by in the blink of an eye. I don't practice, I play.
What do you think is the secret to a band's longevity?
All of the guys I've ever been in bands with, we've always liked being around each other. I went straight from playing with guys I hung out with to playing with Ozzy. Here I was, a 20-year-old kid hanging with 40-year-old guys who took me under their wing. They didn't treat me like a "rookie" and there was never any hostility. We all just hung out and it was awesome. The same goes for Black Label Society. The guys that have been in this band, they'll always have a home. Nobody ever quits or gets kicked out.
Any chance of you going out on the road with the Boss again while he's touring with Sabbath?
It would be great to get to see Black Sabbath every night! If Mom decides to send us out on the road, of course we'd do it!
For more information on Wylde’s Iridium performances, visit theiridium.com.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.