Zakk Wylde: Wylde World
Orginally printed in Guitar World, September 2006.
While he's busting his hump playing two sets a night at Ozzfest, he's
recording two new albums and composing music for ESPN. Zakk Wylde might
be Shot to Hell, but we're happy to report he still has time to shoot the shit.
St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be a festive occasion, but you wouldn't know it here in North Hollywood. Heavy storms have been saoking the Los Angelas basin for over a week now, and today the endless stretch of gas stations and fast-food joints along Lankershim Boulevard, never a particularly cheery street to begin with, seems gloomier than ever. But inside the nearby Ameraycan Studios, the party’s just getting started.
“Turn it up! Turn it up!” shouts Zakk Wylde, handing Guitar World a cold beer from a nearby cooler. Zakk is ostensibly here to lay down some tracks for Shot to Hell—“You know, as in the state of our livers!”—his eighth Black Label Society album, which is also his first for Roadrunner Records. But right now, all Zakk wants to do is watch Zorro-hatted New Age guitarist Esteban hawking his line of
“quality” acoustic guitars on the Home Shopping Network. “There’s our guy!” Zakk exults, as Black Label bassist John “JD” DeServio cranks up the TV volume. “He’s got a fuckin’ cock of doom, bro! JD and I were watching him the other day, and you could see it in his pants. We were goin’, ‘Look at the size of that thing!’ ”
“Look, the shirt’s over his lap. They made him cover it,” says a bummed-out JD. “They made him cover the cock!”
“Dude, I’m his biggest fan,” Zakk says with a laugh. “I love Esteschlong! Look at him! He’s always smiling, always happy.”
At this point, the HSN hostess begins to extol the virtues of Esteban’s guitars. “It’s all wood,” she says. This cracks Zakk up completely.
“It’s all wood?” he guffaws. “I thought it was made out of steel! Seriously, I wanted to buy one of those guitars, just to say we got one—and because it says ‘Esteban’ on the headstock! I’ll take in onstage and play ‘Spoke in the Wheel’ with that fuckin’ thing!”
But when the tally of Esteban guitar sales from the last hour is announced, Zakk’s mood momentarily sours. “Wait, he just sold 2,087 of these at two hundred dollars each?” he marvels. “Dude, Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin—they’re the three best guitarists in the world. They must be sittin’ at home goin’, ‘What the fuck is this?’ This guy just made four hundred grand, and Al and Paco are goin’, ‘Do we have enough for this In-N-Out burger? Who’s got some change on ’em?’ ”
Zakk takes a deep swig from his bottle, and silently ponders the cruel irony of the situation. “He’s got the weapon of doom, though, dude,” he finally announces. “Just send him to Iraq. He’ll defeat the terrorists.”
Though it would certainly make for some great television, you won’t be seeing Zakk on the Home Shopping Network anytime soon. Not that he has anything against it. It’s just that the hard-drinking, straight-shooting, iron-pumping, profanity-spewing guitarist already has a pretty hefty “to do” list, as it is. Not only has he been trying to finish Shot to Hell in time for a summer release, he’s also been helping Ozzy Osbourne, his longtime boss and mentor, write songs for the singer’s next album. On this summer’s Ozzfest, Zakk will once again be pulling double-duty, headlining the second stage with Black Label Society (whose lineup also includes drummer Craig Nunenmacher and guitarist Nick Catanese), and playing at least 10 shows with Ozzy, whose current band also includes former Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin and Rob Zombie bassist Blasko. In his copious free time, Zakk is also writing and recording incidental music for ESPN. “You know when they’ll have like a two minute segment, talking about the legacy of [major-league baseball TV and radio announcer] Harry Caray, or somebody? I’ll put, like, a mellow piano thing behind it,” Zakk explains. “They pay me in two cases of Beck’s beer, and a bottle of Captain Morgan for JD. But it’s fun, and I love doin’ it.”
The hardest-working man in showbiz? It’s a cliché, sure, but it’s one that pretty much sums up Zakk’s blue-collar approach to life and music. “This is what you choose to do, and it’s gotta get done, so that’s that,” he says. “Anything gets old after a while, except for maybe hanging out at McSorley’s pub in New York City. But what are you gonna do? If it’s what you do and you’re having a good time? It’s all what you make of it, man.”
Zakk’s unquenchable gusto for his work comes through loud and clear on Shot to Hell, a meat-and-potatoes rock album infused with his personal “berserker” brand of metallic shred. “Concrete Jungle,” “Blood Is Thicker than Water” and “Give Yourself to Me” are dense, snarling ragers that would go over well at any biker bar, but he also throws a few sonic curveballs on the record, as well. “New Religion” starts off with a melancholy Mellotron passage that flows into a wordless gang vocal chant, then kicks into a heavy minor-key dirge that’s highlighted by a guitar solo Zakk calls “Gary Moore meets Al Di Meola.” “It’s definitely far beyond gay,” Zakk notes of the song’s “men’s chorus” intro, “But that’s the reason we did it. I think our fans have come to accept the ‘gayidity’ at this point.”
There are also mellow moments, as well, like the soulful ballad “Lead Me to Your Door” and the Eagles-like “Sick of It All,” both of which are (of course) graced by sky-scraping guitar solos. “You’ve gotta have both, man—the heavy shit and the mellow shit,” he says. “As much as I love the heavy shit, I don’t want to hear it all the time. If I’m lifting, it’ll be Ministry or Meshuggah or Dimebag, you know what I mean? But if I’ve just gotten done crushing my skull with my Les Paul and Marshall, and we’ve got a 28-hour bus ride ahead of us, we’ll throw on Elton John, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye… whatever. Anything but the heavy shit! After I’ve just finished killing myself, the last thing I’m gonna do is throw on Meshuggah.”
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