When you hear the name Black Label Society, you instantly think of the blond-haired, hell-raising Zakk Wylde.
Fans of the band also realize that for more than a decade, the man to his side known as the "Evil Twin," Nick Catanese, has remained a constant.
Proudly hailing from the Pittsburgh "Chapter" of the Black Label Society, Nick has had a career that truly exceeded that of the fictional character in the movie Rock Star, in which he played a part. Nick took some time during a short break in Black Label's hectic touring schedule to sit down with us and talk.
As a youngster, what got you interested in guitar?
Kiss and Eddie Van Halen. First time I heard Van Halen's first album, I was hooked!
For those not aware, you had sent your demo tape to Zakk in response to a magazine ad and subsequently did the Book of Shadows tour. What was on that tape?
No, there was no ad in a magazine. I saw his email address in Metal Edge magazine. It wasn't an ad that he needed a guitar player; that was just very good timing and fate (for people who believe in it ). I just emailed him and said, "If you need a guitar player, I'm in Pittsburgh," or something like that. He responded and said, "As a matter of fact, I do -- for this Book Of Shadows tour." He said to send him a tape and a picture and I did the next day. The tape was just a demo of my old band.
Your role in Black Label Society is somewhat of a hybrid between a rhythm player and lead player. For the sake of a novice guitarist, can you talk what the role of the rhythm player does relative to bass and drums?
To me its the glue between the rhythm section and the lead guitar, just when Zakk goes into a solo, the song doesn’t drop out. But you have to have a good sense of rhythm and feel. I love it, keeping the song chugging along.
Conversely, what is the approach to your leads and dual leads with Zakk?
Well, when he plays piano he wants me to do all of the guitar work, which is awesome and always a challenge. Like this tour, we do "Darkest Days." The solo is amazing and the last lick he did is sick. I obsessed on that lick for a month and finally nailed it. I just dig making him proud when I do his solos and make them sound like the record. As far as doubling, we just jam it and have a blast.
Do you do any particular warm-up exercises prior to taking the stage each night?
Nah, just pick it up and see what happens (laughs). Usually chromatics and just scale runs. I'm just warming the piggies up and that's it.
Let’s talk about gear for a moment. You have been endorsed by Paul Reed Smith for some time now. Can you talk a little about what makes the Nick Catanese SE from PRS special and unique to you?
Well, I used to play Les Pauls all the time and when I went to PRS I wanted my body style a little thicker than the usual PRS body and the neck radius is thicker, just keeping the feel of my black 1960 Les Paul reissue Zakk got me. That guitar is my favorite guitar, playing-wise, and PRS nailed it. I love the signature model and I play the SE live every night.
Aside from your signature series, is there one guitar in your arsenal that you wouldn’t want to be without?
My first black Les Paul I named "Bear." It sounds like a pissed-off bear. Also it being my first Les Paul it is a special piece to me.
BLS is known for their trademark brutal sound but historically do quite a bit of acoustic material. What do you use as far as acoustics?
We use Alvarez guitars. They play like butter! Doing solo spots on them is easier than most acoustics.
What do you use for amplification on the road with Black Label?
All Marshalls, baby! I use Marshall JCM 800 heads and all Marshall cabs loaded with the EV Black Label speakers.
I know you guys keep the pedal situation pretty straightforward. What do you have in your pedal board?
In mine I use a Dunlop Carbon Copy, the Dunlop ZW overdrive, a Dunlop Wah and a Rotovibe. Back Stage Moby, our tech, has the Dunlop EVH Flanger for “Crazy Horse” and also the Dunlop BLS chorus.
You can find out more about Nick at his official website. You can catch Nick with Black Label Society as they are special guests along with Thin Lizzy on Judas Priest's North American Epitaph tour.
John Katic hosts a radio show at IronCityRocks.com.