Zakk Wylde reflects on 12 musical milestones from a career spanning more than three decades

Zakk Wylde
(Image credit: Jen Rosenstein)

Zakk Wylde can recall once being interviewed alongside Buddy Guy – the two appeared on the 2016 Experience Hendrix tour together – when somebody asked the blues legend a question. “They go, ‘Buddy, what is it about Zakk’s playing that you like?’” Wylde lets out a huge laugh. “And I said, ‘I can answer that for ya – he likes the space in between the songs!’”

Wylde is, of course, being characteristically self-deprecating. And why not? He knows full well that over the course of his more than 30-year recording career he’s laid down his fair share of stone-cold killer jams. 

With that in mind, here’s a dirty dozen of Zakk’s greatest guitar moments – from Ozzy tracks to Black Label Society tunes, guest spots to covers and more – straight from the man himself.

1. Miracle Man (Ozzy Osbourne, No Rest for the Wicked, 1988)

“This was the first riff I ever wrote with Ozzy. The fingering I was doing on that was Foxey Lady [sings Foxey Lady riff]. Because I remember when I learned that – it’s the same thing [sings Miracle Man riff]. And then I just added the end part. And then with the rhythm, I just made it obviously a metal thing. But I was just trying to figure out a lick, you know? 

“And, like they say, everything comes from somewhere. Muddy Waters could have influenced the Stones on something, and then Muddy would have said, 'Oh, I got that from my uncle, and my uncle got it from one of his friends that played guitar…' Then it’s just your interpretation of something else. But I always find it interesting to go back and find out where things came from. And you go, 'Oh, okay.'”

2. Crazy Babies (Ozzy Osbourne, No Rest for the Wicked)

“I remember me and Randy Castillo were jamming that riff and then doing all the pushes and everything. So I remember when we were noodling, that’s where that one came about.”

3. Mama, I’m Coming Home (Ozzy Osbourne, No More Tears, 1991)

“That actually came from me and Oz jamming on the piano in my apartment in North Hollywood. So it started on piano and then when we got in the studio I transposed it to guitar. 

“It’s in open E, so that’s where I came up with the guitar line that goes from E to A. And then obviously my love for the Allmans and Skynyrd and everything, that’s where the Albert Lee-type country bends in the beginning came from. 

“Even on No More Tears, there’s a ton of me slipping in little country things. Like, the slide part is a Free Bird type thing. I’d be sneaking in those Allmans-y, Skynyrd-y things as much as they could fit within the context of what we were doing. Just putting that seasoning on the food.”

4. I Don’t Want to Change the World (Ozzy Osbourne, No More Tears)

“That came out as a goof. We were at Joe’s Garage, Frank Zappa’s old place, and we were jamming. I remember I was playing the main riff, and then I’d get through it and just stop. And then you or me would say something into the mic, like, 'How not to ever get a date.' Or, 'I have no job and I live with my parents.' And then we’d go back into the riff. 

“It was just us on the floor, crying-laughing and coming up with all this stuff that we kept saying in between that riff. Then Ozzy comes walking into the room and he  goes, 'What is that?' I’m like, 'What are you talkin’ about?' And he says, 'That thing you’re playing. That riff.' I go, 'Oh, it’s just a joke...' And he goes, 'We’re going to use that.' Next thing you know, it won a Grammy!”

5. Losin’ Your Mind (Pride & Glory, Pride & Glory, 1994)

“We had a blast making that record. And Losin’ Your Mind was one I thought came out really great. With the banjo thing in there, I had to figure out how to tune it. So I got one of those banjos that you tune like a guitar, and I played it so that the fingering was pretty much the same as it would be on a guitar. 

“Playing in banjo tuning is great as well, but you have to work at it. And I just needed it for that specific part. But with the banjo on there and all the country bends, it just came out really slamming. And with how crushing Brian [Tichy]’s drums sounded and James [Lomenzo]’s bass playing was, I was really happy overall. 

“Again, it’s my love for the Allmans and Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band and Blackfoot, that whole movement. I mean, Molly Hatchet, I still listen to that stuff. I mean, [Molly Hatchet guitarist] Dave Hlubek, his playing on those records is ridiculous. Really great playing, really great tones, the production is great. It’s just really good stuff.”

6. Spoke in the Wheel – (Black Label Society, Sonic Brew, 1998)

“The first Black Label song I ever wrote. I was sitting in a hotel room in Japan, and I think I was doing promotion for [Wylde’s 1996 acoustic solo album] Book of Shadows, or something was going on. 

“And I remember I ended up writing that song because after we did Book of Shadows I was like, 'What am I? I’m not ready to be James Taylor yet, and just be, you know, a singer-songwriter.' So it was like, I knew I still wanted to do the heavy stuff, but at the same time I was writing that song.”

7. Bored to Tears (Black Label Society, Sonic Brew)

“So I did Spoke in the Wheel, but then when me and [original Black Label Society drummer] Phil [Ondich] got together, when we were in the studio and we tracked Bored to Tears, I was just thinking about simplicity. 

“We were talking about simple riffs, whether it was Smoke on the Water, Iron Man, Aqualung, anything like that. Just the simplicity of amazingly awesome, great riffs. Because, you know, if it was easy, everyone would do it. There’s an art to it. It’s like, if I gave you minimal ingredients to make us a meal, you’d still want to come up with something great. Or, let’s give you two colors and see what you can paint. 

“Then you have to use your imagination. Because if I gave you white and red, if you blended them together, now you also have pink. So you use your imagination to come up with different combinations. So with the Bored to Tears riff, I remember us listening to it and just cranking it. It was just so simple – three notes – and I was like, 'Man, that came out pretty cool…' Having a limited amount of things forces you to have to come up with something great.”

8. Stillborn (Black Label Society, The Blessed Hellride, 2003)

“That’s another one where it’s like, 'Give me three crayons…' You know what I’m saying? In this case it’s, here’s an F sharp, an E and a B. That’s pretty much all that’s in that song. And the chorus is, what? You’ve got F sharp to D, E and B. That’s it. And the riff is one note. So let me see what we can do with one note. Simplicity.”

9. Reborn (Damageplan, New Found Power, 2004)

“Dime was in town and he was like, 'Zakk, you want to put a solo on something?' And I said, 'Yeah, Dime, whatever you want me to do, man.' So that’s how that came about – another drinking session o’ doom with the Dimebag. That’s the only time we recorded together. 

“Although I also remember going down to a Pantera show [on their tour for 2000’s Reinventing the Steel] and getting onstage and jamming with them. I walked out, I think it was at Irvine Meadows or something like that, and I had my dog Dorian with me, my Rottweiler. 

“You can see it on YouTube – 'Zakk Walks Onstage with his Dog' or something like that. Dime gave me his guitar, and it was at the end of one of their songs, just ending on E or something like that, and I started noodling.”

10. In This River (Black Label Society, Mafia, 2005)

“Originally I didn’t write that for Dime. It was after Dime passed away that I was like, 'Yeah, that’s his song.' Just because of the lyrics and everything. And live we dedicate the song to him all the time. It’s in every show we do, and it always will be.”

11. Supernaut (Zakk Sabbath, Live in Detroit, 2016)

“When we’re out there doing the Zakk Sabbath thing, I love playing the Sabbath stuff – N.I.B, Fairies Wear Boots, Never Say Die, all of it. It’s just like, it’s the riff… and then a great melody over it. That’s all you need. It’s steak, potatoes and vegetables, and it’s done really well. There’s really not much going on, but it’s amazing. You don’t need all this insane production and shit flying around all over the place, because the song’s so great. 

“The magic is in those songs, man. And Supernaut, we usually open up with that one. Like I was saying, it’s just an amazing riff, and then you’ve got two chords and the verse. That’s the whole song. And it’s like, 'Wow, this tastes amazing! What’d you put on this?' And the answer is nothing, really. It’s just a good piece of meat. You don’t have to put tons of salt, tons of pepper, tons of cayenne, whatever, all over it. No A.1. Sauce. I can just cook it in the pan and serve it to you and you’re like, 'Zakk, this is incredible!' 'Yeah, I know.'”

12. Highway Star (Generation Axe, The Guitars That Destroyed the World: Live in China, 2019)

“First off, it’s an honor to play with those guys [The Generation Axe tour featured Wylde, Steve Vai, Nuno Bettencourt, Yngwie Malmsteen and Tosin Abasi]. And it’s so much fun hanging out together. We would all sit in the bus telling horror stories about the music business. The stories Yngwie’s got…

“I remember we were all crying, laughing at how ridiculous it all is. Especially
when you’re first coming up and you don’t know anything and you’re all naïve. You’re like, 'Well, they would never do that to me...' Steve just goes, 'If anything, I’m
glad I put this thing together just for the comedy!'

“As far as Highway Star, I mean, that’s Deep Purple – Mount Riffmore. So doing that song was great every night. Everyone would get up there and do their thing. When any one of those guys picks up a guitar, within two notes I already know who’s playing what. As soon as Nuno picks up a guitar, you know it’s him. Yngwie, you know it’s him. Steve, you know it’s him. Same with Tosin. 

“It really just goes to show you how awesome the guitar is in regard to everybody’s personality really coming out in their playing. It really truly does. And there’s no competition. Like Father Steve would always say, and it’s the best quote ever, he would go, 'Zakk, there is no best guitar player. It’s, Who’s your favorite guitar player?’ You know? Who do you prefer?

“And I mean, I love Yngwie just as much as I love David Gilmour. Hearing Yngwie play Black Star or Evil Eye, and then hearing David do Comfortably Numb, they’re both devastating. It just depends on what mood I’m in and what I’d rather hear in the moment.” 

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.