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Zakk Wylde: “From Paul Kossoff to David Gilmour, everyone’s personality is in their phrasing”

Zakk Wylde
(Image credit: Jen Rosenstein)

The world may still feel like it’s in a state of pause, but that’s not enough to stop Zakk Wylde from doing what he does best. He ended 2021 out on the road with Black Label Society, while teasing singles from the band’s 11th studio album Doom Crew Inc. – another masterclass in blues-based metal and pentatonic shred. 

And continuing his long association with Ozzy Osbourne, he features on the singer’s forthcoming album alongside three legends in Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Tony Iommi.

In one of the new BLS tracks, End Of Days, your solo climaxes with a pentatonic run in six – it’s like hearing Eric Johnson or Joe Bonamassa with more distortion!

“I learned all of that from players like John McLaughlin and Frank Marino. When I first listened to [jazz fusion pioneers] Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman would be doubling what John McLaughlin was doing. That stuff felt like true pentatonic insanity to me. Hearing Eric Johnson and Bonamassa doing it came quite a while after for me, but I’m glad I discovered their pentatonic goodness!”

Those kinds of licks can be quite a challenge for the picking hand. How did you get them up to speed?

“It’s just a matter of repetition. You have to keep doing a little bit more and more, starting slow and building up speed. It’s just like laying bricks – one day you wake up and you just have it. I would just alternate pick pentatonic scales up and down. But really it all depends on what kind of sound you’re going for. 

“For example, Allan Holdsworth was trying to sound like a sax, so playing legato helped get him that sound. If he played more like Steve Morse, with every note picked and lots of staccato, it wouldn’t have had that fluid sax feel. Guys like Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin tend to pick every note because that’s the sound they’re looking for. Techniques are just different colours you can use…"

Dario’s more like a gazelle and I’m more of a bull in a china shop! He has more grace in his playing

It’s great to hear your co-guitarist Dario Lorina trading licks with you on some of these tracks, which is a first.

“Yeah, like on Destroy And Conquer, Dario comes in for the second half doing the diminished stuff. He’s phenomenal. I guess he’s more like a gazelle and I’m more of a bull in a china shop! He has more grace in his playing. Even though he can pick everything, he uses more legato ideas than I do... Which is great. That’s what separates us.”

We’re guessing you’re still using your Wylde Audio electric guitars and amps, and it definitely sounds like there’s some flanger and phaser on certain tracks.

“We used the MXR Eddie Van Halen flanger on the You Made Me Want To Live intro. I probably had it on the Unchained setting, because you can press one button that takes you right there! I had a Phase 90 on a few things too. All of my stuff is out in front. A lot of people use the effects loop for delay, which gives you a great sound that doesn’t cover up your tone, it sits behind it. 

“But I really don’t use delay on anything and if I do it’s used as an effect, like at the end of the solo in [Ozzy classic] No More Tears. Usually I’m just dry. The only thing I have on is the overdrive and the chorus, though in the studio I won’t use a chorus pedal – I’ll have one head and one cabinet, then double up for the wide spread of a natural chorus.”

Funnily enough, your solos in You Made Me Want To Live and No More Tears both feature bends where you catch other strings and make your guitar scream...

“That’s a big Gary Moore thing, at least to my ears. He’d do those big bends and catch an extra string to add to the emotion. It definitely sounds very angry! Everything he played was rooted from the pentatonic scale and chromatics, but it came down to his interpretation of the blues and the aggression he put into it. That’s the beautiful thing about guitar. From Paul Kossoff to David Gilmour, everyone’s personality is in their phrasing.”

The whammy bar is a big part of Jeff Beck’s sound – he treats it almost like its own instrument which is amazing

And speaking of legendary players, you must have been blown away when you found out you would be co-starring alongside Clapton, Beck and Iommi on the new Ozzy album...

“Yeah! I was shocked when I heard it was happening and even more when I heard what they played. They’d already recorded their parts so I ended up rerecording rhythm tracks underneath what they’d done at my home studio. It came out awesome. 

“With Eric, he went from John Mayall and Cream to his solo stuff, and it was always tasteful. The same goes for Jeff Beck. The whammy bar is a big part of his sound – he treats it almost like its own instrument which is amazing. Both of them are incredible songwriters. That’s the reason why we listen to them. It’s all about the musicality with those guys.”

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Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences. He's interviewed everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handling lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).