Originally published in Guitar World, 30th Anniversary 2010 issue
Throat surgery! A hernia! Liver disease and pancreatitis! Blood clots that nearly killed him! What’s next for Zakk Wylde? The fast-living, hard-drinking guitarist talks about his brush with death, his split with Ozzy Osbourne, and how he’s staying brewtal without the brew.
Zakk Wylde is behind his picturesque ranch house in the mountainous Castaic Lake area of California. The Black Label Society maven is laughing his ass off as he watches Dexter, his 18-month-old male Shiba Enu, trying to hump his two new Rottweiler puppies.
“It’s like watching Caligula,” Wylde roars, a reference to the 1979 sexually graphic film about the Roman emperor. “The puppies don’t know what he’s doing. They just think he’s playing with ’em. [My wife] Barbaranne goes, ‘Look, he’s going for either one of ’em.’ And I go, ‘Well, he’s bisexual. Look, he’s got David Bowie’s haircut when he was doing Ziggy Stardust.”
When Wylde isn’t immersed in the home chaos of seven dogs, three children and drop-ins from the Doom Crew—his road crew—he’s usually working out at his gym, watching sports on TV or practicing guitar. At the time of Guitar World’s visit, he’s finalizing plans for the Zakk Wylde Hellfire Halloween Bash in New York, which will mark the release of his two new guitar lines: the coffin-shaped Epiphone Graveyard Disciple and the Gibson USA BFG. Afterward, Wylde will fly to China and Australia to take part in international marketing campaigns for Epiphone and Gibson, and in January, Black Label will start working on the follow-up to their 2006 album, Shot to Hell.
“I need to stay busy all the time,” Wylde says. “If I had $360 billion in the bank, I’d still want to work. After a while, doing yard work and lifting weights at the house is gonna get kind of old, you know? So, it’s like, call the boys and fire up the machine. Let’s get rolling again.”
The new Black Label record—tentatively scheduled for release in spring 2010—will mark the christening of Wylde’s new home studio, which is being built by Zack Fagan, who has constructed two studios for Ozzy. The studio should be finished by the time Wylde returns from overseas, and while the guitarist doesn’t have much to say about the next BLS record (“We’ll slam together some riffs and it’ll sound like fuckin’ Black Label”), he’s pretty vocal about having his own studio.
“They’re wiring it up now and knocking out walls, and it’s gonna be slammin’,” Wylde says. “It just doesn’t make any sense to keep paying $1,000 a day for some fancy studio. It’ll definitely pay off in the long run, and if guys like [Black Label Society guitarist] Nick [Catanese] or [bassist John] JD [DeServio] want to record their bands, [Speed X and Cycle of Pain, respectively] there, they can just come in and knock it the fuck out.”
At 42, Wylde still has the overblown personality and sky-high energy level of a teenager dreaming of stardom and reveling in every morsel of success. And he has pretty much been that way since 1987, when he was plucked out of the New Jersey bar scene by Ozzy Osbourne to replace Jake E. Lee. Tirelessly prolific, Wylde played on six Ozzy albums and has co-written five of them. He’s also written seven Black Label Society studio discs, a record for his previous band Pride and Glory, and a solo album, as well as made guest performances on well over a dozen albums by his friends. Between studio stints, Wylde has toured exhaustively, often playing double-duty with Ozzy and Black Label Society.
Added together, it accounts for more than 20 years of musical activity, during which Wylde has remained in nearly constant motion. But over the past six months, the guitarist was hit with a double-whammy of misfortune that could have flattened the tires of even the most dedicated road warrior. First, during a tour with Mudvayne and Static-X, he discovered he had developed a rare blood disorder that caused life-threatening blood clots. Then, without warning, Ozzy replaced him in the band with Firewind guitarist Gus. G.
“You know, Ozz used to always say to me, ‘Zakk, for every good thing that’s fuckin’ happened to me, five bad things have happened,’ ” says Wylde, shrugging off his setbacks as if they were as inconsequential as a couple of parking tickets. “You just gotta roll with the punches, man. That’s the only thing you can do at times. Anybody can get knocked down. It’s who can get back up—that’s the whole fuckin’ thing.”
A man of his word, Wylde has bounced back like Rocky Balboa after losing to Apollo Creed. In late August, during a three-day stay at a hospital in Eugene, Oregon, he received critical treatment for blood clots in both lungs and his left leg. A scant three weeks later, Wylde got the thumbs-up from his doctor to return to action, and the man who co-wrote Ozzy’s “I Don’t Wanna Stop” for the 2007 album Black Rain hasn’t stopped since. Guitar World hooked up with the newly sober Wylde during his recuperation for an in-depth talk about his health scare, his replacement by Gus G., the recording sessions he did last year for Ozzy’s next record and his greatest memories of playing with the Blizzard of Ozz.
GUITAR WORLD You looked healthy when you started the Pedal to the Metal tour with Mudvayne and Static-X this past July. When did you start having symptoms of blood clots?
ZAKK WYLDE A couple dates in, my left calf started hurting. I just figured it was from jumping around onstage. Either my feet are killing me, or it’s my back or my shins. I’ve got shin splints, and I’ve always just figured, Give it four or five days and I’ll be fine. Like, who gives a shit? Cop a nice beer glow and you don’t feel nothin’ anyway. When I was onstage with all the adrenaline, I wasn’t feeling shit, but once I got offstage and the adrenaline wore off, I would sit down and I was like, “Damn, my leg is killin’ me.” I kept it elevated and iced it down, and since I didn’t have joint pain, I just figured I had pulled it, because the real pain was right behind my knee. After the shows, I’d crack a couple cold ones and then lie down and go to sleep.
GW When did you decide to see a doctor?
WYLDE After about a week, it got to the point where just getting up in the middle of the night to take a piss was a production. It was almost like someone’s grabbing and squeezing your balls while you’re trying to take a leak—there’s not gonna be any piss comin’ out of that thing, ’cause you’re just too preoccupied with pain.
So on August 14, we were in the middle of Omaha, and before we did this 24-hour drive, I checked my GPS to find out where the nearest hospital was.
GW Did they diagnose the clots right away?
WYLDE Yeah, I went in there, got an ultrasound, and the guy goes, “You got a bunch of blood clots behind your left knee. It goes down into your calf. You got a couple there. And then it goes down into your Achilles tendon.”
GW Had you ever had anything like that before?
WYLDE No fuckin’ way. I was like, “Blood clots?” You usually get that shit if you’re 80 years old or if you stay still too much. When we’re traveling, I’m always stretching, and I work out and do cardio all the time. So it’s just one of them things.
GW Did you stop touring right away?
WYLDE Nah, the doctor gave me [the blood thinner] Coumadin, which is this oral medication that’s supposed to keep the clots from moving upward, because, obviously, you can have a stroke if a clot goes into your head. And then I had to take two shots of this [anticoagulant] right into my stomach every 12 hours. I was giving myself two shots in the stomach every day. It was hysterical, because I was taking the blood thinner, and my leg was killing me because I didn’t have any painkillers, so I was still hitting the sauce. And since I was drinking beer while taking blood thinners, the alcohol was thinning my blood even more. Imean, dude, if I had gotten a paper cut I would have bled all over Kansas City. It would have been a fuckin’ horror movie.
GW If you were already on medication, why did you end up having to go to the hospital in Eugene, Oregon, 11 days later?
WYLDE I went to the doctor [so they could check on my condition], and they did a CT scan, and the doctor said, “Well, you’ve got three blood clots that have already moved up and gone through your heart. They’re in your lungs now.” I said, “Are you kidding me? What happens if they go to your heart?” And he goes, “Well, pretty much you either live or you die. You should have died probably about a week and a half ago, or whenever these things went through your heart.” And then he goes, “If you say you’ve been drinking all your life, since you’ve been 14, and you’re 42 now, the alcohol was probably thinning your blood, acting like the Coumadin.” I turned to the wife and said, “See, alcohol is good.” She’s like, “Oh, shut the fuck up. The party’s over for you, buddy boy.” All my buddies go, “Zakk, you’re 42. It was a good run. The fuckin’ bar’s closed for you, asshole.”
GW Have you really stopped drinking?
WYLDE Yeah, since this stuff happened, I’ve been fuckin’ chillin’. You know what I think is so hysterical? You go to these AA things, and everyone’s so tortured about drinking, and they can’t stop and all that. But for me, it’s just a question of willpower. It’s just like anything. If you want to learn how to play guitar, I can show you how to play “Stairway to Heaven,” but you’re the one who’s gonna have to sit and practice the thing. You’re the one who has to put your mind to it. I mean, trust me, I’d love to have a couple cold ones right now and sit around and practice or watch a football game. But, I mean, you gotta have willpower. So it’s just down to water and Gatorade.
GW You were in the hospital in Oregon for three days. What kind of treatment did you receive?
WYLDE They had me on a Coumadin drip for 24 hours, and they gave me more shots. They also gave me something that’s called an “umbrella”: it goes into the main artery going up your leg [the inferior vena cava], and it’s almost like a strainer, so any new clot can only go so far.
GW The doctor gave you the thumbs-up to play the Halloween show to promote your new Epiphone Graveyard Disciple guitar. Are you in the clear now, healthwise?
WYLDE I’ve gotta take this Coumadin shit for at least a year, and he’s gonna see after that. I’ve got a rare clotting condition, and if it’s hereditary, I may have to take Coumadin for the rest of my life. But it’s no big deal. I already take vitamins every day. It’s just throwing one more thing into the mix.
GW You had a pretty scary brush with death. Do you appreciate life more now?
WYLDE Yeah, I got no problem paying $18 for a 12-pack of Becks now. [laughs] Dude, whenever musicians start getting high and mighty and talking about the meaning of life and shit, I’m like, “Man, seriously, please—just shut the fuck up and sing one of your songs.” It’s like, if you’re a tool and a douche your whole life, do you have to get into a near fatal car crash to go, Maybe I should start acting cool to people? I’ve always thought every day is a gift. And when bad shit happens, there’s two ways of looking at it: the glass is either half empty or half full. I always look at it like, Dude, there’s half a beer left there. Fuckin’ bring it on. The party ain’t over yet.
GW You’ve had other recent health problems.
WYLDE It’s crazy. Over the last two years, I had to have throat surgery for my vocals. And then I had an umbilical hernia from hitting the gym and lifting all the time. My belly button popped out, so I had to get surgery for that. I got fatty liver disease and pancreatitis. And now I got blood clots in my lungs. It’s like God’s going, “Now for your next mission, if you wish to accept it…” I’m like, “Hell no, I don’t accept.”
GW Whoa, back up. You have liver disease and pancreatitis? When did you find out about that?
WYLDE I went in for an exam less than a year ago for my health insurance. The doctor said, “Have you had any abdominal pain?” And I said, “No, I feel strong as an ox.” And he goes, “Well, your liver enzymes are elevated, your pancreas enzymes are elevated... Do you drink alcohol?” I go, “I suck ’em down like Coca-Cola, man.” [laughs] Everybody on my mother’s side of the family died of liver cancer or liver failure, so the cards I got dealt were not exactly a royal flush. He was like, “You’ve got pancreatitis and a swollen liver. Maybe we need to back off the beer for a little bit.”
GW So you’ve stopped drinking. How else have you changed your lifestyle?
WYLDE It’s funny. I still do the same things: I lift weights all the time. I eat like a fuckin’ mule. I eat like 240 grams of protein a day between the protein shakes, eating chicken all day, rice and salad. I got a fuckin’ 33-inch waist, so, it’s not like I’m huge. When I started with Ozzy, I weighed 140 and I had a 27-inch waist.
GW Did your health problems have anything to do with Ozzy’s decision to work with another guitarist?
WYLDE No, Ozzy thought about doing that before any of this happened. I was gonna go down and do the [video game convention] BlizzCon show on August 22 at the Anaheim Convention Center. [Ozzy performed at the closing ceremonies.] I had talked with Ozz, and he sent me the set list. We were on the Pedal to the Metal tour, and I was gonna fly down on a travel day, see Ozzy and the boys, jam with them and go over the set. And then I was gonna fly back to do another Black Label gig, and then fly back and take care of the boss.
GW How did the plans change?
WYLDE I was doing some interviews promoting the Pedal to the Metal gigs, and someone goes, “Oh, dude, we heard Ozzy’s getting another guitar player, some dude from Greece.” And I’m like, “Dude, I’m always the last to know everything.” Put it this way: I didn’t find out Barbaranne was pregnant until the seventh or eighth month. But that’s always the way it is with Ozz. It’s like, We booked a tour down in Australia; what are you going to be doing Wednesday?
GW Did you talk to Ozzy about his decision?
WYLDE Well, Ozz called me and said, “Yeah, Zakk, I think for this one I’m gonna use some other guy.” So I said, “All right, great, Ozz. I’m always here if you need me. Just let me know, buddy.” And he said, “No, Zakk, I know your schedule is crazy right now.” And I said, “No, it’s no big deal, buddy. Just let me know what you want me to do. I’m always here for you. Have a fuckin’ ass-kicking show.” And he goes, “Well, we’re not at war or anything, right?” And I’m like, “Ozz, I love you, bro. What the hell are you talking about? You can play with whoever the fuck you want. Just give me the heads up.” ’Cause Black Label is bigger than me. A lot of guys in the Doom Crew need to know if they’re gonna be working or not. That’s the only thing.
GW Did Ozzy say why he wanted to work with another guitarist?
WYLDE In one of these articles, he was saying, “Man, everything with Zakk was starting to sound like Black Label.” I just thought it was funny. I went, “So Ozz, I guess that means ‘Mama, I’m Coming Home,’ ‘Miracle Man,’ ‘No More Tears’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Stop’ all sound like Black Label?” I wrote ’em all, so I guess it’s all Black Label. Last time I checked, that was a good thing.
GW Were you upset that Ozzy didn’t ask you to play BlizzCon?
WYLDE I can’t be mad at him. Over the years, we’ve never gotten in one fuckin’ argument. The way I look at it is like this: My dad just passed away in December. He was 89, and I’m just glad I had him that long. I didn’t go, “God, how could you do this to me?” It was more like, “Thanks for letting me be able to share so much shit with him.”
It’s the same with Ozz. Like, what would have happened if years ago Ozz had said, “Zakk, I don’t want to tour anymore? I’m gonna do select dates once in a while. I might want to make records, but I’m done with this shit.” He doesn’t have to go on tour. He has nothing to prove to anybody. And besides, I’ve got Black Label.
GW You wrote a bunch of new songs for Ozzy last year, right?
WYLDE Yeah. We played Ozzfest in Dallas, in June. Right after that, we went home for about a month, and then I just kept going over to Ozzy’s. I must have written 16 tunes. There was enough material for him to work on while I was gone. I said, “Ozz, I’m getting ready to go back on the road with Black Label. Why don’t you sit there and come up with melodies all day long. You guys write lyrics and, boom, we’re done.” But I don’t think Ozz put any vocals on it or nothing. It’s either that or he’s just gonna start writing with the new guy or he’s been writing with somebody the whole time while I’ve been out touring.
GW Would you be angry if Gus G. wound up retracking the rhythms you recorded or playing solos over the songs you wrote?
WYLDE I don’t give a fuck, just as long as the check’s in the mail. I wrote the shit, so if someone wants to play it, knock yourself out. I’ve got no shortage of songs.
GW Do you think you’ll be back in the Ozzy camp after this period with Gus G. blows over?
WYLDE You’ll have to talk to Ozz. If he wants to jam with other people, I’m like, “Ozz, go for it, bro. I love you, man.” He said something like, ‘Well, you know, Zakk’s so busy doing Black Label he doesn’t need me anymore.” Well, I tell ya, man, it doesn’t matter if Black Label were selling 60 million records, if Ozz said, “Zakk, would you want to record with me?” I’d be like, “Yeah, no problem. I’ll be right there.”
GW There was a period in 1995 after Ozzmosis when you left and Joe Holmes came into the Ozzy Osbourne band. What happened there?
WYLDE I was jamming with Guns N’ Roses at the time. It was me, Slash, Axl [Rose], Duff [McKagan], Izzy [Stradlin] and Matt [Sorum]. Ozz was like, “Zakk, I gotta get another guy who’s gonna be there.” I said, “All right, dude, I understand.” And that’s when Joe came in, and he’s a slamming guitar player. But nothing panned out for me with the Guns guys. I had all these riffs lying around, so I was just like, Fuck it, I’ll do it myself, and that’s when Black Label was born.
GW Holmes toured with Ozzy for Ozzmosis, but you came back in 2001 to record Down to Earth. What happened with Holmes? He co-wrote three songs for the album but didn’t play on it.
WYLDE I dunno. They just said, “Hey, Zakk, you wanna come down and jam some riffs with Mike [Bordin] and [bassist] Robert [Trujillo]?” and I was like, “Yeah, no problem. When do you want me there?” It’s almost like I was a studio musician, which was weird. I still had fun putting sick guitar playing on there with the solos, but I didn’t write anything, so it was a different kind of thing.
GW Do you remember the first gig you played with Ozzy?
WYLDE It was at Wormwood Scrubs Prison in [inner-West London] England. I had long blond hair and weighed 144 pounds. I said, “Dude, I’m about the closest thing to Farrah Fawcett that these motherfuckers are gonna see for the rest of their lives. If I don’t pass this audition, are you gonna leave me in this hellhole?” Ozz wanted us to play there so no one would be able to see me audition, and if things didn’t pan out they’d get another guitar player. But it went well. The inmates loved it, and I got the gig.
GW What was your biggest Spinal Tap moment with Ozzy?
WYLDE In 1989, we were in Albuquerque, which was [late drummer] Randy Castillo’s hometown, and his nine- and 10-year-old nieces and nephews were on my side of the stage. During the show, my pants split from the waistband in the front to the waistband in the back. My balls were just hanging out. The Les Paul was covering my nuts, but it’s like, what am I supposed to do? I can’t stop in the middle of the song and leave. And I didn’t realize his niece and nephews were there, so I start playing behind my head and with my teeth, and here’s my hairy cock and balls dangling around. At the end of the set, Randy went, “Do you realize my fuckin’ nieces were over there, you fuckin’ moron?”
GW Did you ever come across any creepy or psychotic fans?
WYLDE We were in Dallas once and there was some dude who said that Ozzy was God and I was his son, and that meant I was Jesus Christ. And with Ozzy, together, we would all die and be crucified. He got Ozzy’s information and kept calling the office and saying he was going down to the show and we were all going to die. That went on for a little while, and I was like, “Dude, tell him to come on down. I’ll beat his ass right there. If he wants to meet God, I’ll set up an appointment.” With these fuckin’ nut jobs, what are you gonna do? I mean, look at what happened with our beloved brother Dime. I saw him 10 days before any of that shit went down. I went, “Brother, I love you, man. Have a great show. I’ll talk to you in a little bit.” He was coming out this way. I mean, that’s fuckin’ insanity, bro.
GW What’s the craziest thing that happened when you were with Ozzy?
WYLDE We had just got done headlining a festival for 60,000 people in Prague in 2002. The show was slammin,’ and as they’re chanting “Ozzy, Ozzy,” and we’re doing the bow, Ozz goes, “Zakk, have you seen the porn out here?” And I go, “Oh, it’s fuckin’ awesome, dude.” And he goes, “Hey Zakk, why don’t we just round up the guys and we’ll have a porn party in my room.” So we end up leaving the fuckin’ stage and going back to the hotel, and me and Ozz are firing back beers. And then he’s slamming down the cocktails. And when the boss starts drinking cocktails, everybody just heads for the door. It’s time to get the fuck out of there, because once mom [Sharon] gets a whiff of what’s going on, there’s gonna be hell to pay.
So me and Ozz are fuckin’ crocked at this point. It was, like, 3:30 in the morning. And he goes, “I’ve done some crazy shit in my life, but I’ve never thrown a TV out the window.” And then Ozz gets up and tries to pull the TV out of the wall, but it’s bolted to the entertainment center. So I go, “Hold on a second, boss. Lemme get it, bro.” So I wrestle with it and rip the set out, bolts, cables and all. Now I’m holding the TV on my shoulder with the cables hanging out, and Ozzy jumps into the entertainment center where the TV was, and he goes, “Look, it’s the fuckin’ Osbournes, live,” like he’s on TV.
Now, the hotel window was the kind that only opens a bit. Next thing you know, the boss is wrenching on the fuckin’ thing, and the [security] bolt snaps and the window goes wide open. The TV’s getting heavy now, and Ozzy goes, “Zakky, throw it over there,” and I just fuckin’ launched this thing. All you hear is this whistling sound, and when this thing hit the fuckin’ ground, bro—boooom!—the explosion was like a bomb.”
GW Did you have to pay for the damage?
WYLDE It cost me $10,000 for the TV, and I’m telling you, that TV didn’t cost 10 grand. The suite was $1,000 a night, so they charged me and Ozzy $1,000 a night for the time they couldn’t use that room. They said that because the window bolt was broken and Ozzy threw some shit up on the wallpaper, it’s gonna take them at least 34 days to fix the joint. And you know, you and me could have fixed the place in one day. The boss got clipped $34,000, I got clipped 10 grand. And I said, “Okay, well, let’s tally it up here: Beer: $2,450. The TV: $10,000. The room: $34,000. The look on the boss’ face: priceless.”