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Jon Zazula, co-founder of the record label that launched Metallica's debut album, dies aged 69

Jon Zazula
(Image credit: Eddie Malluk)

Jon “Jonny Z” Zazula – co-founder of Megaforce Records, the label that launched Metallica's debut album, Kill 'Em All – has died aged 69. 

Confirming the news on Facebook, Zazula's daughter Rikki hailed her father as a “true legend”. “Our dad lived a life as fast, hard, heavy, powerful and impactful as the music he brought to the world,” she says. “His passion and persistence fueled the careers of arguably the most influential metal bands and industry greats of a generation.

“To us he was simply daddy… Our father and mother were a powerhouse partnership in love, life, and business. Together they believed in the unbelievable, their passion, rebel perspective, and persistence built an empire from a box of vinyl in a flea market – into a multi platinum selling record label, management company, and publishing house.”

She continues: “Although we are devastated he is gone, they are finally reunited. And it feels impossible to imagine a world without him in it. For all of us who knew and loved him, keep it heavy! RIP daddy you will truly be deeply missed, but, never forgotten… your LegaZ will live on forever, not only in us and your grandchildren, but, in every headbanger on this planet for all of eternity!”

Zazula reportedly died from complications related to the rare neuropathic disorder chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and osteopenia.

Prior to founding Megaforce Records in 1982, Jon Zazula and his late wife Marsha owned Rock N' Roll Heaven, a record store at a flea market in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Metallica's 1982 demo, No Life 'til Leather – which featured Hit the Lights, Motorbreath and Seek & Destroy – was a top-selling item at the store.

According to broadcaster Eddie Trunk's comments in a 2016 interview with Classic Rock, he was a customer of Zazula's at his record store when he was starting out working in radio.

He said: “One day, he came up to my radio station, and said, ‘I’ve got this band, and I can’t get anybody to play it. Can you play it on the air?’ He pulled out of the bag Kill ‘Em All. Just to get him out of there, I played a song from it, and he scribbled on the cover of the album, ‘Eddie, you were the first. Thank you, Johnny Z.’

“He said, ‘If I can ever get this band to take off, I’m going to hire you to work for my record company.’”

The newly established Megaforce Records launched Metallica's debut full-length, Kill 'Em All in 1983, along with their sophomore effort, Ride the Lightning, in 1984. Zazula acted as the band's first manager during this time. Metallica's third album, Master of Puppets, was released in 1986 via Elektra.

Trunk continued: “A couple of years later, Metallica blows up, and he calls me and says, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I’m starting my record company and I’m going to hire you. The bad news is Metallica is leaving me.’

Kill ‘Em All was not only a game changer in terms of not only introducing a new genre of metal, but it was a personal game changer for me, because it indirectly got me into the music business.”

Aside from Metallica's first two albums, Megaforce Records also went on to release albums by Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, King's X, Stormtroopers of Death, Raven and more.

Honoring Zazula in an Instagram post earlier today, Metallica wrote: “Heavy music lost one of its great champions today when Jonny Z left this world far too soon. In 1982, when no one wanted to take a chance on four kids from California playing a crazy brand of metal, Jonny and Marsha did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“He was a mentor, a manager, a label head and a father figure to us all... Metallica would not be who we are or where we are today without Jon Zazula and his wife, Marsha.

“Our love and sympathy go out to Jonny’s children and his grandchildren, whom he cherished and brought to our shows from the time they were in diapers. We hope they will be able to take some comfort in knowing that he is reunited with Marsha, and that he helped bring so much incredible music to so many. Hopefully there’s a great show goin’ on up there tonight to welcome you!”

Drummer Lars Ulrich subsequently penned his own tribute, writing: “Thank you Jonny for taking a chance on these crazy, noisy, uncompromising and undisciplined dudes from NorCal who didn’t know what was up, down or sideways, but who were ready, willing and more than able to fucking throw it all to the wind and go for it. Thank you for giving us a sense of belonging and ultimately, a sense of self-worth.”

Frontman James Hetfield simply wrote: “God rest your soul Jonny. My heart is full of gratitude for taking a chance on me and my bandmates.”

Zazula release his autobiography, Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived By Jon Zazula, in 2019, detailing the story of how he and his wife signed one of the most influential bands in music history.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.