Bred in the Garden State with a puerile passion for the guitar, “Black Label Society” founder, Zakk Wylde, would come to place his handprints on Hollywood’s “Rockwalk” alongside the likes of Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Steve Miller, Brian Wilson, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Wonder and a short list of legendary musicians who have demonstrated rock & roll inventiveness and mastery.
Born nearly in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, this guitarist, bass guitarist, pianist has performed, recorded and/or toured with Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, The Rippingtons, The Allman Brothers, Guns N’ Roses, Britny Fox and others.
Beyond “high-energy,” Zakk is uproarious, hilarious and a pleasure to chat with. Hidden behind a wall of near insanity and humor, it takes only moments to recognize a level of intellect that has translated into two remarkable solo albums, books, videos, guest appearances, multiple business ventures and, oh yeah, a Grammy Award (despite his disdain for the Grammy process). As a multi-instrumentalist, Wylde’s talents, in my estimation, soar far below the radar.
A devout New York Yankees fan, Wylde can recall the pitch-count when Jimmy Leyritz crushed a Mark Wohlers slider in Game Four of the 1996 World Series as well as Goose Gossage’s 1978 Earned Run Average. It appears that only his enthusiasm for baseball rivals his fervor for heavy metal.
Zakk has performed a Nation Anthem guitar solo at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, as well as performing the anthem prior to a Los Angeles Dodgers game, a Los Angeles Kings game and a Denver Nuggets game.
Wylde keeps busy these days performing on the “Generation Axe” tour with an all-star lineup of guitarists…Steve Vai, Nuno Bettencourt, Yngwie Malmsteen and Tosin Abasi…both sharing the stage and performing independently of one another.
Prior to unpacking his bulls-eye Gibson Les Paul Custom for his three performances here in South Florida, Zakk was kind enough to chat about everything from the Bronx Bombers to Book of Shadows.
Gary Levine: I had the pleasure of chatting with some prominent guitarists, over the years, including Steve Vai with whom you’re touring. When talking about the most gifted guitarists, your name is frequently mentioned. You’re going on the road, again, on another “Generation Axe” tour. How meaningful is it, to you, to tour with such talent and to seemingly always be included in conversations about the industry’s best guitarists?
Zakk Wylde: “That’s very kind for ‘Father Steve’ to say those kind things about me but, always remember, half my salary from ‘Generation Axe’ goes for payola of kindness! So, you know, I pay Steve to say a lot of those things.”
Zakk continued despite my chuckling.
“I mean…it’s awesome. Rollin’ with the guys…we’ve all known each other throughout the years.
Tosin…obviously, we just met doing that tour. Tosin is one of the guys and he’s an amazing guitar player.”
Tosin Abasi…founder of “Animals as Leaders,” an instrumental, progressive metal band, is ranked, by “Guitar World,” as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time.
“The cool thing is…that minute at sound check…whoever just picks up the guitar, you can be anywhere and as soon as you hear the guy play two notes, you automatically know who’s playing. The real comedy is…as ‘Father Steve’ said…every night we’d be hanging in the sub, after the dance recital, the ‘Spinal Tap’ stories and the pummelings that everyone has taken in the glorious music business…it’s just beyond hilarious.”
Zakk laughed and continued.
“You’re sitting there going ‘No, oh come on, you gotta be making that up,” Zakk would say. “’No, sadly, I wish I was.’”
“Steve said ‘Man, if I didn’t put this thing together because I just wanted to have us all jam together, just putting this thing together for the stories at the end of the night is enough alone.’”
Gary Levine: 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Sonic Brew” (the initial release in Japan). “Born to Lose,” “Lost My Better Half,” “Black Pearl,” some great material. You’ve released over two dozen albums since then. If you were asked to put only one of them into a time capsule…one that you felt best embodied the work of Zakk Wylde…which would it be and why?
Zakk Wylde: “I don’t know…probably the new one, ‘Grimmest Hits.’ Not because it’s the newest one, it’s just everything…the production…there are bits and pieces of everything on it. You’ve got the mellow stuff. You got the rippin’ stuff. So, I guess I’d have to put this one in. I’m also really happy with the last ‘Book of Shadows.'”
“Book of Shadows II” was released in April of 2016 and hit number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and charted well on other international boards in Italy, Australia, Canada, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
“Grimmest Hits,” the tenth studio album released by “Black Label Society” in January of 2018, busted the charts by hitting number one on the Billboard Hard Music chart, number one on the Independent chart and number two on the Rock Charts. Additionally, the album hit number one on the iTunes Rock Albums chart and number seven on the Overall Top Albums chart.
Featuring hits including “Trampled Down Below,” “Room of Nightmares,” “A Love Unreal,” “Disbelief” and many others, “Grimmest Hits” would justly represent Wylde and his remarkable talents.
Gary Levine: Zakk…going back to the Generation Axe tour…it includes, I believe, 32 performances in 41 days covering the entire country and Ontario, Canada. How difficult is it, mentally and physically, to complete a tour such as this one?
Zakk Wylde: “I don’t drink anymore…but I sniff a lot of glue.”
The man is insane…simply unhinged. Zakk continued.
“The results are always the same. I wake up with my pants around my ankles and the fellas all tell me that I was really hilarious last night. That’s pretty much how you get through these tours.”
Gary Levine: Last question, Zakk. An unrivaled career playing with the world’s greatest musicians, including the Prince of Darkness, dozens of albums, Guitar World Hero Tour, acting appearances, performing the National Anthem numerous times at major sporting events, Wylde Audio…what hasn’t Zakk Wylde accomplished that keeps him up at night, if anything? Anything that you wish you had done?
Zakk Wylde: “I’m going to have to ask Mongoose (John DeServio) on this one. JDesus…what is it that keeps me up at night? What else haven’t I done? Is it played properly in time and in tune?”
“Play something good,” injects bassist John DeServio.
“There you go,” Zakk added with DeServio laughing. “You heard it…right there…from my partner in crime…the other half of the Glimmer Twins of Black Label. You heard it there…play something good.”
John and Zakk laughed. “Answer number two…play something memorable,” Zakk quipped. “JD chooses to forget it all!”
Zakk Wylde and “Generation Axe” will be performing here in South Florida in early December at the following venues: Hard Rock Live in Orlando on Sunday, December 9 (Click here for tickets.) Hard Rock Event Center in Hollywood on Monday, December 10 (Click here for tickets.) Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Tuesday, December 11 (Click here for tickets.)
Special thanks to Zakk and John, as well as my ongoing thanks to Steve Karas from SKH Music.
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