Zakk Wylde

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Background note: I originally interviewed Zakk in 2006, for the cover of the now-defunct Guitar Edge magazine.

The wicked? They’re still not getting much rest these days. Especially not Zakk Wylde.

On an average weekday, the guitar slinger rises early in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, lifts weights, and then heads to the studio where he and producer Michael Beinhorn (Ozzy Osbourne, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers) are putting the finishing touches on what will be Black Label Society’s 8th album, Shot To Hell (Roadrunner).

Then, around the time most mortals enjoy dinner, Zakk heads to Ozzy Osbourne’s estate, where he works well beyond the witching hour in the Ozzman’s home studio. Thus far they’ve written and recorded 20 or so new songs, according to Zakk. The best of those cuts will appear on the as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2001’s Down To Earth, tentatively due later this year.

Zakk’s work load this summer isn’t looking much lighter. He’ll be pulling double duty on Ozzfest, performing as the second-stage headliner with Black Label Society, before headlining the mainstage with Ozzy on select dates. It’s a workman-like schedule, and one Zakk apparently thrives on, as only he can.

“Dude, it’s nuts,” says Zakk, sounding a little hoarse this morning somewhere between his work-out session and his recording session with Beinhorn. “All I gotta do is bring a thermos and a lunchbox with me, except instead of coffee in thermos, I need to make sure I got beer in the goddamn thing–at all fuckin’ times!”

It’s been said before, but they don’t make them like Zakk Wylde anymore. He is the so-called last guitar hero, an obsessively disciplined neck-shredder known for blinding speed and articulation in a world largely inhabited by chunka-chunka riff merchants fretting the neck with one finger and foregoing solos altogether.

In 2004, Zakk’s place in the world was made all the lonelier when his brother in arms, Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell, joined the eternal party in what Zakk calls “god’s tavern.” Zakk has taken it upon himself to carry on Dimebag’s legacy. And when he speaks of Dime, it’s like the big-hearted Texan never left the room. It’s almost like Zakk is cutting a larger-than-life figure for two these days.

But wicked? Despite his gruff exterior, unquenchable thirst, and tendency to drop the F-bomb every fifth or so word, Zakk is one gracious dude. And he’s surprisingly humble for a guitarist who can individually pick every single note on the fretboard of his signature bull’s-eye Les Paul in the time it takes you to read this sentence. Just don’t ask him about the list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarist Of All Time” that a certain magazine published a few years back. He can get a little wicked about that.

I recently took a guided tour of the Gibson Custom Shop factory in Nashville, and it was amazing–like a guitarist’s version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

The place kicks ass, doesn’t it? Especially the Custom Shop. I’ve played a real ’59 Les Paul and shit like that, and you go, yeah, it’s an ass-kicking guitar, but I mean, I’ve played some dogs, too, where you go, how much do you want for this thing? You want a 150 grand for this? The stuff they got at the Custom Shop—the ’58 and ’59 reissues–they’re frickin’ amazing, dude.

And of course everywhere you looked in the factory, you’d see your signature bull’s-eye guitar in various states of completion. Growing up as a fan of all the legends who played Les Pauls, does it ever freak you out that Gibson now makes your signature model?

Totally, man. The whole reason I started playing Pauls was Jimmy Page, and then Randy Rhoads had the white one. All the guys I knew, they always played them. Whether it was Gary Moore or just anyone, the big thing was to get a Les Paul.

And now they’re working on a signature Flying V for you.

Yeah, totally. I’ve been using Flying Vs live all the time. For Father’s Day, my kids got me a replica of Randy Rhoads’s polka-dot V, just ‘cause I’m a fan of his and just guitars in general. And the thing plays great and sounds ass-kicking. I threw EMG pick-ups in it and it’s got a Floyd Rose whammy bar on it. I’ve been having a field day with the Floyd Rose, it’s hysterical.

So I told the guys at the Custom Shop to make me a V, just put the bull’s-eye and Floyd Rose on it. So I’ll be jamming on that thing at Ozzfest this summer. And I’ve got this other guitar idea, too–I designed this guitar that’s like an SG but it goes into a V. We’re designing that one right now. The thing is ass-kickin’.

And are you happy with the new Black Label album?

I can’t stand it when everybody always goes, oh, it’s the best thing we ever did! But I mean, obviously you’re always going to be the most excited about the new stuff, ‘cause it’s fresh. Whether it’s a song you wrote today or a song you wrote last week. If it was last week, you’d be like, you gotta check this out. But then if you wrote a riff today, you’d be like, dude, wait till you hear this one.

But I always equate it to like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, it’s like, what’s your favorite record by those guys? Well, it depends on what mood I’m in, ‘cause I think they’re all great. When you get burnt out on the last record you did, you need something new to listen to.

Unfortunately with a lot of the newer bands, it seems like each new album sounds like the last one but maybe slightly worse.

Nowadays it’s crazy. Back in the day, you could experiment more. Nowadays, if people like something you do it’s like Coca-Cola or something–don’t change the formula, keep it exactly the same as you did on the other album. It’s like, dude, we already did that! It’d be like Ozzy going, man, it’d be cool if we came up with another “No More Tears.” But it’s like, before “No More Tears” you said it’d be cool if we came up with another whatever. It’s like, no–just come up with something new, man, we already did “No More Tears.”

Is the new album a conscious reaction to what you did on the previous album?

No, we just go down to the studio. I’ll just start with nothin’—just start coming up with riffs like, let’s do something like “Whole Lotta Love” or something. And as long as you’re not blatantly going [sings the riff to “Whole Lotta Love”], then you’ve got another song, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] You change the riff around, but it’s got that same type of vibe or tempo or whatever. You never run out of ideas. You know when you’re repeating yourself. You’re like, dude, we already did something like that–change it around a bit.

What are a few of the highpoints for you on the new Black Label album?

“New Religion,” “Concrete Jungle,” “Sick Of It All”…. I’m really diggin’ everything on there. Like I said, it’s just a new batch of songs. It’s like a new batch of beer, you know? What kind is this? Oh, it’s red ale. And what’s the next batch? Oh, we’re going to make some stout. It’s still beer at the end of the day, so it’s all good. I’m not going to complain. [Laughs.]

Did you get any new toys for this album?

The only thing I really added to my effects was one of those Eddie Van Halen MXR Phase 90 pedals from the guys over at Dunlop. And I got a Univibe pedal that I used on some clean things. But usually it’s just the same stuff I always use—Marshall JCM 800s with 200-watt EVs in the Marshall cabs. Then on the clean stuff I’ll use a Roland Jazz Chorus with a ’58 Les Paul Jr. with the P-90 pick-ups in it, so it sounds super awesome clean.

And if I want to start with a small-amp sound and go into a big sound, I’ve got a limited-edition Marshall “Bluesbreaker” combo amp [a 1962 JAG] that Jim Marshall gave me. They only made 40 of ‘em, and it’s like the 26th one. It’s gold-plated and covered in white leather, the whole nine yards. I told him I almost don’t want to play it ‘cause it looks too pretty.

And for the acoustic stuff like “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” I always end up using my Gibson Dove or the Alvarez.

At home, do you tend to practice more on acoustic guitar?

I’ve got my classical guitar there and I’ll whip that thing out when I’m just sitting around watching the Yankees game or something–just going over scales and patterns. And when I’m on the road, I have like eight guitars on the bus—a bunch of Les Pauls, an Epiphone Chet Atkins, the orange one, like Brian Setzer’s. But I’ll just have all of them around so I can pick up any guitar I want. It’s killer, it’s like you’re in a fuckin’ guitar shop. I’ll just sit down and go over scales, watch ESPN with the satellite hook-up on the bus, chill out, have a cold one.

After playing guitar for all these years, can you still surprise yourself with the stuff you come up with while soloing?

In the studio I just mix it up, especially with the solos. Most of the time I usually pick every single note—I usually don’t do hammer-ons or pull-offs that much. So every now and then I’ll try something like that or do some [fretboard] taps. I usually never do taps, ‘cause that’s Eddie Van Halen’s thing. So just for shits and giggles, I’ll try to do something that I don’t usually do.

Or if I sit and write a solo—really craft something–I’ll try to stick in some crazy shit. On this one song I was writing this crazy fuckin’ wacked-out fuckin’ solo like [King Crimson guitarist] Robert Fripp. Everything he does is all dissonant and shit–he skips strings and plays flat-fives. We were laughing our balls off in the studio going like, dude, what the fuck is that? But if it sounds cool you just go with it.

You’re always referred to as one of the last guitar heroes. In your opinion is the guitar hero a dying breed?

You know, I remember me and Dime sitting on the side of the stage at Ozzfest, just listening to other bands. And I lean over to Dime and go, “Is it just me, or are we the only two assholes out here who can go from the low E to the high E and back again?” And he’s just like, “You know, jackass, I think you’re right.” [Laughs.]

I was just talking to James [LoMenzo], who plays bass with us, and I’ve known James since I was 14. He went to Berklee College Of Music and everything—he’s just a fuckin’ monster on the fuckin’ bass. He’s like Jaco Pastorius on fuckin’ steroids. And we’re just talkin’, and James goes, “What the fuck is with everyone?” And we were just laughing, ‘cause I go, “Now that Dime is up in god’s tavern, what are guitar magazines going to do, put Dime on the cover of every issue? Or my stupid ass on the cover every issue?” You can’t do that.

Back when we were growing up, you could put Randy Rhoads on the cover or Eddie Van Halen… [Dokken’s] George Lynch… fuckin’ [Ratt’s] Warren DeMartini… fuckin’ [Dio’s] Vivian Campbell… all these sick-ass guitar players. It’s not like you had to stick Jimi Hendrix on every issue—“The Lost Interview” or whatever. No one plays fuckin’ guitar anymore.

I remember even Rolling Stone listed Kurt Cobain as the 12th best guitarist of all time, and Eddie Van Halen was like 70 and Randy Rhoads barely made it in there at all [in the August 27, 2003, cover story “The 100 Greatest Guitarist Of All Time”]. Yngwie Malmsteen and [Journey’s] Neil Schon weren’t even on the list! [Jazz fusion guitarists] Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin and [flamenco player] Paco de Lucia? Missing in action. I was like, you’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!

And [the White Stripes’s] Jack White was on there and Kurt Cobain was 12th best of all time?! I love Kurt’s singing and songwriting and everything, but Kurt would be the first one to go, dude, I can’t play like Randy Rhoads, that’s not my thing.

Do you think young players are interested in that style and have the discipline?

I have noticed that a bunch of younger kids really are into practicing now. And someone like Alexi Laiho from Children Of Bodom–he’s a great guitar player ‘cause he loves playing. You’ve got to be into that kind of shit, ‘cause you can’t just wake up one day and start playing Van Halen’s “Spanish Fly” or a Yngwie thing or one of Dime’s solos. You’ve got to practice your fuckin’ nuts off in order to play that shit! Growing up, I was always learning something new like, oh man, now I know the solo to “Whole Lotta Love” or whatever. That’s what the whole thing was about.

And then you consciously developed your own style, in part by avoiding other guitarists’ signatures.

When I first started, I remember hearing Yngwie and thinking, I don’t know how you can get any better than this! If you can play any faster, I don’t think tape will even record it! [Laughs.] And he did all that sweep-picking stuff and used harmonic minor… and I thought, well, I’m not going to do that.

Then it was like, well, what if I pick every note in the pentatonic scale and try to play it fast—more like a John McLaughlin type of thing. It’s like, well, if everyone’s tapping, I’m not going to do that–cross that one off the list. By doing that, you just force yourself to come up with something different that’s your own.

I just don’t know how an ass-kickin’ guitar solo or good guitar playing can go out of fashion. If it’s good, it’s good. I mean, “Crazy Train” is an awesome song, but it’s not like Randy just stuck any fuckin’ solo on there. When that solo comes in, it’s like, man, this is fuckin’ insane! The solos for me are always the icing on the cake. But of course you’ve gotta have a cake to start with.

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