On Picking Up A Guitar And Never Looking Back

18 November 2015 | 7:41 pm | Shane Pinnegar

"This is what I want to do with my life."

Having made his name as lead guitarist and ‘king of the pinched harmonic’ with heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne, there has rarely been a year since the mid-’90s when Zakk Wylde hasn’t released an album with Black Label Society or with Ozzy.

Despite this, he says it’s not as gruelling a schedule as it sounds – after all, this was the way it was for most bands in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“No. With us right now, the last couple records we’ve done it that way. We’ll put the album out and tour behind it for like, years. Before, in the early days of Black Label, we would tour and make another record and then while we were back out again we’d come through town people were like, ‘I didn’t even know you had a new album out’, because we were banging them out so fast. This way it kind of gives the album a chance to breathe a little bit.”

That said, he has the sequel to his 1996 solo album, Book Of Shadows, coming out early next year.

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“Yep, we just started mixing it yesterday,” Wylde shares. “It’s weird because we’ve been doing this album, then when we get back we record some more – tour some more – record some more – tour some more. Whereas usually our albums are just one explosion of creativity, and then you record it, and then we’re done with it. I’ll always be writing on the road or whatever. We wrote four more songs, just the other day. There’s a pile of 40-plus songs we have sitting there right now.”

With nine studio albums under their belt, Wylde says choosing a setlist for Black Label Society isn’t all that easy – but it could be worse.

“It’s not as bad as The Rolling Stones, that’s for sure! Otherwise the Stones would be there for getting to be a 12-hour concert. We just try to do a little bit from every record. Otherwise, if we’re doing that (playing an extended set), I guess we’ll start selling cots and sleeping bags and tents out at the merch stand,” he laughs deeply.

Going right back to the start, Wylde first picked up a guitar around the age of 8, getting seriously into playing as he entered high school a few years later. He recalls the first moment when he fell in love with the way the instrument looks, feels and sounds.

“When I saw my guitar teacher playing right in front of me, and he was playing Sabbath stuff, Zeppelin stuff. Blizzard Of Ozz (Ozzy’s 1981 debut solo record) had just came out, so he was playing Crazy Train in front of me, and then he was playing some Van Halen. I was just completely mesmerised watching his hands, and just looking at the fretboard, and looking at the guitar, and just going, ‘this is like the most interesting, coolest thing ever on the planet’. At that moment, I was just like, ‘this is what I want to do with my life’.”

Wylde was 20 and a veteran of local New Jersey bands Stone Henge and Zyris when he heard that Ozzy Osbourne was searching for a replacement for lead guitarist, Jake E. Lee. Feeling up to the task, he sent in a demo tape – one of hundreds received by the singer. How much confidence did he have that he had the shit to get that job? 

“First off, I’m like, a huge Sabbath fan,” he explains. “Then I’m a huge fan of Randy (Rhoads, guitarist with Ozzy’s first solo band), and Jake. When I was auditioning, there were other guys that were there. To them it was just a gig, they didn’t care. But I was completely blown away by it. I mean Ozzy said of all the boxes (of demo tapes and applications for the job) and everything that was in there, he said he looked at a picture of me - the only one that he saw - and he just goes, ‘look at this kid, he obviously loves Randy Rhoads’. It’s funny, man.”

Originally published in X-Press Magazine