Dreaming of a Black Label Christmas
Zakk Wylde talks Christmas EP, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and more
December 9, 2011
Zakk Wylde passed the point of needing an introduction a long time ago. All hard rock and metal fans (and even American Idol viewers) know him from his long stint as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and as the main man in his own band, Black Label Society. It’s been business as usual of late for Zakk, which means he’s been in and out of the recording studio, releasing a Christmas EP via iTunes, touring with rock legends, putting together a special BLS show for next year with strings, backing singers and other musicians, working on a book and showing up in some of the strangest places. As BLS wound down its U.S. tour with Judas Priest, Zakk discussed these things and more with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
LIVE METAL: Well, available now on iTunes, Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good. It might take some people by surprise, but it makes a lot of sense to me, because the holidays and Black Label are both all about family, right?
ZAKK WYLDE: Yeah, totally. The iTunes people called me up ‘cause I did the “First Noel” thing (last year). They were like, “Would Zakk want to do a couple Christmas songs?” I was like, “Yeah, of course.” Somebody said, “How’d that come about?” They just asked me to record some tunes. You ask any musician if you want to go into the studio and record some tunes—it’s always fun recording. Plus, I got my own studio with the Black Vatican and everything like that, so we just record there. Knocked that out just before we went out on the great Judas Priest/Thin Lizzy crusade.
How did you pick those three songs in particular (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “It’s a Wonderful World”)?
We just googled up while we were in the studio. We got the Pro Tools thing, so me and (engineer) Adam (Klumpp)—I said, “Just put up every Christmas song on there.” So all the Christmas titles were on there. We were like, “Which one is this one, that one?” I googled up Sarah McLachlan to see what tunes she did. We just picked it off from there. She did “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” so we just picked a couple of those and I learned them. We just kept her performing them, and I took an acoustic guitar and just started learning the chords, and then that was it. And then obviously, Al Jolson with “It’s a Wonderful World”—same thing. We just YouTubed that and I saw a performance of him doing that. And same thing: I just put the acoustic guitar, learned all the bass notes and put the chords to it, and said, “Alright, let’s record it.”
Did you ever think about bringing in the full band and going full Black-Label-style on any of these?
Yeah. You had the Metal Christmas. Brian Setzer always does awesome jobs on those things when he brings the whole Brian Setzer Orchestra in and the whole nine yards. With the instrumental things, I just want to keep it mellow.
What is Christmas like back home at the Wylde compound?
Well, obviously, the kids opening Christmas presents, me and you getting tanked. (laughs) That’s the way it used to be, with me having to put together toys all day. I always wondered, “How come my dad’s always drunk on Christmas?” (laughs) Because he’s got to put together every freakin’ toy! (laughs) Our two oldest are in college now, and Hendrix is still 9, so it’s still awesome with the little guy. He just goes nuts and everything like that.
It was always awesome for the kids while they were little. I used to have a Rottweiler, Dorian, he was about 150 pounds, and what I would do is I would take his footprints, get a thing of mud and I’d stick his paw print in there and have him walking around the front lawn and the front porch, so the bottom line is it looks like there was reindeer there and the whole nine yards. (laughs) The kids, we had them buying that one for years. We’d leave vegetables out there, carrots and stuff like that, for the reindeer. Me and you would be chewing it up and spitting it out all over the place. The kids were buying that for years, man.
So what about for you, growing up, when you were younger, do you have any Christmas memories that really stand out to you?
Oh yeah. I remember, somebody said, “Was there any one toy?” I was way into electric football, Evel Knievel dolls and then superhero dolls, Star Trek dolls and all that stuff. The big one was I wanted to get the Bionic Man doll. (laughs) It wasn’t at the house, and I was all crushed. Then I went over to my grandmother and my aunt’s, and they said, “Santa left something here for you.” And I went ballistic ‘cause I had my Six Million Dollar Man doll. We were just in some antique toy shop I saw the other day, and the doll was there. I was like, “Check it out (laughs), it’s the Steve Austin Six Million Dollar Man doll with the bionic eye and everything like that.” So it was pretty funny.
As you mentioned, you’ve been out on tour this fall with Judas Priest. A couple years ago, Rob Halford put out a Christmas album. Did you ever hear any of that?
Yeah. It’s insane, ‘cause Rob can sing his ass off. It’s ridiculous. We googled that, and we were like, “Dude, check this out. Rob put out a Christmas record, man.” It’s pretty hysterical, man.
It’s getting toward the end, but how has the Priest tour been going?
Yeah, we got two more gigs. We got tonight and, I think, tomorrow night. We all went out to dinner the other night, an end-of-the-tour-type thing. Great people. The guys are consummate pros. Every night they get up there, there is no good nights or bad nights. Every night, it’s a consistent wrecking ball of doom. They’ve always been that way, though.
Some people were a little bummed that (guitarist) KK (Downing)’s not with them. How’s Richie Faulkner doing?
Richie’s amazing. Aside of having amazing chops and being an amazing player, Richie’s just a great guy. With him, he’s just like, “Whatever happened with the guys, it’s none of my business. I’m just gonna go out there and throw down, and try and keep the machine rolling.”
In Black Label, you’ve got Chad (Szeliga), formerly from Breaking Benjamin, playing drums. He used to also be in Hourcast. Was he with them when they toured with you earlier this year?
Yeah, and the guys met him on that thing. With Black Label, it’s not like we do a cattle call and have a line around the building and audition guys like American Idol. We’re past that. It’s just like, who’s a good drummer out there, who’s a good bass player, who’s a good guitar player? That’s the way we go about it. Plus, any of my friends, they’ll call me up and go, “Zakk, do you know any good guitar players?” A bunch of my buddies are killer players, so if you need a guitar player, hopefully he’ll fit the situation. Chad’s doing a great job. He’s kicking ass.
You’ve had a bunch of drummers, especially in the past year or so. I’m getting a little worried. You’re not letting them do any gardening are you?
(laughs) Exactly. We were just cracking up about that the other day, ‘cause we were saying with the symbols from when we did the Order (of the Black) record. I said, “Let’s do the symbols like the Zeppelin thing.” And actually, somebody goes, “Do it like a Zeppelin thing with Zoso and the three circles with Bonzo and Plant and John Paul Jones.” I go, “No, we got it from Prince, and Prince got it from Zeppelin, and Zeppelin got it from the druids.” (laughs) It’s just a trickle-down effect, and apparently, as you can see, we’re the weakest, watered-down one of the batch. We were saying that for now on, after Will (Hunt) left—‘cause Will’s symbol’s gone—I said, “For now on, the drummer’s symbol is just a question mark.” (laughs) And that’s all it is. It’s just a question mark, and it doesn’t matter who’s back there ‘cause no one knows. (laughs) It’ll either be a question mark or the Crackerjack box logo. Even we don’t know what you’re gonna get ‘til you get to the end of the box. (laughs)
After this, in December, you’re playing some shows with Guns N’ Roses. I know you go back a long ways with Axl. Are you looking forward to that tour?
Yeah, catching up with the guys, and just having a laugh, laughing our balls off and just talking about goofy stuff. And getting up there and throwing down every night, and then getting a chance to watch Axl and the guys kick some ass. It’s just like the same thing with the Priest guys. We go up there and just watch the guys, and it’s awesome.
This happened a while ago and I’m sure you’ve talked about it a lot, but back in the mid-‘90s, you kind of jammed with Axl and the guys a little bit. What actually happened back then?
We were jamming stuff at the rehearsal place and at the complex. Nothing was really going on. I was playing with the boss at the same time, ‘cause we recorded Ozzmosis. Ozz was like, “Zakk, are you jamming with them? Eventually, I’m gonna have to know. We’re gonna start doing this tour.” I go, “Of course, I wouldn’t leave or do anything like that.” Ozz was like, “Zakk, I can’t blame you. If you wanna go jam with them, knock yourself out.” I’m like, “Of course, Ozz, I’m not gonna leave you hanging. Without you, I wouldn’t even be talking to the guys.” And without Ozzy, there’d be no Black Label. That’s just a fact. So the whole thing is, nothing was going on, and then Ozzy just got to the point where he was like, “Zakk, I gotta get another guitar player.” I’m like, “Ozz, I don’t blame you.” I’m like, I’m sitting around here, I don’t know whether we’re coming or going, or whether we’re gonna do this thing or not do this thing. So nothing was happening with the boss. That’s when Joe Holmes came in, and Joe’s a killer player. Joe came in, and then after that, nothing was happening. We were just sitting around. I had riffs laying around, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll just go do it myself.”
I gotta work, dude. It really doesn’t matter how much dough you have. You could be the richest dude on the planet. I still gotta wake up every day knowing I got something going on. What is my purpose for getting up? George Foreman said it. After he retired from fighting, he was sitting around, he said, “Now I can finally go fishing. And then, after a while, it’s like, ‘I really am tired of fishing.’” (laughs)
I’ve never gone on a vacation in my life ‘cause they’re boring. I’d go, “What am I doing here?” I’m not really a beach guy ‘cause with my white, pasty, Mick/Kraut skin, I’m a couple shades away from clear. Sitting out in the sun and getting sand up my ass is really not my idea of a good time. Whenever we go out on these things, it would just be me and you sitting at the bar. Barb and the kids would be out. That’s not my thing. It’s a 103 degrees out, and you want me to sit around and act like I’m having a good time? I’ll be at the bar with the air conditioning, chilling out, and I’ll be watching football. You can knock yourself out. I’ll go to the weight room, go back to the bar, then I’m gonna go jam on the guitar for a bit, and then I’m gonna go back to the bar, then I’m gonna go back, jam for a bit, then back to the bar, and then start all over again tomorrow. Knock yourself out. I could be doing this at the house. How much is this costing me? $8,000? I’m like, “Just remind me not to send me on any of these trips again. I could think of plenty of other things to do with $8,000 to $10,000.”
Another thing you’ve been talking about, that’s been in the works, is this acoustic or, as you’ve been calling it, the “unblackened” live DVD. Where are you on putting that together?
Probably, after we get done, I think it’s in January, we’re gonna start working on this thing. Just two weeks of solid rehearsals, just going over songs, dialing everything in. We’ll have probably a week of rehearsals with the string section, pedal steel, dial in the background singers. So we’re gonna blow it up. But it’ll still have electric solos and stuff like that. It’s not just gonna be all acoustic guitars, just the band and acoustic guitars and mellow drums or anything like that. It’s gonna be full-blown.
Is this something you would take on tour next year or that would just be a special show?
Maybe. Obviously, between bringing a four-piece string section out, a pedal steel guy, it’s gonna cost a lot of dough. So I don’t know if it’s feasible money-wise to be bringing that many people out.
You always have so much going on. The book, Bringing Metal to the Children, is due out next year. It’s been kind of delayed a bit. But what can you tell me about that?
A new literary masterpiece up there with Gone with the Wind. It’s basically a literary bible of stupidity. (laughs) Me and (co-author) Eric (Hendrikx) were writing the thing, we were just laughing our balls off when we were writing some of this stuff. A lot of the situations are really real. It’s me talking about a lot of real situations that have actually happened and talking about how ridiculous the music business is.
The whole thing is, you’ve got your posters of Jimmy Page up on the wall and Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, Frank Marino, Robin Trower—all my favorite guys—and you practice your balls off ‘til your fingers and your hands are bleeding to hone your craft, and anything after that just basically goes down the shitter. It’s one rude wakeup call after another.
But that’s what makes the music business what it is. The cast of characters that you get—there really is no job qualifications to be in the music business. If I have a license to scuba dive and weld, I have to get a license to do that. To be a doctor, I have to have a degree. To be a brain surgeon, I have to go to school and get a degree. And I have proof that I can do this. What proof do I have that I can run the music business? (laughs) Nothing! The reason why you’re my manager? Because we went to high school together. That’s pretty much it. And we used to have a lemonade stand when we were 6 years old. (laughs) And now you’re gonna be my manager. Does he know anything about contracts? We’ll figure it out as we’re going along. Who’s your manager? Oh, that’s my buddy, Andy. That massive, big dude? Yeah, yeah, he used to bounce at a tit bar that I used to work at. (laughs)
Yeah, I think he’ll do fine. It really doesn’t matter. That’s the funniest thing, dude. But that’s what makes it so great. That’s why you get all these characters. Everybody I know is like a walking cartoon character. You can’t even make them up.
This past year, you’ve been showing up in some unexpected places, like American Idol. How did that come about?
Father (Chris) Jericho was doing Dancing with the Stars, so we were ribbing him about that thing. He gave me a call. He goes, “Zakk, we’re right next to the set of American Idol. James Durbin, he’s a good kid. He digs Ozzy, Black Label and all this other stuff. They’re letting them do songs from movies, and he picked Heavy Metal. So they’re gonna do Sammy Hagar’s song, ‘Heavy Metal.’” I said, “Oh, cool.” He goes, “We were just shooting the shit. I was telling him about some of our drinking stories, and he goes, ‘Oh man, it’d be great if you could get Zakk to come down. That would be amazing.’” It was that easy. It would be like you just calling me up, going, “Zakk, you wanna come down?” “Yeah, no problem. Where do you want me to meet you?” “Here’s the address for American Idol. Just come on down on Tuesday.” “Alright, no problem. See ya on Tuesday.” It was that easy.
So I met Randy Jackson. I met J.Lo. I kissed her. She got a massive wart on the side of her face, had surgery to take it off. I got a picture with her. She told me to leave her trailer and never to see her again. It was a good time. (laughs)
So when are we gonna see you on Dancing with the Stars then?
(laughs) Dude, that should be a pay-per-view event right there, Dancing with the Idiots. You get Kerry King, you get me, you get Phil Anselmo—you get all the tough guys—Tom Araya. (laughs) You get all these guys. Get some of the guys in the death metal bands that burn down churches and stuff like that. You get some of these clowns dancing. You get some of the guys in Gwar. And then now, you have a true Dancing with the Stars. The whole concept of the show is, who continues is not who danced the best, it’s who sucked the least. (laughs) It’s basically a bunch of guys who have no business dancing, who can’t dance and don’t want to dance—dancing. (laughs) I didn’t even dance at my prom. It’s stupid. What do I wanna dance for?! So you just put that concept in, with a bunch of idiots, and it’ll be wonderful. That’s a pay-per-view event. That’s bigger than TV.
You also collaborated with William Shatner on a new version of “Iron Man.” That’s pretty interesting. How did that happen?
Well, the guys that were working on the record, they called me up. I’ve known them for years. They called me up and said, “Zakk, we’re doing this record with Father Shatner. You want to jam on it?” I said, “Yeah, of course.” How many people can say they played for the Prince of Darkness and the greatest Starfleet commander of all time? That was a no-brainer. Father Shatner came down. I went to Star Trek conventions when I was like 10 years old, so I remember seeing him then. I had Star Trek dolls and the whole nine yards. Super-cool dude.
The crazy thing is he’s 80 years old. My dad passed away not too long ago. My dad was 89. He would have more in common talking with my father than he would with Ozzy. Ozzy’s a baby next to him. It’s like if you talk about William Shatner, “What was he, Vietnam generation?” No, that’s Ozzy’s generation. He’s closer to World War II generation. It’s crazy when you think about it. We were just trying to comprehend that. Ozzy’s 20 years younger than him. He was already 40-something years old when Ozzy was 20 and started doing Sabbath.
Well, what else do you have going on? (laughs) It seems like we’ve covered a lot here.
Aside of trying to split the atom, trying to figure out how you can get non-alcoholic beer to get you loaded. (laughs) Aside of that, just hitting the gym and making sure I look sexy for the big hot rock show.