An Interview With Zakk Wylde - Gnarly Charlie's Revealing Conversation with Zakk Wylde

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Sunday, August 8, 2010 @ 7:18 PM

"How did you stop drinking? You just stop. How did you start learning how to take a dump and wipe your ass? Easy. Because you got tired of crapping your pants! Because it stunk."

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Whether he's onstage throwing down one of his spellbinding solos or talking with you on the Black Label Society tour bus, Zakk Wylde will always leave a lasting impression. In this interview the guitar god talks about his music, his relationship with Ozzy, and the infamous Ozzfest-Iron Maiden egg-throwing incident.

KNAC.COM: Hi Zakk.

WYLDE: Charlie! What are you doing, buddy?

KNAC.COM: Alright, man. What's happening?

WYLDE: Getting ready to go to rehearsals for the big, hot rockin' show.

KNAC.COM: For the The Roxy?

WYLDE: Are you going down to the gig?


WYLDE: Very cool. It ought to be rockin.' I think the last time I played there, I guess it was '96, when we did that Book of Shadows thing. Had a four-piece string orchestra--a quartet or whatever. I played at The Whisky with Black Label back in '99, maybe? I think we might have played The Troubadour once, too.

KNAC.COM: The Roxy is a small venue. You guys are going to blow it up.

WYLDE: It's going to be a madhouse, dude.

KNAC.COM: How is your health these days?

WYLDE: I'm fine. With the blood clots I had, it's like the weirdest thing. We were out on the road and I said, "Oh man, my leg is killing me." I'd be icing it up and everything like that, doing the normal thing you would do. Like, if your shoulder's hurting you or your back's killing you or whatever. You know what to do. I'd be icing it down everyday and this went on for like almost two weeks, because I'd just like suck it up, have a couple cold ones, just do what I gotta do. That was going on and nothing was getting better, so I it got to the point where the only time I wasn't in pain was if I was laying down and I had my leg elevated and I'd put some ice on it. In the middle of the night, if I stood up to go take a leak, that was a major chore. So we ended up getting an ultrasound, because I knew I didn't break anything. I did the ultrasound and the guy goes, "Oh yeah, you got three major blood clots. I said "How do you get blood clots?" I said, "I'm 42 years old. This is usually reserved for when you start hitting your eighties, right?" He goes "No. Truck drivers get them a lot, airplane pilots get them." So he said I gotta take blood thinners and this and that. He said, "Zakk, if you're drinking now, the booze has got to go. Because you could be sitting here, hanging out with the guys watching Monday night Football, getting hammered or at Hooters or something, and you could just start bleeding out. Between the alcohol and the Coumadin, which is a blood thinner, you could start literally bleeding out your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your dick, your ass, you're done. Finished." And I go, "Okay." I don't think you need rehab for that (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Some people swear by the 12-Step programs for that.

WYLDE: Somebody goes, "Good for you, Zakk. You don't drink. What, are you with a 12-Step program?" I go, "No, the Black Label 1-Step program." Dude, I don't need to hand someone 40,000 dollars of my hard-earned money to tell me, "So Zakk, are you feeling like drinking today." Are you kidding me? Are you that weak? Everyone asks me, "How did you stop drinking?" You just stop. I don't know. You just stop. What do you want me to tell ya? How did you start learning how to take a dump and wipe your ass? Easy. Because you got tired of crapping your pants! Because it stunk. I don't know what to tell you, man. It's like real easy, unless you're that weak. Then, you're a pathetic piece of dirt, man. I go to bars still. I like the whole social thing--hangin' out and talking with people, so I'll still go to pubs with the guys. They'll all be drinking the real stuff and I'll be drinking an O'Douls. I enjoy hanging out with people, you know? Whether we're taking about sports, religion, politics, music, whatever the hell we're talking about, you just shoot the shit with somebody. I got some of my friends, I swear, you could have an O'Douls in your hand and they're ready to like--they're ready to start doin' heroin. That's pretty sad, dude. It's amazing that you're that weak. To each his own, dude, if you need that kind of support. It's just like me saying, "Hey Charlie. Do you want to be on a diet and get ripped and everything like that and have six-pack abs?" Then I got to be around you all the time, telling you not to eat cake and candy and all this shit food. It's just like, dude, you know what you gotta do. Grow up, dude. I'm not going to sit here and wipe your ass, dude. Just do it. I couldn't care less. You know how it is, Charlie. If I'm a psychiatrist and I say, "Okay, Charlie. Let's talk about why you drink. And you say, "Because I enjoy it." Who doesn't? Have you ever been hammered and had a nice glow on? It feels good. It's just like the reason why I drink.

KNAC.COM: How hard has it been to adjust without having your liquid helper? When you have a hard day, don't you want to knock back a few beers and get that edge off?

WYLDE: I've never been the classic, you know, like, you watch the old movies and when someone's having a stressful day the first thing they do is grab the bourbon or the whisky or whatever. It could be 12 o'clock in the afternoon and I'll go, "Charlie, you want to go grab a beer?" I would do my usual business throughout the day: lift weights, workout, go pick the kids up from school, whatever. I was never wasted driving around. It's like you have two beers or so and you say, "I'm going to pick up the kids. I'll be back in a little bit." No big deal. You know, when I'm watching the Yankee game, and I'm sitting there with a guitar in my hand and I'm just going over scales and practicing, I'd just have a few beers in there and I'm just chillin' out.

KNAC.COM: For years it was a usual thing for you to have the Pub Open sign lit up with plastic cups and Becks bottles onstage as your musical accompaniment. It has had to be a quite an adjustment for you to all of a sudden be struck sober, hasn't it?

WYLDE: Well, no. Especially getting onstage the first time. I think the first thing I did was that TNA Wrestling thing. "The National Anthem." I didn't have a couple beers in me before I went out and jammed. That was like the first thing I ever did and it was almost like a fight. Right after the first punch, everything's normal. You know what I mean? But before that, your heart's racing, but after you hit the first chord, it's good. So, if I make it sound like everyday I'm just sitting around craving a cocktail...put it this way, you'd have to be an idiot to go, "So Zakk, you wouldn't like a beer right now?" I'd say, "Yeah, of course. I'd love it. Put a case of beer in front of me. Throughout the day, I could drink a case a day, easy.

KNAC.COM: A 24-pack is a good daily allotment. Or good for starters, anyway.

WYLDE: And then, if you're out with guys, you throw a little Crown Royal on top and you're having a good time. You gotta figure, Charlie, with us, everyday you'd go through a case a day. You'd have a couple beers before the gig, and I can't really drink during the show because I'm up there playing. I'd take a swig, if anything, I could use a little mouthful and spit it out, because I'm just wetting my throat. But after the gig, we got a 20-hour drive. Charlie, if you and me were just sitting in front of the bus, in front of the submarine, just listening to tunes--Bob Seger, Elton, all the mellow stuff--then me and you are going to go through a bottle of Crown and a case, like it's nothing, dude. We're sitting in the bus, hanging out, talkin.' It's like, watching the road go buy, listening to great music and relaxing, man. Good times, man.

KNAC.COM: By the time "Travelin' Man/Beautiful Loser" came on from Seger's Live Bullet, it would be on, right?

WYLDE: Yeah, without a doubt, man.

KNAC.COM: Something as life altering as a near-death experience with the blood clots, quitting drinking, and, of course, parting ways professionally with Ozzy...

WYLDE: Yeah, and then my father passed away in January, so it was like everything all at once. The running joke with the Black Label colors is, "Zakk, hook me up with the colors." I go, "I don't know if you really want these." Because the running joke is that the good Lord just goes, "Well, this has to fall on somebody. I have to give this shit to somebody. Well, give it to them Black Label guys, They can handle it." (laughs) That's the way to look at everything, so, it's just like whatever road block or obstacle, "Charlie, now for your next mission, if you wish to accept..." It's like, "God, no! I don't want it!" It's like, "Well, tough shit! Here's your next mission!" (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well it's just one more bridge to cross. as the song goes, right?

WYLDE: Yeah. Exactly, man. Oh my God, Zakk You got the blood clots. You're not playing with Ozzy. He got another guitar player. After that, your father died. And then he died three times from three pulmonary embolisms. That's just before lunch (laughs). I still got the rest of the day to go, baby! (laughs) That's why we're Black Label.

KNAC.COM: I love that attitude, man. You're an optimist. It's the way to be.

WYLDE: And then let's look at how bad it really is. I'm still here, so I can still torture the wife. We got the Black Label Bunker now, so we got this amazing studio, we can make amazing records in it and mix in there as well. What else have we got? We're on the Ozzfest, we're getting ready to do the Black Label Berzerkus, I'm writing a script for a movie that I'm going to direct with the guys, and I'm writing a Black Label Society/Zakk Wylde Guitar Bible. This book will have everything in it. Then, Let's see, what else have we got going on? I'm talking about doing Doom Crew Pubs, a restaurant/sports bar with live entertainment. We're talking about doing those. We got beef jerky, we got hot sauces, we're doing coffee and beer--all under the Black Label moniker. I go like this. I go, "Yeah, things really suck." Are you kidding me? You just gotta General Patton-up. That's why he's such a big hero in Black Label. You just lost a couple tanks. What are you going to do? You keep filing ahead and keep destroying everything in your path. That's the only thing you can do.

KNAC.COM: I loved that movie, Patton. When I was seven or eight, my dad and I used to go see that movie a lot. That was when movies would run in the theaters for a long time. Blood and Guts. George Patton.

WYLDE: You know the one scene when he went down to the hospital ward he's the ward where guys were missing arms and legs like that. And Patton was talking to the guys. Then the one guy was sitting there complaining of shell shock. (Patton slapped the wounded soldier) I mean he had to apologize for that, because they were like, "Dude, you can't be doing that." And Eisenhower, you know, he was the complete opposite of Patton. It's like your father is. "Well, Dad, I want to play with the guys." He'd say, "You gotta mow the lawn and then you can play all you want. The more you complain and bullshit right now--you could be out there and already done with the lawn." Just go do it. You know, just get the goddamn--G-I-F-D, get it fucking done and you can do whatever you want to do. I mean, Charlie, even if you had a stressful day and you wanted to have a cocktail and you said, "Zakk, I need a drink." I could get you a drink. I know you're not going to get wasted. Like, "Dude, I need a drink just to chill out." No problem, man. But you're still going to get on with the rest of the day and do what the hell you gotta do, Charlie. God helps those who help themselves, man. The good Lord gave me the gift to play the guitar and play music, but it's up to me to get off my ass and practice. You know what I mean?


WYLDE: What's that one t-shirt? "It Ain't Gonna Suck Itself," buddy boy (laughs). But it's the truth. You know what you got to do. For me, with my kids, I alwasy tell them, "You're good kids. You're smart enough. You know what the hell you gotta do." I don't have to sit here and General Patton discipline these kids. You know what you gotta do, so don't be an idiot.

KNAC.COM: Is the Wylde family bond stronger than ever?

WYLDE: It always has been. To me, it's just been a bump in the road. Blood clots, my dad dying, the Ozzy thing. I mean, to me, I was there for 23 years. The running joke was, "What really happened, Zakk?" I'm like, "You want to know the real skinny? Well, Oz sat me down and said "Son, we gotta talk to ya." Mom (Sharon Osbourne) came in there, and obviously you know it's not good when they say, "We gotta talk." So, they just said, "You're 43-years old now. You got a wife and three kids. You got a band. It's time to get the fuck out." (laughs) Trust me, I'm not going to be waiting in the unemployment line anytime soon, dude. Do you know what I mean? Put it this way; at any point, anywhere in there, when we did No More Tears, Oz was like, "This is the 'No More Tours Tour.'" So that was the end then, and anything after that was just gravy, you know, like him still wanting to do it. So I've always cherished every moment of it. Your parents are eventually going to pass away--the circle of life, dude. Mommy and Daddy aren't around to wipe your ass and feed you anymore. You better figure something out. Like, I said, (to) Oz I couldn't be any more grateful--to The Boss. Without Ozzy there would be no Zakk Wylde. There's be no Black Label. There's be no signature guitars. there's be no signature amps, signature pedals, signature strings, I mean, all that stuff, if it wasn't for The Boss.

KNAC.COM: It's all been grace, right?

WYLDE: Yeah. Without a doubt, man.

KNAC.COM: You're not into yoga, The Secret, of any of that gay shit now, are you?

WYLDE: No, I'm not. I never was.

KNAC.COM: Any new additions to your Barbie collection?

WYLDE: (Laughs) Yes, because we'd be out on the road and all the Black Label chapters would just be fucking with me all the time, giving me new Barbie dolls. Dude, I'd get home and I'd have a boxload of fuckin' Barbie dolls. Like when we'd hang out with the Boston Chapter, they know I'm a Yankee guy, halfway into the show--it's tradition now--just the whole Yankees Suck chants starts, for like, about five fuckin' minutes. And I just let em get it out of their system and they keep tossing me Red Sox jerseys that I gotta put on. It's classic, man (laughs). But it's all good times, man.

KNAC.COM: Let's talk about the new album. Obviously, all the Black Label chops and guitar power are there, and the two ballads on the record are as sweet as your ballads can be. I love "Time Waits for No One." That song fucking kills me.

WYLDE: Thanks, brother.

KNAC.COM: It would go without saying that you are really proud of this new record, right?

WYLDE: Yeah, Charlie. It's like asking Jimmy Page which Zeppelin album he's most proud of. He'd tell you that each one represented a different challenge or a different time. Obviously, the first one was the most exciting, because it's like your first girlfriend or whatever. It was like a whirlwind when it started to become successful. But then he would say, "Oh, Led Zeppelin IV. The stars were lined up on that album." He'd probably say, "Yeah, we had a great time with that one." In interviews with Jimmy Page, he says that with Presence they were under so much pressure, and it was their best accomplishment. And that was their least-selling record. That's the beautiful thing about movies, music, and everything like that. You know, with Barbaranne, my wife, I've known her ever since the 6th grade, but I remember when we went to go see that movie, Urban Cowboy. I tried going over her shirt and I got denied, but that was like, 1980 or 1979. But, I remember that movie. It beings you back in time. Snapshots. Every time I hear "Over the Mountain" I remember exactly where I was, back when it was Randy Rhoads. All my Sabbath records--they just bring back great memories. Even Ozzy always said with albums--they're snapshots in time. He would remember if he had a good time making the album or if he couldn't stand it. He said, "It doesn't matter which album was more successful. If I had a shit time making that record, I don't even want to hear it." He said, "Zakk, with Diary and Blizzard, aside from how the records came out, we had a lot of fun making them."

KNAC.COM: If I went up there to The Wylde Compound and cleaned up around the place, you know, washed the dishes and cleaned up the dogshit, would you give me one of your Les Pauls?

WYLDE: I can't do that (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Not even one of your Epiphones?

WYLDE: No I can't (laughs)

KNAC.COM: You were never as hairy as you are now. I like the chest hair and beard, and of course, I've always found that ruggedness and guitar virtuosity of yours to be very sexy.

WYLDE: Thanks, brother.

KNAC.COM: When was it that you decided to become so hairy?

WYLDE: Right after I did that Rockstar movie I just got tired of shaving and then that's when I said "Fuck this." I grew the beard and ever since then I just like it. And on top of that I didn't feel like shaving anymore.

KNAC.COM: I've been watching Gus G over the last few years and I think he's a really talented player. I have a hard time believing that Ozzy might think that your shoes have been filled, not to mention Randy's or Jake's. What are your thoughts on that?

WYLDE: Well, everybody in the Black Label community's all rooting for Gus. There's no haters. I dig Gus, and I completely support him all the way. Everybody in Black Label supports him all the way. Why wouldn't I? It's like, I play for the Yankees, too. Now he's playing for the Yankees, so I want the franchise to do good.

KNAC.COM: A lot of people don't leave on those terms. It seems like your relationship with Ozzy is a good one.

WYLDE: Put it this way, I'm still part of the family. I still work in the Yankee organization. You know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: There's something that's been hanging out there a while that's caused a lot of people to take sides, when the truth is, we're supposed to be all on the same team. Some of it has been fueled by other parties directly involved in the 2005 Ozzfest Iron Maiden egg-throwing thing. I'm not interested in your opinion of the characters involved, but I'd love to know if you have something you want the heavy music fans out there to know, now that 6 years of water has passed under the bridge.

WYLDE: Well, the whole thing is ridiculous. What it should have been down to is Mom should've just talked with their manager and just said, "Hey, look it. Tell your guy to shut the fuck up. And if he mentions one more thing, you guys are off the tour." That's it. You're done. And if their manager, Rod [Smallwood], went over to them--because they're all fucking grown ups--and said, "Dude, enough of the fucking bagging on The Boss. First off, it's their fucking tour." And that's the end of the conversation. The minute he goes back there and says, "Oh, fuck this. We don't need a reality TV show, fuck Ozzy, this and that, bla bla bla..." then you know what? Pull the power on them right there. Have a guy sitting on the side of the stage every fucking night and the minute he says one bad thing about Ozzy, break his fucking legs and you're off and you're on your way. That's it. Done.

KNAC.COM: So that's what was really going on?

WYLDE: It should have never got to eggs. If anyone ever threw eggs at me, I'd break their fucking legs, dude. I'd stop the show right there and whoever was throwing the fucking eggs--I'd fuckin' morgue them. I wouldn't hospitalize them. I'd fuckin' kill them, right there. I'm looking at both sides. If I was Iron maiden, I'd fuck some people up. And, if I find out who's responsible for it, they're getting fucked up, too. I mean, I'd never go up onstage and start bagging on whoever the headliner is. If anything, all I ever do is thank the band for letting us play with them. When I opened up for Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd, I thought, this is such an honor to be playing with these guys. Why would I say anything bad about them? You know what I mean? And on top of that, you're getting paid. It's so fuckin' ridiculous. It's a fuckin' joke. I had no idea. I was just like, "whatever, man." I'm telling you right now--the way I would have handled it would be, "Hey, guy. You tell your singer to shut the fuck up or hands down, I'll break his fuckin' neck. I'll break his legs first, then I'll break his fuckin' neck. Then you'll have no singer. So he can't say shit. Throw eggs? I'll slit his fuckin' throat, dude. I'd say, "fuck you!" Fuckin' throw eggs? Are you fuckin' kidding me? What, are we in second grade here? Come on. Throw eggs? Throw fuckin' grenades, now. You motherfucker. That whole thing should have just never happened. It should've been, "Tell him to shut up or the guy's off tour." That's it. Then his manager would have said, "Dude, enough of the talking, slagging the headlining act." I mean, how old are we here, dude? How old is Bruce Dickinson? You'd expect that out of an 18-year old, like the Battle of the Bands in high school? What do you think about it?

KNAC.COM: I was there all day and all that night in San Bernardino, really liking the whole thing, up to the point of the egging. And I continued to dig the show afterward. When Black Sabbath went on and did their set, they were totally professional, of course. Ozzy didn't say shit...

WYLDE: I guarantee you that Ozzy didn't even know that that went down. I'm telling you. I know he didn't.

KNAC.COM: Right.

WYLDE: He just sits in the dressing room and he says, "What time are we going on, Zakk?" I would say, "9:30, boss." And he would say, "Okay. See you in a little bit." He doesn't give a shit (laughs). Why should he? I don't get it. Anytime we do these Berzerkus tours, any band that I have out on the road, like Sevendust, we all hang out. We're friends.

KNAC.COM: Did you handpick Children of Bodom, Clutch, and 2Cents for the upcoming Black Label Berzerkus tour?

WYLDE: Yeah, totally. Alexi and I talked about doing it years ago. So now we finally got the opportunity to do it. Alexi--he's awesome. He's the new breed, man. He's the future. Alexi's going to be throwing down with the boys, and the Clutch guys are awesome as well. And 2Cents are an ass-kicking band, too. Everybody should have a good time. I want all the bands to have an ass-kicking time and put on an ass-kicking show. And call it a day.

Photos by Charlie Steffens Copyright 2010

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