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Zakk Wylde On The 20th Anniversary Of Black Label Society's Debut LP 'Sonic Brew'
He could be an extra on "Game of Thrones." A guitarist in a Viking metal band. A "Duck Dynasty" associate. Or a biker straight out of "Sons of Anarchy." But singer/guitarist Zakk Wylde is most comfortable playing guitar (and piano) for his own Black Label Society…or gigging with the man who first made him famous—Ozzy Osbourne.
Wylde's bearded, hearty demeanor might first appear threatening. The 6'2" frontman/guitarist was once as prolific a drinker as he is a guitarist (he's sober now), but in reality he's a jokester, and like his music, at turns both tough and tender.
He began playing guitar with Osbourne starting with 1988's No Rest for the Wicked, and in 1994, put out a record with his own band, Pride & Glory. He formed the groove-heavy metallers Black Label Society in 1998 (its current lineup consists of bassist John DeServio; guitarist Dario Lorina and drummer Jeff Fabb) who put out their debut album, Sonic Brew, in 1999. There have been 13 BLS albums since, plus two Wylde solo records in 1996 and 2016, respectively. Then there's been dozens of guest appearances (from "American Idol" to the Experience Hendrix tour), custom guitars and amps, not to mention his Berserker Hot Sauce and the band Zakk Sabbath, which, as one might surmise, is a Black Sabbath cover band. He's somehow made also time to be a father of four.
We caught up with the New Jersey native as he was hitting the road with his Doom Crew (the BLS band plus friends and family) to talk about the "new and improved, digitally remixed and remastered version" of his group's debut album, called Sonic Brew—the 20th Anniversary Blend 5.99 – 5.19, and the "magic" surrounding the album.
Let's talk about BLS's Sonic Brew 20th Anniversary Blend. What made you decide to do this freshened-up version?
The whole thing is I don't have the two-inches [master tapes] for the original. I have everything I've ever recorded, right? Solo, Book of Shadows; everything. The only thing I would've done was just clean up the mastering. And give the drums a little more TLC. Obviously it was the 20-year anniversary which, is like wow, I can't believe it. Twenty years is gone.
I was looking at guitar magazines, at an old Guitar Player, the cover had Keith Richards and it said, "14 years in the Rolling Stones." It was a big deal when a rock band was around for 14 years. Like the life expectancy of a rock band back then was eight years. Even though the Beatles were playing for a while, it was really like '62 to '69, then by '70 and it was over. So the Stones, when they just kept going, that was big news. So somebody goes, "what are you going to do to celebrate the 20th anniversary?" We got the birthday cake that said "Happy Birthday Black Label Society," and then says, "32 more to go" to get even up to the Rolling Stones.
Do you know Keith Richards? Have you met him?
No, I've never met him or Mick; I've never met any of the Stones. You know, maybe I've seen them at an award show if anything. If I met Keith, obviously I'd shake his hand and say, "I'm never going to wash my hand." He probably would say, "Who are you and why am I talking to you?"
I doubt that! Back to Sonic Brew. Where do you think those tapes went? Stolen, lost?
No, it was Doug Henning. He did a magic trick on, them, he said, "Watch this. I can make them disappear." They disappeared. And I go, "that's amazing." Doug left the room and we never saw Doug again. The tapes are gone. So it worked. I mean I love Doug Henning. But, what happened? We never got a chance to ask him what happened. What can I say, it's magic.
"Any of our favorite bands and records that we love and listen to, whether it's the Eagles doing Hotel California, why redo it; it's a snapshot in time. The performances are the performances; it is what it is. The vocals; that's what I sounded like 20 years ago. The only thing we wanted to do was sonically improve the fidelity of the record."
I would imagine you hardly ever go back and listen to an album front to back. Tell me how you approached this?
So JD [bassist DeServio] and I are going in, trying to figure out what Jeff [Fabb] had to do. Everything Father Phil [original drummer Phil Ondich] played, Jeff had to double it. What we did with the bass was just fill it out more. I played all the bass on that [original] record. So we just got JD going and put a clean bass on it and JD just doubled everything I did. The record's there; it's just like wallpaper on the background, we just added to what's there.
Obviously if you're going in on a tattoo, when you're going to re-do or add to somebody's, the tattoo is there; you can't get rid of it. And I didn't want to re-perform the record, because it's snapshot in time. Everyone's records, no matter what band, like the Sex Pistols, they might feel, "But we can make it so much better. It'll sound better." Yeah, but the performances are there. Any of our favorite bands and records that we love and listen to, whether it's the Eagles doing Hotel California; why redo it; it's a snapshot in time. The performances are the performances; it is what it is. The vocals; that's what I sounded like 20 years ago. The only thing we wanted to do was sonically improve the fidelity of the record.
How do you think over the last 20 years your voice and guitar playing have changed?
Yeah, like if you listen to Robert Plant on this new record compared to Zeppelin II. I don't have regrets. You know, like how certain people have regrets from certain records? To me no: that was then, and I think everybody goes in trying to do the best thing they can at that time. I don't think anyone goes, "I want to make a crappy record." In sports the goal is always to win the championship. You don't do days of practice and lift to come in second place. Nobody, nobody does. Obviously, you can't compare it to sports, because music is all preference and there really is no best. You could have 10 different Led Zeppelin fans and ask "what's your favorite Zeppelin record?" and we might get two or three to say the same record, but everybody has a favorite because they have memories attached to that record. It brings them right back to a great time in their life.
I love the dynamics, the difference in the vibe throughout and it made me curious; did you start piano before the guitar?
I mean Elton John, he was my favorite guy. I started on piano [pauses] well, actually it was guitar, then I ended up quitting. But then my parents got us a piano in the house and I started doing more on that to learn more Elton John songs. I pretty much taught myself. It's like a matter of just learning chords and then you just try and figure it out by listening to the records.
THE GRIMMEST HAS ARRIVED! SDMF! TONIGHT WE ROLL WITH CINCINNATI, OH! JANUARY 19TH 2018! HERE WE GO! pic.twitter.com/gWdJYsnMu5
— Black Label Society (@WorldWideBLS) January 19, 2018
In 2014 you did BLS' Catacombs of the Black Vatican, then a solo record, and then BLS' Grimmest Hits and now this. What's next?
Hah, all our un-hits of the last 20 years. Grimmest Hits; we don't have any hits! They won't get confused with Greatest. Maybe if it's the Bee Gees, you can call it Greatest Hits. Ours, trust me, no one will confuse Grimmest with Greatest. We don't have any!
So, do you have a bucket list?
Oh well, you know we're working on a Black Label man's lingerie line. I’ve been blowing through fishnet stockings. If you don't shave your legs every day, it really wreaks havoc. I just look at it like "the bro," a bra for men; you're missing out on half the market here. I told my wife that this is part of the genius that you married and this is what I bring to the table. I know it's not much, but it's what I got.
— RockFantasyCamp (@RockFantasyCamp) January 24, 2018
What about another book? Because you’re a pretty entertaining guy.
All you have to do is go on tour for a couple weeks and you'll have another book. I mean, the music business in general, there really are no qualifications. You don't need a degree or a license to be in it. Like, "that guy like can't be your manager. He does your lawn!" "But he's a good buddy of mine! How hard could it be? He has no idea about contracts or anything, but he's my friend, and that's the reason why I made him my manager; I know he isn't going screw me." This cast of characters in the biz; you can't make it, up and that's where all the comedy comes from.
You should do standup.
Yeah, and if they go, "Wow, did you sit around coming up with this material?" I'll go, "No, I just live it." It's like Seinfeld and Larry David; nobody has to write any of this. I'll look into it. If I can fit that in between, you know, cleaning the dog run, another tour, another record, changing diapers and all that other stuff. World peace.