Zakk Wylde is one of the biggest heavy metal musicians of our time. He got his first big start in 1988 when Ozzy Osbourne brought him on as his co-writer and guitarist. Wylde appears on 10 of Ozzy’s albums, including No Rest for the Wicked, No More Tears, and Ozzmosis. In 1996, Wylde released his first of two solo albums, Book of Shadows and Book of Shadows II (2016), and it primarily featured acoustic sets from the musician. In 1998, he formed his own heavy metal band, Black Label Society, and the group released their tenth album, Grimmest Hits, at the beginning of the year. While that title may sound like a greatest hits compilation, it features all new tracks from the iconic band.
Wylde is currently on tour with Black Label Society, and he’s getting ready to hit the road with Ozzy one last time for Osbourne’s farewell tour, No More Tours 2, when he will once again join the stage with musicians Rob “Blasko” Nicholson, Adam Wakeman, and Tommy Clufetos. As if that legendary lineup isn’t enough, in the fall, he tours the U.S. with fellow shredders Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi for the Generation Axe tour.
This reporter recently had the pleasure of speaking with the rock legend, and if you ever want to have a hilarious feel-good discussion about music and professional wrestling, then put a conversation with Zakk Wylde on your bucket list. Wylde is one of the most down-to-earth people you will ever meet, and it’s nearly impossible to go three minutes without laughing out loud when talking with him. We discussed his upcoming tours, Grimmest Hits, and of course, professional wrestling.
Carter Lee: Black Label Society’s tenth album, ‘Grimmest Hits,’ was recently released. I like how you guys threw everyone for loop; it sounded like it was going to be a greatest hits album or a compilation, and it’s all new tracks. A few really stuck out to me, including ‘Room of Nightmares.’ Let’s talk about that video. It’s pretty kickass. You’ve got a children’s party with pirates versus ninjas, and now we can put away that longtime debate of who would win in such a fight. It’s pretty unique. Where did you come up with the concept?
Zakk Wylde: [Laughing] You know, people say ‘It’s unique. Where did you come up with these ideas?’ I go, ‘Because we’re idiots.’ And that’s how it happens.
[Laughing] No thought goes into it at all. It’s a gift, just because we’re ridiculous idiots. And that’s how it comes about.
Cuz, you know, me and you would just sit around, and you go, ‘Zakk, why don’t we have the band play at a children’s party, and then we’ll have, you know, all these Vikings and ninjas and all types of things, pirates, and everything that makes completely no sense whatsoever, and then we’ll do that. How about that?’ And it’s like, ‘You know what, that sounds like a ridiculous idea that sounds beyond idiotic—that’s perfect.’
[Laughing] That’s pretty much how all these ideas come about. That’s pretty much how I write the songs as well. That’s how we do things around here. The more idiotic and the more moronic it is, that’s what we do, and we just gravitate to that.
CL: [Laughing] Awesome. I love it. You have a couple of deep songs on that album that I personally cherish, ‘All That Once Shined,’ and the ballad you did, ‘The Only Words.’ The lyrics sound very personal and dark, right up my alley. If I may ask, what was your inspiration for those?
ZW: As far as writing, for me, it’s always the riffs and the music first. That’s where it all starts. That’s where it all starts because that will usually inspire a melody or something like that. Like with [Black] Sabbath and [Led] Zeppelin, Cream, and all the riff-oriented Kings, Deep Purple, it’s just the whole thing is the riff first. Once we get that as a foundation, then we can start building the rest of the house.
Lyrically, it comes down to either the people I’ve known and things that have happened or things that have happened to me. Not only that. You could just, off of one experience, you could write three different things. If there’s one guy who screwed you over on a business deal or whatever, and I’m like, ‘What’s that all about?’ And you go, ‘Oh, I wrote that about Frank as well.’ I would have never known that unless you told me because you’re using metaphors and everything like that, but it’s about the same subject.
So, you got two songs on the record that are about the same ass-clown, but the way that you wrote it and the angle that you wrote it on, unless you told me, I would’ve never known. That’s what’s always fun about writing lyrics because there’s always subject matter to write about. You live another day, there’s always some more comedy that’s going on. Where you tell me something and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ And you’re like, ‘No, I wish I was and I wish I was making this up, but that’s how much of a tool bag this guy is.’ And you try to write it so that it has a little bit of depth and some weight to it. Not that I don’t enjoy, you know, ‘I’m gonna party all night and just get smashed and sniff glue.’ I mean, I like those lyrics as well, I just seem to gravitate towards the other ones.
CL: Yeah, there’s a time and place for all of those lovely subjects for sure.
ZW: Yeah, exactly.
CL: So, I just picked up tickets for Ozzy’s farewell tour when you guys come here to Houston. You’re performing on stage again with Blasko, Wakeman, Tommy, and of course, Ozzy. You’ve played with Ozzy off and on for 30 years, as well as the other mentioned musicians. And Slayer, also on their farewell tour. We have a lot of legends tipping their hat this year and next. Just wanted to get your thoughts on playing with Ozzy one last time, you know, if he does stay retired, and just how you’re feeling about the whole thing and how some of these bands are, kind of, saying goodbye at this stage.
ZW: I’m loving every second of playing with The Boss. It’s great. We’ve been talking over the past nine years. Just because we haven’t played together doesn’t mean we haven’t kept in touch. You know, the holidays, birthdays, so we always keep in touch, and we’ve gone out to dinner and things like that. But to be playing with everybody and back in the camp and seeing all the familiar faces and everybody you know, everybody’s just like family. It will always be my home away from home because that’s where I started. It’s always great going back.
How it could it not be a good time, you know what I mean? Roam with The Boss. Like I always said, if he wasn’t a singer he’d have to be doing comedy. All you gotta do is hangout with him, for like 5 minutes, between him taking the piss out of himself and taking the piss out of every other thing that’s going on, we’re all on the floor crying-laughing. It’s always a good time, dude.
CL: Right on. I’m looking forward to the show. I had the pleasure of seeing you guys years ago, I mean it was ages ago, and I was tripping my balls off, so I don’t remember the show. So, this time I will remember it.
ZW: [Laughing] Okay, there you go. The guys assured you, you did have a great time, so everything’s fine.
CL: [Laughing] Oh yeah, I had a blast for sure. That’s what people told me. I believe them.
CL: You also have the Generation Axe tour coming up — which I am thrilled about — with Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi. How did that come about? I mean, you guys are some legends on the guitar and you’re all going to be in once place. How did that come to be?
ZW: This was all Father Steve’s vision. Steve put it together. He was the one that reached out to all of us. I’ve known the guys from me starting with Ozzy, Yngwie, Steve, and Nuno. I’m friends with all the guys. We just met Tosin when we went on this one, and he’s a buddy now too. It’s great because whenever you hear the guys—you know, everybody’s checking their gear at soundcheck—immediately, within like one note, you already know automatically who’s flying. Just from the vibrato and tone, everyone’s technique, which is pretty cool.
It’s great rolling with all the guys. The stories and the comedy and the war stories of being in the business, just the pure comedy. I mean, that’s just a minefield of comedy gold right there. That’s what the music business is, just cartoon characters. That’s always a good time. Stevie once said, ‘Yeah, putting this tour together, it’s great playing with all you guys, but just for these sit-downs at the end of the night while we’re rolling, and the comedy, it’s just worth the price of admission alone.’ [Laughing] That’s what Steve would say, ‘I’m glad I put it together just for this.’
CL: That’s really cool. Well, speaking of cartoon characters. I’m a retired professional wrestler, and I know you’re a wrestling fan.
ZW: Oh yeah!
CL: Let’s talk a little about wrestling, if that’s cool.
ZW: Yeah, let’s do it.
CL: I was a mark for Wrestling Society X when you were doing commentating and playing for them.
ZW: Oh, yeah-yeah, with Father Vampiro.
CL: Exactly. I loved it just because it was different than any other wrestling show that was on TV at that time. Wanted to know if you ever thought about running your own promotion because lord knows they need another major promotion nowadays.
ZW: Yeah, well, it would be comedy. Let’s be real. Me and JD [Black Label Society bassist, John ‘JD’ DeServio], we were just watching The Warlord last night. We just watched some video of The Warlord, and I was just talking about Van Vader. Obviously, Van passed away not too long ago. I was just saying how he was just one of the best big men, if not the greatest big man, of all time. He’s doing moves that Father Jericho and Edge would be doing, but he’s 390 pounds, which is pretty insane. We were just talking about all these amazing guys, showing The Warlord benching 500 pounds, for like 19 reps, all this ridiculous stuff.
If you don’t have the charisma and the gift of gab, I mean, people say, ‘Man, I wonder why this guy never got a push?’ And ‘this guy was awesome, and he never got a title shot.’ All these guys would say, ‘Yeah, Hogan was terrible, and the Ultimate Warrior was terrible. None of them could wrestle.’ I go, ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t matter.’
It doesn’t matter. I mean, you can have all these guys that are like, ‘Oh man, they run circles around Jimmy Page, and Jimmy’s sloppy, and this guys such a better player.’ But it doesn’t matter. What songs does he have? What else is he bringing to the table? You have to be the total package of what you bring to the table and have that charisma. ‘This guy can sing higher notes than Ozzy, and he has a range like Pavarotti.’ Yeah, but he’s not Ozzy though, is he?
CL: Right! Can he command an audience?
ZW: Yeah! Ozzy as a frontman and as a whole package, and I don’t care what anybody says, Ozzy can sing. So, you got that too. I mean, Ozzy’s everything. Or Mick Jagger. You can say, ‘Oh well, Mick can’t sing like this.’ It doesn’t matter. Mick would be the first one to say, ‘I can’t bench press that much. I’m not as big as that guy, but I’m Bruce-Lee ripped.’ You know what I mean, as far as if he was a bodybuilder.
It’s the same thing with wrestling. Like ‘Stone Cold,’ it’s the charisma and the whole package. Even looking back at Bob Backlund. He was such a babyface compared to, like, ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, who was basically Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan.
CL: I think Graham was the first real superstar in wrestling.
ZW: Yeah, without a doubt. Well, Bruno Sammartino and everything like that, but ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham was the first who had the gift of gab and the full personality. That’s what makes wrestling great. We were just saying, even with the ’80s and all the cartoon characters, me and JD were just talking about our Top 10 hall of fame guys, like Mr. Perfect, obviously, ‘Macho Man,’ and I’m talking about their promos. You’re crying-laughing watching these promos.
CL: [Laughing] Oh man. Rick Rude used to cut one of the best promos in my opinion. You know, before he would wrestle, ‘Let me show all you pissants what a real man looks like.’
ZW: [Laughing] He was such a good heel. He was hilarious. If we were friends, I would ask, ‘Dude, I don’t even know how you don’t come out of character and start cracking up while you’re doing that?’
CL: [Laughing] That’s one thing we always used to try to get each other to do, is make each other pop and break kayfabe, and just lose it on the mic.
ZW: Oh, totally, without a doubt, like Carol Burnett and Friends.
CL: For sure. Well, one last question. I’m a big fan of your Book of Shadows solo albums. Any other solo albums coming out or in the works? I saw that you recently did that Toxic Diarrhea single, by the way. That was awesome.
ZW: [Laughing] Thank you very much, yeah, with the Sabatini over there. Yeah, totally, that’s another wrestling promo right there. If we do another Book, the mellow stuff, it would be when it’s time to make another one. I mean, as much as I love listening to Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ and everything like that, I love it when they do ‘Going to California’ and ‘The Rain Song.’ I love it all, The Eagles, Elton John, The Band, Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge, and all that stuff. Like you said, I love doing it all.
CL: I think it’s a great balance to have. I love Slipknot, but equally, I love Corey Taylor’s acoustic sets.
ZW: Yeah, I agree.
CL: That’s awesome man. I appreciate this. Did you have anything else for me? Sometimes, I can be a jackass and forget the obvious questions.
ZW: Well, here we go, give me your top three wrestlers of all time. You know, between the comedy and the promos. We’re not even going on wrestling skills. So, just your top three guys.
CL: For comedies and promos, Kurt Angle, back when he had his head shaved and he was wearing the wig gimmick underneath his amateur wrestling headgear. He was drinking milk when Steve Austin was chugging beer, and Angle’s promoting milk. That made me pop.
ZW: [Laughing] Totally.
[Editor’s note: speaking of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin drinking beer, check out the video below for his take on Zakk Wylde]
CL: Ric Flair, back in his NWA Crockett days, on the mic was just hilarious.
ZW: Ric Flair can go anytime, any era, any whenever. He’s just hilarious, I’ll give you that.
CL: And I would say, The Rock when he really broke out into speaking in the third person, making fun of Booker T and The Big Show as ‘The Big Slow,’ he would literally make me laugh out loud. It was just so unique at the time.
ZW: Totally. He was great.
CL: Who are your top three?
ZW: Me and JD were talking about this last night. Obviously, ‘Macho Man’—hilarious. You got to go with him. We were also saying Mr. Perfect because, ‘everything’s perfect.’ There was this one time he was shooting a basketball, you know?
CL: [Laughing] Oh yes.
ZW: The basket is about 40 feet away, and we got you looking at the camera with the basket to your back. You’re like, ‘Everything I do is absolutely…’ and then you throw the ball up in the air. Obviously, I catch it because it’s off-camera, and we have JD where the basket is off-camera, and he throws it in. Then you look at the camera, you go, ‘Absolutely perfect.’ [Laughing] It’s so stupid man.
It would have to be Mr. Perfect, ‘Macho Man,’ and then you’d have to probably put Flair in there, just because he’s so hilarious too. I’d have to say, top three comedy value of the current guys, I’d have to put Father Jericho on that list as well. I mean, at the top of just pure comedy. Just how ridiculously silly he could be, you know. I said, ‘Hey Father Chris, I don’t know how you get through half these promos without crying-laughing.’ He said, ‘Trust me Zakk, it’s pretty hard not to.’
CL: [Laughing] Like when he was listing the 1001 moves on Nitro, and he was reading them off on that old-school print paper. I think he listed armbar 20 times. That was hilariously amazing.
ZW: So awesome, without a doubt. My brother, it was good talking to you. Hopefully, I’ll see you when we get out to Dimebag Country.
CL: I look forward to it man. Thank you, sir. Take care.
ZW: You got it, brother. Take care of yourself man.