At the tender age of 21, now-iconic axeman Zakk Wylde burst onto the metal scene in a major way when Ozzy Osbourne plucked him from relative obscurity in New Jersey and enlisted the young shredder as the lead guitarist for his solo band. Wylde expertly stepped up to the occasion, co-writing and performing on Osbourne's hit 1988 album No Rest for the Wicked.
Wylde's Les Paul-wielding Randy Rhoads–inspired style — boasting heavy-as-hell tones, uncanny lead-guitar skills and a signature use of pinch-harmonics — made him a core-component to Ozzy's sound on subsequent albums (including 1991's massive No More Tears, 1995's Ozzmosis, 2007's Black Rain and more), and a recurring member of Osbourne's solo touring band for the next three decades.
In 1999 Wylde unleashed his own heavy-metal project on the world with the release of Black Label Society's debut full-length Sonic Brew. The record not only showcased Wylde's fuzzed-out, distorted Southern-rock tinged riffs — as well as a hefty amount of shredding — it also revealed the guitarist as a capable singer and frontman. Sonic Brew kicked off two decades of eclectic BLS offerings, which include more than 10 albums that reflect Wylde's impressive creative range (from heavy to mellow to somber) and often irreverent sense of humor.
To celebrate two decades of their "brewtality," Wylde and Black Label Society are re-releasing a special "re-blended" version of their debut album. Officially titled Sonic Brew - 20th Anniversary Blend 5.99 - 5.19, the album contains two bonus tracks, a piano version of "Spoke in the Wheel," and an acoustic version of "Black Pearl." (Plus the new totally insane music video for the record's opening track "Bored to Tears.")
Below, the always entertaining Wylde shares why the new Sonic Brew is like auditory Viagra, updates us on how his pal Ozzy is doing while the singer recovers from the injury that derailed his solo tour, and much more.
YOU'RE ABOUT TO DROP THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF SONIC BREW, A NEW, IMPROVED AND "RE-BLENDED" VERSION. WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU DO TO "RE-BLEND" THE RECORD AND MAKE IT STRONGER?
ZAKK WYLDE Well, basically the whole album and packaging has been soaked in Viagra. So that's pretty much all we've done to it. Not only is the sound stronger and harder … The human performance of the Immortal Beloved [as Wylde calls his band] will thus be enhanced and improved because, well, we're marriage counselors as well. That's what Black Label specializes in. Relationship therapy. That's the whole point of the record, to just make the world a better place.
DID THE IDEA OF DIPPING THE ALBUM IN VIAGRA COME BECAUSE YOU GUYS ARE GETTING OLDER AND IT'S PERHAPS A PRODUCT THAT YOU ARE NOW USING … OR LOOKING INTO?
Nah, if I was 15 years old I would still be purchasing this record just because it's dipped in Viagra. No one is getting disappointed.
FOR THE NEW RELEASE, YOU RECORDED A NEW, REALLY BEAUTIFUL PIANO VERSION OF "SPOKE IN THE WHEEL" WITH THE WHOLE BAND. WHY DID YOU TO REMAKE THIS PARTICULAR SONG?
We've been doing it that way for years, it's actually the first Black Label song I ever wrote. So, I mean, obviously, originally, I wrote it sitting with an acoustic in a hotel room, but we don't have a recorded version of it with piano, except maybe on [the 2013 live album] Unblackened but we didn't have an actual studio version. So that's how that came about.
AND WHAT WERE THE LYRICS INSPIRED BY BACK WHEN YOU FIRST WROTE IT?
Oh, you know. Erectile dysfunction. And because, you know, who wants to be another spoke in the wheel? You know what I mean? You want to be the main spoke in the wheel. Erectile dysfunction will do that to you. If I had this album back when I first wrote the song … maybe I wouldn't have written the song.
WHEN YOU SAY YOU WANT TO BE THE "MAIN SPOKE IN THE WHEEL," WHAT IS THIS WHEEL YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT?
Just any wheel in general, you know? Just as long as you're invited to the party.
FAIR ENOUGH. LET'S GO BACK IN TIME A LITTLE BIT. YOU'RE A TEENAGER, YOU GOT HIRED TO PLAY FOR OZZY AND … ACTUALLY, BEFORE WE GET INTO THAT, HOW IS OZZY DOING? HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO HIM SINCE HE WENT TO THE HOSPITAL?
Yeah, I obviously saw him in the hospital and I still keep in touch with him. When we saw him he was making fun of himself and how banged up he is. They glued him back together and now we just gotta wait for the glue to dry and then he's back up and running.
I've always said it's a miracle any work gets done because if you're hanging around with him for even five minutes, you'll be on the floor crying-laughing. He's always taking the piss out of himself, or he's making fun of whatever is going on in the world. He's just always taking the piss everything. So it was the same thing.
[LAUGHS] I LIKE THAT. BACK TO THE ORIGINAL LINE OF QUESTIONING. SO YOU'RE PLAYING WITH OZZY, YOU BUILD YOURSELF UP AS THIS GUITAR SUPERSTAR. YOU GO SOLO FOR A BIT AND THEN YOU'RE ABOUT TO UNVEIL YOUR BRAND NEW PROJECT: BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD IN 1998, WHEN YOU WERE FIRST PUTTING THE RECORD TOGETHER AND GETTING READY TO RELEASE IT?
We had done Ozzmosis with the Boss [Ozzy Osbourne] and then in between I was writing. At night, I go across over to this bar called Bruise that was there in New York City. They had the Stones on the jukebox, Van Morrison, the Band, Eagles, Bad Company, Neil Young. So I'd be jamming to that all night and then I crawl back to my hotel room which was right next to the pub. Then I'd end up writing tunes. That's how that Book of Shadows [1996 solo album] thing came about, because it was just writing mellow acoustic stuff. After we did Book of Shadows and I toured I was like, 'Well, what am I going to do now?' Because I didn't think I was ready to be James Taylor yet, you know what I mean? Sitting on an acoustic for the rest of my days. I still wanted to do the heavy stuff.
In between there as well I was jamming with the GN'R guys and I had these riffs laying around. Nothing was happening with the GN'R thing so I was like, 'What am I going to do? Well, I'll just sing on these myself.' I got in touch with Phil [Ondich, drummer, first two BLS records] and then we went down to Florida and recorded the album. Here we are 20 years later.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME AND GIVE YOURSELF ANY ADVICE ABOUT MUSIC OR LIFE IN GENERAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would give the advice I give all kids. Make the band your job. Be all in. Obviously the playing and everything is the most important thing. The foundation of the whole thing is loving the instrument and practicing and getting better, the whole nine yards. But I mean, if you opened up a pub, your whole life would revolve around the pub and making it successful. You know what I mean? So if you're not practicing or playing, you're working on the merchandise, you're working on art ideas, you're working on the album cover, you're working on everything. Promoting the band and everything.
Younger kids nowadays have social media, which is great. So you can be your own boss. You're not at anyone's control by going 'Oh, boy. I need to get a record deal. If I don't have one by the time I'm 30 the dream is over.' Like, no. Be your own boss. Be accountable and responsible for your own success. I think that's the advice I always give because that's what you want to do with the rest of your life anyway. You want to play music and you want to be in a band. Just dedicate your whole life to it. Do it because that's what you love and that's what you have passion for.
Below, in our exclusive Rise Above series, watch Zakk Wylde open up about touring with Ozzy Osbourne and the pivotal moment when the guitarist's health went downhill and his doctor told him he would die if he didn't make a radical change in his lifestyle — an experience that led Wylde to abide by a key piece of Ozzy wisdom and find the inner strength to stop drinking.