“People talk about Clapton, Beck and Page, but you can’t leave Ritchie Blackmore out of the list”: how Deep Purple changed Zakk Wylde’s life

Zakk Wylde brandishing a guitar and Ritchie Blackmore performing onstage in 1985
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon/Future/Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

As Ozzy Osbourne’s longtime guitarist and right-hand man, Zakk Wylde was always Team Black Sabbath. But like everyone who came of age in the 70s, Deep Purple left a massive impression on him too. In 2012, Classic Rock talked to Zakk about his love of Purple and his band’s cover of Pictures Of Home for the tribute album Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head.

What was your introduction to Deep Purple?

Hearing Smoke On The Water. It’s like Stairway To Heaven with Zeppelin or Free Bird with Skynyrd  – that’s your starter kit right there. When you think about the architects of our world, you think Cream with Sunshine Of Your Love, which is probably the first real heavy metal riff, and then Hendrix, then Purple, Zeppelin and Sabbath. That’s the roots of the genre right there.

Was Smoke On The Water the first song you learned on guitar?

Yeah, I think so, because you can play it with just four notes on the low E string. I’m pretty sure that and [Black Sabbath’s] Iron Man were my first two riffs.

How did you come to hear Machine Head?

For me personally, I was more of a Sabbath guy because there was no keyboards on there and I was all guitar, guitar, guitar… so I think initially I was listening to friends’ copies of Machine Head as we were all into our rock. But I know I have a copy somewhere. It’s one of those albums which lays the foundations for your musical education. Obviously you’ve got Ian Gillan’s amazing vocals, Ritchie is just ripping all over the place on his guitar, Jon Lord is doubling everything on the keyboards with his classical influences and you have that rock solid slamming rhythm section. What’s not to like?

Black Label Society have covered Pictures Of Home. Why did you choose that particular song to cover?

Someone asked us to do it and we just Black Label-ized it. Obviously you don’t want to cover the classics note-for-note, you want to put your own spin on it, like Hendrix did with Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, because you’re never going to top the original anyway. So we tried to put our own stamp on it by doing an acoustic-type version with electric solos and I think it worked out pretty well.

Did you learn anything new about Deep Purple by doing the song?

I just re-learned what I already knew: Deep Purple kicks ass. Before we listened to it I was like, ‘Deep Purple is awesome.’ And after we listened to it, I was like, ‘Man, Deep Purple is really awesome!’

Did you ever get a chance to see Deep Purple in concert?

No. I was too young to see the classic line-up live, and even when they got Ritchie back for the Perfect Strangers album – which is another amazing record – I missed out. But a bunch of my buddies have seen them now with Father Morse jamming in the band and everyone has said he’s doing an amazing job. Steve Morse is in a class all by himself.

What’s the secret of their enduring appeal?

Great songs. They turned in great live performances and they’re extraordinary musicians, but at the bedrock, it’s all about the songs.

Are there any other Deep Purple songs you’d like to Label-ize?

Yeah, any of them. They’re all slamming. I was just re-listening to The Essential Deep Purple album the other day and even the newer songs on there are great. Like Zeppelin and Sabbath you can pick out your song blindfolded and you know you’ll end up with something classic.

Do you think Purple have had the recognition they deserve?

In the guitar community, for sure. People always talk about the Big Three British guitar players, Clapton, Beck and Page, but you can’t leave Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi out of the list, because those guys helped write the book. Father Blackmore can rip with the best of them.

If you had a time machine, what Black Label Society song would you give the Mark II line-up to cover?

I’d have to give them Spoke In The Wheel, a nice acoustic song, to see what they’d do with it. Or maybe we’d write a bad dance song to see how they’d pull that off. And once I’ve done that, I’ll ask them to bring us world peace, find a cure for cancer and split the atom again. 

Originally published in Classic Rock Presents Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.