Zakk Wylde was barely out of his teens when he became Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist, going on to help pen some of the singer's best loved songs. 35 years later and Wylde is hailed as one of metal's most iconic guitar players, his work with Ozzy and the likes of Pride & Glory and Black Label Society helping to inspire generations of musicians to pick up the instrument.
"I'm just doing what the guys before me did," he says with a smile. "Chuck Berry came out and inspired Jimi Hendrix, then Hendrix inspired people like Eddie Van Halen. The guys that came before lift you up on their shoulders so you can take playing to another level - that's how this all works.”
That in mind, we asked Zakk to pick out the ten songs that best tell his story...
1. Ozzy Osbourne – Miracle Man (No Rest For The Wicked, 1988)
“If we’re talking about the 10 songs that tell my story, we’d have to start with Miracle Man as that’s the first song I wrote with Oz. Hearing that on the radio the first time was pretty insane; I’d never made a record before that or even been in a studio of that magnitude.
That first album was a learning experience for me, working with Keith Olson on my guitar tone. I’d be playing Ronni Le Tekrø from TNT, 10,000 Lovers and he’d go ‘cool, keep playing and we’ll get that sound from you too'. We were in England and every day we’d record, then go back to this pub called The Wheatsheaf, jamming and drinking from around 11 in the morning - things got pretty hilarious.”
2. Ozzy Osbourne – Mama, I’m Coming Home (No More Tears, 1991)
“Oz and I worked on Mama I’m Coming Home in my apartment, which at the time I shared with my girlfriend – now wife – Barbaranne. We’re sitting on my piano in my apartment and we wrote it right there, but when we recorded it on record it all got converted back into guitar. Listening to the finished version of it, I remember just being like ‘wow’ and then Ozzy’s vocal comes in and is just unbelievable. He got some great vocal melodies on that album – just check out the harmonies on Time After Time.”
3. Pride & Glory – Losin’ Your Mind (Pride & Glory, 1994)
“The framework of what Ozzy does was all set by Randy Rhoads on those first two Ozzy albums. That’s the template for how an Ozzy car is made, but you can make tweaks on that design to do something different – like what Jake [E. Lee, ex-Ozzy guitarist] did with Bark At The Moon. At the same time, that means something like the banjo intro to a song like Losin’ Your Mind would never really fit into how an Ozzy record should look or sound. It’s too much of a southern rock flavouring, even if on a song like Mama I was putting a bit of a country spin on the guitars, bringing a bit of a Allman Brothers Melissa type thing into it.
I ended up doing Pride & Glory up in Seattle with Rick Parashar, the three of us – me, James [LoMenzo, bass] and Brian [Tichy, drums] living in a house that he owned and using this rental car, so it was non-stop shenanigans the whole time we were there. It was fun doing so much we didn’t have room to do in Ozzy’s stuff, like using mandolin on Lovin’ Woman. We didn’t double the guitars or anything either – it was a real power trio vibe, more like Cream approach as opposed to Ozzy where everything gets built from the ground up.”
4. Zakk Wylde – Between Heaven And Hell (Book Of Shadows, 1996)
“We were working on Ozzmosis when I started writing the Book of Shadows record. We’d record all day, then at night I’d go over to this bar called Brew’s. I’d be in there until four, five in the morning most days and the sun would be coming up as I was drinking. They had this great jukebox stocked with Neil Young, The Eagles, Bob Seger, the Stones… classic rock, all this killer mellow stuff.
I’d spend all night drinking then go back to my hotel room inspired and that’s how Book Of Shadows came about. It was a singer-songwriter, James Taylor type thing while I was working on it. I loved some of the vocal melodies and the Neil Young harmonica on Between Heaven And Hell was so much fun too. I think any great musician is a reflection of the stuff they truly love and that really holds true for that album. It was cool revisiting the idea for Book Of Shadows II, 20 years later too. We’ll have to top that next time – 25 year wait for Book Of Shadows III, ha ha.”
5. Black Label Society – A Spoke In The Wheel (Sonic Brew, 1998)
“The first Black Label Society song I ever wrote was A Spoke In The Wheel, if you can believe it. A mellow song! I was sitting in a hotel in Japan doing promotion for Book Of Shadows, just up in my room with my electric guitar. Over the years we converted that into piano, but on the record it’s just an acoustic and single vocal – looking back on Black Label, that’s where it all began.
The idea then is still the same idea today – the Black Label Society soup all starts with a riff, that’s the foundation of the song. The guiding lights for me are Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Deep Purple. Those riffs dictate the song – look at something like Smoke On The Water, or Paranoid or Sunshine Of Your Love – that riff is probably the very first heavy metal riff, ever. That’s my mount riffmore.”
6. Black Label Society – Stillborn (The Blessed Hellride, 2003)
“I called Oz and asked him to do the background vocals with me for Stillborn. We did the video for it with Father Rob Zombie which was great fun too. I was just trying to write a song based off a riff and to use as few crayons as possible – if I give you only three ingredients and ask you to make a meal, I’m interested in seeing what you can put together.
When people go ‘oh man, imagine if The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix had Pro Tools, wouldn’t that be great?’ and I’m just like… no. The reason they’re so great is because they had so little to work with, they had to use their imaginations to bounce tracks and create something that didn’t exist. If you’re there and can only use two strings, I wanna hear what you can write. Stillborn was exactly that – it’s one note, F-sharp. That’s how I’ve always approached the Black Label stuff – how much can you do with as little as possible?”
7. Black Label Society – In This River (Mafia, 2005)
“The crazy thing about In This River is that I’d written it before Dime had even passed away, it was all about life in general. We dedicate that song every night to Dime, it’ll never leave our sets when we do a headline show. These days we dedicate it to Dime and Vinnie, which is crazy too. But when we first wrote it, both of those guys were still with us. But after everything happened, I knew that had to be his song.”
8. Generation Axe (live, 2016)
“Probably the most important collab I’ve ever done was joining Generation Axe. Jamming with Yngwie [Malmsteen], Steve Vai, Nuno [Bettencourt] and Tosin [Abasi] was a blast every night.
You’d hear the horror stories of the music business, especially from Yngwie and Steve who’d seen the comedy and tragedy in the whole thing. Steve even said one night he was glad he put the thing together for that reason, for the pure music business comedy – it’s like the wild west. Rolling with the fellas is a blast.”
9. Zakk Sabbath – Black Sabbath (Vertigo, 2020)
“Vertigo was all about celebrating the 50th anniversary of that first Black Sabbath record. We went out on tour to play as Zakk Sabbath and when we did that, it’s so obvious how inspiring it is. Re-recording that whole album just reiterated to me that Black Sabbath are the Beatles of heavy metal.
We even played in Birmingham, Black Sabbath’s home town, on the 50th anniversary of that album, opening with Supernaut. There are two riffs in that song and it’s absolutely phenomenal. Into The Void is ridiculous too – Lord Iommi is the Lennon, McCartney, Bach and Beethoven of riffs.”
10. Black Label Society – Farewell Ballad (Doom Crew Inc., 2021)
“When the pandemic hit, my wife said ‘hey, maybe you should work on a record so when it all ends you’ll have something to release’. I spent a month working on my little book report ready for when the guys arrived and we could actually record. For the first time, I’d recorded all my parts before the guys even arrived. They’d come round, listen to what I had, then knock it out.
I was really happy with how Farewell Ballad came out, and that I finally managed to finish it. That song has been sitting around since like 2007 or 2008; I was doing something for Guitar Techniques magazine and needed something to solo over, so I wrote that piece right there. Over the years that things has had millions of views and people doing their own versions, absolutely crushing it and doing a great job, so I figured why not actually finish the piece.”