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Megaforce Records co-founder Jon Zazula dead at 69

Jon Zazula
(Image credit: Eddie Malluk)

Megaforce Records co-founder Jon Zazula - known throughout the world of heavy metal as Jonny Z – has died at the age of 69. The news was confirmed in a Facebook post from Zazula's daughter, Rikki (opens in new tab)

She wrote, "The world lost a true legend today… Our Dad lived a life as fast, hard, heavy, powerful, and, impactful as the music he brought to the world. His passion and persistence fuelled the careers of arguably the most influential metal bands, and, industry greats of a generation. 

"To us he was simply daddy… Our father and mother were a powerhouse partnership in love, life, and business. Together they believed in the unbelievable, their passion, rebel perspective, and persistence built an empire from a box of vinyl in a flea market - into a multi platinum selling record label, management company, and publishing house. 

"Although we are devastated he is gone, they are finally reunited. And it feels impossible to imagine a world without him in it. For all of us who knew and loved him … by the way… keep it heavy! RIP daddy you will truly be deeply missed, but, never forgotten…your LegaZ will live on forever, not only in us and your grandchildren, but, in every headbanger on this planet for all of eternity!"

Zazula founded Megaforce Records in 1982 with his wife Marsha, who died last year. The couple launched the label in order to release Kill ’Em All, the debut album from Metallica, whose No Life ’Til Leather demo cassette was a top selling item in their store at a flea market in East Brunswick, New Jersey. He became Metallica's first manager, and the label went on to release albums by Anthrax, TestamentOverkillKing’s X, Stormtroopers Of Death, and more.

In 2016 broadcaster Eddie Trunk told Classic Rock about the release of Kill Em' All and about Z's impact on his own career, saying, "That album came out at a time that I was just starting to work in radio. I started doing a metal show, and Jonny Z, I was a customer of his at his record store in the flea market. 

"One day, he came up to my radio station, and said, 'I’ve got this band, and I can’t get anybody to play it. Can you play it on the air?' He pulled out of the bag Kill ‘Em All. Just to get him out of there, I played a song from it, and he scribbled on the cover of the album, 'Eddie, you were the first. Thank you, Johnny Z.'

"He said, 'If I can ever get this band to take off, I’m going to hire you to work for my record company.' A couple of years later, Metallica blows up, and he calls me and says, 'I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I’m starting my record company and I’m going to hire you. The bad news is Metallica is leaving me.' 

"[Laughs] Kill ‘Em All was not only a game changer in terms of not only introducing a new genre of metal, but it was a personal game changer for me, because it indirectly got me into the music business."

In 2019 Zazula published an autobiography, Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived By Jon Zazula.


Fraser Lewry
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.