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The metal world reacts to Jon Zazula's death: "Metallica would not be who we are without Jon"

Jon Zazula
(Image credit: Eddie Malluk)

The music world has paid tribute to Jon Zazula, the co-founder of Megaforce Records who has died aged 69. Known to the metal world as Jonny Z, Zazula was a key force in the development of heavy metal in the 1980s, working alongside everyone from Metallica and Anthrax to Testament, Overkill, Raven, King's X and Ace Frehley

In 1982 Jon co-founded Megaforce Records with wife Marsha, setting the label up to release Kill 'Em All, the debut album by Metallica. The Zazulas had met the young Californian thrash metal band towards the end of 1981 and took on managerial duties for the group, an arrangement which remained in place up until after the release of 1984's Ride The Lightning, when Metallica signed with Elektra Records and switched management. 

Megaforce played a key role in the development of both heavy metal, punk and rock throughout the 1980s and beyond, working with everyone from Overkill and Testament to Mushroomhead, Fozzy and even a reunited Bad Brains, the Zazulas becoming beloved fixtures in the heavy music community. 

Marsha Zazula passed away in January 2021 after a battle with cancer. At the time of her passing, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich posted a tribute to her in which he thanked her for "making it happen."

In the post, he went on to thank Marsha for "supporting us, for encouraging us, for advising us, for sheltering us, for feeding us, and most importantly for cheering us on and along with your husband Jonny, believing in the possibilities of how a gang of misfits and outsiders like ourselves could connect with a larger and likeminded audience…

You were an incredibly selfless matriarch and we’ll be forever grateful for the impact you had on our lives. Rest In Peace."

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"Metallica would not be who we are or where we are today without Jon Zazula and his wife, Marsha" - Metallica

Metallica posted a tribute to the man who helped launch their career some 40 years prior. "Heavy music lost one of its great champions today when Jonny Z left this world far too soon," they wrote. 

"In 1982, when no one wanted to take a chance on four kids from California playing a crazy brand of metal, Jonny and Marsha did, and the rest, as they say, is history. He was a mentor, a manager, a label head and a father figure to us all . . . Metallica would not be who we are or where we are today without Jon Zazula and his wife, Marsha. Our love and sympathy go out to Jonny’s children and his grandchildren, whom he cherished and brought to our shows from the time they were in diapers.

We hope they will be able to take some comfort in knowing that he is reunited with Marsha, and that he helped bring so much incredible music to so many. Hopefully there’s a great show goin’ on up there tonight to welcome you!

We’ll miss you Jonny! James, Lars, Kirk & Robert"


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"Jon Zazula's commitment, his guidance, his passion, and his friendship were integral in the success of Anthrax" - Anthrax

Members of Anthrax also posted separate tributes to Jon Zazula. 

Guitarist Scott Ian shared his memories of the early days of thrash, where Zazula introduced him to the music of Metallica through the demo tape No Life 'Til Leather

"I remember it like it was yesterday- Saturday afternoon, late ’82 at Rock & Roll Heaven with Jonny," he wrote. 

"He’d just played me Metallica’s No Life ’Til Leather demo. We were standing there sweating, a post-headbanging/air-guitaring fever had overcome us, Jonny staring at me wild-eyed shaking his head in an enthusiastic “YES” motion. My riff-induced smile back at him was all he needed. A beat passed, breathing subsided to a point where Jonny could speak and he excitedly raved at me, “I’m bringing them to NY, we’re going to make an album, and if nobody will put it out I’ll start my own label and I will put it out, and you guys will be next. And he did all of that. And he changed all of our worlds."

Vocalist Joey Belladonna responded to the news on Facebook, thanking Zazula "for being a great man, a great manager, and for believing in me."

Bassist Frank Bello wrote a similar message in his book Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surviving Anguish, Abandonment, and Anthrax, which was released in late 2021. In it, he explains that “I’ve always been close with [Jon] and to his late wife Marsha, who passed away when I was writing this book. They were very nurturing and helpful, especially in those early days. They always looked after me and gave me confidence, and I love them for that. They thought I was good for Anthrax, and I thank them for it.”


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"They took us in and made us feel like family" - Testament

Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick also shared his memories of Jonny and Marsha, and the vital role they played in helping thrash metal develop. 

"Whether as a label head or manager, he guided careers and had a massive impact on the music biz. Without him many of our lives - listeners and artist’s alike - might look very different. He and his beloved partner Marsha Z made us feel valued at a crucial point in our young lives (keep in mind, we were a bunch of scraggly misfits often on the outs with our own families who couldn’t understand our long hair, ripped jeans, leather jackets and this horrible racket we called “music” ). From Megaforce HQ in Old Bridge, New Jersey and their home nearby, they took us in and made us feel like family.

Make no mistake, Jonny could be tough - You might overhear him tearing apart some manager or attorney limb from limb during a phone negotiation, call the guy some unprintable insult and smash down the receiver. Yet in a blink of an eye, he’d say “sorry” and get right back to being our warm uncle from Jersey. Truth be told, there were some eventual fallings out with some of the artists he loved and who had loved him. But in the end, hard feelings were cast aside, relationships were repaired and those business disagreements became water under the (old) bridge.

His record store in Jersey was called Rock N Roll Heaven. Now he joins Marsha in the real Rock N Roll Heaven, the one upstairs."


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"A true giant of metal" - Raven

Exodus described Zazula's death as "a giant loss to the metal community," while also stating that "a true legend is gone way too soon" in a post on Instagram (opens in new tab)

Megadeth (and former Soilwork) drummer Dirk Verbeuren remembered him as "a kind-hearted man who cared deeply about his artists, friends, family and pets."

British heavy metal group Raven, who were also signed to Megaforce and later took Metallica out as support on their first national tour, called Zazula "a true giant of metal.... and a man that changed our lives."

American radio host and author Eddie Trunk, who joined Megaforce in 1986 and eventually became the label's vice president, said "I have a ton of memories and gratitude for a guy who took a 22 year old kid and made him VP of Megaforce Records and let him sign one of his heroes, Ace Frehley".

Fozzy vocalist Chris Jericho shared his own feelings about being "the last band Megaforce ever signed." Going on to say "It’s a great honor to know we were a small part of the massive legacy he and Marsha created".

Tributes were also paid by Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, Anvil, CKY, Venom Inc., Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel, Ministry/Madonna guitarist Monte Pittman, Cro-Mags and A&R legend Monte Conner, as well as countless metal fans who had become aware of Zazula's contributions to the rise of thrash and the wider world of music.

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Rich Hobson
Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.