Zakk Wylde Jokes About 'Grimmest Hits' Black Label Society Album Title: 'I Just Wanted to Confuse People'
Black Label Society record contains new material instead of greatest hits
After first coming to prominence in 1988 as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, Zakk Wylde stepped out in front of the mic a decade later with his own band, Black Label Society. The group is celebrating its 20th year with its just-released 10th album, Grimmest Hits and a North American tour with Corrosion of Conformity and Red Fang.
And while he’s splitting his time among BLS; his on-again, off-again status as guitarist with Osbourne (it’s on again) and a Black Sabbath tribute act called Zakk Sabbath, Wylde doesn’t look at what he’s doing as a grind at all. Talking to him is like catching up with an old friend as he throws out sports analogies, references to the artists who inspire him and the joy of continuing to make music.
In fact, Wylde tells Billboard that making Grimmest Hits was as exciting as making his first album with Osbourne, No Rest for the Wicked, 30 years ago. “If you win the World Series or got to the playoffs and it was an exciting season, when the new season comes up, you’re looking forward to it,” he says. “That’s why I had pictures of Jimmy Page up on the wall and I still do. You never want to lose that feeling of being 15 when everything’s larger than life and it’s magical. Once that flame goes out, it’s not good.”
Despite its title, Grimmest Hits is not a greatest-hits package. “The record label was like, ‘Are there any hits on this album?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s looking pretty bleak,’ ” says Wylde with a laugh. “To have a greatest-hits record, you need one important ingredient and that’s hit songs. We don’t have them, we just have grimmest hits. Someone will listen to this record and say, ‘I don’t hear any hits on this record,’ and I’ll say, ‘That’s right, jackass, that’s why the album is called Grimmest Hits, not Greatest Hits.’ I just want to confuse people even more!” Despite that, the set had a good week, debuting at No. 1 on Hard Rock Albums, No. 3 on Top Rock Albums and No. 29 on the Billboard 200 the week of Feb. 3 with 15,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music. Lead single “Room of Nightmares” peaked at No. 29 on Mainstream Rock Songs.
While Grimmest Hits isn't a compilation, stylistically, it does a great job of summing up Black Label's career. Riffy rockers like "Room of Nightmares" and "Seasons of Falter" dominate the record, with several midtempo ballads like closer "Nothing Left to Say" demonstrating Wylde's Allman Brothers Band worship.
As to how he stays inspired with Black Label Society after two decades, Wylde says that the more experience he has, the more he can oversee other aspects of the band. “We’re in our fourth Super Bowl and 11th Pro Bowl of a Hall of Fame career,” he says. “Now we’re head coaches or team owners, and we’re having just as much fun, if not more, because we’re involved with everything that has to do with the team.”
It helps that he has other projects to focus on. While Black Label Society’s last album, Catacombs of the Black Vatican, arrived four years ago, he released his second solo album, Book of Shadows II, in 2016, 20 years after the first one. Like its predecessor, it was more acoustic in nature than Black Label’s riff-driven rock’n’roll.
“I did the first Book of Shadows album after [Osbourne’s 1995 album] Ozzmosis,” he says. “I had my acoustic guitar with me, and I’m a huge Neil Young fan, The Band, Eagles, Allman Brothers, The [Rolling] Stones, all that mellow stuff. I’d sit at this bar on 34th and Lexington after we got done tracking, until six or seven in the morning, drinking and listening to the jukebox. I’d end up going to my room with my acoustic and write songs that sounded like the stuff I was inspired by. That’s how the first album came about. So after a few Black Label albums, I had a bunch of mellow songs, and people would ask when I was doing another album like that, so I just decided to do Book of Shadows II. Every Black Label album, after pounding away with riffs after a while, you need some acoustic stuff to have a break from the pummeling.”
Last year, Wylde rejoined “the boss” (aka Osbourne) on the road, marking the first time they had toured together since 2006. And while Firewind guitarist-founder Gus G. was Osbourne’s guitarist on 2010’s Scream and subsequent touring, Wylde never lost touch with Osbourne and “Mom,” as he affectionately calls Osbourne’s wife and manager, Sharon.
“During the nine years I wasn’t there, we still talked and went out to dinner on double dates,” he says. “And on holidays and birthdays and Mother’s Day, I’d reach out. It’s like your parents — even though you don’t live at the house anymore, you’ll pop by on weekends and change a light bulb and bring groceries so Mom and Dad don’t have to do it. That’s how my relationship with him is. When we got back together and started doing rehearsals again, it was like picking up exactly where it left off. You’re crying laughing all the time because whenever you’re around Ozzy, he’s making fun of himself and everything else that’s going on.” While he hasn’t contributed to Osbourne’s upcoming album yet, he said that if Osbourne asks if there are any riffs lying around he’s not using, he’s more than happy to contribute, stating, “That’s how it’s always been.”
Although Osbourne hasn’t announced that his next tour will be his last, in the space of two weeks, Slayer, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Paul Simon announced that they’re wrapping up their touring careers. Wylde is philosophical about it. “2016 was beyond ridiculous,” he says, referring to the year that David Bowie and Prince died. “It was amazing how many legendary, irreplaceable artists were gone, and 2017 picked up right where 2016 left off. Even though [Linkin Park’s] Chester [Bennington] was a young guy, they were getting ready to go out and do a stadium tour, and there were so many people that were touched by his music.
“But when Jimi Hendrix passed away, everyone was like, ‘I guess that’s it. No one will ever do anything innovative on guitar ever again. You can’t top that.’ Then all of a sudden, seven years later, King Edward [Eddie Van Halen] arrived. As long as you have inspired people, you can’t stop that. After Terry Bradshaw, people were like, ‘You’ll never have another quarterback like that,’ and here comes Joe Montana and Dan Marino, and now Captain America, Tom Brady. You’re witnessing history with him right now. As long as you have driven people, you won’t stop it. As far as the bloodline goes in music, all those people that have passed away have inspired other people. The torch of inspiration gets handed down.”
That extends to those that aren’t with us any more. When asked his thoughts about the Ronnie James Dio hologram that will be touring later this year, Wylde fully supports it. “It’s like me and you going out and seeing an ass-kicking Dio tribute band,” he says. “It looks like he’s up there, and if you go out and have a great night out with the guys, and you’re a huge Dio fan, it’s a great night out. You’re still celebrating his greatness. I don’t think it’s wrong in any regard. I saw the Love show in Vegas and thought it was amazing, because it’s a celebration of The Beatles. I didn’t think it was cheesy or cheap or whoring out The Beatles. Their music should be celebrated. How is that bad?”