Zakk Wylde, one of the most beloved personalities in rock, possesses a very distinct voice — deep, with more than a hint of New Jersey. On the phone, he’s engaging, funny and self-effacing, and his vernacular is peppered with phrases that have become almost as much the Black Label Society leader’s signature as his guitar-playing — “Fuckin’ A, bro!,” “Without a doubt!” and “You know what I mean?”
Add that to an image of an outlaw biker thrilling crowds, and it’s easy to forget that this musical road warrior is a loveable wiseass from Bayonne. He may look menacing, but Wylde is happily married to his high school sweetheart (he’s actually known her since sixth grade) and the proud father of four children.
When he’s not slinging his axe as guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne — a gig he landed at 19 and has held on and off ever since — Wylde is the shredding frontman of Black Label Society, now in its 20th year. To celebrate, his label, eOne, licensed the band’s complete back catalog: in addition to BLS’ last three albums (all released on eOne), the company has licensed Sonic Brew, Stronger Than Death, 1919 Eternal, The Blessed Hellride, Hangover Music Vol. VI, Mafia and Shot to Hell. Iconic 1999 debut LP Sonic Brew has been remastered, and on May 17, eOne will release Sonic Brew—20th Anniversary Blend—5.99-5.19 with enhanced flavor.
Remastering Sonic Brew was no easy task, explains Wylde. “The whole thing is, I don’t have the two-inches [tapes] — I don’t have all the recordings I’ve ever done, but I own all the masters. But I don’t have them on those, so to actually go in and remix the record, it’s impossible, you know what I mean? So what exists is what exists: just the DAT and the CD of the actual record.” Therefore, Wylde went into “the Black Vatican” (his recording studio) and had BLS drummer Jeff Fabb and bassist John DeServio replay certain parts. “We just call it ‘reblended’ because we’re a bunch of doofus hipsters, so that’s what we go with,” he says with a laugh. “So everyone thinks we’re that much more genius!
“The whole thing is that I don’t want to change the performances on the record because the magic that was in those performances is what we all love,” he continues. “I don’t want to hear Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones going in and rerecording Led Zeppelin II because what’s the point?”
Wylde is pairing the reissues with the 20 Years of Sonic Brewtality Tour in North America, which will launch on April 24 and feature multi-night shows in certain cities. “Yeah, I don’t know why I agreed to this,” he says, laughing again, “but the whole thing is that on the first night, we’re going to do Sonic Brew in its entirety, the whole record from beginning to end. And then the next night, we’ll do songs that people actually enjoy. Songs by Barry Manilow, Dean Martin, Sinatra… songs that make people actually go, ‘Wow! Now this is tolerable, instead of that horseshit they played last night!’ … We might break out some Mel Torme as well! Don’t ever deny the Velvet Fog! But at venues when we’re only playing one night, I think we’re going to have to figure it out when we get there. It’ll probably be a set featuring some songs from Sonic Brew and then a bunch of our ‘un-greatest’ hits.”
Asked why he’s not playing Massachusetts, where he’s beloved for his music but reviled for his taste in sports franchises, he responds, “I was told [Boston] is not a big college town. So I said, ‘Okay, this is new to me, but we’ll just go past Boston.’ But, no, it’s more likely that on the dates we were planning the tour, the venues in Boston and in the area were already booked.”
Then Wylde delivers one of his famed metaphorical quasi-soliloquies: “But it’s got nothing to do with the [Boston Red] Sox or [New England Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady. I’m a [New York] Giants fan, but with Captain America Brady, don’t tell me that, when we get into these debates about the greatest quarterback, I’m a Joe Montana guy — if we gotta put the chips on the table — and I love Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach, too, you know what I mean? Put it this way: With Captain America, free agency and everything like that, the fact that he’s got six rings and he’s lost three, he has one thing that Montana and Bradshaw didn’t have, and that’s that he faced defeat and then came back. My friends will say, ‘Yeah, but they never lost,’ and I say, ‘They never lost and been tested to see if they could come back.’ So if you’ve never lost, you’ve never tasted defeat to see if you could come back. That’s why he’s Captain America. I love getting into these things with my Giants fan buddies or my [Miami] Dolphins fan buddies, they’re just so bitter — all I do is mention Captain America’s name, and they go nuts! It’s just hilarious!” he says, laughing.
The tour ends May 23 in Los Angeles. Wylde, a legendary touring machine, was originally set to join Osbourne’s own North American tour, which was to start the next day at Rocklahoma in Pryor, Okla. However, Osbourne announced that he’s postponing all of his 2019 dates due to aggravating injuries he sustained in a 2003 ATV accident. (He had already been sidelined from the road due to suffering from pneumonia.)
Years ago, Wylde smartly branded BLS with its own “colors” — the term that motorcycle clubs use to describe their logos — slapping its insignia on leather vests and naming the fan bases in different parts of the county “chapters.” It helped organically spread word-of-mouth about BLS, and now, the band’s website is like the L.L.Bean of rock merch, with an impressive collection of items to offer its fans. In a stroke of genius, Wylde is further commemorating BLS’ anniversary with a beard grooming kit that includes a custom Sonic Brew scent. He explains that Osbourne’s bassist, Rob “Blasko” Nicholson, “is buddies with the guys from [Mad Viking Beard Co., who make the kits], and they asked if I’d ever want to do something, and I said, ‘Yeah, of course!’ Blasko’s like, ‘I got a beard. Zakk’s got a beard. This makes sense.’ And I use it. Without a doubt, you know? They make ass-kicking shit.”
He compares the natural fit of the Mad Viking partnership to the one he has with Death Wish Coffee Company, which creates Wylde’s Valhalla Java brand of morning brew. “They said, ‘Zakk, we’ll send you out some samples,’ and I said, ‘Just give me some coffee that tastes strong, with a lot of flavor, and it tastes like it has espresso in it.’ And they send out four sample bags and, you and me, you know, we’d just sit around drinking coffee until we figure out which is our favorite, and that’s how you do it … It’s just about working with a bunch of cool people that have passion for what they’re doing.
“And with the beard kit, of course, everything is about the Black Label scent!” he says, laughing again. “We’re really not sure what that quite is, but we’ll stick with that. Like every night, we go up onstage, I say, ‘C’mon, fellas! Let’s show ’em what we’re all about!’ And they go, ‘What are we about?’ And I go, ‘I really don’t know, but let’s show them anyway!’ ”
Check out Black Label Society’s North American tour dates with Conan and The Atomic Bitchwax:
April 24-25 Denver@The Oriental Theater
April 27-28 Dallas@Canton Hall
April 30-May 1 Chicago@Concord Music Hall
May 4 Jacksonville, Fla.@Welcome to Rockville Festival*
May 6-7 New York@The Bowery Ballroom
May 11 Rockingham, N.C.@Epicenter Festival*
May 14-15 Toronto@Opera House
May 17 Columbus, Ohio@Sonic Temple Festival*
May 18 Clarksville, Tenn.@O’Connors
May 22-23 Los Angeles@El Rey Theatre
* Without Conan and The Atomic Bitchwax