If there’s one thing I truly know and love, it’s Black Sabbath. Not only does their music make me feel like myself more than anything else, it actually makes me believe in who I am and what I’m working to be. I used to think this sort of connection was one I possessed all on my own, but hearing Zakk Wylde’s story has made me realize I will never be alone in that:
“Whenever you’re having a garbage day, you just put on some Sabbath and you feel better!”
I first saw Zakk Sabbath, Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath tribute band, a couple years ago at the Fine Line. I was lucky to have spoken with him on Tuesday before his concert at Varsity Theater — making this time around even more incredibly special.
“I was playing these songs when I was fifteen at keg parties back in the day in Jackson, New Jersey. Now I’m 52 years old, and I’m still playing Black Sabbath songs. Except there are a couple more people, and there are more kegs.”
Zakk Sabbath started when he and bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson, who’s played with Ozzy and Rob Zombie but is not currently on this tour, would play all star jam sessions. There would be a different drummer each time and there were no rehearsals. When trying to decide what to play to get the drummer going, the common denominator would always be Sabbath. They grew to refer to it as the “Zakk Sabbath Set.”
“So here we are now; we’re actually touring behind the Zakk Sabbath-Keg Party-Festivus-Miracle on Ice!”
Zakk Sabbath has sold out nearly every show on this tour. Zakk does what he does when he plays with Black Label Society and walks around the floor, up on the balcony level; playing his guitar behind his head, up close and personal to his fans. I felt former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo’s kick drum zap through my entire body during songs like Children of the Grave and Into the Void. I also really enjoyed catching glances of bassist John “JD” DeServio’s big smile all night. It’s very obvious that these guys care for each other and they love what they do.
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While the first album Zakk Wylde bought with his own money was a Simon & Garfunkel 45, the first Black Sabbath album he ever got his hands on was the 1976 compilation album We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“All I remember is putting it on and being beyond terrified. I had never heard anything like it.”
At the concert, he played a handful of songs off that album. My favorites being: Tomorrow’s Dream, Fairies Wear Boots and Wicked World. I would have died to hear Warning, Sweet Leaf and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, also a part of that record.
When Zakk was twelve years old, in art class, his buddy Tommy was wearing a t-shirt with a skull-lightening bolt themed Black Sabbath design that ended up inspiring the Black Label Society jawless skull logo.
“He said it was a band his brother listened to. I didn’t know anything about it. I hadn’t heard one song; I just know how cool it looked.”
The songs Black Sabbath created are timeless, and they have stuck with Zakk ever since he first became obsessed with them.
“The music you listen to when you were a teenager pretty much sticks with you the rest of your life. It’s because you have amazing memories with certain songs that just bring you back exactly where you were.”
He is also huge Elton John fan, and is still on a steady classic rock “diet” of Bad Company, the Allman Brothers Band, Deep Purple, and the Rolling Stones.
“Growing up in Jersey, my buddy Scott’s older brothers were the ones who turned us on to all the cool stuff.”
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When prepping for my interview with Zakk Wylde, I was hoping to be able to sneak in very off-topic question that inquired about his favorite type of snacks. To my astonishment, he teed me right up for it!
When talking about the Varsity Theater, he applauded its intimate setting, and reminisced about playing everything from living rooms to kitchens throughout his career. I responded by awkwardly flirting the idea of him playing my own kitchen one day. I guess he thought it was cute, because he said no problem! Under one condition…
“Just put me near the pantry in case I need to get something to eat.”
“What kind of snacks do you like?” I giggled.
I would have guessed Xtra Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or something hardcore like that, but it turns out Zakk is actually a big fan of Little Debbie Cakes!
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Silliness aside, I knew that if I was ever given the opportunity to interview Zakk Wylde, I would absolutely have to ask him about the rockstar I adore the most: Ozzy Osbourne.
“I was a huge fan when he left Sabbath and was playing with Saint Rhoads, and then with Jake [E. Lee].”
Then it came to be that Ozzy was auditioning for guitar players. Zakk was playing a small club one night in New Jersey and was hanging out with Mark Weiss, a famous photographer who captured the well known shots of Ozzy in the boxing gloves, the tutus; the whole nine yards. He encouraged Zakk to audition for Ozzy that night. So he ended up making a cassette and taking some Polaroids on his mom and dad’s porch in Jersey, all of which were sent to Ozzy.
“I remember Mrs. Osbourne calling my parents’ house from England telling me I was going to fly out to LA to audition for the band. We got out there, and Ozzy walked into the room. All I remember is crappin’ my pants. Ozzy said, ‘Zakk, just play with your heart… and change your pants. And go make me a ham sandwich — light on the mustard.’ So I’ve been making ham sandwiches and going light on the mustard for over thirty years now.”
Being a huge fan of the Oz Man myself, I’ve always wanted to meet him. But I think more-so than that, I’d really like to give him a big hug.
“He’s the best, he really is. He has a heart of gold. He’s The Fonz of metal.”
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The mighty Zakk Wylde might seem scary on the outside, but he really is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever spoken with. He’s a passionate about music, and he has strong family values, which I really admire. He and his wife have four children, one of which is the Godson of Ozzy Osbourne.
All of his kids have played instruments at one point, but none of them stuck with it to the point that they want to make a living playing music.
“They are all into their own things. As a parent, you never force anything on your kids. Whatever they love, you support them, and that’s what you do.”
When Zakk Wylde performs, I can still hear him. He’s not just covering Black Sabbath; he’s respectfully making the music his own. I can tell it’s special to him, because it was special to me. The music of Black Sabbath brings out my purest feelings of strength and admiration — something I was riding high on Tuesday night at the Varsity, and I’m extremely grateful to Zakk Sabbath for keeping that alive.