By Katherine Turman
Zakk Wylde is a fount of useful knowledge for rock stars-in-training. In his 2013 book, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker's Guide to World Tour Domination, the Black Label Society singer/guitarist advises young musicians not to demand too much too soon: "Be reasonable, and when you grow into a big rock star you can ask for all the cocaine and dildos you can imagine."
So yeah, he's funny, too. And goofy. Which is good, as he's an imposing behemoth of a man, a metal-music-making giant whose latest BLS album, Catacombs of the Black Vatican, is the band's ninth. It's full of scorching solos and doomy aural tones, as might be expected from one who learned at the feet of the master -- Wylde did good hard time as Ozzy Osbourne's axeman, stepping into the shoes of his idol, the late Randy Rhoads, for eight albums and about two decades (with some on and off) starting in 1987.
While "guitar hero" isn't usually Plan B in a young kid's dreams, Wylde, who has played guitar casually since he was eight, had a different career path planned out in middle school: "I wanted to go to Penn or Ohio State, which is like Linebacker U.," he explains. "It was my dream to become a middle linebacker and play in the NFL. Then, after my NFL career, I was going to become a broadcaster." Hard to imagine, but the then-slight Wylde couldn't bulk up enough, and the football dream turned into a musical one.
With his signature "bull's-eye" Gibson Les Paul Custom model, Wylde kickstarted his non-Ozzy career with a couple albums before 1998's BLS debut, Sonic Brew -- a more Southern rock disc than the metallic ones that followed -- earning him fervent aggro-dude fans and the title of "everybody's favorite drinking buddy." As for BLS, which has about a dozen former members, the ever-amiable leader explains: "It's like the Navy Seals; everybody knows why they're here: We're gonna kill some bad guys and we're going home. There is no fighting, whining, complaining bitching or moaning. None of the fellows in the Doom Crew or the guys I roll with have time for it. It's unique." While bandmates may come and go -- as Wylde himself did with Osbourne -- he notes: "Nobody quits or gets fired. If a guy gets an opportunity to make more cash, you gotta take that, but you always have a gig and home here. It truly is a brotherhood. All the brothers that have rolled with us have contributed to what Black Label is today."
Today also finds Wylde -- with four kids (his youngest son named Sabbath!) -- a sober one, due to serious health issues. As with everything in his life, the gentle giant tackled sobriety head-on, eschewing rehab. "Why I gotta give someone twenty grand to tell me my drinking card is punched out?" he says. "They're just gonna go, 'You're done, dude.' I'm like, 'How much of a candy ass do you think I am? If you're over it, you're over it,'" he concludes, chortling, "Tough shit for me."
Black Label Society plays at Pop's tonight at 7 p.m.Admission is $27-$30.
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