While the heavy metal world mourns the end of Black Sabbath, guitarist Zakk Wylde is ensuring the music of the Brit rockers isn’t buried along with it. In recent years he’s formed the homage group Zakk Sabbath with other industry vets, bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson and drummer Joey Castillo.
ZAKK SABBATH With: CLUTCH When: 8 p.m. October 25 Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Tickets: $35 Info: livenation.com; (312) 923-2000
Though they started modestly with intimate gigs on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, the trio has found more solid footing on the festival circuit as well as a current tour with Clutch in which they shred through a set list of classics like “War Pigs” and “Fairies Wear Boots,” complete with layered solos, air raid sirens, and Wylde’s take on front man Ozzy Osbourne’s nasally timbre that have become the stuff of legend.
When Black Sabbath’s music was originally released in the ’70s, it was among the world’s first taste of heavy metal and became highly revered, particularly among young musicians fawning over the electric guitar — Wylde included.
“The music that you listen to in your youth, you carry with you the rest of your life,” he says. “So it feels like there’s no difference playing on stage now from when we were 15 years old playing these same songs in our friends’ kitchens or keg parties in the backyard. … I’m 49 now, so it shows you how timeless the music is.”
Though the dynamic guitarist has an incredibly full schedule — fronting heavy hitters Black Label Society, releasing solo material (including the two-decades-in-the-making “Book of Shadows II” earlier this year), heading up gear company Wylde Audio featuring his trademark bullseye guitar design, and releasing his own Valhalla Java Odinforce Blend Coffee to stay awake for it all — there is a sense that Zakk Sabbath is a passion project he has long desired to do. As a fan of course, but perhaps part of it also stemming from his long relationship with Osbourne.
“I owe everything to him. He introduced me to the world,” Wylde admits of being discovered by “The Prince of Darkness” in the ’80s. At the time Osbourne had been fired from Black Sabbath and was in the throes of a successful solo career, and after securing Wylde’s early demo hired him to become lead guitarist and co-writer of hit albums like “No More Tears” and “Ozzmosis.” It was a role formerly held by Wylde’s personal guitar hero, the late Randy Rhoads.
Though Wylde hasn’t played with Osbourne in almost a decade, he says, “Our relationship is bigger than the music anyway. They’re family to me.” To his point, Osbourne is the godfather to Wylde’s son Jesse (he has another son named Sabbath) and the guitarist still calls Sharon Osbourne “mom.”
“So yeah if Ozzy was like, ‘Zakk, do you want to get back together again,’ of course I would do it,” he admits (his Zakk Sabbath bandmate Blasko also plays in Osbourne’s band). And though it’s possible Osbourne will resume his solo career with some more time on his hands in the coming months, Wylde still is holding onto “positive thoughts” that this is not really the end for Black Sabbath whose last U.S. date is scheduled for November. “Hopefully the fellas will make horrendously bad business decisions with their finances and everyone will become broke and will be forced to put the band back together,” he jokes.
But until that time comes, Wylde is content to carry on the torch with Zakk Sabbath in much the same way he has done for the music of Jimi Hendrix on the annual “Experience Hendrix” tour and like he may possibly do someday for his late friend Dimebag Darrell in the much-hoped-for reformation of Pantera.
“It’s really up to the Rex and Phil and Vinnie. I support them whatever they want to do, but of course I would do it and honor [Dimebag],” he admits. “To me, all of these shows are really about the same thing — celebrating the bands and these incredible artists and everything they have achieved. The reason all of them are so great is because they play what they want to play and do what they want to do, and everybody else should be following that lead.”