An Interview with Black Label Society: Zakk Wylde Lets It All Out Of The Catacombs Of The Black Vatican

One of the most charismatic and talented guitar players in hard rock (and music history, for that matter), is none other than Jersey’s own Zakk Wylde. This week, the holy father of the Black Vatican himself and his band Black Label Society released their latest CD, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican. For Zakk, putting this new BLS record did come at a cost, though. First of all, the man who loved his beer had to give up alcohol due to blood clots in his body. So, now he’s sober and funnier than ever. Second, Black Label Society’s original rhythm guitarist, Nick “The Evil Twin” Catanese, left the band back in December. Third, Zakk has hired the young and talented Dario Lorina to take Nick’s place. The funny thing is if you look really quick, Dario kind of looks like Zakk when he first joined Ozzy back in 1987.

I have to admit that I’ve waited a long time to talk to Zakk Wylde. He’s without a doubt one of my favorite guitar players of all time and his characterized guitar squeals are something that I remember always wanting to hear in songs that I’ve written with other guitar players. So I would have to say that Zakk is definitely a major influence for me in the music that I enjoy as a fan. I got to talk to Zakk while he was on the road with Black Label Society in Canada. This was a couple of weeks before his Pelham Blue Bullseye Gibson Les Paul custom guitar and BLS vest were stolen out of his bus in Chicago during his quick stint on the Experience Hendrix tour. As of this writing, the guitar and the vest have still not been returned.

Next week, Black Label Society hit the road with Down, Devil You Know (featuring Howard Jones, former singer of Killswitch Engage), and Butcher Babies, as part of the Golden Gods Tour. Here’s what the charismatic Zakk Wylde had to say about his new CD, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican:

So, how are you feeling, my brother? How is your health?

I just feel like a charged up rocker (laughs). No, I feel fine, man! I mean, I have to take blood thinner twice a day, in the morning and at night. Outside of that, I can’t drink booze because it thins your blood as well. So, it would be blood thinner on blood thinner, but I asked the doctor what about sniffing glue? He said, “No, that won’t affect you at all!” (Laughs) So, as far as the glue goes, I basically wake up, pretty much how it was like with the booze, I don’t really remember much and I’m happy all the time. So it’s pretty much the same thing and it’s less filling and it won’t go to my thighs. It’s kind of panning out pretty well.

Let’s talk about Catacombs Of The Black Vatican. It comes out this week. Do you still get excited when you release a new CD or is it just like, “Great! Here’s a new record for everyone…”

No, I mean, to me when we make the new records, like going in to make this one, or any records that we’ve done for that matter, when someone makes a comment that this is like this record or the last record, I won’t discredit all the other records. I mean, if you ask any artist or any of your favorite bands and all the guys you dig, you go in there, even when you go in and record, the intention is make it the best thing you can possibly make, and you want to play it for your friends. So, I get as much joy out of making the new album like we did as I did when I went in and made “Miracle Man” with the Boss [Ozzy Osbourne]. So, to me, it’s that exciting.

I was looking at my other friends who are at my age now. I’m now 47, but I started with the boss when I was 19, so the whole thing is like, “I had to get off the road, I couldn’t take it anymore. I got the kids.” Well, I got four kids too. Our kids are 21, 20, 11 and one and half. I mean, to me, if you and me were in a band together, every time we get out on stage, it’s still just as much a good time, and like I always tell everybody, of course, whenever we’re playing a festival in front of 120,000 people, yeah, that’s definitely a rush and the whole nine yards, but tonight, when it’s me, you and the guys, and we get on stage and there’s 300 people in a packed club, dude, that’s still a rush too. So, I mean, you know, I storm though it all. There’s not one where I go, “Well, if we’re not doing the big places, forget about it. I don’t like doing it.” I still love the whole thing.

I was just watching this thing on [former NFL wide receiver] Jerry Rice, and he was saying that he loved the working out, he loved the practice, he loved learning the routes, he loves lifting weights, he loved watching game films… It’s the whole process, man. Where it’s not like, “Oh, dude. I can’t stand the training, I can’t stand the two-a-days, but I like playing the game.” I like the whole thing. I like making the records and I like the touring. Then you got the other guys who like touring but don’t like making records or vice versa, but I dig the whole thing, man.

After listening to the CD a few times since I got it, one of my favorite tracks is “My Dying Time.” The song is awesome! It’s different, but the same, if that makes any sense. It’s Black Label just doing what Black Label does. It’s got that heavy Black Label sound. Is there anything on Catacombs that you think will surprise your fans?

Not to the point of, “Oh, wow! They’re doing a jazz fusion album,” or something like that (laughs). I mean, I always say, “What’s the difference between Sabbath: Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath?” To me, I think it’s just like you and me are road-trippin’ and as soon as we start wearing out Volume 4, we’ll stick the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in or whatever record we’re not wearing out.

So, to me, what’s the difference between Zeppelin IV and Houses Of The Holy? To me, it still sounds like Zeppelin, but it’s just a new batch of Zeppelin brew for us to drink and it still tastes great and it’s just different types of beers. The other album was a stout, this one is a porter. It’s like, “Oh, yeah! It’s cool! It’s different, but it tastes like Led Zeppelin.” That’s the only way I can make the analogies. [I loved how Zakk kept referring to music as beer. He must really miss drinking.]

At that point, all you’re listening to is, for instance, any of the Stones records. What’s the difference between Let It Bleed that had “Gimme Shelter” on it and Exile On Main Street had “Tumble Dice” and stuff like that on it? I guess it’s just more cool Stones stuff to listen to. You know what I mean?

Was Nick Catanese still with the band when you recorded Catacombs or did you bring Dario in to put his touch on it?

No, no, no, no! I always do all of the guitar work on the records. It’s just easier for me to do it that way as opposed to having me standing over Nick’s back, or whatever, but Nick’s always done the live stuff and Nick’s recorded on the live stuff. On Unblackened, that’s all Nick and on any of the live stuff we’ve done. The live DVDs, that’s all Nick. So, I mean, Nick’s killed it every time.

I did call Nick for this album though. I said, “Nick, do you wanna come out and track some stuff it?” That’s when Nick was like, “I’m knees deep doing this thing with the guys [Kaldera] and I’m really having a good time. I really wanna focus on this thing a thousand percent.” I told him, “Nick, you know we’re always here for ya, love ya and support ya, man. So kill it. Just kick some ass!” Nick is doing his own thing right now. So, like I said, we all love Nick and everything like that and it’s all good!

So, I ended up hooking up with [former Ozzy bassist] Blasko, who turned me onto Dario. I watched a video of him playing some Black Label stuff and obviously he can throw down and play his ass off, so there was no problem there. So, I had him come out to the Vatican and I ended up hooking up with him and talking with him and then we had him do a Chippendale’s routine, and that’s what I asked him if he had a real tan or was it a spray tan? He said, “It’s a real tan,” and that’s when I looked at Blasko and I said, “I think he’s committed to the project. We found our man.” So that was pretty much it. It was done. Now, Dario is out here kicking some ass.

I was actually going to ask how you found Dario because I originally heard that you found him the way Mark Weiss found you for Ozzy, but now it sounds like you found him like a scene out of the movie Rock Star, which you were in.

Yeah, totally! But I’m at the point now where I know so many ass-kicking musicians that are my friends. Like if you called me up and said, “Hey, Zakk! I got my buddy, Tom, you might want to check him out.” I just have so many relationships now with people. So, instead of having a cattle call and doing the whole American Idol thing, where you got people coming in and auditioning, there is no need for that anymore. But even when we auditioned to get Mike [Inez] in the band with Ozzy back in the day, it was a whole cattle call thing. There’s no sense in doing that now. I can just be like, “Ozz, my buddy Mike? He’s an awesome bass player.”

With Alice In Chains, when Mike Starr left, we did a run with them and we all hung out. So, Jerry [Cantrell] and the guys were like, “If Ozz is gonna go back and do Sabbath and there’s no more Ozzy band, Zakk is doing the Pride & Glory thing, Randy [Castillo] is going to do something with John 5 [at the time], why don’t we just call Mike up and see what he’s doing?” It’s that type of thing. Your buddies or whoever you know can do the gig.

I see that you’re pretty active on social media now. Do you feel that it’s helped as far as reaching your fanbase now more than ever?

Yeah, without a doubt. You can keep in touch with everybody. Let the rest of our Black Label family know what’s going on, what we’re going to be doing, and where we’re at. Then get everyone rolling to together. Then obviously all the comedy and everything else that’s on it. I think it’s brilliant!

Going from Jersey boy playing in the band Zyris, to guitar legend, whose name is right up there with Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and even Randy Rhoads. Are there any young guitar players out there you enjoy watching?

Yeah! I remember with Dime when we were on Ozzfest, we’d see a batch of younger bands coming out, which is way cool because you constantly have to have the bloodline keep going and you want to see the younger kids coming out ripping and shredding. The guys in Avenged Sevenfold, they’re all playing solos. I’m just saying that because for a while there were no solos. Nobody was really picking up the guitar and running scales or learning how to play a Randy Rhoads solo or learning how to play “Eruption.” It’s definitely cool now when you hear other bands who are obviously practicing and they’re shredding and they know their theory and stuff like that, but it’s definitely cool, man.


Catacombs Of The Black Vatican was released on April 8. Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society bring the Golden Gods Tour to the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on May 7, the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on May 9, the Best Buy Theater in NYC on May 10, and the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA on May 13. For more on Black Label Society and Zakk Wylde, log onto