Zakk Wylde wishes you all a very Merry Christmas. Can't you tell? © Simone Cecchetti/Corbis
When you think Christmas, you naturally think Zakk Wylde, right? No? Well, that might come as something of a big lump of coal to the former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist and now full-time leader of Black Label Society. "I'm all about the Christmas spirit," Wylde says. "That's why I wanted to do this record, so I could spread a little joy to the world."
Wylde is referring to his just-released EP, Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good, a steller mini-set that sees the guitar icon performing inspired instrumental versions of I'll Be Home For Christmas, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and, for good measure, a ho-ho-ho take on the Louis Armstrong classic, What A Wonderful World.
"What A Wonderful World isn't really a Christmas song," Wylde admits, "but it's got the vibe. It might as well a Christmas song. You put that thing on while you're sitting by the fire, forget about it, you're in the mood."
Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, but when MusicRadar spoke to Wylde today, on tour in the Midwest, the guitarist was already in a deck the halls frame of mind. He talked about his Xmas EP, as well as his admiration for Sarah McLachlan, who inspired some of the guitarist's choices for the record. In addition, Wylde shared his thoughts on touring with Judas Priest and Guns N' Roses.
So, Zakk, how did the EP come about?
"Basically, I was asked by the folks at iTunes to do something, and I said, 'Absolutely. I love Christmas, and I love Christmas tunes – what's the big deal?' So I Googled Sarah McLachlan to see what songs she did – 'cause she's amazing, of course, as we all know – and I did a couple of the songs that she covered. To me, if they're good enough for Sarah, I might as well have a go at them."
Would these songs be representative of what we might hear in the Zakk Wylde house at Christmastime?
"Yeah, absolutely. My wife, Barbaranne, she's always buying Christmas records. In fact, that's how I first heard the Sarah McLachlan Christmas CD, 'cause she brought it home. That thing's fuckin' amazing, you know? Barb's always crankin' it in the house.
"I totally dig Christmas. When I was a kid, between my parents, my grandmother and my aunts, the whole thing was insane. So I try to make sure my kids have super-cool Christmases. Me and Barb do it up killer. When the kids wake up, they go crazy. That's what it's all about."
Growing up, what Christmas songs were biggies?
"Motorhead's Killed By Death, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath – the classics! [laughs] Feel-good music for the whole family. No, you know, I heard all the same songs as everybody. The Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph…all the warm, fuzzy things."
This is how Wylde feels when he hears Sarah McLachlan. © Nikolas ERNULT / Demotix/Demotix/Corbis
What made you decide to do instrumental versions of the songs?
"I don't know. We thought of doing vocals, but then I just decided that a guitar thing would be cool – that way, I could go off and do some crazy soloing. It turned out killer. I did the string arrangements, played piano and acoustic guitar, and of course, I did the electrics, too."
Your take on I'll Be Home For Christmas has a bit of Les Paul in there, but there's also a hint of Santo & Johnny.
"Yeah, totally. Well, I love Father Les, of course. You know, I just plugged my Vertigo guitar into my Marshall 800 and I went for it. There's some Les Paul-type feel there, the way he'd take liberties, some of the jazzy licks and what not. I just played what came out.
"My big thing when doing this was Sarah McLachlan. I watched her on YouTube and I was knocked out. Her version of O Little Town Of Bethlehem...it's just killer. Anything she does smokes."
What do you like so much about Sarah McLachlan? Obviously, you're a big fan.
"Totally. I don't know, she's just amazing. She's at the top of her craft; everything she does is great. I admire anybody who excels at what they do. Tom Brady [quarterback for the New England Patriots] is great at what he does. Jimmy Page is great. I could go on…Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen…they all excel. If you're exceptional, then you're mind-blowing. Elton John, Neil Young…"
But lots of people are great, but not everybody is going to touch you.
"Well, sure, there's a big difference. Neil Young isn't technically as great as Al DiMeola, but you still feel him. Take David Gilmour, for example: he doesn't play as fast as Yngwie, but he's still fuckin' amazing. That solo in Comfortably Numb? Forget about it. One of the best solos of all time.
"Now, in the case of Sarah McLachlan, she's got it the whole package. She's great technically, and she can touch you spiritually. She's unreal. I dig anything she does."
Have you ever met her?
"No, man. Barb and I went to see her at the Hollywood Bowl, and it was being mind-blowing. Probably one of the best concerts I've ever seen."
Currently on tour with Judas Priest, Wylde will hit the road with Guns N' Roses in December. © Jason Moore/ZUMA Press/Corbis
If you did meet Sarah, what would you say?
"'Can I clean your house?' [laughs] I don't know! She's amazing. I'd ask her what chores she had for me to do. 'Can I walk your dogs, Sarah?' I'd be polite, I'd be respectful. I'd take out her trash if she wanted me to.
"She's a wonderful artist. You know, think about the female singers out there. You've got Adele, who's amazing, Lady Gaga and a few others, and they're all cool, but if they saw Sarah McLachlan live, they'd go crazy. They'd totally give it up for her. So yeah, I'd clean Sarah McLachlan's house, no problem." [laughs]
How's it going touring with Judas Priest?
"Couldn't be better. The Priest guys are so cool. They're treating us like gold. Plus, they're killin' it every night. Glenn, Rob, the whole band is awesome. I've been friends with the Priest dudes since they did Ozzfest, so we go back. They're total legends. They still have it, too. Glenn is slammin' it, the whole band's on fire. And Richie [Faulkner], who's taking over for KK, he's killin' it, man."
After Judas Priest, you're going on the road with Guns N' Roses.
"Yeah, that'll be amazing, too. I've been friends with Axl for a long time. He's the last of the great frontmen. Seriously, who else is there? You had Elvis and Mick Jagger, then you had Jim Morrison and Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Ronnie Van Zandt, and of course you can't forget about Ozzy, David Lee Roth… After all them, Axl came out, and it was like, Wow! The ultimate frontman, you know?
"You've gotta give it up for Axl. Amazing songs, amazing production – Appetite's one of the greatest records of all time. The guy's got the whole nine yards. As a frontman, nobody's come close to him since he busted out."
If you had your choice of a Guns N' Roses song you could play on stage with Axl, which would it be?
"Besides Get Down Tonight by KC And The Sunshine Band? [laughs] Tell me that wouldn't be brilliant. It'd rule the day if we did that. OK, if I had to pick one…I'd pick whatever Axl asked me to jam on. If it's a Guns N' Roses song, it'll be good. No worries there."