Zakk Wylde sprawls his massive frame on the couch in his Manhattan hotel suite and gulps coffee. This is his second cup since I've been in the room, and the guitarist will have several more during the course of our interview.
"Caffeine's all I got, bro," he says. "It's a sad, sad tale of woe, this pitiful existence of mine." And with that, he breaks into fake, overwrought sobs. "I'd cry in my beer, but look around - not a drop in the house. It's tragic!"
In truth, Wylde is brimming with good-natured cheer - which is especially surprising when you consider that the once two-fisted drinker has had to abstain from alcohol - doctor's orders - following a potentially life-threatening bout with blood clots last summer.
It's been a tumultuous year on the professional front as well: after 21 years of working with Ozzy Osbourne, a collaboration that bordered more on a father-and-son relationship than boss and employee, Wylde was replaced - unceremoniously, it would appear - by the little-known Greek guitarist Gus G.
Wylde, in town to promote his new Epiphone Graveyard Disciple guitar (we'll have exclusive video later in the week) and play a sold-out show with his band Black Label Society, addresses his health and the Ozzy situation bluntly - and, as you would imagine, humorously - in part 2 of our interview (also later this week).
For now, however, as his wife Barbaranne breezes in and out to make sure his coffee cup is refilled, Wylde kicks back and holds court, answering a few questions from MusicRadar readers - and one special mind-bender of our own.
Thereformant asks, How do you get such articulate pinch harmonics?
"How? Well, I'll let the world in my little secret, Joe. You ready? Here it is…[leans in close and whispers] it's from pinching Barbaranne's sweet ti-tays! [laughs uproariously] Years of practice, years of pleasure, bro. And even with repetition, it never gets old. [laughs]
"OK, seriously? You want the straight answer? It's not nearly as good. I ended up learning pinch harmonics from hearing guys like Billy Gibbons on Tush and Le Grange. Billy does it on the D and G strings. I remember saying to my guitar teacher at the time, 'That's such a cool sound. How does he do that?' and he showed me.
"So I practiced doing them all over the neck. Different scales, different sounds. It's just like anything. It's like lifting weights. Practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
"Then I heard guys like Roni Le Tekro from TNT doing them, and he was fucking amazing. Talk about an underrated player, that guy. Totally awesome.
"Later on, when I got in the studio, I started doubling the pinch harmonics, doing one on the D and the other on the G - I think that's how I put my spin on the whole thing, bending their sound in the studio. Cool shit you can do with 'em."
Dudeiferous says, I love that wide, fast vibrato of yours -
"That's from whackin' it. Whackin' it six, seven times a day! How many times do I have to tell you people? Repetition! Practice makes perfect." [laughs]
[laughs] Be that as it may, Dudeiferous wants to know, Were there any players in particular that influenced your style of vibrato?
"Oh, yeah, sure. You hear any great player, he'll inspire you, you know? You gotta have your ears open and really hear what they're doing. but man, some of these insane jazz dudes, they spin my head around.
"For me, though, I'd say it was Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. Any player my age, those were the guys that set the standard. When I used to hang with Dime, God rest his soul, I mean, forget about it - those were our guys. They taught us the whole deal and then some.
"I remember hearing Spanish Fly for the first time. I was like, 'Are you fucking kidding me?' I mean, you just can't get any better. As if Eruption wasn't enough, Eddie had to go and lay Spanish Fly on us. I mean, he could've just quit after Eruption. He could've retired to his own island in the sun and said, 'That's it. I've contributed.' But no, he did Spanish Fly and really showed us where it was at.
"Plus, you got guys like Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Hendrix, Albert Lee - so many slammin' guys. Danny Gatton, was he brilliant, or what? A genius. Yngwie's got it all goin' on, of course. And don't even get me started on Frank Marino. He's like John Coltrane on steroids. The shit he does shouldn't even be legal, bro. What a player. He puts everybody away.
"So you mix all of those guys up and maybe that's how I developed my vibrato. I'm still working on it. All those players I just mentioned? They teach me. I still have years to get to where they are."
Palaceguard wants to know how he can avoid hand cramps while practicing speed licks.
"Hand cramps? Dude, I don't know. Get some Jergens or Palmolive on your hands, that should do the trick. Probably help with your jerkin' off, too! Listen to me. I should write a sex column or something. [laughs] 'Self-love tips from Zakk Wylde'! [laughs]
"Hand cramps…See, I don't get that. I've never had carpel tunnel or anything like that. I think Billy Sheehan experienced that at one time and had to see a doctor. It's like anything: if it hurts, you're doing something wrong.
My advice is, you gotta go slow and then develop speed. That and you gotta stretch out. Look at it like you would exercise. You stretch out before you go for a run, right? Stretch your hand out before you play. Should help. If not, there's always the Jergens!" [laughs]
OK, last question. It's the one that's split up friendships, has divided families -
"I am ready."
The Beatles or The Stones - and why?
"Oh, you gotta go both, man. I mean, if you're going musicianship-wise and for the technically, it's The Beatles. But if you're going for the grit and the dirt, you gotta go Stones. See, this isn't a real contest, 'cause they're both winners right out of the gate.
"Of course, Barbaranne gives it to The Stones for the hotness factor. Myself? I always thought Ringo had a great ass. A lot of people never noticed that 'cause he sat behind the throne, but I see these things. I'm tuned in. [laughs]
"Seriously, though. This is one of those things that you can't choose. They're both so devastatingly wonderful. It's like trying to decide between air and water - you need both. You can't survive with just one.
"It's funny, though - The Beatles had Let It Be? Then The Stones had Let It Bleed. The Beatles had Sgt Pepper? The Stones had Her Satanic Majesty's Request. The Stones were like The Beatles' little brothers. The Beatles would knock the door down and The Stones would come in right behind 'em. 'Oh, it's OK to do this now? Thanks, guys. Thanks for showing us the way.'"
You're playing it down the middle, and that's cool. But if you had to pick one record for that proverbial desert island -
"I know where you're going with this...I can't take one record by The Beatles and one by The Stones?"
Nope. One record. It's either one by The Beatles or one by The Stones.
"Hmmm…this is hard. And I can't take a greatest hits thing or a box set?"
Zakk, c'mon. One band, one record. Am I going to have to beat you at arm-wrestling again?
[laughs] "Well, we don't want that! My arm's still hurtin'. Hmmm...I guess...I guess I'm going Stones, man. Exile On Main Street. You've got everything on that. Let It Loose, Tumblin' Dice - the whole thing's amazing. Of course, you've got all that on 'The White Album,' too."
"It's funny - if you asked Ozzy this question, he'd say The Beatles in a heartbeat. He's such a John Lennon guy. And I'm a Paul McCartney guy. I remember looking at pictures of The Beatles with him, and I'd point to John and Paul and say, 'Hey, look, Oz, there's me and you!' [laughs]
"Not to take anything away from Lennon, 'cause he was insanely brilliant. But McCartney? Musicianship-wise and singing-wise? You go from Yesterday to Helter Skelter to Maybe I'm Amazed - that's talent from another planet. Don't get me wrong, I love Lennon, too. But I think if you ask most musicians, they'll tell you McCartney's the man."
And he was known as 'the cute Beatle.'
"So there you go. That's why I was the McCartney to Ozzy's Lennon. But hey, don't knock Ringo. Like I said, he had one good ass one him." [laughs]
See, you picked Exile On Main Street as your desert island disc, but it sure sounds like you're more of a Beatles man than a Stones man, Zakk.
"Will you stop? You're killin' me with this! [laughs] The blood clots didn't kill me, the booze didn't kill me, but choosing between The Beatles or The Stones, that just might do me in! [laughs] Give me an easy question. Beatles or The Stones - that's impossible!"