“This can be used as an alibi!” Zakk Wylde shouted as he marched into the parking lot outside of a Guitar Center in Rockville, Maryland. “If anybody says your robbed a liquor store, you can show them you were here.”
A throng of fans stood in front of him, jostling into position. Over the next three and a half hours, he would meet with about 300 of them, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
But first, the legendary musician insisted on taking a group photo of his hardcore devotees.
The former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and longtime frontman of Black Label Society has had a busy year.
He released his second solo album, Book of Shadows II, in April and toured with the likes of Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Dweezil Zappa as part of a Jimi Hendrix tribute show that landed him in 28 cities.
Somehow, the 49-year-old has found the time to not just tour solo, but also organize a Black Sabbath tribute band, appropriately titled Zakk Sabbath, that will soon be hitting the road in support of Frederick Maryland natives Clutch.
For now though, Wylde is commemorating the launch of his new line of instruments and gear, Wylde Audio, by hosting meet-and-greets at Guitar Centers in half a dozen cities.
In this era of thousand-dollar VIP packages, a chance to grab some free face time with an artist of Wylde’s stature is increasingly rare.
It’s a level of outreach, however, that the guitarist is no stranger to.
“It’s awesome. We don’t have fans, it’s more fams. One gigantic Black Label Society family,” Wylde told me after the event. “We’re at the point now that half the time people we run into have kids.”
His estimate was not far off. The meet and greet at times took on the vibe of a heavy metal family outing.
One young girl insisted on showing Wylde her teddy bear, apparently unfazed by the fact that he looks like a cross between a Viking and the biker at the end of the bar you’d be wise not to mess with.
Kenzal Jones, an aspiring 12-year-old guitarist, traveled with his family from West Virginia to get a chance to meet the man he describes as his top influence.
“He’s been my inspiration ever since I was four,” Jones said. “It’s just unbelievable to be here to talk to him today. He told me that as long as I stook to it and worked hard, good things will come.”
The rest of Jones’ family heartily agreed that it was worth the drive.
The signings have certainly taken on a much more mellow edge, Wylde acknowledged.
When pressed to describe his strangest interaction with fans, Wylde reached back to his days with Ozzy Osbourne in the early 90s.
“This one guy came in, he was like a hacksaw dude, about 7-feet tall, overalls on, a beard bigger than mine and he had red lipstick on,” Wylde said. “He looks at Ozzy and he goes ‘can I have a kiss?”
“Ozzy goes, ‘I don’t usually do this,” Wylde went on, imitating the singer’s accent. “He goes ‘I thought I’d ask. Ozzy signs his record and he leaves. Then Ozzy says ‘what the fuck was that about?”
“I was crying man,” Wylde adds. “When goofy shit like that happens, that’d always be fun.”
When asked if he would join Osbourne, who is playing a string of farewell shows with Black Sabbath, for one final tour, Wylde replied that he would team up again with the singer in a heartbeat.
“If Ozz was like ‘Zakk, want to get together and do something, I’d say yeah, of course I would,” Wylde said, adding that he admires Osbourne to the point that he’d even fetch his groceries if asked.
“You want me to bring milk and eggs over to the house? That’s my relationship with Ozzy,” Wylde boasted. “If it wasn’t for Ozz, there’d be no Black Label.”
But while certainly relishing his seven-album tenure with the Prince of Darkness, Wylde made clear that he is focusing on his future, something that’s embodied by Wylde Audio.
“The analogy would be like Derek Jeter or Michael Jordan,” Wylde explained.. “He was a player with the Bulls, then he coaches the Bulls, then he’s a GM for the Bulls, then he’s Vice President of Operations for the Bulls. The only next logical step for Mike is to be a team owner right now.”
“It’s just a next logical step for me,” Wylde added. “Some guys just wanna play and go home. I just like being involved in the whole thing.”
Justin Duckham is a Washington, D.C. based reporter. Before making the jump to politics, he covered music in California. He once got backstage at a Smashing Pumpkins concert by dressing as a pizza delivery boy, a feat he still considers one of his greatest accomplishments.