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Zakk Wylde on the Grateful Dead, His Guitar Geek Days, and the Black Label Society Lifestyle

Anyone who has seen the Black Label Society live knows that it’s more of some kind of cultural event than just a regular concert experience. For starters, outside of Iron Maiden, you’d be hard-pressed to see another band with more fans wearing their t-shirts. Then there’s the camaraderie. No matter what the age or ethnic difference is, you’ll see BLS’s fans embrace like long-lost brothers and sisters.

This unflinching devotion for the band and their music is a testament to Black Label Society’s founder and singer/guitarist Zakk Wylde. On the group’s recently released ‘Skullage‘ DVD, we not only get a taste for the band’s blistering catalog, we also get a glimpse into the life of the band and their love for their BLS family.

Noisecreep spoke with Wylde about the BLS lifestyle, the Grateful Dead, and his days geeking on guitar in his childhood home.

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What first struck me about the ‘Skullage’ DVD was the humor. I was expecting you to be more like the image we the press have created around you.

Yeah man, people expect me to be this beer drinking, ass-kicking guy who can bench press 500lbs or something but I’m really an easy going guy. Hopefully you see that on the DVD. We like to have a good time and joke around a lot. If you’re fighting it out in the music business, you’ll need a good sense of humor (laughter).

Noisecreep hit up the Los Angeles stop of the BLS Bash this past weekend and despite all of the intimidating biker gang looking people there, it ended up feeling like one big family reunion.

That’s the thing about being a part of the BLS. We all want to feel like we belong to something bigger and be accepted. The way we have it structured, you could live anywhere and still be part of a chapter since we’re so spread out. You could live in Seattle and call up your buddy in Los Angeles and take a road trip together. The Grateful Dead had that kind of community aspect too. We have brothers and sisters in our chapters who will go out and follow the Black Label Society tour for a few days. But yeah man, everyone is really close and you’ll find some of the nicest people at our shows. It’s a lifestyle.

The acoustic stuff included on ‘Skullage’ and a lot of your material since the Pride & Glory days has a strong southern feel in the riffing and vocal melodies. Since you’re originally from New Jersey, I wanted to know how you first got into that kind of musical style.

I had a lot of my older friends or older brothers of friends who were into bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers so I’ve been listening to that kind of sound for a long time. Through the same people, I got into Black Sabbath and Hendrix so that was huge for me. I remember first seeing the Grateful Dead and they had all of those skulls in their imagery and expecting them to sound heavier than Sabbath; man was I wrong! They were great but they had more of a folk and country kind of feel in their sound which I also got into.

You came up around the time of guitar shredder era of the 1980s so I wanted to know if you ever got swept up in that. Did you geek out on guitar practice?

Definitely bro! I would come home from school, get a 6 pack of Cokes and a bag of Doritos, and head into my room to practice guitar for 12 hours. I was so into it! I would play along with records but I also took lessons. This guy named Leroy White was my teacher and he was like 10 years older than me. He would show me finger exercises, all kinds of scales, and theory stuff. I would also ask him to teach me how to play songs so it didn’t get that stale. He taught me AC/DC‘s “Hell’s Bells” and Led Zeppelin‘s “Heartbreaker” plus other classics which kept things interesting.

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