Wylde Thing

No matter what your opinion of Ozzy Osbourne, you have to acknowledge two indisputable facts. First, in popular music's continuing saga, there exist whole chapters devoted to the demi-godfather of hard rock. Second, at the Oz's right hand there's always been a fledgling guitarist whose career was being set in motion on the pages of the madman's diary.

From the late Randy Rhoads to the latest, Zakk Wylde, Ozzy has always possessed a knack for tapping into raw talent and bringing it into his fold. And that talent has, in turn, had a knack for plugging into their own corner of the market, out of the fold.

With Pride & Glory -- the name of not only the CD, but his band as well -- Wylde straps on his guitar, steps up to the mike, and, Ozzyless, cranks out a tasty piece of swamp-stickin', finger-picking Southern rock. Released a few weeks ago, the album draws on influences ranging from the Allmans to Sabbath to Zeppelin, exuding a sound that has Wylde shredding any notion that he's out to cash in on his former employer's name. This debut isn't kin to any kind of noise he ever made with Ozzy. And while combining blues and rock isn't exactly an original idea, Wylde's approach is.

The now-frontman's soulful delivery and raspy vocals are paired with some inspired musicianship, and he is able to branch out, playing other stringed instruments (such as banjo, mandolin, and harp) while retaining his electric roots. And if all this Southern steel seems like it sacrifices marketability for musicality, check you local radio station or MTV. Already the first single, "Losin' Your Mind," is getting airtime.

Wylde's decision to move out of Ozzy's spotlight and into his own was finalized after the "No More Tours" tour. Wylde went to Ozzy and asked for his permission to shop a demo around. The two share both a close working relationship and a friendship. In fact, Ozzy's title of godfather extends beyond the world of rock -- he is literally the godfather to Wylde's son Jesse John Michael.

"Being a part of Ozzy's band was an amazing experience, but he wanted to take a break from it all and I had to get along with my life," says Wylde, sitting at a bar in a Fort Lauderdale hotel during a recent promotional tour. "I really never left his band. I've just gone on to do my own thing. I'll always want to jam with Ozzy and we'll always be friends, but this is my new band."

Wearing bell-bottoms, a T-top, and white socks -- no shoes, which has allowed him to "skate" through the hotel lobby for this meeting -- Wylde asks for a cappuccino, but the barkeep doesn't have any, so he settles for a Heineken -- or three. Maybe four.

Reflecting on his work, Wylde reveals a lack of interest in details such as the release date of his album, preferring to talk about the music. He's polite and funny, and eager to point out that his admiration for Ozzy as a singer made him skeptical about being able to find a vocalist for his own band. "I just couldn't go from working with a living legend to working with someone who is going to have an ego or turn into an asshole somewhere down the line," he says. "I count on nobody but myself, so I figured I'd save myself from all of the bullshit and do the singing."

That decision made, Wylde began looking for a rhythm section for Pride & Glory, and this time the choice was easy. During time off from touring, Wylde had jammed with the bassist from Ozzy's opening band, White Lion. Bassist James LoMenzo and Wylde would play Southern rock covers in clubs under the name Lynyrd Skynhyd. Later drummer Brian Tichy joined up and, without having to conduct a single audition, Wylde's band came to exist.

In October 1993, with the backing of Geffen as label and Rick Parashar (Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, Temple of the Dog) as producer, this trio went into Parashar's Seattle studio and recorded 23 songs. Fourteen of those make up the new CD.

The band is currently touring in Europe, but will head back to play in the United States toward the end of the summer. Wylde won't be playing in stadiums this time, but he insists he really doesn't care.

When the guitarman was fifteen, he would practice from the moment he got out of school until the moment he had to return. He would pretend to be asleep until his parents went to bed and then he would resume his intense practice schedule. Wylde's motive wasn't to one day sell out arenas or make a lot of money. Instead, he was driven by the idea of having fun and drinking a lot of beer.

Twelve years later, those goals haven't changed. Wylde's career with Ozzy included six years of touring and four records. He's played with Charlie Daniels, Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers. But the culmination of his career so far came this year on his 27th birthday.

"This delivery truck pulled up in my driveway," he says. "They were giving me cases of beer. Half of them were from Ozzy and the other half were from the record label. It was at that point that all of that practice paid off and I knew I had made it.

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Christina Henriques