Black Label Society- The Brainchild of a Guitar Legend
Black Label Society was initially formed in 1998, being the brain-child of Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist, Zakk Wylde. The band was originally meant to be called “Hell’s Kitchen”, but they were unable to obtain the rights to the name. As an alternative the group was named after Zakk’s favorite whiskey. Wylde, born Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt, started playing guitar at the age of 14. His dedication was such that he would often practice guitar for up to 12 hours at a time, staying up all night and sleeping during school in order to hone his craft.
He got his start in 1987 when he sent in a demo tape of his work to Ozzy Osbourne, who was looking for a skilled guitarist after the lamentable death of the young prodigy, Randy Rhoads. Since then his heavily-muscled form, biker leathers, frantic head banging, and Custom “Bullseye” Gibson Flying V have been somewhere on stage wherever Ozzy went. Despite working in his own band, Wylde still does lead guitar work for his long-time friend and mentor whenever Ozzy releases a new album.
The difference between in his work between the two bands is marked. Writing, singing, and playing almost a dozen different instruments, Wylde gives a southern or “Texas” rock sound to the band’s work combined with the heavy metal genre he learned over many years of touring. The net result is a sound all in its own, both raw and melodic, with plenty of bass and a driving “old-timey” drumbeat that fits the mentality of the work.
Given Wylde’s great fondness for motorcycles in general and Harley Davidsons in particular he’s cultivated his biker image to the point that one can easily imagine roaring down some desolate road, belching smoke and fire in time with his meandering and strangely emotional style of guitar-work.
There is a great variety to the band’s music. They sing about war and the eventual degradation of society from an almost anarchistic viewpoint. It’s odd given that Wylde is a devout Catholic, happily married with two children, that he should take this viewpoint. Perhaps it’s meant to be ironic, including such songs as counterfeit god, and suicide messiah, which, if one assesses the lyrics actually warn against the worship of false gods.
A number of songs also were messages and homages to influential people in Wylde’s life. For example, stillborn was written as a dig against his first girlfriend, who, through her constant verbal abuse and behavior, completely destroyed any feeling Wylde had for her. In this river was written in homage to his good friend, the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera and Damageplan.
At present Black Label Society is composed also of bassist John DeServio, rhythm guitarist Nick Catanese, and drummer Craig Nunenmacher. The lineup has changed significantly over the years, with only Wylde staying constant, thanks to the fact that all members typically belong to other bands and consider their inclusion in Black Label Society as a side-project. Despite that the band is quite prolific with their work, producing Sonic Brew in 1999, Stronger Than Death in 2000, 1919 Eternal in 2002, The Blessed Hellride in 2003, Hangover Music Volume VI in 2004, Mafia in 2005, Shot To Hell in 2006, and their most recent album: Skullage in 2009.
The band has taken flak in recent years over the fact that they wear the colors of the Hell’s Angels. The Hell’s Angels motorcycle group has endorsed this wholeheartedly. When asked about it, Wylde stated, “It was never about gangs or violence of any kind. The original Hell’s Angels were pilots during World War 2. When they got back home they found that the only thing that gave them the same rush as flying was riding around on their motorcycles. It created a brotherhood, and that’s what the whole band is about. We tour all over the world, and people from all walks of life come together at every show because they’ve now got something in common, which I think is a great thing.”
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