Zakk Wylde Shredding with the Master

One thing to bear in mind with playing in Zakk's style is the conviction with which he plays the guitar. Every note is really grabbed hold of and his vibrato has a very definitive style. Andy James

Zakk Wylde is a force of nature. He also happens to be one of the most talented and charismatic guitarists of his generation. Gary Cooper analyses the master's career. Stuart Bull Andy James provide the interviews

It's all too easy to write-off Zakk Wylde as 'the Wylde man' - the shredder par excellence, but not much more than that. And, to be fair, he doesn't do a lot to play the myth down. The beard, the hair, the physique, the clothes, all shriek metal - even the trademark bullseye Les Paul. It's right in your face. And then there's a career that encompasses well documented problems with drink and subsequent 'health issues' and - possibly an even greater risk to life, limb and sanity - a large chunk of his career spent with Ozzy Osbourne.

Born in 1967 in New Jersey, Zakk (he was christened Jeffrey) abandoned his early guitar studies and didn't pick up the instrument again until he was 14. It's worth noting the year there - 1981, long past Rock's 1970's golden days, but close enough for him to have been immersed in the influences of that era - Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Clapton and later guitar gods, like Gary Moore and Randy Rhoads. Read the standard biographies and it all fits neatly into place. Wylde (his real name is Wielandt) went on to slay his local contemporaries with material from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Rush. So far, so very predictable. But also inaccurate. If Zakk Wylde was just another fast metal guitarist, he'd probably still be in New Jersey. The fact is, Zakk Wylde is a very much more accomplished guitarist.

Listen closely to Wylde's playing and you'll hear not just the straight-ahead Blues influences of so many of his contemporaries, but Jazz influence and, perhaps even more surprisingly, some extremely accomplished Country picking. True, it's played at ear-splitting volume and somewhere close to they speed of light, but it's there - and it makes Zakk Wylde an individual stylist and instantly recognisable - one of the least appreciated reasons why some guitarists make the big time and some don't.

Classical is another big influence on Wylde's style - perhaps not so surprising when you realise Randy Rhoads was his idol and that Rhoads was also influenced by classical techniques and style.

And then there's the missing link - Southern US Rock. Wylde says that, though he was aware of Lynyrd Skynyrd and other Southern/Country influenced bands when he was young, Sabbath had been his main thing and it wasn't until after he joined-up with Ozzy, in 1987, that the Country bug bit - intriguingly, Wylde has said, deeply implanted in his brain by having listened to the great Albert Lee. And, before you could say 'how about the real devil's instrument?' Wylde was soon starting to perfect his fingerpicking - on a banjo!

It all came home to roost in 1993, when he depped for The Allman Brothers' Dickey Betts. It was just one gig, but it was a signpost in Wylde's career.

Jumping back in time, Wylde's big break with Ozzy meant stepping into Randy Rhoads's gigantic shoes and, with the greatest respect to Rhoads fans, Wylde managed the transition with aplomb, for all that he had never played in a world class band before. He may have joked that he put a bullseye on his trademark Gibson Les Paul to help the Rhoads lovers take aim at him, but only the most bigoted would have failed to recognise Wylde's own prodigious talent.

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