Mr. Zakk Wylde recently sat down with UG interviewer Justin Beckner and talked about his early days as a guitar player and how he mastered the instrument.
What were the first songs you tried to learn?
I think it was just like everybody else – it was ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Smoke on the Water’ because you could play it on one string. I remember playing ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ because you can play that on guitar. It was mostly those type of one-string riff type of things. But my first chord song was ‘Hey Joe’ by Hendrix and then it was ‘Tangerine’ by Zeppelin [off 1970’s ‘Led Zeppelin III’].
Those are pretty standard numbers – I feel like people tend to gravitate towards the same songs but often do it in a different way. Did you use tabs or did you have lessons when you started out?
No, I took lessons for about two years from a guy named LeRoy Wright. LeRoy was great. When he showed me the lick to ‘Back in Black’ – it wasn’t only about learning the lick but he would show me the pentatonic scales, Minor Pentatonic, and explain how it works. It’s like looking at a car engine and there are parts everywhere and you’re showing me how all the parts work together and it all starts making sense. But yeah he was great as far as teaching scales and how to understand them yet at the same time, teaching me Sabbath songs and Zeppelin songs, so he was amazing.
You’ve delved into music theory since then. Are there any specific lessons that you’ve found to be more valuable?
Yeah totally. Intervallic studies and thirds and fifths and seconds and doing them forwards and backwards. Once I learned that stuff it went from like seeing TV in black and white to seeing it in color. There became so many options. You know, you can take a regular pentatonic and then by adding chromatics and passing tones, when you’re playing the blues, it starts to sound musical – it starts to sound like you’re talking, which is amazing. That’s where it starts to sound musical rather than just running scales. That was a big eye opener as well.
I learned to play guitar by watching your old videos – specifically the ‘Pentatonic Hardcore’ one. Remember that? That was pre-beard Zakk Wylde.
Oh yeah? Nice!
What advice would you have to that kid today who’s picking up his first axe and wanting to learn some tunes?
I think with all kids, the secret to everything is you just playin’ what you love because that’s where you’re going to excel. If something doesn’t move you, then why are you playing it or why are you in that band? Why not be in a band where you’re playing shit that you like?
I remember when I was in my old band, Zyris, we were writing all this poppy music and none of us were into it and we had a show where we had to play an extra song so we ended up playing ‘Rock and Roll‘ by Zeppelin and the epiphany I got from just playing that – we were all moved by playing that – just by how badass it is and how great the music is. So we asked ourselves, ‘Why aren’t we doing shit like this? Why are we not playing music that moves us and that we get off on playing?’
I remember reading an article with Johnny Winter one time and he said, ‘I love classical music and jazz musicians and I appreciate their talent and everything that goes into it but the only music that moves me is blues.’ So that was it, that was the only one he had passion for. That’s the secret. That’s when you’re going to end up finding yourself and finding what you love. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting and trying different things and this and that. But if you’re not into something then why are you doing it?