Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde Reflect on Three Decades Together As One of Metal's Most Beloved Partnerships
Ultimately, Everybody has to say goodbye in one way or another, but for musicians, saying “farewell” seems to be in vogue. In 2018, Elton John, Slayer, Paul Simon and Lynyrd Skynyrd are all hitting the road for what they say will be the last time—and no doubt they’ll see high-priced ticket sales soar. Now you can add Ozzy Osbourne to the growing list of road-weary rockers—the Prince of Darkness recently announced his No More Tours 2 run, a two-year trek across the globe in which he’ll bid a fond “That’s all, folks!” to his loyal fans.
The Oz man is an old hand at this farewell tour thing: Last year, he, along with cofounding members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, brought the curtain down on Black Sabbath, and before then, in 1992, he set out on his No More Tours excursion, although he reneged on his solo act adieu three years later, returning to the stage in 1995 for the Retirement Sucks Tour. His current road run is a winking acknowledgement of his first, short-lived exit, only this time he swears he really means it—he’s done with touring.
“Okay, but let’s be clear about what this really is,” he says. “This isn’t a real ‘farewell’ tour. I keep saying that to people—I’m not retiring; I’m just not going to tour the world anymore. I’ll still do gigs occasionally. Maybe I’ll do a Vegas thing or something. But I’m not going away forever or anything like that. It’s a ‘no more tours’ tour.”
For some artists, farewell tours owe to circumstances such as advancing age or ill health—earlier this year, Neil Diamond announced his retirement from the road after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Osbourne, who cited what turned out to be a false diagnosis of multiple sclerosis as his reason for his first No More Tours excursion, claims he’s feeling fine. He simply wants to make the most of the rest of his life. “You have to understand—I’ve always been on the road,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I never saw my kids grow up. I was like a fair-weather father. Now I’ve got grandkids from my son Jack, and I want to spend time with them. I used to go away for long spells and come home for short spells. Now I want to reverse that.”
Joining Osbourne for his final solo tour are longtime band members Rob “Blasko” Nicholson (bass), Tommy Clufetos (drums) and Adam Wakeman (keyboards), and highlighting the lineup is the addition of Ozzy’s main axe cohort of the past 30 years, Zakk Wylde. The irrepressible, hirsute guitar legend, who resumed working with Osbourne last year after an eight-year-break (during which time he was replaced by Firewind six-stringer Gus G), has his own account for why his employer is packing it in.
“I’ll give it to you straight,” he says with the kind of chuckle that indicates he’s being anything but. “Last year, Oz came to me with some inside information. He said, ‘All the money you’ve made with me, and all the money you’ve made since then with Black Label Society and everything else, I want you to put it all on Conor McGregor for the fight he’s got with Floyd Mayweather.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ He goes, ‘I’m tellin’ you, do it. Everything I’ve ever made with Sabbath, the solo stuff, the TV show, you name it—I’m bettin’ it all on McGregor. Trust me, I’ve got inside information.’ ”
The August 2017 fight was scheduled to go 12 rounds, but Mayweather Jr. prevailed, winning a TKO against McGregor in the 10th round. “It was so sad!” Wylde wails dramatically. “We lost it all. So now we’re broke—we both live in this van down by the river. It’s pitiful. We’ve gotta tour till 2020 to make our money back.” He laughs again, then adds skeptically, “Hopefully, Oz won’t have inside information on frog racing. I may have to question his sources.”
Ozzy, you have worked with other guitarists for short periods over the years. How important was it for you to have Zakk on this tour?
OZZY OSBOURNE Here’s the thing with me and Zakk: We never fell out. That’s the truth—we’re close. The Wylde family and the Osbourne family are like relatives. I’m a godfather to his son Jesse. Our wives go shopping together. This goes beyond friendship. I know that I can be anywhere in the world at any time, and if my guitar player disappears, I can phone Zakk and he’ll be on the next plane. And I’ll tell you this: We did some gigs last year, and I was blown away. He’s gotten so fucking good. He plays so fast!
ZAKK WYLDE I pay Oz to say that. He takes all my per diem money in exchange for compliments. [laughs]
Seriously, you two have had an on-again/off-again relationship. You’ve never fallen out at all? No fights or clashes?
OSBOURNE No. Why should there be? Like I said, I can depend on Zakk. No matter where I am, I can call him and he’s there. Does that sound like we’ve got problems?
WYLDE We don’t have problems. We’ve never had fights—it’s just not like that. People ask me if I’ve got any dirt on Oz, and I really don’t. All it’s ever been is laughing. And listen, here’s the thing: I’m the most grateful fucking guy in the world. Everything that I have is because of Oz and Mom—you know, Sharon [Osbourne]. I’m good with whatever Oz wants. If he needs me to play guitar, or if he wants me to mow the lawn or clean the dog run, I’m there. He knows that.
Ozzy, let’s go back to when you first hired Zakk. You had already been through a few guitarists—what was it about Zakk that made you go, “He’s the one”?
OSBOURNE Here’s the story: When Jake E. Lee left, I put the word out that I needed a guitar player. You can imagine how many guitarists sent in their résumés—it was fucking mind-boggling. So after a while, Sharon started bugging me—“When are you gonna listen to these tapes?” I just didn’t want to deal with it. I’d tell her, “Whatever, whatever.” So one morning I decided, “I gotta do this.” I stuck my hand in a bag and pulled out a tape, and Zakk’s tape was the first and only one I listened to.
WYLDE It was a good tape. I had the “Mr. Crowley” solo on it and “Crazy Train.” And then I did a bunch of improvising and jammin’. I did it on my buddy’s Fostex.
OSBOURNE But then I looked at his picture that came with the tape, and I said, “Oh…another Randy Rhoads clone.”
Zakk, did you know that?
WYLDE Oh, yeah. When he met me, he said, “Have I met you before?” He was thinking about the picture. I guess I looked like some kid who loved Randy Rhoads.
OSBOURNE That’s what I thought. But when I met Zakk in person, he was a lot different than Randy. And then I heard him play, and that was that. He’s been with me longer than any other guitar player.
Do you remember what Zakk played for you at the audition?
OSBOURNE No. That’s an impossible question. I just felt that he was the guy. There was an instant spark. Plus, he was funny. The guy could be a fuckin’ comedian.
WYLDE I played with the band first. We did “Suicide Solution” and “Bark at the Moon.” It was super cool. And then they flew me back out, and that’s when I met Oz. I remember he told me, “Zakk, just play with your heart. And then you can go make me a ham sandwich—and go light on the mustard.” [laughs] Right after that, he poked me in the eyes like the Three Stooges. I said, “Oz, why’d you do that? That hurt.” He goes, “Yeah…so does life. Get used to it.”
What was it like when Ozzy gave you the word that you were hired? Did you feel as if your life had changed?
WYLDE Sure, it was incredible. All my friends said, “Hey, Zakk, can we get free tickets, and can we meet Ozzy?” Suddenly, I had more friends than I ever imagined. I was like, “I can’t believe this many people like me! They really, really like me!” [laughs]
You were like Sally Field.
WYLDE I was just like her. Same cheeks and everything. [laughs]
Ozzy, what’s that feel like to play Santa Claus? You do realize you were changing Zakk’s life forever.
OSBOURNE Yeah, well, that feels good, sure. You know, people say to me, “My God, you’ve picked such great guitar players over the years,” and I tell ’em, “But I’ve had my share of lunatics, too!” Before I found Zakk, I had one guy come in and say, “This song’s written in D, but it would be better if it were in F sharp.” I said, “Why’s that?” And he goes, “Because I play it in F sharp.” So I said, “Yeah, well, you’re gonna play it the way we do it.” And then he starts arguing with me, this fuckin’ guy. So finally I said, “You know what? Fuck off!” It was ridiculous.
People asked me, “Why don’t you get a name guitar player?” But that’s a headache, because you gotta deal with him and his fuckin’ ego. I didn’t want to get Eddie Van Halen or Eric Clapton. I wanted somebody who wanted to be Eddie Van Halen or Eric Clapton. Or Tony Iommi.
You want someone who’s hungry. And that was Zakk—he had that fire in him. It was great to see him go from playing his local bars to the stage at the Forum.
The first gig you two played together was at London’s Wormwood Scrubs Prison. What went into that decision?
OSBOURNE No, no, that wasn’t the first gig. I can’t tell you what the first gig was, but it wasn’t the prison. What happened was, the prison had a band called the Scrubs. They were getting a fair amount of publicity for some song of theirs, and the prison requested that I come by and sing a song with them. I thought we could do better, so I said, “How about if I come with my band? We’ll do our bit and then the Scrubs can do their thing.” So that’s what we did. It was great. A lot of those guys were in there for life. A hell of a lot of dope in there, too.
WYLDE You have to remember, I was 19, 20 years old for that gig. I was a young, beautiful, blossoming Hollywood starlet, with petite yet firm breasts. I was the closest thing these guys were ever going to see to a young Sally Field. I went over bigtime! [laughs]
How long did it take for you two to become a true songwriting pair? Do you remember the first song when it clicked?
WYLDE That would have been “Miracle Man.”
OSBOURNE Here’s the thing with our songwriting: He’s got a short attention span, like me. But you know, he’ll be playing guitar, and I’ll hear something come and I’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s it! I can put something to that.”
WYLDE He just goes, “You got any riffs?” Yeah, “Miracle Man” and “Demon Alcohol”—when those came, we were like, “Okay, we got something here.”
Did you two ever hit a wall creatively?
OSBOURNE Oh, fuck, I hit walls all the time. I get so boxed in, and I go, “Where the fuck do I take this?” But it always happens—we’ll sit there for fuckin’ days with nothing going on, and then out of nowhere a song will come to us in five minutes.
WYLDE Ozzy’ll poke me in the eyes and go, “Life’s tough. Now go write me some fuckin’ riffs already!” [laughs]
Ozzy, Zakk started to assert himself more in the Nineties, slipping some Southern rock licks into your songs. Did you resist that sound at first?
OSBOURNE No, no, I liked that. I thought it was great. If we do another album, which I’d like to, I want him to put that stuff into it.
Of all your tours together, what’s the wildest story we can print—or even one we shouldn’t but will anyway?
WYLDE [laughs] There was goofy shit all the time, especially back in the drinking days.
OSBOURNE I remember this one time we were doing a gig. It was a while ago and Zakk was still a young guy. He got really sick, so he went to a doctor and got some antibiotics. The doctor told him, “Take one a day,” but Zakk thought, If I take ’em all now, I’ll get over this thing fast. So we’re onstage, and I look over at Zakk, and he’s, like, paralyzed. He can’t even work the fretboard. I thought he fucked himself up from weightlifting, so I’m screaming at him, “It’s from liftin’ all them weights!” I didn’t realize that he’d taken all the antibiotics in the bottle.
WYLDE My hands were all cramped. I was dehydrated and shaking, and BT [Bobby Thompson, Osbourne’s then tour manager] stuck my hands in ice so I could get through the show. It was rough, but we did it.
Ozzy, there was a bit of friction between you and Zakk when you let him go and hired Gus G. Any regrets?
OSBOURNE No. The press created a problem there. There was never a problem, so no regrets.
WYLDE I was never pissed at Ozzy. Honest. He wanted to make a change. He said to me, “Zakk, I don’t wanna be the lead singer in Black Label Society.” I get that. It made sense.
OSBOURNE Gus is a wonderful guy, and I’ve got no problems with him. I’d like to see him do well. But since this is my farewell to touring, I’m doing it with Zakk. I’ve had great times with him, and I’ve watched him mature. He knows what it’s like to run a band and be a self-employed person. But I’ll tell you, I constantly get bags of mail from people who go, “I want to see you play with Zakk.” And that’s all right, ’cause it’s not like Sharon has a gun to my head—“You gotta play with Zakk.” I want to do it.”
Ozzy, can you sum up what Zakk brings to your music—and his importance as a guitarist?
OSBOURNE Zakk is headstrong. He will not lie down, and you can’t stop him. He just plows ahead with whatever he’s doing. I played six gigs with him last year, and I couldn’t believe how great he was. He had done this tour with Yngwie and Steve Vai and all these guys, and it must have made him get better, if you can believe it. He blew my fucking mind. That’s the thing about Zakk—he takes it to another level.
WYLDE Like I said, Ozzy gets my per diem money to say that stuff. [laughs]
Zakk, can you sum up Ozzy’s importance as a singer?
WYLDE Sure. It’s like we could be talking about the Doors, and you said, “Nobody sounded like the Doors before them, and nobody sounded like the Doors after them.” That’s Ozzy. Who sounded like him before him? Nobody. Who sounds like him since he came around? Nobody. He’s his own thing. He invented what he does. That’s about as big as it gets.
Ozzy, you hinted that you’d like to make another album with Zakk…
OSBOURNE I would love to, but we’d have to write the fucking thing. Just for the hell of it, I’d like to do it. I’ve just moved into a new house, and I want to turn one of the rooms into the studio, but I don’t know which one.
WYLDE I’ll do another record with Oz, sure. I’ll bring some milk and eggs over—whatever he needs.
Even though this isn’t a “farewell” farewell tour, do you think you’ll get emotional onstage, particularly on the last date?
OSBOURNE I don’t know. When I did the last Sabbath tour, I thought, I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I was with the band for 10 years [Osbourne departed Black Sabbath in 1979]. I’m not going to get emotional. But you know what? I got very emotional. The last gig we did was in Birmingham, where we started. The whole thing had come full circle. I must confess, I had a lump in my throat when I was singing “Paranoid” with them for the last time. Maybe I’ll get emotional this time. It’s been an incredible journey for me. I know it sounds like I’m gonna die or something. I mean, I hope I don’t die—not yet anyhow.
WYLDE You know, if this is really the end of touring, then it is what it is. I just thank the good Lord that he put Oz in my life. He’s been a part of my life since I was 11 and started listening to Sabbath. Getting to play with him and be part of the team—it’s amazing. But I’ll tell you, those same people who asked me for tickets when I got the gig? They’re still at it! Ever since Ozzy announced this tour, I’ve got so many friends. They like me! They really, really like me! [laughs]