Double trouble: Ozzy Osbourne, Slash to play The Palace on Feb. 12Written by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
Still screaming: Ozzy not ready to leave music
Ozzy Osbourne has openly admitted he’s done a few things he regrets — something that isn’t surprising for a man whose former drinking habit took on legendary proportions and who lived up to his “Prince of Darkness” image through infamous incidents such as his decapitation of a bat with his own teeth during a concert in Des Moines, Iowa.
More recently, Osbourne has come to wish he hadn’t made statements to USA Today in 2008 that he would make two more albums and retire.
“Once upon a time, when I was 22, I said ‘You know what, I don’t think I’m going to live until after 40.’ That was OK until I was 39 and a half,’” Osbourne said during a recent telephone interview. “I suppose I could have been in a very depressed mood [when I talked about retirement], I don’t know. I’m not going to retire yet.”
Osbourne certainly isn’t acting like someone who wants to exit stage left anytime soon. His newest CD, “Scream,” reached No. 4 on the U.S. charts and he is resuming the stateside leg of what promises to be an ambitious and extended world tour, including a stop with Slash Feb. 12 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. It’s not the kind of behavior one expects from an artist intent on winding down his career.
If the music on “Scream” will sound familiar to those acquainted with Osbourne’s past work, the making of the CD was different in a couple of significant ways.
Unlike previous albums, “Scream” was written entirely in the studio, with Osbourne collaborating with his producer, Kevin Churko, in writing and arranging the songs.
“We would do the music together,” Osbourne said. “He would say ‘What do you think of this?’ And I’d say it would be better if you did this and that. We just worked things out. It was great. I mean, when it comes to lyrics, I ain’t the best lyricist, so I like to have someone to bounce [ideas] off of. He’s very clever and it’s good for me to bounce off him.”
“Scream” also marks the debut of guitarist Gus G. It’s a major change, considering that over the years Osbourne’s guitarists have been the focal point of his bands, as well as Osbourne’s main songwriting collaborators on his albums.
Slots with Osbourne have made stars out of past ax men, such as the late Randy Rhoads and most recently Zakk Wylde.
But as Osbourne was getting ready to make “Scream,” it was clear that Wylde, who fronts his own band, Black Label Society, wasn’t going to be involved in the project. That was the main reason Churko stepped in as such a key contributor to the album’s songwriting.
“Zakk had gotten sick with blood clots,” Osbourne said, referring to the health issue that forced Wylde to cancel tour dates in summer 2009. “He’d been doing double duty. He’d been doing my gig and his own. I knew eventually I’d have to get somewhat of a permanent replacement for Zakk, and so now was the time, because people were saying I was starting to sound like Black Label Society, which is very possible because he is Black Label Society. And you know what, Zakk’s a [bleeping] fine player, one of the greatest players I ever worked with in my life. And he’s still a good mate of mine. We still communicate.”
Fans should get a good chance to judge Gus G., as Osbourne continues what is supposed to be 18 months of touring. The tour started with a string of six Ozzfest dates in the summer — the first time the tour had happened since 2007.
For the 2007 Ozzfest tour, organizer (and wife of Osbourne) Sharon Osbourne broke ground by making Ozzfest free. Some saw it as a last-ditch attempt to save the festival, which had seen declining attendance in years leading up to that 2007 run.
In 2008, Ozzfest returned for a single show in Dallas, and then was absent from the concert scene in 2009. The brief six-date trial run for Ozzfest in 2010 was how Ozzy Osbourne wanted it.
Now back headlining, Osbourne is promising some musical surprises in his show.
“I mean, I’m not going to just play the [usual] Sabbath songs like ‘Iron Man,’ ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Paranoid,’” he said. “I’ve got choices on this one. Whatever songs I want to pull up instead of the classic songs I always do, I’m playing some of my solo songs. I’m playing a couple of songs I haven’t played on stage for a long, long time.
“I’m not going to tell you what they are because it would kill the surprise.”
Taking the lead: Slash in control of solo projects
Slash’s band, Velvet Revolver, may still be looking for the right singer.
But the guitarist didn’t have the same problem when it came to his recently released self-titled solo album. He found 13 of them.
Slash recruited a baker’s dozen of vocalists, each of whom took on lead vocals on one song on his CD (except for Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, who sang two of the tracks.)
And he said the making of the “Slash” CD went smoothly despite the many vocalists and personalities involved.
“It was a very simple record to make,” the guitarist known as Saul Hudson to the Social Security Administration said in a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t complicated and it wasn’t fraught with issues or ego problems or anything like that. It was very, very, sort of casual and relatively simple. Just coming in and doing it, hanging out for awhile and take off. It was one of those things that could have been a real hassle, but it wasn’t.”
Slash said the idea to do this sort of album first began to form before singer Scott Weiland left Velvet Revolver in spring 2008, essentially forcing that band to the sidelines. But even when the band was active, Slash had been in demand to play guitar on album projects by other artists.
Slash said he realizes he could have made a CD that put more of the spotlight squarely on his talents, but that thought didn’t excite him.
“Everybody would probably imagine, oh, he’s going to do an instrumental with a lot of guitar solos on it,” Slash said. “I couldn’t think of anything that would be more uninteresting for me to do.”
The fact is, even with a lot of outside involvement, the CD was very much Slash’s project.
“I hired the producer, I hired the band and everybody else involved,” he said. “Then I would just call up the singers who would come down and sort of write. It was sort of like my crazy little excursion.”
And the project very much started with Slash, who took the lead as the songwriter.
“I just sat down and wrote a bunch of music,” he said. “Then I would listen to the music and it would sort of dictate to me who would be the appropriate singer. And then I would seek out the vocalists, song by song, and send them the demo and sort of impress upon them that it was a completely open forum, that they could do whatever they wanted with the material and it was subject to their interpretation and all that kind of stuff.”
The amount of input each singer offered varied, Slash said.
“Like with Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas), we did the music exactly the way I wrote it,” Slash said. “She sang to exactly what I wrote. We didn’t change anything. That happened a lot on the record. But then with Kid Rock, with M Shadows (of Avenged Sevenfold), we worked on those songs from the ground up. They really had an idea of the parts they wanted to do. When we did ‘By The Sword’ with Andrew Stockdale (of Wolfmother), he came up with these really great chord changes for the sort of chorus section of the song. So every song had a different input from the singer.”
The songs that made the “Slash” CD show surprising variety from the guitarist. “Crucify The Dead” (featuring Ozzy Osbourne) is the kind of eerie rocker one might expect on one of the former Black Sabbath singer’s own albums. “Beautiful Dangerous” (featuring a full-throated performance by Fergie) is a stomping dance-rocker. Meanwhile, “Promise,” puts Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell into a brooding but hooky pop-rock setting. And Iggy Pop cuts loose on “We’re All Gonna Die,” a track that merges garage rock and moody metal.
Slash, of course, was a key figure in Guns N’ Roses’ fast rise to the forefront of the hard rock scene on its 1988 debut album, “Appetite For Destruction” (18 million copies sold in the United States alone) and the two-CD 1991 follow-up “Use Your Illusion I/Use Your Illusion II.” His searing guitar work was one of Guns N’ Roses’ main signatures.
But Axl Rose was the leader of the band, and as relationships began to sour, the members of the band’s classic lineup were all fired or left, with Slash bowing out to form his own band, Slash’s Snakepit, in 1995.
In 2002, Slash and his former Guns N’ Roses bandmates, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum, decided to form a new group, Velvet Revolver. Things came together with the addition of guitarist Dave Kushner and especially former Stone Temple Pilots singer Weiland.
Eventually, though, conflicts with Weiland emerged and the singer returned to Stone Temple Pilots. Velvet Revolver, though, never broke up and has been compiling audition tapes from singers for the past couple of years.
Slash said Velvet Revolver could return to action later this year. The group got together in October to review audition tapes for a new singer, and there are reports that the band may have zeroed in on its new vocalist.
“Once we find a singer, that will really sort of dictate what the future of the band’s going to be,” Slash said.
As for Guns N’ Roses, rumors of a reunion of the classic lineup continue to pop up from time to time, despite what appears to be pretty much a nonexistent relationship between Rose and the other former band members. The fact that the band will be eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 has spurred speculation that it might at the least regroup to perform at the ceremony.
Slash wasn’t going to show his hand when it came to the Hall of Fame or prospects of some sort of reunion.
“I know we’ll be eligible, and when that time comes, we’ll deal with it (performing) then,” he said.
For now, Slash’s main priority is touring. His band includes Kennedy on vocals, Bobby Schneck on guitar, Todd Kerns on bass and Brent Fitz on drums, and Slash said he likes what he hears on stage. He will open for Ozzy Osbourne Feb. 12 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The live set encompasses Slash’s entire career, from Guns N’ Roses through Snakepit, Velvet Revolver and the self-titled solo album.
“It’s cool because since it’s my solo tour, I can do whatever I want and I can play stuff from my entire catalog, whereas in Velvet Revolver and even Snakepit, I have to concentrate on that particular band,” Slash said.