You couldn't swing a Strat at a metal festival without hitting someone who was influenced in some way by Jimi Hendrix.
For Zakk Wylde, it started when he was a Jersey kid learning to play in the late '70s.
"My guitar teacher was a huge Hendrix freak," he says. "That was his guy. Mostly, I got turned on to Hendrix through that. He was 10 years older than me. He would turn me on to Jimi, Frank Marino, Robin Trower -- the guys from that Hendrix tree. If you look at the pantheon of electric guitar like a Catholic hierarchy, you've have to say Jimi's the chosen one, he's the messiah, without a doubt. Regardless if you've heard him or not, he's an influence on all electric guitar players."
Wylde went on to play in some minor bands in New Jersey before sending off a demo tape and landing a dream job with Ozzy Osbourne after Jake E. Lee's departure in 1987. He was Ozzy's right-hand man, on and off, until 2009. On the side, he formed Southern rock/metal band Pride & Glory in '94 and the more enduring Black Label Society in '98.
Despite having a son named Hendrix, one thing Wylde hasn't done is jump on the Experience Hendrix Tour, which has been going for the past decade. He always had something else going on.
"Between splitting the atom for the third time, coming up with world peace, stopping world hunger and cleaning the dog run, you have to fit in doing these things," he says, laughing.
He makes his debut on the 2014 tour as the metal shredder on a lineup that also includes Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, and Pittsburgh native and onetime Hendrix bassist Billy Cox.
"I'm buddies with a bunch of the guys that are on it," Wylde says. "Obviously, I'm fans of everybody that's on because they can all throw down like it's nobody's business. But it's just going to be great seeing all the guys. It's a win-win all the way across the board."
He doesn't plan to overthink how he'll go about interpreting Hendrix, whose songs he has been playing since he was doing keg parties.
"I think everyone's going to put their own twist on the song, just like he did with 'All Along the Watchtower.' Everyone's going to sound like themselves when they're doing Jimi's stuff, which is what makes it really cool. How do you put your spin on it?" he laughs. "You just try to make sure you memorize the lyrics and the chord parts. We'll start there. We'll see what happens afterwards."
As soon as the tour wraps, he's right back on the road with Black Label Society (playing Stage AE May 15), which is about to release its ninth studio album, "Catacombs of the Black Vatican."
"It's going to be probably the finest jazzercise album we've done," he says. "I guarantee you'll burn more calories to this Black Label offering than any of our other records, to be sure."
This BLS cycle marks the departure of "The Evil Twin," Pittsburgh guitarist Nick Catanese, known for his fierce guitar exchanges with Mr. Wylde. He compares it to his own stint with Ozzy.
"It's amazing Nick was around for 17 years," Wylde says, "because I always encourage all the guys to do their own thing, just out of creative freedom. With Oz, I couldn't be treated better. I was treated like gold over there. But with Oz, I'm not going to be singing, I'm not going to be writing lyrics, I'm not going to be coming up with melodies, I'm not going to be dealing with artwork, I'm not going to be dealing with everything that's involved with the band.
"You have to have a creative outlet to do your own thing. So, Nick, we were just talking and he was like, 'Zakk, man, I'm sinking my teeth into this [new project].' I'm like, 'Go for it. We always support you, we love you, so knock it out of the park, man.' Nick always has a home here and he'll always be a Black Label brother."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.