Reading the new book, Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness As Lived By Jon Zazula, written by Megaforce Records co-founder, Jon Zazula, is akin to listening to some of the label’s biggest releases without a single second to pause between any of them. It’s a mile-a-minute, blisteringly-paced read, loaded with so many stories about near-failure, astonishing success, and the toll all of that can take.
From a tiny record stall to releasing some of the pinnacles of heavy metal, Zazula’s new autobiography covers everything you could possibly want – stories about Metallica, King Diamond, Anthrax, Testament, Blue Cheer, et al abound – but also emphasizes the music mogul’s most important relationship with the other co-founder of the label. Jonny Z’s wife, Marsha, is just as important to the story as any of these bands, and that inclusion is what really grounds this tale.
I spoke by phone with Jon Zazula about Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness As Lived By Jon Zazula a couple of weeks back, and it was a blast to see just how the book came to be.
The book has so much energy, and I’m wondering how you went about writing it. It feels like you’re just telling story after story after story.
At first, I wasn’t going to write it, because I have such a terrible memory for details and timelines. I didn’t know what album came before the next. I know Kill ‘Em All was the first one, but I didn’t remember what was even two and three, or when the Venom Die Hard Acid Queen picture disc seven-inch came out in relationship to the Mercyful Fate picture disc seven-inch. I didn’t remember all of that.
So, this fella called me up to do a Metallica interview – I didn’t even wanna do any Metallica interviews – but he seemed really intelligent, and he tells me he did research for the army. I said, “You do research? Can you write?” He sent me something to look at, and it was pretty darn good. I said, “How would you like to research my life and put a timeline to it, and between us, we put a book out?”
He said, “Sure, let’s do it,” so Harold Claros-Maldonado and I sat down and wrote Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness As Lived By Jon Zazula. We were able to put together a timeline from the beginning of time to today, and then I found it pretty easy to tell the stories. There’s still a few stories I missed, but I got a lot of them down, and it makes – I think – for an interesting book. Did you read the whole book?
I did. It was fascinating. I like the fact that you’re up front and honest – at times saying, “I’m not going to tell that story.”
At times, you gotta let sleeping dogs lie, y’know? I don’t wanna start trouble and cause people to have problems with their careers. I’m not that kinda guy, and there’s enough good stuff that I have to tell, that I don’t have to sling mud around – and, I have to be honest, I don’t really have that much mud to sling.
It seems as though you have pretty good relationships with most of these artists, given that there are recent pictures of you with many of them as part of the book.
Well, the old Megaforce was like family. Everybody that worked at the company, everybody that we signed: we were all in it together, trying to make a difference in metal movement. We all fought hard, and it was a tough fight, and we all respect each other. That respect has gone to the present time.
Given that you state in Heavy Tales that your favorite band was and is the Grateful Dead, how did it feel when you started to get so involved with heavy metal, which is almost the polar opposite of the Dead, in terms of sound?
You first have to know the Grateful Dead. There were songs like “St. Stephen” and “China Cat Sunflower” that were heavy as hell, and really good jam songs. And, you have to remember, I was a deadhead when Jerry Garcia was in the Grateful Dead. Since his death, I haven’t been able to latch onto any great heroes. I haven’t been able to find any heroes.
It wasn’t until I heard Black Sabbath – and believe it or not, way back, the Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Jeff Beck Group – that brought me in to understand what an Angel Witch was. What an Iron Maiden was. I was so attracted to the guitar work on Iron Maiden’s Killers, and their single, “Women in Uniform.” We just sold the hell out of it in the store because I felt that it was today’s music – the music of the future.
Foreground music – not background music. No elevator music at Megaforce.
Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness As Lived By Jon Zazula is out now, and available from Jon Zazula’s website.