Jon Zazula: I Knew Metallica Would Be as Big as Led Zeppelin
Jon Zazula, known to some as Jonny Z, is one of metal's most important figures. He founded Megaforce Records, who first signed Metallica, releasing Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, as well as music from Anthrax, Overkill, Testament and others. He also just released his memoir, Heavy Tales: The Metal, The Music, The Madness. As Lived by Jon Zazula.
The retrospective book chronicles the highs and the lows that come with running a sustained DIY record label and Zazula hadn't even fully realized his meteoric impact on the entire of heavy metal until writing it. Operating off gut instinct, he knew Metallica had the potential to be as big as Led Zeppelin from the first time he heard them and who could argue that he was wrong?
Speaking on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, Zazula credited his wife Marsha as an integral part of the label's success, alongside "Metal" Maria Ferrero, who urged them to sign then newcomers Testament. It's the trusting relationships that helped take Megaforce to such heights.
Read the full chat below.
This is described as a tell-all book. What do you have to take into consideration before deciding to tell your life story?
Well, the first thing I had to do is put it in order. I couldn't tell the tales without knowing the timeline, so I just filled in all the stories on the timeline along the release of the albums and that's how we put the book together.
What will people learn for the first time when they read your book?
Well, I think they're going to find out that we had less than nothing when we started and that we didn't know what the hell we were doing, but somehow did everything right. There was no book written for us. There were no cell phones, no Internet. It was a very strange time and what people are going to learn is that with all those problems that we had, we managed to rise above all the time throughout the book.
We rose above our problem and found the answers. I also wanted to let people know just how much [my wife] Marsha was a part of this and the team I had around me. It wasn't just the "Jonny Z Story," it was about "Metal Maria" [Maria Ferrero] and Marsha who helped me and discovered bands for me. The story is about all these people and myself.
People can live their lives without fully understanding their impact on the world around them. What has this book made you realize about the effect you've had on other people's lives?
Doing these interviews is where I'm realizing the impact that we had on people's lives. The fact that we created the soundtrack that they used for the rest of their lives, it feels good. Before I wrote the book, I didn't even realize what I had done. I'm not being modest or being stupid, but it just all happened back then — I didn't even think about it. When I wrote the book and I look back at the discography, I said, "I did all that in just a short period of time. I must've been out of my mind and the people with me must've been absolutely batshit crazy."
Whenever someone who references your accomplishments, you always clarify them as a product of you and Marsha. Why was your relationships so integral to your success?
Marsha put up with all my crap, number one. Marsha just let me do what I had to do and instead of complaining, she was right at my side doing it with me when I didn't know the answer to one of those impossible questions where you have to put a square peg in a round hole somehow. Marsha knew the answer when I didn't and that went on for 30 some odd years.
Now, we've been married for 40 years and we're still best friends and, more importantly, great business partners and she is every bit is responsible for what happened as me and I want people to know these things.
You are called the godfather of thrash metal, but that music was commercially non-existent when you got involved with it. What were your musical tastes prior to that?
In the beginning, "heavy" meant Cream. Not the Cream that you saw today and the reunion but the old Cream was six Marshall [amp] stacks on each side and a double drum kick pounding against your chest and making your balls vibrate when they played.
I was also, believe it or not, a big Dead Head, except when Jerry [Garcia] died, I abandoned the band, because I was a real Jerry Garcia nut. The music I was listening to was Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore — Led Zeppelin made a good impression on me and Black Sabbath made a good impression on me as soon as they came around.
Once I really discovered the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and got to listen to Iron Maiden and got to hear Motörhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, Angel Witch... My life changed and all I listened to at that time was metal.
You'll always be synonymous with Metallica. What aspects of what that band would become could you already envision when you started working with them?
Well, I thought they would be as big as Led Zeppelin. That's how I measured Metallica. I really [envisioned] them playing the Isle of Wight in England and playing Monsters of Rock and playing arenas in America. Now did I think at that time of them playing stadiums every other day in the United States? No, but I really felt this would be the biggest band in the world from the first note I heard.
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