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Articles Home » Music Talk » HEAVY TALES: As Lived by Jon Zazula Discussion With Jonny Z By Nina McCarthy
HEAVY TALES: As Lived by Jon Zazula Discussion With Jonny Z By Nina McCarthy

HEAVY TALES: As Lived by Jon Zazula

Discussion With Jonny Z

By Nina McCarthy

Boston Rock Radio




Jonathan Zazula, known the world over as Jonny Z, has lived an intense life. Born in 1952, he began his extraordinary journey as a renegade youth who went from living on the streets of the Bronx in New York City, to later working on Wall Street, and eventually transitioning into the music business and discovering Metallica and others. Today, Jonny Z remains one of the most respected names in heavy metal and the music industry as a whole. 

Jonny Z has written a new book entitled Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived by John Zazula. This book is the detailed, never before told story as lived by Jonny Z of how he founded Megaforce Records out of a flea market in New Jersey with his wife, Marsha and built a dynasty unmatched by others. The bands they worked with would go on to release some of the most prolific and important albums in heavy metal history, (Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, Mercyful Fate, Raven, Overkill, Exciter, Stormtroopers of Death, Method of Destruction, Ace Frehley, King’s X, Ministry, Mindfunk, Nudeswirl, Warren Haynes, Disco Biscuits and others).

Jonny says, “At one point we were one of the biggest indie record labels in America. With all of the mistakes and all of the successes, we managed to thrive. Readers may learn what to do and what not to do as fledgling industry hopefuls getting started in the business. The book is a hard, brutal unraveling of the truth, and tells it all. I’m putting this book out around Halloween, because there’s nothing scarier than the truth.”



BRR: Thanks for giving me the chance to ask you some questions today. I really enjoyed the first chapter of Heavy Tales and I can't wait to read the whole book.

JZ: Oh my, you haven’t read the whole book yet? It’s great.


BRR: No, they only sent me the first chapter. What led you to Harold Claros Maldonado to be the one to bring your story to the written page?

JZ: Well, it was really kind of crazy. At first I wanted to work with someone who was very renowned and established. I don't know if I should mention his name so I won’t, but he didn't really want to do it and he wanted a lot of money. To be honest, I'm not writing a book that I expect to sell millions. So I basically, I couldn't afford the fellow. Then Harold called me up. He was somebody that wanted to do a Metallica interview with me. Between you and I, I was tired of doing Metallica interviews at the time and I told him, "No, nevermind." He started sending me samples of the stuff he does and it all required quite intense research. I was looking for someone who could research my life and give me a timeline to work and that's what he did, and he did a great job.


BRR: I think it’s amazing what you have accomplished over the years, especially starting out as a kid on the streets of the Bronx. What do you think was your driving force?

JZ: Music was everything for me. You know, like that Lou Reed song, “Your life was saved by rock and roll.”


BRR: Yes. And you know what I agree. It's my driving force too.

JZ: Right on, Nina.


BRR: You speak very candidly in the book about your bipolar depression and I'm very familiar with that because I worked in the medical field and there is some family history with it. I don't mean this in a derogatory way, because you also obviously have business smarts, but how much do you think the mania actually played a part in your success and drive?

JZ: Well, when you read the whole book and you hear me talk about it throughout the book, and then you look at the discography at the end, you say, “How did this guy do that in that short period of time?” You know, I got very nervous about writing this book, because it was so terrible how much I did. It was wonderful and it was a miracle, but it was all mania driven and it was all me just going on and on, achieving and not stopping for a second and never sleeping and just signing bands in my sleep, even.


BRR: So it was definitely the mania and I guess it had its advantages. Can you briefly summarize the receiving of the underground demo tape from the then unsigned band Metallica in 1982 and how this led to the founding of Megaforce records with your wife Marsha?

JZ: I'm gonna try to give you the abbreviated story. A young fella comes into my flea market booth with a demo tape, he thought would blow my mind, knowing the kind of music I listened to. What basically happened was he insisted I play it in the store and I don't play demos in the store. I take them home, listen to them, and if I feel the public is ready for it, I'll play it for the public and turn them on to the band. He insisted, and for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I put it on and it blew me away. I couldn't turn it off. By the time it was over, I went and got the coins out of my cash register. You have to realize that this was a time before Square and even credit cards were accepted at my store. There was no phone or social media, no nothing. I literally took some coins out and ran to a pay phone booth, if anyone knows what that is. I called the phone number on the back of the tape, KJ Dorton, and I asked him were Metallica could be found. He put Lars in touch with me. I spoke to Lars and the band, invited him here, sent them money to rent a UHaul for them to get their butts over here. Next thing you know we wanted to do a bunch of dates in the northeast, a bunch of dates actually playing with Venom, Twisted Sister, and with Raven. To make the story short, we wanted to put out a record. Nobody wanted to even listen to it. Nobody knew who Metallica was. Nobody cared. They thought I was crazy, so Marsha and I did it ourselves. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had no money.  We decided we’d call it Megaforce Records and we said, “Now let's figure out how we do this,” and the rest is history.


BRR: Aren’t you glad you decided to do that? What was it about that music on that tape that made you realize it was something huge?

JZ: You just had to hear it. The power hit me. It hit me like a sledgehammer. Goddamn!


BRR: The thing I like most about the book is the positive motto, like you said, “Nothing to it, but to do it.”  I understand that you went through poverty, incarceration, and many other challenges over the years. Without giving away too much of the book, what was the hardest challenge you experienced and how did you push through it?

JZ: The hardest challenge was when I was incarcerated. I had to pay restitution, which took everything I had out of me, out of my bank account. I was totally broke and I couldn't get a job because I had a record. I had to support my family. I had two children and a house. I was living large. And what happened was, I had no money. That time was very dark and very stressful and I was at the bottom of the barrel. The story of how I came out of it all is in the book. It's a bit of a story. It's Chapters 2 and 3...but it's really great how I got out of this, and just everything skyrocketed and went crazy for me once I got on my feet.


BRR: It sounds like you have an amazing wife too, that was there to help you support you through all these years.

JZ: Well, when you finish the book, what you really think is that Marcia is a saint! She was one of my mentors in life. There was nobody for me to get the answers from, but I always would talk to Marsha and somehow between herself and myself, we were able to come up with the answers to these CRAZY questions that there was no way you know how to answer. How do you put a square peg in a round hole? That was the type of stuff we were trying to figure out all the time.


BRR: Somehow you both figured it out together?

JZ: We figured it out, that's correct. Forty years together.


BRR: Wow! How do you feel about the current situation of the metal scene?

JZ: Well, I think it's amazing right now. I love the resurgence of metal. I love the fact that Testament is so big now and Overkill are getting big, and look how giant and huge Metallica got. Anthrax is doing great, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, everybody's doing great and there's so many festivals in Europe now.


BRR: And you see a lot of these bands touring again like Raven and Anvil, which hadn’t done so in the United States in a long time.

 JZ: Raven have been a band for a very long time, but they're starting to get some of the notoriety they deserve. Because if you think about it, I don't think there could even be a cover band for them because they’re too unique to duplicated. And Anvil is still out there today and killing it, and Testament is bigger than ever. Look at Anthrax right now, wow! Fantastic! So, I love the state of metal today. You can actually make a living.  I’d hate to try to break in this market right now.


BRR: Exactly. You did it at the right time.

JZ: Yeah, now it's so saturated. A lot of these bands are genius bands, real virtuoso. I call the new metal today, mutated old school.


BRR: That’s exactly what it is. It's hard to find the ones that really have something unique.

JZ: That's really right. You know, I think Ghost are onto something, but it's not thrash metal.


BRR: No, but I love them.

JZ: I do to. They’re a really cool band. Arch Enemy is one of my favorites and I think that they're just beyond great. You know, but, uh, what can I say? I found a band from France called Arcania that I think one of the best new bands I've heard in five years and I've been trying to help them get a deal. Not that I want any money or anything, just to help them because they’re so great and everybody's afraid to sign them. It just blows my mind. It's like, I felt like it's Metallica, again!


BRR: That’s the one thing I took from your story, is to take the risk. Take the risk, and just do it.

JZ: Now I'm wrong every once in a while, but when I'm right, it's a grand slam.


BRR: You can’t get anywhere without taking risks and trying and being wrong sometimes.

JZ: Oh, that’s how you learn.


BRR: Looking back on your life, what advice would you give now to 30 year old Jonny Z, if you had the chance?

JZ: Don't be so reckless with money and run your business like a business, not like a madman, because one day the money doesn't come anymore. You've gotta be really cool about it. Take it and put it away. Thank God, I did a little bit, but I should have put a lot more together. (laughs)


BRR: That's the same with bands today, you know, they may be on top today, but you never know when that's going to end. So that’s great advice for anybody really.

JZ: When you're older, you want to pay cash for things. You don't want mortgages anymore, any of that stuff. So you really have to be together when you get older. That's advice for everybody. Put a little aside. Don't live like I did, in a million dollar beach house and the 10 acres in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Just be a little more modest and put something away for later. I can't believe I'm saying this in an interview.


BRR: After reading Heavy Tales, what do you hope that most people will go away with or remember about you?

JZ: That he was a basic guy who did a lot and helped change the face of music.


BRR: And a little crazy, as you admitted.

JZ: Absolute batshit crazy, but somehow had a great set of ears and discovered a lot of great music in a very short time and really made a big difference.


BRR: Absolutely. It's been an honor to talk to you and I can't wait to read this book. I wanted to keep reading after the first chapter but that’s all I had, so I look forward to reading the full story. Do you have any further comments you'd like to conclude with?

JZ: I'd like people to know that I only have the book available online and that’s Amazon.com or jonzazula.com and I kept it that way just so nothing gets bastardized. I don't trust retailers. I never did.


BRR: People get a signed copy, correct?

JZ:  You can get a signed copy at jonzazula.com. Where are you located?


BRR: I’m in Rhode Island.

 JZ: Oh, wonderful. I have so many friends from there. So, that’s all I really have to say...it's available online and it’s a lot of fun and I hope somebody does take things from it. There's more than one thing to take from this book. It’s an interesting book

BRR: I was already telling my friend about it and she wants to read it too. So I'm sure you will get a lot of readers that are very excited for this.

JZ: That's nice to hear. Right?


BRR: See, people are excited to read this story!

JZ:  I hate to say it, but I wrote it so you could sit and read it in 4 ½ hours.


BRR: That’s how I usually read a book anyway.

JZ: There are over 100 pictures in the book. It’s different than what you expect when you see the pictures. It's like I talk about the characters and have pictures of the characters so you can see what they look like at that time.


BRR: That's great, because a lot of these pictures haven't been seen before. Right?

JZ: Well, some have some haven't. It's hard for me to keep a secret when it comes to photographs. I have a few spectacular ones. There’s some of the buses that we used to travel in with the bands and stuff like that.


BRR: Like I said. I think a lot of people are gonna want to read this. Thanks again for discussing it with me, Jonny.

JZ: You're welcome. You take care of yourself Nina and have a beautiful day and thank you for your time too.


For more information on Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived by Jon Zazula, please visit www.jonzazula.com, Facebook and Instagram.


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