JON ZAZULA – Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness.
September 25, 2019, 10 months ago
This book highlights the Johnny Z/Megaforce Records story, closely tied in with the initial success of Metallica. Right from the start, Zazula is quick to credit his (second) wife Marsha and God with keeping him sane and focused as he's a bipolar, manic depressive (not a good combination in the crazy music business), although his diagnosis came years after the fact. The first chapter revolves exclusively around the famous Anthrax, Metallica, Raven show, at the Roseland, NYC, where Neil Turbin split, Metallica left the Zazulas high & dry and all three bands signed major label deals that took their careers on vastly different trajectories (declines).
It's not until the second chapter that Johnny Z relates his upbringing. Started his love of music at age six. He toyed with drums for a while, but was out on the streets by age 16 (standing up to abusive father), hanging out in the 1960s Greenwich Village. Life's twists and turns after marriage #1 and a kid, he reconnects with Marsha, quits selling insurance, gets married to Marsha, has another kid and moves to Old Bridge, NJ. Selling commodities on Wall Street, his firm is busted for securities fraud and he goes to jail/halfway house. Begins to sell albums at flea market and promote shows with Anvil, Raven, Riot, all still while living in the aforementioned halfway house, post-arrest.
Chapter four recounts the oft told tale of being turned on to Metallica and deciding to record an album, plus all the struggles that ensue. Chapter five brings in Manowar, Anthrax and recording in upstate NY with Carl Canedy and Alex Perialis as bills mount and everything (distributor, studio and mortgage) is six months in arrears. By Chapter six, things begin to sour (reality sets in). As the bills pile up, Metallica goes overseas to record Ride The Lightning. In a pre-Internet/cell phone age, there's no easy/inexpensive way to keep in touch and ultimately the band discover muses other than the Zazulas. Throughout the 200 page book (40 of which are photos), Johnny frequently admits to being in over his head or having no idea what he was doing (In truth, he was making up a lot of the rules for band living outside the mainstream/major labels). There's also a single line mention of his taking drugs (although non-specific), to cope. His once invincible Midas Touch begins to wane with failures like Born To Metalize compilation, TT Quick and rap single from Zazula (in disguise), The Lone Rager.
Chapter seven glosses over Anthrax's second album, including incorporation of Joey Belladonna. Having lost Metallica, the Zazulas throw all their efforts behind Anthrax, getting involved with all the minutia, Johnny even takes credit for writing the lyrics to “Medusa”. From there it's on to S.O.D. (although no discussion of bassist Danny Lilker's departure from 'Thrax) and the first Overkill platter. Both are mentioned matter-of-factly, with no great insight, nor revelations. His focus on the business side, signings and distribution deals, rather than nuts and bolts inner workings/dynamics of named artists, is disappointing for the average fan. By the ninth chapter, it's '87 and time to sign Ace Frehley. There's a section dedicated to (now infamous/ubiquitous) radio personality Eddie Trunk's connections to Megaforce.
Zazula claims M.O.D.'s Surfin' M.O.D is his favorite release, by the label, and Raven is his second all-time favorite band, #1 he's unsure of, whether it be The Beatles, some other Brit Invasion act, or his beloved Grateful Dead. Vio-lence (the band) creates a crack in the Atlantic Records/Megaforce alliance, widened when Zazula decides to release the John Bayless classical piano compositions, in '88. Chapter 11 does a drive by, about a paragraph or two updating several bands' progress in the years before and after the dawn of the Nineties. Drug induced shenanigans with Mindfunk in Amsterdam lasts two pages. Anthrax collaboration with Public Enemy, about as much. Chapter 12 is entitled Grunge Kills. It's '92 and the focus shifts to Tribe After Tribe, Nudeswirl, Skatesnigs, Sweaty Nipples and Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes. That, as much as grunge, killed Megaforce. 'Thrax makes Johnny fire Belladonna, just as they sign a 10 million dollar contract with Elektra. Zazulas stop managing Anthrax and opt for Ministry (the band) instead.
The first paragraph of Chapter 13 states, “1993 was all about Polygram for us. We released a bunch of great non-metal records that fell on deaf ears. It seemed nothing we could do was right.” Johnny loses Polygram contract and his father within a day of each other. Once more deep in debt, they divest themselves of beach house and cut staff, as they move to New Hope, PA, where the restoration of the new property takes Jonny's addled mind off the music industry, for a while. All but out of the music biz, '99 to 2004, sees the Zazulas opened another store, this one selling action figures/collectibles. They sell Megaforce and for eight years. Johnny admits to treading water, “my mind wasn't all that good.”
Around page 176, Johnny taps out, officially retired and living in Florida (like all Northeasterners). For the rest of the book, he gives a synopsis of bands he had a hand in, but not mentioned elsewhere, a year-by-year release discography and acknowledgments. The easy reading narrative is truthful and more of a tragedy than the successes of the first few chapters would imply.