The High Times Interview: Marzi Montazeri

I arranged to meet guitarist Marzi Montazeri (former Phil Anselmo and the Illegals) a couple of weeks ago at the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip. The plan was to enjoy a few drinks, have a nice dinner and dive into the interview like a true, brazen professional. But as with any situation involving rock ‘n’ roll, an insatiable thirst for cheap beer and the adrenaline that was sure to spill while mingling in the very spot where legendary bands like Led Zeppelin and Mötley Crüe once came to relish in drunken savagery, the chances of getting out of there with any memory of the night whatsoever, much less with a well documented account of Marzi’s current affairs, were not on my side.

I thought about this, as my Uber driver dropped me off in front of the bar. “Welcome to the drunken jungle,” I thought. “You’re screwed.”

Once inside, I could tell the evening was destined to go down pretty much the way I had anticipated. There was simply too much happening all around us to properly take care of the business at hand. But then again, I began to ponder, through a series of two-fisted flashes of quasi-philosophic swill and burp-infused backwash, how this meeting was never really about work—although I had an editor back in New York that would surely beg to differ. From where I was sitting, Marzi and I were just a couple of guys with good intentions, each doing their best to conduct themselves like true masters of their respective trade in the midst of a wild-eyed Saturday night. Greater men than us would have broken under the weight of less debauchery. I had watched it happen countless times before.

Somewhere along the way, the mission, my assignment to find out more about this prolific guitar player, had taken backseat to the rapid pulse of the Hollywood music scene, and there was a point—I swear to the Gods of Earth and heavy metal, there was—when Marzi began to subliminally transmit a signal to me from across the table, quite possibly in the key of E-flat minor, that when translated to the English language sounded a whole lot like, “Fuck this interview shit, let’s just go out back and get stoned.”

So, that’s what we did.

We fired up a joint in what has been deemed Lemmy’s Lounge and proceeded to smoke the damn thing as though we were literally standing in the boots of those untouchable high heroes that had come before us. But the grand illusion was soon shattered when one of the Rainbow’s security guards politely told us that we would have to take the weed outside. Of course, we obliged. It was then that Marzi, a real charismatic force and all around nice guy, really began to loosen up. The man had a story to tell. So, no matter how hard his manager mad dogged me from across the way (at least that was my perception… but then again, I was probably just high), I kept my recorder rolling the entire time. It seemed the interview would go down as planned.

High Times: You’re in town playing the Randy Rhoads Remembered show at the Jost Theater. How did you get involved with that project?

Marzi Montazeri: Brian Tichy, a former drummer for Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Billy Idol and a slew of other folks, reached out to see if I was interested in playing. So I came out here [to Los Angeles] and picked out S.A.T.O. [from Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman”], because I really wanted to play that song. I think Sebastian Bach wanted to play it also, so I was like, “Whoa, I get to jam with Sebastian.” But then Tichy told me that Sebastian wanted to play it with his guitar player. On the night of the show, they told me that Gus G [former Ozzy guitarist] cancelled, so they wanted me to play “Mr. Crowley” instead. Crowley has two solos in it, so I had to learn the stuff real quick.

HT: Hell yeah, I saw that video. You got to jam with legendary bassist Rudy Sarzo. How was that experience?

MM: You know, so the time comes to go on stage, and I’m taking a leak, and I hear someone calling my name, “Marzi!” So I just run downstairs grab my fiddle, jump on stage and we started playing “Crowley.”

When it was over, I looked to my right and Rudy’s just walking towards me, man, and he reaches out his hand for a handshake. I shake his hand and say, “I love you, man,” and then he pulls me in for a hug. It was a very emotional moment for me. It was absolutely cool. This time around, on Thursday night, as a matter of fact, I got to jam with Phil Soussan.

HT: You also performed with a Rush tribute this week at the Jost Theater.

MM: Yes. I played in “A Farewell to Kings,” which is four decades of Rush music. I picked the song “Anthem” from the Fly By Night album. I knew I could get away with playing it a little bit heavier than what Rush had done it and still pay homage to it…and so I did. I think that’s probably the heaviest version of “Anthem” being played, you know. I know other bands have covered it, but I did it quite differently that night. I even pulled off Alex’s [Lifeson] solo close to what he had done, even though I’m not the note for note guy. It was really fun.

HT: Washburn is about the release a signature series Marzi Montazeri guitar called “The Priestess.” How did that come about? I mean, how does a musician end up getting his own guitar model?

MM: A big part of it has to do with a gentleman named Joe Delaney, who is the president of U.S. Music Corporation. I had my eyes set on a signature amp, to be honest with you, and that’s what the talks were about…and it’s still going to happen. It’s going to happen next year at NAMM—my Marzi Montazeri signature head. But with the guitar, that’s first obviously, that was the push from Joe. I think he has the same kind of spirit as I do. When he saw me play, I think he saw this wild American blues, hard rock, aggressive metal, extreme player, where it was just like fun and dangerous. I think that’s what he liked about me, and he pushed for it.

So he connected me with Greg Heritier, who has been with Washburn for about 15 years, and Greg and I—Greg lives in Amsterdam mind you, I live in Houston, Texas—went back and forth in the beginning. It was like a tennis match. We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. He had some vision and I had some other vision. But we created this baby together. The Priestess that you see today is our baby. It’s the fruit of our labor, so to speak. I got to tell you, it exceeded my expectations. It’s comfortable to play it and it gets so many different varieties of tones from like a Les Paul to the thing I love the most, which is a Gibson Firebird. Seymor Duncan designed a couple of Humbuckers for me we call “Hickups,” instead of pickups, because I’m a damn hick. It’s an extreme instrument…you can just get after it, you can go crazy with it, and you can literally play any sound of music that you want with it. It’s about to be available through Musician’s Friend.

HT: Let’s address the elephant in the room. What happened with Phil Anselmo and the Illegals?

MM: It ran its course. I did what I was supposed to do and it ended. I found out through the Internet. Someone posted a picture of the band with another guitar player, so that’s how I found out. I was more relieved than anything. It had run its course for me, and musically I’m obviously already doing other things. I’m glad it happened. I’m really happy where I’m at, and I wouldn’t be here right now if that gig wouldn’t of happened. I have no ill feelings whatsoever, and what I accomplished during that time was notable. I’m off to a new chapter.

HT: When you and I first met in St. Louis during the PHA and Illegals  “Technicians of Distortion” tour a couple of years back, you seemed pretty excited to get started on the band’s second record. Did everything just go to shit from there?

MM: In my heart, I thought there was going to be a sophomore attempt, but a sophomore attempt would have pushed that band, especially with the same line up, to another level. And I don’t think it was something they were welcoming with me being a part of it. I require a certain type of attention. I’m a songwriter. I’m not a follower. I’m not going to have my contribution not be noted, and they were not noted. I was not credited for the things I had done, so I wanted to take charge of that this time around.

HT: So, that’s when you decided to go out on your own?

MM: You know, I was really anxious because I obviously want to put music out, but I didn’t want to rush anything. I thought, “What do I have to prove…why don’t I take my time and do certain things to make sure that this music gets heard on a broader scale.” So I met with a friend of mine [Paul Provost] that had the same idea about my career, so we became partners and started a label called Crunchy Western Records, which pretty much describes what type of music I play. If you were to dissect that label, I would call it heavy Texas blues and beyond. Now you can take that to any kind of southern genre and change it to Mississippi and you’re still going to get that same kind of thing. I think there’s a little bit of Marzi in everybody, so I wanted to make sure that I get this music out to people and share it with them.

HT: Does that mean there is a new Marzi record coming out in the near future?

MM: Yes. My first attempt on Crunchy Western is slated for 4-20, for obvious reasons. It is Marzi Montazeri featuring Tim “Ripper” Owens… or something like that. It’s just me and Tim Owens, who is former Judas Priest. It’s unlike anything else he’s done before, which makes it really interesting. It’s refreshing, and at a time like today, for us to be doing what we’re doing, I cannot wait for the people to hear it. We got Chris Collier, a Grammy nominated engineer/producer from Los Angeles to work on this record. He has put his golden touch on it and made it sound absolutely amazing. I can’t wait, and it’s coming April 20th. By then, we will probably release a video or sneak peak of song. And that’s just the beginning.

HT: How did you get involved with Tim Owens?

MM: I was backstage trying to catch my breath after a show ,and this girl comes and says, “Bobby Blotzer from Ratt wants to say hi to you.” Now I’m like in North Houston, okay, what’s a Hollywood boy doing there? I thought they were full of shit, and I was like, “Go fuck yourself.” The door opens up and he’s just sneaking his head in. He was lit up and said something about doing too many shooters. I didn’t know what “shooters” were because we do shots in Texas. He tells me my performance was the greatest display of metal he had ever seen. We befriended each other that night. He later invited me out to his house for a little barbecue. After that, he asked if I wanted to be on the Judas Priest tribute record [Hell Bent Forever]. We were going to do the song “Exciter.”

He had a studio in Houston, and when I showed up he said, “Where’s your guitar?” I told him I brought a pick. I was so unprepared. There was a cool guy at the studio and he let me borrow his Les Paul. As I’m warming up, this guy tells me, “Hey, you know I come to Houston often. If you want me to give you guitar lessons, I will.” It was Tim Owens. He’s perfect. His harmonies are amazing. He is a freaking machine, man, and he’s a true gentleman. He’s an articulate guy who takes care of business, and to top it all off, he has a great sense of humor.

HT: What about your band Heavy As Texas. Can we expect to hear new music from that as well?

MM: Yes. The next release we’re doing is from my band Heavy As Texas. It’s got unbelievable members in it, just great, talented, beautiful people. We got the great Kyle Thomas of the original Exhorder from New Orleans. Best heavy band ever. He was with many other bands, like Alabama Thunder Pussy, which had a hit song called “Words of a Dying Man.” It was on MTV. He is now the current singer for Trouble, and he is also the current singer for Heavy As Texas.

HT: Are there plans to tour with any of these projects?

MM: Definitely. Not only will Heavy As Texas tour the U.S., we’re going to go to Canada, Central and South America, and I really predict Europe before anything else, too.

HT: I was just talking to a member of your crew. He told me that you get stoned before every live performance. Is that true… because your playing seems flawless?

MM: Oh man, yes absolutely. It’s a ritual. There’s nothing wrong with it. Best thing to do is to medicate. But I’ve never done it for the sake of wasting time. It’s always inspired me. First thing marijuana did for me in my twenties was make me a more focused musician. I was such a sporadic, son of a bitch guitar player… all over the place. It made me very perceptive in this world where you have nothing but distractions. So I’d put in a movie like “Pink Floyd: The Wall” with my buddies back in high school. I’d even tell em’, “Man, not a peep out of you motherfuckers. Nobody talks until after the movie and we can discuss.” So we’d burn one and watch the movie. You could tell everyone was into it. You can hit a joint without having to flap your damn mouth. And it was awesome. Then we would have a lot of pizza and jam out. You know there’s always a fun aspect to it.

HT: So do you prefer marijuana to booze?

MM: The alcohol versus marijuana debate is the most asinine, ignorant thing I grew up with. I still hear about it, and I’m like, “you must be joking.” People drinking bottles of whiskey, looking down on you cause you smoke weed. Living in Texas, it’s just taboo. They sit there with a drink in their hands, slurring their words, but criticize me for doing something natural, from the earth, to help myself focus or help myself because I’m sick…because I am, in many different ways.

HT: Have you ever been busted for marijuana possession?

MM: Man, I’ve had so many brushes with the law, it’s not even funny. But it is funny as hell. I can tell you stories for days. One time, we had like a half-pound, and my buddy and me get pulled over. Both of us had warrants. The cop took our licenses and you know, the pot was right under my feet. He came back and said, “You both have warrants, you know.” I was just thinking of all these bad things, and then he tells us that he doesn’t feel like dealing with it. It was after hours, and he was ready to go home, so he pardoned us and said, “I’m sure you guys are going to take care of these warrants.”

Another time, I had a couple J’s rolled in my truck for after a gig. The truck was a ’62 Ford…no tags or insurance. I don’t know why I took it to the gig. So we get pulled over by eight state troopers. It wasn’t eight in the beginning, it was just one. But they were like piling up one after another. I gave these two joints to my guitar tech and told him to get rid of them. This cop got us out and he questioned us. I remember he put me back in the truck, and he took my friend out. He was asking us if we had dope, and of course we told him no. He’s going through my guitar case, going through my cables and then second car comes, third car comes, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth car comes.

So they get us out and say, “what do we got here?” My brilliant friend had just tossed them, but the eight cops found them. So the main guy gets me out, but before I get to the bed of my truck he says, “We can talk about two chicken shit joints all night or,” as soon as he said they’re chicken shit joints, I told him they were mine. I saw anger in him, so I fessed up quickly. I told him I was going to smoke them after my show. And he says, “Well, why did you lie to me?” I said I got nervous man, I’m scared, my girlfriend’s 10 months pregnant. I remember saying that: My girlfriend’s fucking 10 months pregnant (laughs). Then he said, “Go on and get then.” I swear to you. Go on and get. After 45 minutes, get it to a climax like that. I fucking took off and got with my buddy. The joints were on the dash and I helped myself to one on the way home. Good times. It was awesome.

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