Honoring Jonny Z On What Would Have Been His 71st Birthday
On Sunday, March 16, 1952, the world of heavy metal changed forever. Jonathan Zazula was born in the Bronx and would grow up to co-found Megaforce Records with his wife, Marsha, the very label that put out Metallica's first two records, Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning.
Today, on what would have been Jonny Z's 71st birthday, we remember and honor the one-of-a-kind rock legend.
Before he changed the face of rock and roll, Jonny Z was a finance guy in New York City. After marrying Marsha, they decided to move out of the city and head to Old Bridge, New Jersey. A lot happened after that move, but everything—the good and the bad—led to Jonny and Marsha starting Megaforce in an effort to put Metallica on the map.
"I tried to sell them to every label, but no one got it," Zazula recalled in a 2016 conversation with MyCentralJersey.com. "That’s why I did it myself with Megaforce, but it was a startup operation with no money."
Jonny Z: The Definitive Story of How I Signed Metallica
As the legend goes, Zazula got a copy of Metallica's 1982 demo tape, No Life 'Til Leather, and knew he was listening to something special.
"I felt their fury and always believed that they were the next Led Zeppelin," Zazula wrote in the book that accompanied the deluxe box set of Kill 'Em All. "I would dare anybody to tell me I was wrong. Theirs was an unstoppable momentum, which, with just a bit of guidance, would go on to put their mark on music history."
And though the Zazulas weren't sure how to do it, they knew they needed to do something to get Metallica's music in the hands of fans everywhere.
"[Marsha] saw through all my madness and would guide me to the moon and back if I were to ever get derailed or off course," he added. "We were totally untrained in the music business: Neither managers nor record moguls were we. Yet when we realized (once the U-Haul pulled up to our lawn) what we had taken on, we knew that we'd better learn fast—and we think we did darn well for most of it."
Zazula's unique approach as a label owner and as a manager helped Megaforce do "darn well." In the same Kill 'Em All book, he described his management style as more like being a member of the band than acting like an actual manager.
"It was the fact that we offered everyone a plan to forge forward 10 yards at a time: It was truly seek and destroy," he said.
More than being a manager, bandmate or whatever he might've called himself, Jonny Z—and Marsha and their kids—considered the bands they worked with as friends and, often, family.
"I remember when Venom and OBM [Old Bridge Militia] were hangin' out in Castle Megaforce and brought home a giant cut of venison to feed the band and burnt down my kitchen (for real)," he wrote. "I'll never forget that while everyone was carrying on down below on the lower level of the house Cliff [Burton] would read our daughter bedtime stories because it was too loud in the house and she couldn't sleep. I always thought that his interest and patience for the young was amazing, especially with Rikki, my middle daughter."
He went on, "I remember pasta night at the Z's. It was the cheapest way to feed everyone, and Marsha makes a mean sauce. It was the usual crowd for dinner. Raven, Venom, Anvil, and of course, Metallica would sometimes dine together in one room amongst young press enthusiasts from fanzines, many of whom grew into being the major writers for this genre, as well as the music moguls of today. They were all metal diehards who were for one reason or the other fell into our very metal lives."
Jonny and Marsha were a team throughout it all, and Jonny always knew that. When he chatted with Full Metal Jackie in 2019 about his book, Heavy Tales: The Metal, The Music, The Madness. As Lived by Jon Zazula, he acknowledged that truth.
"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," he said, later adding, "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."
On Jan. 10, 2021, Marsha Zazula passed away at the age of 68 and almost exactly a year later, the world said goodbye to Jonny Z. As their daughter, Rikki, shared on social media that day, Feb. 1, 2022, "Our father and mother were a powerhouse partnership in love, life, and business ..."
Raise your horns in honor of Jonny Z.