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Jon Zazula, Megaforce Records’ Co-Founder & Metallica Mentor, Dies At 69

The legendary metal label famously released Metallica’s first two albums, plus key releases by Anthrax, Testament and more.

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Jon Zazula - Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Jon Zazula, Megaforce Records’ founder Jon Zazula (aka ‘Jonny Z’) has died at the age of 69. He passed away on Tuesday, February 1 in Florida surrounded by his family. He died of complications of the rare neuropathic disorder chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and osteopenia, the family said.

Marsha Zazula, Jon’s partner and Megaforce Records co-founder, previously died of cancer on January 10, 2021, at the age of 68.

The Zazulas’ daughter Rikki wrote on social media: ” The world lost a true legend today… Our Dad lived a life as fast, hard, heavy, powerful, and, impactful as the music he brought to the world. His passion and persistence fueled the careers of arguably the most influential metal bands, and, industry greats of a generation.

“To us he was simply daddy… Our father and mother were a powerhouse partnership in love, life, and business. Together they believed in the unbelievable, their passion, rebel perspective, and persistence built an empire from a box of vinyl in a flea market – into a multi platinum selling record label, management company, and publishing house. Although we are devastated he is gone, they are finally reunited. And it feels impossible to imagine a world without him in it. For all of us who knew and loved him … by the way… keep it heavy! RIP daddy you will truly be deeply missed, but, never forgotten…your LegaZ will live on forever, not only in us and your grandchildren, but, in every headbanger on this planet for all of eternity!”

Megaforce is widely credited for launching the career of Metallica by releasing the band’s first two albums, 1983’s Kill ‘Em All and 1984’s Ride The Lightning, before Metallica landed a major label deal with Elektra.

Metallica: Ride The Lightning (Mexico City, Mexico - July 28, 2012)

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The label’s roster has also included such artists as Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, Ace Frehley, Ministry, King’s X, Stormtroopers Of Death and Raven.

Megaforce artists that have appeared on the Billboard Top 200 chart include Metallica, Blue October, Anthrax, Overkill, Testament, Mushroomhead, Ministry, Bad Brains and Meat Puppets. The Black Crowes and Meat Puppets have both received various RIAA certifications in the US.

Born in 1952, Jon Zazula 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 (and unexpectedly) transitioning into the music business and discovering Metallica, Anthrax and others.

After Wall Street, Zazula began selling records at a flea market store in 1981 to put food on the table for his family. Dubbed ‘Rock N’ Roll Heaven’, the store eventually blossomed into a major record store that influenced the heavy metal movement as we know it today.
In the winter of 1982, Zazula received an unexpected demo tape from unsigned underground band called Metallica. Eager and determined to have the music heard by the entire world, Jonny and Marsha founded Megaforce the following year and released Kill ‘Em All. Through this release, Megaforce cemented its position as the de-facto music label in America for heavy metal.

Zazula’s acclaimed autobiography, Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived By Jon Zazula, was released in October 2019. The book tells the story of how the Zazulas ended up signing a band that shaped the sound of heavy metal for decades to come.

“It’s all a blessing when you work hard and you stay smart and you go into the game and then eventually something comes your way and you’re ready for it. And you’re able to jump upon it and ride it,” Zazula told Variety. “We were very fortunate, Marsha and I, that we have them to choose as a band that became the biggest band in the world. Not to mention a bunch of other great bands that made history.”

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