Megaforce Records co-founder Jon Zazula — who launched the iconic label, which released the first albums from Metallica, Anthrax and many others, with his wife Marsha in 1982 — died Tuesday in Florida, a rep for the label confirms to Variety. He was 69.
Marsha passed away of cancer in January of last year.
Known as “Jonny Z,” Zazula was the more freewheeling half of the company’s founding duo, known for his raucous laughter and, sometimes, his temper. Along with Metallica (whose first two albums the label released), Anthrax, Testament, former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, Ministry, King’s X, Overkill and Raven were among the company’s biggest acts. “Jonny and Marsha,” nearly always side-by-side, were a friendly and familiar presence at metal concerts and events during the era.
The Zazulas’ metal dynasty began in the early 1980s as a small independent record store called Rock and Roll Heaven, located at the Route 18 flea market in East Brunswick, New Jersey. The couple originally intended to focus on artists such as John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, but Marsha decided to focus on selling rare import copies of albums from burgeoning “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” acts such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and other rising European bands, and stocked the store with like-minded publications such as Kerrang and Sounds. The couple began promoting shows — including an early show with the early metal band Anvil — in the area.
The couple’s reputation grew and before long, a demo from a San Francisco-based band called Metallica found its way to them. Realizing the group was, as Jon put it, “lightning in a bottle,” the couple brought the quartet to their home in New Jersey and created Megaforce Records to launch the group. Metallica’s debut album, “Kill ‘Em All,” was released in July of 1983, effectively launching the thrash metal movement.
While the label lost Metallica to Elektra Records in 1984, shortly after releasing the group’s second album, “Ride the Lightning,” Megaforce remained a powerful force in heavy metal throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, releasing albums by the above artists and many others via distribution deals with Atlantic, Island, Caroline and other labels. The label varied its roster during the 1990s and continues to this day.
Zazula chronicled much of the label’s history in his book, “Heavy Tales: The Metal, The Music, The Madness.”
More to come…