Jon Zazula, who changed the music world with his Jersey-based Megaforce label, dies at 69

jon Zazula died

Jon and Marsha Zazula in the ’80s.

Jon Zazula, co-founder of the groundbreaking New Jersey-based record label Megaforce, has died at 69, a little more than a year after his wife and Megaforce partner Marsha Zazula, died at 68 (on Jan. 10, 2021).

“Heavy music lost one of its great champions today when Jonny Z left this world far too soon,” posted Metallica on Facebook. “In 1982, when no one wanted to take a chance on four kids from California playing a crazy brand of metal, Jonny and Marsha did, and the rest, as they say, is history. He was a mentor, a manager, a label head and a father figure to us all … Metallica would not be who we are or where we are today without Jon Zazula and his wife, Marsha.”

Megaforce is best known for releasing Metallica’s first two albums, Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning, in 1983 and 1984, respectively. But the label also has featured, on its roster, artists such as Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, Ace Frehley, Ministry, King’s X, M.O.D., Raven, Warren Haynes and the Disco Biscuits.

“Marsha and I helped create the soundtrack for peoples’ lives,” Zazula said in a 2019 interview.

Though he had his biggest successes in the ’80s, the large, burly Zazula was, in many ways, a throwback to an earlier, more colorful era of the music industry. He was part businessman, part fan, part larger-than-life character, and passionately devoted to his job. A force of nature, you could say.

Jon Zazula, bottom, with Metallica, early in the band’s career.

“Our Dad lived a life as fast, hard, heavy, powerful, and, impactful as the music he brought to the world,” posted one of his daughters, Rikki Zazula, on Facebook. “His passion and persistence fueled the careers of arguably the most influential metal bands, and, industry greats of a generation. … 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.”

The Zazulas started building their metal empire at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven record store in East Brunswick (it later moved to Clark) and remained based in New Jersey throughout their ’80s and ’90s heyday.

Zazula published an autobiography, “Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived by Jon Zazula,” in 2019.

“I wasn’t just the record guy behind the desk,” he said in an interview promoting the book. “I was out there on the battlefield for every little thing, I was in it. And we were like family. And that’s the vibe that I put out and that Marsha put out. If you couldn’t relate to me, you could relate to Marsha. We had just good times, and the good times with some of them continue into today. I could call anybody and talk like it was yesterday.”

“Jon’s love of music and musicians was unwavering. A giant was lost today,” posted Megaforce Records on its website.

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