Jon Zazula, Early Promoter of Heavy Metal, Dies at 69

Jon Zazula, who with his wife, Marsha, founded Megaforce Records and was an important figure in the emergence of heavy metal music, giving Metallica, Anthrax and other bands their start, died on Tuesday at his home in Clermont, Fla. He was 69.

Maria Ferrero, the couple’s first employee at the label and later the founder of Adrenaline PR, which specializes in promoting metal bands, said the cause was chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological condition. Marsha Zazula died in January of last year at 68.

Metallica memorialized Mr. Zazula in posts on its Twitter feed.

“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,” the band said.

At that time, the Zazulas were trying to make a few bucks selling records from their collection of hard-to-find albums and picture discs at a flea market in East Brunswick, N.J. Their stock was heavy on metal, and their cubbyhole store, Rock N Roll Heaven, became a gathering spot for metalheads. At their customers’ urging, they started a D.I.Y. concert-promoting business to present some of the bands whose music they were selling; their first concert, in 1982, featured the Canadian band Anvil and drew almost 2,000 people.

At some point someone brought them a demo tape by an unknown West Coast band, Metallica. The Zazulas liked what they heard, so much so that they contacted the members of the group and urged them to come east and play a few shows. Soon they had formed Megaforce, which released Metallica’s first two albums, “Kill ‘em All” in 1983 and “Ride the Lightning” in 1984.

Megaforce also released the first albums by Anthrax (“Fistful of Metal,” 1984), Testament (“The Legacy,” 1987) and others.

Heavy metal was just beginning to take hold in the United States when the Zazulas became involved, and it was sometimes dismissed as mere noise. But in a 1983 interview with The Courier-News of Bridgewater, N.J., Mr. Zazula explained the attraction.

“It’s music that’s pure emotion,” he said. “Heavy metal is super-talent at breakneck speed.”

The music, he said, was destined to endure.

“New wave music changes every week,” he said. “Metal gives the people something they can count on.”

Jon and Marsha Zazula backstage at a Monsters of Rock concert in about 1990.Credit…Gene Ambo

Jonathan David Zazula was born on March 16, 1952, in the Bronx. His father, Norman, was a shipping clerk, and his mother, Helen (Risch) Zazula, was recreation director at a nursing home.

He grew up in the Eastchester Gardens complex in the Bronx and attended Lehman College. He married Lisa Weber in 1972, but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1979 he married Marsha Jean Rutenberg.

He was working in financial planning and she in marketing when they left New York in 1980 and settled in Old Bridge, N.J. His finance career came to an end the next year when the company he worked for, which traded in metals, was raided by the authorities and everyone there was charged with fraud, accused of passing off scrap metal as the rare metal tantalum. Mr. Zazula served six months in a halfway house in Newark, and he and his wife began selling at the flea market during that time to try to make ends meet.

“That’s how we started Rock N Roll Heaven,” he said in an interview for “Moguls and Madmen: The Pursuit of Power in Popular Music,” a 1994 book by Jory Farr. “Out of that pit of hell came all that we did.”

Their fledgling concert-promotion business — Crazed Management was their company’s name — was very hands-on; they personally plastered telephone poles with fliers, and band members often crashed at their house.

“I remember we had to sell every club we worked in on the idea of presenting an original heavy-metal show,” Mr. Zazula, recalling the early years, told The Home News of New Brunswick, N.J., in 1988. “In those days all the clubs wanted cover bands.”

Creating Megaforce Records, he said, was a fallback, after the couple had made some more demos with Metallica and tried to interest existing labels.

“They thought we were crazy,” he told The Courier-News in 1987. “‘What kind of music is this?’ And we were forced to start our own record company to promote Metallica.”

Bands given their start by Megaforce tended to move to more mainstream labels once they made it big; after its first two albums, Metallica signed with Elektra.

The couple sold their stake in Megaforce in 2001, although Mr. Zazula continued to promote an occasional concert until retiring in 2018.

Mr. Zazula is survived by three daughters, Danielle Zazula, Rikki Zazula and Blaire Zazula Brewer; two brothers, Evan and Robert; and five grandchildren.

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