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Jon Zazula, Co-Founder of Metallica’s First Label Megaforce, Dead at 69

The label Zazula launched with his late wife Marsha was also home to metal favorites Anthrax, Testament, and Overkill

Jon Zazula in 2013.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Jon Zazula, co-founder of Megaforce Records, which released the first two Metallica records and was home to numerous influential metal acts, died Tuesday. He was 69. 

A rep for Megaforce confirmed Zazula’s death to Rolling Stone, though a cause was not given. Zazula died just over a year after his wife and Megaforce co-founder, Marsha Zazula, died of cancer in January 2021. 

“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,” Zazula’s daughter Rikki wrote on Facebook. “Your [legacy] will live on forever, not only in us and your grandchildren, but, in every headbanger on this planet for all of eternity!”

Megaforce was founded in 1982. At the time, the Zazulas were fixtures in the burgeoning East Coast metal world, operating a record store in East Brunswick, New Jersey that specialized in New Wave and metal, and promoting shows in the area. The label came about when the Zazulas heard Metallica’s demo collection No Life ’Til Leather, and were determined to create a home for the band. 

In a 2019 interview, Jon recalled hearing No Life ’Til Leather for the first time: “I basically said, ‘What the fuck!’ It was just so amazing. I stood there stunned, because music is my life. Everything was going off in my head, like this was the answer to America, just from the demo. And I said I’ve got to get involved with this.” 

Metallica released their storied debut, Kill ‘Em All, on Megaforce the following year, and in 1984 Megaforce released Ride the Lightning (The band moved to a major, Elektra Records, for their next LP, 1986’s Master of Puppets). At the same time, the label was nurturing another soon-to-be-huge thrash outfit, Anthrax. The NYC metal group released their debut, Fistful of Metal, on Megaforce in 1984 and continued to work with the label throughout the decade. 

Megaforce’s early successes — which also included albums by Raven, Mercyful Fate and Manowar — quickly garnered the attention of the major label system, and they soon inked distribution deals with Atlantic and Island. Over the next several decades, Megaforce would release albums by metal favorites like Overkill, and Testament, as well as bands like Ministry, Bad Brains and Meat Puppets. 

While Megaforce continues to operate today, the Zazulas stepped back from the label several years ago. In 2019, Jon published his memoir, Heavy Tales: The Metal, The Music, The Madness. 

In an interview with Kerrang promoting the book, Zazula said of his relationship with music: “I fall in love. I fall in love with my bands, musicians, music. When I heard Metallica for the first time, there was no question. When I heard Anthrax for the first time, there were a lot of questions! I wasn’t sure about Anthrax until I heard ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’ for the first time in the studio, where they came together… If you didn’t sell out, and kept true to form, and kept banging and growing your fanbase, you’d get bigger than ever.”

From Rolling Stone US