Gus G. Discusses His Role as Ozzy's New Axslinger
Originally published in Guitar World, August 2010
Ozzy Osbourne's new guitarist has the requisite heavy metal muscles, mane and moniker. But Gus G. isn't just a Zakk Wylde clone.
Gus G. recalls the moment he knew he wanted to become a guitarist. “My father was playing ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’ on the stereo,” he says. “I heard all this talk-box guitar, and I was transfixed. I thought, I want a guitar. I want to play like that. So it was Peter Frampton that turned me on to becoming a guitarist.”
Gus G. laughs. The irony of the Seventies soft-rock paragon inspiring his career is not lost on him. Since being weaned on his father’s AOR vinyl collection, Gus has evolved into a dynamic hard rock guitarist with a powerhouse shredding technique, one that landed him his current job as Ozzy Osbourne’s new guitarist after the singer parted ways with Zakk Wylde last year. Gus can be heard playing ripping, visceral licks all over Ozzy’s new album, Scream.
With his distinctive dyed red mane and muscular physique, Gus looks the part of a heavy metal guitarist. But he has the chops as well, not to mention the cred, having established himself with Dream Evil, Nightrage, Arch Enemy and his own band, Firewind, before joining Ozzy. Even Wylde is convinced his replacement can deliver what’s required. “Gus G. is a fucking awesome guitarist,” Zakk told Metal Hammer magazine last month. “I’m sure he’s going to write some slammin’ shit.”
Born Kostas Karamitroudis in Thessaloniki, Greece, Gus G. started playing at age 10 when his father, a schoolteacher and part-time musician, bought him a cheap, classical guitar and sent him to a small, local music school. Initially, his influences came through school friends swapping cassettes featuring Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The first solo he learned was Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” (because “it was the easiest,” he says). But gradually Gus’ palette expanded to include a variety of styles that inform his playing today.
“I got into the whole shred thing and found out about Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai,” he says. “At the same time, I had a love of classic rock, like early Scorpions.”
And then there’s Yngwie Malmsteen. Gus became a devotee after hearing the neoclassical virtuoso’s 1986 album, Trilogy, although he never wanted to become a clone. “Through listening to Yngwie, I found out about Paganini,” he says. “But I didn’t want to become a neoclassical rock guitarist. Yngwie was more of an influence from a sound and technical perspective.”
At 18, having been awarded a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he headed off to the United States with the intention of studying music, but after just two weeks, he decided he’d had enough of the academic world. “Playing in rock bands, I’ve never been required to read charts,” he says.
With the help of college friends, Gus recorded some demos under the banner of Firewind (a name he took from an Uli Roth album), and although he declares the tracks “weren’t that special,” he sent them around to record companies. Eventually, he got a letter from Eighties shred maestro David T. Chastain, who encouraged Gus to keep sending in demos and work on his style. Chastain eventually helped him to put together Firewind and produced their 2002 debut, Between Heaven and Hell.
In between albums, Gus played with various other bands, including Arch Enemy. When the group played the 2005 Ozzfest, he ran into his future employer. “That summer [metal news web site] Blabbermouth had announced that Ozzy was looking for a new guitarist,” he says. “So I went and knocked on the dressing room door and gave his people my Firewind CD.” Zakk was back in the band a couple of days later, but when Wylde and Osbourne parted ways last summer, Gus received an email from Ozzy’s office inviting him to audition.
“Initially, I was a bit stressed,” he admits. “But we jammed for a couple of hours, and then Ozzy came in and we did ‘I Don’t Know,’ ‘Bark at the Moon,’ ‘Crazy Train’ and ‘Suicide Solution.’” Gus got the gig and almost immediately went into rehearsals for a show in August at the closing ceremonies of the BlizzCon gaming convention in Anaheim, California. “I didn’t have any problems learning the songs, technically speaking,” he says. “But all of Ozzy’s guitarists have their own unique styles, and you have to pay attention to that when playing songs from each guy’s era. For example, Randy Rhoads would do all these weird little fills here and there. The first two albums he plays on are just pure genius; he was very ahead of his time. Jake E. Lee is underrated, maybe because he was in the band during Ozzy’s big-hair era. I think he’s phenomenal—a very unorthodox player. And Zakk is a really tough player—in order to live up to that you have to have a really big sound. He’s the bluesiest player of them all.”