When historians look back on the impact that Ozzy Osbourne has had on the world of guitar, it’s going to be pretty damn impressive for a guy who doesn’t even play. Whether by default or by design, his Ozzness has always been associated with a totally badass—if not completely game-changing—ax slinger. In the beginning there was Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath, who basically invented heavy metal, and then Randy Rhoads, who was one of the most influential guitarists of his generation. The other 6-stringers who have drifted through Ozzy’s transom include Brad Gillis, Jake E. Lee, and Zakk Wylde, all of whom have managed to bring their own unique trip to the party. Add to that list Gus G, whose playing is all over the latest Ozzy offering, Scream [Epic]. Gus gets huge tones and shreds through clever, memorable solos on the 11 tunes. Metal fans may recognize the Greek guitarist from his work with Firewind, but it seems certain that he’ll soon be known to a much larger audience.
What was the audition like for the Ozzy gig?
There was an audition last summer. I learned a bunch of songs and went down to L.A. Obviously I was very excited and stressed about it, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I figured it was going to be a bunch of guys in there and you get your 15 minutes and that’s it. But I actually had a couple of hours to spend with the band. We just jammed and went through all the parts in all the songs and fixed parts that I may have had questions about. A couple of hours later Ozzy came down and we jammed and it went pretty good. We did “Bark at the Moon,” “Crazy Train,” “I Don’t Know,” “Paranoid,” and “I Don’t Want to Change the World.”
How big an influence was Ozzy’s music on you?
Very big. I’m a huge Black Sabbath fan. I’m a bigger Sabbath fan than Ozzy fan to be honest, not to put any of Ozzy’s music down because I grew up with his solo records as well and I studied all the guitar players that have played in his band. But I have a certain love for Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi. I think I totally come from that school of guitar— that traditional, heavy, hard rock guitar playing.
Ozzy wrote this record with the producer, Kevin Churko. How complete were these tunes when you heard them for the first time?
They were written already so they just needed someone to play the riffs. I play all the main riffs and solos, but I didn’t really have much to do with all the weird intros and stuff like that. The intro to “Fearless,” the sounds at the beginning of “Let It Die,” that’s all Kevin.
Do you feel like you still got to put enough of your personality into the songs coming into it at that stage?
Well, as much as I could. Actually it’s the first record that I’ve done that I haven’t written anything on it. Usually I write the records that I play on or cowrite with other people. But this one was all done. They told me, “Be you and do your thing.” I was just happy that I had the chance to even play some leads. That was my mentality. It was a big learning experience for me. Just the fact that they asked me to redo all the guitars was a big honor. I went in there and Kevin definitely had some stuff that in my opinion didn’t sound like how a guitar player would do it, so he was open to my ideas. A good example of that is the riff on “Soul Sucker.” When I heard it I thought it was a good riff but it was pretty generic. It was just like a slow heavy riff. So I said, “Why don’t we do a talk box thing here?” There were a lot of those good chemistry moments in the studio where you come up with stuff. I came up with all the leads. I changed a couple of riffs here and there, but nothing major.
What was your rig?
My rig for the whole record was a combination of two amps. One was a Blackstar Series One 200 head through a Blackstar cab with Celestion Vintage 30s. I did two rhythm tracks with that. Then I did another two rhythm tracks with a Marshall JCM800 through a Marshall cab with EV speakers. Those two tones complemented each other and they produced this really massive sound. I played my signature model ESP Random Star guitar with Seymour Duncan Blackouts. Usually I’m a passive pickup guy, but for the last year I’ve been using these active Blackouts and they’re the best I’ve ever played. They’re really loud and very heavy with a lot of distortion. It makes it almost effortless to play. I was never really an active guy because I hated the fact that you kind of lose the harmonics and a little bit of the sound of the wood of the guitar. But somehow they managed to come up with this pickup that lets you hear all the harmonics in the guitar—you can hear the classic sweet Seymour tone.
Your tone is really heavy. Is the gain fully cranked on your amps?
I don’t use too much distortion. It’s usually around 12:00 or so. For the leads I use this BBE Green Screamer. It’s kind of like a replica of an Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal and I just step on it for a boost on my leads.
Let’s talk about a couple of the solos. I noticed that both in “Let It Die” and “Let Me Hear You Scream,” you play solos that have these really wide intervals, where you’re sliding around and jumping as much as an octave. What’s going on there?
It’s not actually octaves. Those intervals are actually fourths, fifths, and sixths but I’m skipping positions back and forth so it almost sounds like octaves even though it’s not. To get that sound I might go from, say, the 22nd position, down to the 17th, then back up to the 20th, then down to the 15th, and so on.
Was it hard to get that technique so smooth?
I practiced for many years with a metronome in my room for stuff like that when I was a teenager. When I went to the conservatory, the first thing my teacher said was, “Buy a metronome and anything you practice, practice it slowly first and gradually raise the BPM.” Later on, when I was giving lessons, I saw that everybody wanted to play fast right away and that’s not the way to go. If you practice everything to a metronome, you get great rhythm from that. You get tight, you build your precision, and you become accurate with your playing. I think you should play everything—from riffs to clean chords to strumming to shredding licks—with a metronome.
What’s the tuning on “Soul Sucker”?
It’s in dropped-B. The guitar is tuned down to C# , then you drop the low E another step to B. The big growling bends are actually played with a slide on my ring finger. I’m sliding from the 3rd to the 4th fret.
What are the challenges to playing parts that were originally laid down by Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, and the others?
For a Tony Iommi part, you need to sound f**king heavy, that’s for sure. That’s what Black Sabbath is all about—being heavy and dark. As for Randy, Jake, and Zakk, they’re all great players. I love them all and everybody was different. I grew up with that stuff so it’s great just being able to play these songs. I stick to the originals the way they were recorded. I feel that I have a very important spotlight here next to Ozzy Osbourne so I need to play this music accurately because it’s all classics—the stuff that defined heavy metal and hard rock. There’s always a little bit of space to do your own thing obviously, but “Crazy Train” is “Crazy Train.” You don’t f**k with that.
How does Firewind’s music differ from Ozzy’s?
It’s more of a band environment in the sense that we’re playing our own songs and not backing a solo artist. The Ozzy gig is the coolest job on earth, but Firewind is a different scenario. We’ve been around for a while. We have five albums. We have a keyboard player who also plays guitar. The music has some power metal influences, as well as our Scorpions-meets-Sabbath-meets-Judas Priest kind of thing.
Who did you listen to growing up and who do you like these days?
Early on it was Tony Iommi. Later, Yngwie Malmsteen was a big influence. The first record I heard from him was Trilogy, and that’s what really got me into the whole shredding thing. The ’80s shredders like Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, and Marty Friedman—I love all those guys. I also love European players from the ’70s like Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, and Gary Moore. As for newer guys, Jeff Loomis is great. The guys from DragonForce are very good. Michael Amott from Arch Enemy is a great player and he’s definitely from the ’70s school of guitar. I’m glad to see newer guitar players bring in that element. If young players do some digging and find out who Ritchie Blackmore and Gary Moore are and listen to Thin Lizzy and great bands like that, they can find a lot of amazing guitar stuff there. Hopefully we can be the new generation that carries that torch.