Proving his metal

Gus G, who now fills the impossibly large boots of Zakk Wylde as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, is enjoying every second of the ride

Gus G 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gus G 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was akin to Charlie Buckets pulling the golden ticket out of the chocolate bar, when Kostas Karamitroudis received a phone call last year asking him to become lead guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band.
Better known as Gus G, the 30-year-old native of Salonika, Greece, had already acquired a sterling reputation in underground hard rock circles as one of the metal’s premier guitarists for his work with his own band, Firewind. But the great leap into the world of Oz was still a lofty proposition for the lanky, long-haired virtuoso.
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“I was thinking ‘Yes, yes, I have to do this. I have nothing to lose,’” recalled Gus as he spoke on the phone from his family’s home in Salonika last week, where he was enjoying a brief vacation ahead of the Ozzfest’s arrival over the weekend in Athens.
“I was always a little bit scared, thinking ‘What am I getting myself into? If I get this, I’m going to be in the eye of the spotlight.’ But in the end, if you don’t dare, you’ll never really know what it’s like.”
For Gus, it’s been everything he’d hoped for, and more, standing on stadium stages with that same spotlight he was once apprehensive about shining brightly on him as he rolls off one lightning-speed solo after another and keeps Ozzy’s band in prime head-banging mode.
Undaunted at filling the shoes of some very formidable guitarists who have played with Osbourne since he left Black Sabbath – including the late Randy Rhoads (who died in a freak light airplane crash in 1982), Jake E.
Lee and, most recently, Zakk Wylde – Gus said Osbourne gave him complete freedom in staking his own turf on the well-known material and on the songs from Osbourne’s latest album, Scream.
“Ozzy didn’t tell me anything about how to play the songs. We never rally discussed it. He really liked my approach from day one, which is really sticking to the originals and not fooling around with them. I think he really appreciates it. He was telling me, ‘I haven’t heard songs like that in many years.’ So I think he was happy about it,” he said.
Elaborating on the subject to Guitar World magazine earlier this year, Gus said, “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.”
Gus learned all those styles, and more, growing up in Salonika, where his father’s rock record collection included music that remained in Gus’s head, like Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive and assorted Eagles albums.
But things took a fortuitous turn when a junior high school friend handed him a cassette one day.
“He gave me a tape of Black Sabbath’s Masters of Reality, and I think it really changed my life. I became a huge Sabbath fan,” he said.
STUDYING MUSIC formally in his teens and discovering his musical gift, Gus left home at age 18 after he was accepted at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. However, he ended up leaving after only two weeks.
“It wasn’t what I was looking for,” said Gus. “And at that point – maybe because I was just a teenager – I wanted to form a band, tour the world and rock. I wasn’t ready for college. I had already completed formal training for about four years. So by the time I got to Berklee, it was like ‘Music theory class again?’” Years of playing in bands like Dream Evil, Mystic Prophecy, Nightrage and Arch Enemy and, finally, his own Firewind, ensued, and along with it came a new stage name, Gus G. “Gus” for the common Greek American English translation of the name Kostas, and “G” given to him by a friend.
It was while playing with Arch Enemy as one of the openers at the 2005 Ozzfest that his and Osbourne’s paths first crossed. Osbourne’s guitarist Wylde was rumored to be leaving the band, and the ambitious Gus knocked on Osbourne’s dressing room door and gave his tour manager a Firewind CD.
Wylde ended up staying in the band, but the CD evidently made an impression because Gus got the call when Wylde eventually left the band last year.
“It was partly because of the Ozzfest in 2005, when I know they were checking me out, and partly because I’ve been around a lot, playing all over the place. I guess I had acquired a reputation in the underground over the years,” said Gus.
Gus’s reputation hasn’t remained underground, though, with reviews of Osbourne’s shows consistently singling him out, like this from last month’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette: “Greek guitar hero Gus G, the most jaw-dropping musician of the day, proved his metal by navigating the sinewy and sinister leads of ‘Mr. Crowley’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and later leading a heavy blues jam with the band, which killed it on ‘Iron Man.’” Gus’s family, which rarely finds the opportunity to see him perform, were out in full force for Saturday’s Ozzfest in Athens, a prospect that prior to the show Gus had mixed feelings about.
“I don’t know. I’m not so sure it’s so good,” he laughed. “I’m probably going to be really stressed by it.”
The family isn’t joining him in Israel, a country that, despite its close proximity to Salonika, is a place that Gus has never visited before.
“I just never had the chance, but I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
Despite a health scare last week, when a pulled muscle in his back forced Osbourne to cancel a show in Germany, Gus confirmed that the Prince of Darkness was back in full mettle.
“Ozzy was in a lot of pain – he could barely stand, let alone sing. But we had three or four days off, and he’s much better now. Not to worry – the show and performance will be full speed,” said Gus.
As far as having Ozzy Osbourne for a boss? Well, let’s just say there are not a lot of rules involved.
“He’s very easy going, open minded and doesn’t tell anybody what to do. I don’t really remember the TV show, but I know he was probably drinking back then, and now he’s sober and a completely different man. He always says, ‘Do whatever the **** you want.’” And as anyone who attends tonight’s Ozzfest at Hayarkon Park will discover, when Gus G gets on the stage, that’s exactly what he does.