Guitarist Gus G. (Ozzy, Firewind) shares his thoughts on what it takes to have a successful career in music
By Russell Eldridge
Musicians and even fans look to those who have survived long careers in the industry for hope and inspiration, but the changing topography of music business leaves many questioning whether their idols can give advice for those just starting out. Even the idea of idols varies widely among segmented genres and fans of niche music styles.
For some, it may be a no-brainer to answer the question, “Who is Gus G.?” The world is so saturated with easily accessible music that most people don’t even know the bands they are listening to.
As a guitar teacher, one of the ways I keep up with what’s popular in music is through the songs my students ask to learn. I don’t think any of my students know who Gus G is, but in his defense, a lot of them don’t even know who Ozzy is either. A few of them recognize “Crazy Train” and more can recognize “Iron Man,” (probably because of the “Iron Man” movie), but even bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Nirvana are considered classic rock to these young guitarists; I wonder if Ozzy has fallen into the oldies category.
Since the role of most famous rock star changes so quickly it can be hard to see where one stands. Gus G. says his standard for success is creating something of which he is proud. Taking pride in his music makes him happy, he says, but he recognizes the business side of the music industry, where people often measure success by gold or platinum records.
Further, Gus G. says he doesn’t think a lack of a gold record devalues an artist. “Music is not a competition,” he says. “If you’re proud and happy with the music you make, and some people out there understand it and are touched by it, then THAT’S success.”
Musical fans differ in attitude depending on where they live or what country they are from. For example, during the ‘90s Yngwie Malmsteen had quite a dry spell. Some of his albums were no longer being released in the United States, but his career was thriving in other countries. One could speculate on the reasons, but with YouTube and social media outlets, the barriers are down for bands all over the world to promote all kinds of music; the popular music on the radio is less of a hurdle. The fact that nearly everyone can record music and video straight from a smartphone means that standing out to label executives is more difficult, but the over-saturated market also shifted the way labels work. The trend is toward independence in all things, and this holds true for all artists as well as musicians; the trick now is marketing.
Gus G. says he thinks America is a tougher market for European artists in part because of its size, which makes sense because unless you’re well known enough to pack large venues, your expenses can quickly exceed your profits from gigs (even if you sell merch). “You might do OK in places like New York or L.A., but then you go to the Midwest, for example, and maybe nobody has heard of you,” he says.
Even a hit record doesn’t guarantee longevity in the music industry because in the fast-moving American market, a hit record makes you a “flavor of the month,” Gus G. says, which doesn’t necessarily give you a loyal fan base. He admits that the appearance of loyal fans in Europe may just be his perception, and that every artist must have his or her strong and weak markets.
Gus G is an example of the coveted rock star dream. He arrived in the United States at 18, and he recorded a demo with some friends in a project he called Firewind in 1988, Afterward, he played in Night Rage, Dream Evil, Mystic Prophecy and Arch Enemy. By 2009 he was playing with Ozzy Osbourne. When it comes to inspiring generations of guitar players, who wouldn’t want to earn the attention of respected musicians like Ozzy?
“Don’t wait for the industry to knock on your door,” Gus G. says. “That’ll never happen.” Instead, he says to “go out there and play by playing club after club and town after town,” taking the time to engage and connect with one fan at a time.
“Build your own empire,” he says. “Don’t wait on others to do it for you.”
Set to release his first solo album, I Am The Fire, Gus G. says he is most proud of his better than ever playing and songwriting. “I tried to take my songwriting to a whole new level and try different things,” he says.
He handles guitar, bass and keyboard duties, showcasing a long list of highly skilled instrumentalist peers as well as several remarkable vocalists. The roster of friends and guests helping bring Gus G.’s vision to fruition include drummers Jeff Friedl (A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, Devo) and Daniel Erlandsson (Arch Enemy), bassists David Ellefson (Megadeth), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth) and Marty O’Brien (Tommy Lee, We Are The Fallen) and vocalists Mats Levén (Candlemass, ex. Yngwie Malmsteen/Therion), Blake Allison (Devour The Day), Michael Starr (Steel Panther). Alexia Rodriguez (Eyes Set To Kill), Tom S. Englund (Evergrey), Jacob Bunton (Adler) and Jeff Scott Soto (TSO, ex Journey).
Fans who know Gus G. because of his work with Ozzy will relate to I Am The Fire, Gus G. says, because he’s included much of his “classic rock roots” and the collaborations give the record a fresh feel. He’s practiced the “demanding and technical” instrumentals to be ready for live performing and says they’re “no biggie by now.”
Gus G is currently on tour co-headlining with Marty Friedman on the “Guitar Universe 2014 Tour.” If you’re out in the Midwest, make some noise so that Gus G. knows you’re out there!