One for the road - Gus G: “My whole career has been full of Spinal Tap moments!”

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(Image: © Annalisa Russo)

The former Ozzy Osbourne sideman Gus G reveals how a guitar’s kill switch can literally destroy the vibe…

What was your first gig and how did it go? 

“I was 14 years old and I played this high school meeting in a youth centre with some classmates. I had just got my first electric guitar - up until that time I had a classical - and so I was still uncomfortable with my Strat. We were playing some Nirvana and Metallica covers, stuff like that.

“I remember that I was so shy that I blushed and didn’t dare turn my head up to see the crowd - I just looked down at my feet for the whole gig! I didn’t know what to wear; I was just a complete mess. I borrowed one of my dad’s yellow blouses… so I went on stage with a Strat and a yellow shirt, blushing the whole set and it pretty much sucked.”

Describe your current stage rig… 

I do play pretty loud - a lot of the front-of-house guys hate me for that - but I like to feel the air pushing from the speakers

“It’s my signature Blackstar Blackfire head, but if ever that’s not available I’ll play through any of the Series One Blackstars, either the 1200 or 100; I run one head into two bottom cabs.

“My pedalboard is pretty simple, as always: I just have a Line 6 Relay G50 wireless and that goes into a tuner into a Morley Maverick wah and that goes into a Boss chorus, into a DD-3 delay. Then I also have a second delay that I run through the effects loop which I use for my solos. I use my USA signature custom shop Jacksons, my new star-shaped guitars, loaded with Seymour Duncan Blackouts and DR Strings.” 

What’s on your rider? 

“A lot of water, juice, sandwiches, snacks… and blue M&Ms! [Laughs] That’s true, actually. I do it just to see if promoters bother to read the rider and some have surprised me - I show up and I find blue M&Ms.” 

What’s your best tip for live sound? 

“I don’t really like to rely on the monitors, because when you turn up to a venue you don’t know what the monitors or the PA is going to sound like. I’m pretty old-school when it comes to that and so I turn up the amps quite a bit. I’m not as loud as some of the guitar players I’ve shared the stage with but I do play pretty loud - a lot of the front-of-house guys hate me for that - but I like to feel the air pushing from the speakers, y’know? So I need to have some stage volume and a little bit in the monitors just to compensate, especially when I go to do the solos in the centre of the stage.”

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side? 

“The thing is, you have to communicate with the audience, you know? You shouldn’t just go out there and expect them to worship you like a god or something. You have to work for it, and sometimes some crowds are harder to please than others. Obviously, a weekend crowd is easier because they’re out there to have fun - and they’re already drunk. [Laughs] Monday nights are always the toughest ones. But I always like to be a little loose and I like to get them to participate and there are parts of the show where we want them to clap and sing along. Just make them feel welcome and part of a family,- we’re all here to enjoy music.” 

(Image: © Annalisa Russo)

What’s the best venue you’ve played? 

“There’s a venue in Switzerland that all touring bands are looking forward to playing - it’s call the Z7, and that’s because they have really good catering, really nice hospitality… they even have a washer-drier backstage so everybody can do their laundry! It’s a big club, but they have an amazing sound system - it’s like a very old school, '80s-type of club. Really good sound, really good hospitality.”

What was the worst journey you’ve had to or from a gig? 

My whole f***ing career has been full of Spinal Tap moments!

“We were driving overnight from San Francisco to Los Angeles to play The Whiskey [A Go Go] - that was like the ending of the tour - and we hit a tree in the early hours a few metres up from The Hollywood Bowl. Everybody flew out of their bunks and the front door was jammed, so the firemen had to come and get us out of the back window. Nobody was hurt, but that was a pretty scary moment, waking up like that.” 

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour? 

“My whole fucking career has been full of Spinal Tap moments! [laughs] I was with Ozzy in Norway playing some outdoor venue, big festival or something - 30-40,000 people. We go on stage and the opening song is Bark At The Moon; count off on the drums and… no guitar sound. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, shit, what?’ Oz turns around and looks at me and I go, ‘I don’t know - there’s no sound, man.’

“We’d line-checked everything and everything was working before we went on stage. My guitar tech is sweating, running up and down - I unplugged the pedalboard, plugged straight in [to the amp] and still no sound. But back then, on my ESP guitars, I had this kill switch… I must have accidentally flipped it. Turned it back on and ‘draaaannnggg!’” 

What’s your favourite live album? 

“I would say The Scorpions' Tokyo Tapes because Uli Jon Roth is on fire and it’s such a great selection of songs. To me, that was like the iconic album that fell into my hands when I was a kid. It’s just a great selection of songs that sums up the '70s era of The Scorpions.”

Gus G’s new album Fearless is out now on AFM Records.

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