By Andrew Catania
Ozzy Osbourne may be notorious for many things, but, his guitarists have always been among the best musicians in heavy metal. For over forty years’ guitar players associated with Ozzy have carved the metal landscape, and stood as icons for up-and-coming players everywhere. Times may change, music may change, but one constant you can take to the bank is that Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist will rock your world.
People who don’t know any better might think of him as some kind of blundering, stuttering madman, but Ozzy’s track record shows he knows the music business very well, and has the savvy to surround himself with only the most talented musicians.
He’s a smart guy, and it’s not by luck he has been around for so long, and has come to be held in such legendary regard by fans around the world.
But he didn’t do it all alone. His guitarists had a lot to do with it.
While technically not hired by Osbourne, it’s easy to imagine how the early days of Black Sabbath may have formed Ozzy’s ideas of what made a great guitarist. Iommi was never a shredder like later guitar players Ozzy would work with, but he is probably the most influential metal guitarist of all time. Metal was born with Black Sabbath, and Iommi’s sound started it all.
As a kid working in a factory in England, Iommi lost the tips of two fingers on his fretting hand in an accident. Because of this injury, for most of his career he would detune his guitar a full step or more, and use prosthetic fingertips along with light-gauge string. Without his perseverance Black Sabbath may have never existed, and what a horrible world we’d be living in today.
Listening to Black Sabbath now, the guitar tones and recording techniques all sound a little dated. But make no mistake: If you play guitar, Sabbath is as relevant today as they were forty years ago. Beyond the historical value of early Sabbath there is Iommi’s playing and songwriting, also known as
If you’re a guitar player and you don’t know who Randy Rhoads was, you’re doing a fine job!
Randy Rhoads had some minor success with Quiet Riot, before the Metal Health days. When Ozzy eventually resurfaced after getting sacked by Black Sabbath and decided to form a new band, Rhoads went to the audition and got the job.
He was a classically trained guitarist, and known around his local area as a great teacher, but when he stepped into the lead guitar spot with Ozzy he became a legend. Randy wrote and recorded with Ozzy for his first two albums, Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman. Then, on March 19th, 1982, Rhoads was tragically killed in a freak small-plane accident.
Randy Rhoads was a genius and an innovator who stretched the limits of metal guitar. We can only imagine what contributions he may have made.
Did you know Brad Gillis was in Ozzy’s band? Do you know who Brad Gillis is? You should. Gillis was one of the best rock guitarists of the ‘80s, and often underappreciated. He eventually went on to play lead guitar alongside Jeff Watson in Night Ranger, but for a brief period in 1982 he toured with Ozzy, filling in after Randy Rhoads died. He even appears on the live album Speak of the Devil.
Night Ranger is the epitome of what the record companies eventually decided they didn’t like about ‘80s hard rock. They were polished, technically proficient, melodic, great songwriters, and, for a little while, they were everywhere. Because of these traits, they were also what a lot of guitar players absolutely loved about ‘80s rock guitar.
Night Ranger is still around, and Gillis is still an amazing guitar player. While he never got the chance to write with Ozzy, his work with Night Ranger gives us a peek at what might have been.
Jake E. Lee
Jake E. Lee jumped in for the writing and recording of Bark at the Moon, released in 1983. Dana Strum actually suggested George Lynch from Dokken as a replacement to RR.
Metal was becoming more popular around the time Lee joined the band, and thanks to MTV Ozzy was much more visible. Lee was flamboyant and energetic onstage, and had the chops to quell the sting fans felt with the loss of Rhoads. He was the right guy at the right time. Lee appeared on Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin before eventually getting fired.
While Lee’s tenure was short and his departure abrupt, he was far from a blip on the radar. His contributions on two studio albums, Bark at the Moon in particular, solidify his place in metal history. If you were an Ozzy fan in the ‘80s, chances are you think very highly of Jake E. Lee.
Today, Zakk Wylde is revered as one of best metal guitarists in the world, and countless young players do everything they can to emulate his tone, technique and attitude. But back before the days of motorcycle-club vests, thick beards, big muscles, chains for guitar straps, and bone-crushing, detuned mayhem, Wylde was a wispy, fair-haired nineteen-year-old who seemed more likely to appear on the cover of a romance novel than in a biker bar.
Wylde came from out of nowhere in 1987 to take over for Lee as Ozzy’s axe man, leaving fans to wonder (1) Who is this kid? and (2) Where’d he get that awesome Les Paul?
Wylde won the gig after sending Ozzy a demo tape. While this may have been a lucky break, the rest of Wylde’s career has been built on grit and talent. The apex of his time with Ozzy came with the release of
Zakk Wylde has been in and out of Ozzy’s band for over twenty-five years, and is one of the few alumni to go on to projects that are successful on their own merits. Wylde’s
To date, Wylde has appeared on eleven records with Black Label, and eight with Ozzy (five studio, three live). He’s a true living legend in the metal guitar world.
Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist today is Kostas Karamitroudis, better known as Gus G. He’s a Greek shredder who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston before forming the band Firewind, a progressive power metal project that is still going strong.
Gus has been a gun-for-hire for several bands, including Euro-death monsters Arch Enemy and Swedish power-metal band Dream Evil. He landed the gig with Ozzy in 2009 and replaced Wylde. Allegedly, Osbourne felt Wylde was letting too much of the Black Label vibe slip into his writing with Ozzy, and listening to Black Rain and even Down to Earth it’s not hard to hear it.
Gus G. appears on Ozzy’s studio album Scream, but has no songwriting credits for the disc.
In addition to the players mentioned above, various other guitarists have filled in with Osbourne’s band over the years. Joe Holmes is probably the most significant, having toured with Ozzy between 1995 and 2001.
Holmes appeared on live recordings, but only one studio track, and never played on a full studio record.
Some famous names like Jerry Cantrell, Alex Skolnick and Steve Vai have worked with Ozzy through the years. It’s mind-boggling to imagine any of those three spending a significant amount of time writing and recording with the Prince of Darkness.
There is no doubt Ozzy’s career has more days behind it than ahead. Hopefully, we’ll see a few more studio albums before he retires. No matter what he does from here, his legacy as the Godfather of Metal is unshakable, and his contributions will last forever.
Ozzy Osbourne knows how to pick guitarists, and any player who ever appeared alongside him was truly one of the best.
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