Where Are They Now? Bobby Gustafson of Overkill
Although they aren’t considered one of the “Big 4,” Overkill are still one of the most influential thrash metal bands in history. In the 1980s, the New Jersey combo’s four studio albums were instrumental in helping shape the sound and direction metal would take in the next decade. One of the most vital ingredients of Overkill’s success was guitarist Bobby Gustafson.
In terms of right hand technique, Gustafson was up there with rhythm guitar aces like Scott Ian and James Hetfield. The guitarist also knew how to pull off a completely dazzling solo. On the songwriting side, Gustafson’s contributions to albums like 1988’s ‘Under the Influence’ and 1989’s ‘The Years of Decay’ helped to make them standards in the thrash genre.
Growing tension within the group forced Gustafson to leave Overkill in 1990. Noisecreep recently tracked Gustafson down in Florida, and after a few back-and-forth email exchanges, we finally got an interview with the former Overkill axeman.
Let’s talk about Overkill first. It’s been over 20 years since you parted ways with the band. What brought on the split?
It’s hard to make a long story short, but I’ll try. D.D. [Verni, bassist] wanted to do a show at [legendary rock club] L’amour’s in Brooklyn just to have Christmas money. I was against it. He quit the band on me and Blitz [Ellsworth, vocalist], but then he wanted to come back. So we let him back in, and then I find out that for two weeks he’s trying to get me kicked out of the group through our management.
He said that he wanted two guitar players. This was after we had already done four albums with one. Not to mention that our latest and best-selling album had been written all by me. I still believe it was money motivated, as we were all going to receive some big royalty checks from our merchandise company. That’s all D.D. wanted. He could have cared less how long the band lasted after that. The thing that hurts the most is that I let myself be taken advantage of by a bass player — a f—ing bass player!
When you look back at the time you spent in the band, what are your favorite memories?
I’d say going to Europe the first time. Playing both Friday and Saturday nights at L’amour’s and selling them out was a huge thing at the time. Selling out the Ritz in NYC was a great feeling. Once we did a gig for a young girl in New Jersey where the money went towards a liver operation she needed. That was a humbling experience. Oh, and every show Overkill did with Lemmy [laughs].
What were some of the low points?
Every other show [laughs]. No, I’m just kidding. One of the early low points was when my amp blew up just as we went to record the first album, ‘Feel the Fire.’ What you hear on that record is not my tone. We were on tour in Germany once and my very first guitar got stolen, but I eventually got it back. I guess Rat [Skates, original drummer] leaving was a shock. The worst point in the band for me was getting blindsided by D.D.
Overkill replaced you with two guitarists. What did you think of that?
Some might say it was like a compliment, yes. I would tend to agree. Plus every album after me, when they had two guitar players in the lineup, never topped what i did. ‘The Years of Decay’ is still our best-selling album and I had a really short time to write it. I did it short breaks within a six month period. D.D. had years to put together their next album [‘Horrorscope’ 1991]. So his opinion that two guitarists would make them heavier failed.
Musically speaking, what did you do for the next decade or so after you split from Overkill?
The girls from Cycle Sluts From Hell were friends of mine. They needed a solo on one of their songs, so I came in and did two. Then they had a tour with Motörhead in Europe so I joined them for that. At the time, I was putting together a new project called I4NI, so after Cycle Sluts From Hell I played with them and made a few demos, but nothing happened.
After I went out to fill in for James from Metallica when he got burned I gave up I4NI. But I didn’t get that gig either. Next was Billy Milano and M.O.D. I moved to the Bay Area with him, but that broke up in two weeks. I stayed there and hooked up with Slayer‘s Dave Lombardo to do Grip INC. but that wasn’t happening fast enough for me. So I reinvented the I4NI project in San Francisco, but that went nowhere and after a few demos I split it up. From there I went off to Texas to play with the band Skrew. I did a tour and played on an album but that was it.
Lastly, I moved to Florida and a band called joined Response Negative. That’s the latest musical thing I did.
During any of that time, did any other prominent bands approach you about possibly joining them?
No, nothing big came up. The two biggest things were trying out for Metallica and one night on the Megadeth tour Dave Mustaine asked me to join the band. He said he couldn’t take his band anymore. But I thought Overkill’s album at the time, [‘Taking Over’ 1987] was a great record and we were on our way. So the Megadeth thing didn’t happen, but I was sure Dave Mustaine and I would have come to blows at some point, so it didn’t take me long to say no.
Have you been following Overkill these past few years? What do you think of their more recent work?
I don’t follow Overkill at all. I do keep in touch with Blitz and we talked about a 25th anniversary CD for ‘Feel the Fire,’ but someone or something killed that idea. I really haven’t heard anything good about their albums with the exception of the new one. But it’s sad to see bands only sell four thousand copies these days.
Would you be open to playing some reunion shows with the classic lineup of Overkill?
I’m sure a lot of people would love that! Blitz and I talked about it. If we had done the 25th anniversary, it might have happened. We don’t really like our old drummer, Rat, these days. I’d rather play with Sid [Falck, drummer 1987-1992] anyway. But i think if I was back in the band, it would look like they failed in some way or that they made a mistake. So I don’t know if it will ever happen. If D.D. ever found the balls to apologize to me for stabbing me in the back, it could happen.
Tell us about what you’re currently up to musically.
The only thing I have lined up right now is a solo for an Italian band called Satanika. I don’t know when it will be released, but everyone should look out for it.
What do you do for a living these days? Do you have a family?
I work for my family. My brother-in-law owns a plumbing business here in Florida. I don’t have a family of my own, but it could be nice someday. My hobbies are beer and motorcycles [laughs].
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