Rob Zombie – John5 (guitar)
ROB ZOMBIE/ex-MARILYN MANSON guitarist John 5 (John William Lowery) is truly a unique talent. His musical style is as diverse as they come, and his playing has been praised by the likes of Slash and Steve Vai.
The guitar maestro has one of the most impressive and diverse resumés in rock: DAVID LEE ROTH BAND, LYNYRD SKYNYRD, LITA FORD, MEAT LOAF, 2WO and many more.
John 5 is also a successful instrumental guitarist. His fifth album, The Art of Malice, displays a wide range of styles that really signify what John 5 is all about.
Speaking on the phone from his home in L.A., John 5 talked about his childhood dream, his diverse musical style and the upcoming ROB ZOMBIE tour with ALICE COOPER.
Kelley Simms (SMNnews): Your new CD, “The Art of Malice,” is truly amazing. Each song varies from the other. There’s country rock/rockabilly, jazz, touches of flamenco, acoustic and, of course, some heavy-metal shredding. Explain your desire to make such a diverse record.
J5: When I started doing instrumental records … there’s a lot of instrumental guitar players, and I wanted to do something different so I didn’t sound like every one else. I really thought about it a lot. I thought that this was going to be for guitar players. Guitar players will appreciate anything that’s done well, … it doesn’t really matter what style of music. So that’s why I put so many styles of music on there. I’m kind of known for being in heavy-rock bands, so I really wanted to show the audience and the fans that there’s a lot more out there than just hard-rock guitar playing.
So I took the chance, and it seems to be working, since I’m on my fifth solo album. And with this one, I really did a lot more different styles, and I’ve been getting really good reviews. I’m really happy and lucky about that.
KS: You have played with so many bands and musicians in many genres. Your style is not just metal, it’s very versatile. The list of people you have played with is just so impressive. But can you explain what you get out of playing in bands from Rob Zombie to k.d. lang? What makes you want to branch out?
J5: I’m a fan of music and I just love all music in different styles.
If you’re eating the same kind of food all the time, you want a little bit of variety. And that’s how I am too with music. I wanted to branch out and get deep inside and reach out and grab some music I really love to listen to and love to play.
KS: How does it feel to be praised by Slash and Steve Vai?
J5: It’s funny because … I’m from Michigan, and I never really dreamt that I would be a popular musician. All I wanted when I was a kid was to live in Los Angeles and make a living playing music. But I never even dreamt … it was so far away and so out of reach to be a professional musician, let alone having my heroes know who I am. It’s so mind-blowing and it’s such an honor to have my heroes even recognize me.
KS: You started playing guitar at age 7. I would say that you knew at that age that this is what you would be doing as a career. Is this a true statement?
J5: True. You know, I just wanted to be a professional musician. I didn’t even think about being a rock star because it seemed so out of reach, but I just wanted to make money playing guitar. And that was my whole dream. I got to know a lot of my heroes and got to play in the most amazing countries and places in the world.
KS: I know your stage name was created when you joined Marilyn Manson. But how did it come about?
J5: I was in Europe touring with Rob Halford, and I wanted to see Marilyn Manson. They were playing right after us. So I was really excited to see them. But they cancelled their show. I guess they were having problems with their guitar player, and I was bummed because it was our last dates in Europe. When I got home, the phone was ringing and it was Marilyn Manson’s manager, and he said that Manson wanted to have lunch with me. I was so excited because I was a huge Marilyn Manson fan. I went and had lunch with him the day I got home from Europe, and if anybody knows that when you come home from Europe, you’re beat. He gave me the name John 5 that day at lunch, even before I played a note for him. But I remember he had the David Lee Roth record in the back of his car, and I guess he knew I could play. So that’s how I got the name. I wish there was a better story, like, if there was some kind of ritual or something (laughing).
KS: I know you have a long-standing friendship with Kiss, and it was a nice tribute to Ace Frehley to include “Fractured Mirror” on the “The Art of Malice.” It sounds true to the original. What made you decide to cover it?
J5: When I was a kid, I loved Kiss. I was a real Kiss fanatic, and that was the song that really made me love Ace and what he was doing.
I wanted to pay tribute to that song and not take it too far away from what it was, and to just say thanks. Hopefully, some people will hear it and get back in and listen to these great songs that Ace did. It was definitely one of my favorite songs of all time, so I wanted to pay a very good tribute to it.
KS: Rob Zombie gives you a lot of freedom with the songwriting. Explain how you work together.
J5: We have a lot of fun being in a band with each other. We get together and write riffs and he says, “I like this” or “I like that.”
He’s involved in every little note that I play, so it’s great. We just have a great time. It’s the best band I’ve ever been in by far in my whole life. It’s so much fun, I can’t even begin to explain. We just have a blast. I’m very fortunate to finally be in a band with him because I’ve always wanted to be in a band with him.
KS: What inspires you for your solo material?
J5: That’s a great question, but it’s a hard question to answer. I usually try to create the best guitar music I can to make it entertaining. Which is tough to do because you’re not writing singles or anything for the radio. So you’re trying to keep people interested and not kill them with too much ridiculous, over-the-top playing. It’s a fine line. And you have to put a lot of melody and cool, fun, flash stuff in there. It’s really hard to write instrumental songs. I work so hard at it, and I love it so much. I can’t really even say it’s work, but I work hard at it and try to make it as fun as possible.
When I’m on the road I just play, play, play and work on the songs. Then I’ll go into the studio and knock it out so I don’t forget it, because there’s a lot of notes there.
KS: Let’s talk about the Gruesome Twosome tour with Alice Cooper. Who’s idea was it to combine two great shock rockers, Rob or Alice?
J5: I’m not sure whose idea it was. But whoever’s idea it was deserves a nice pat on the back. What a great bill. Oh my God, what a great bill. I was always a Kiss fan, and Rob and our bass player, Piggy D, really love Alice. And, of course, I had the greatest-hits album and “Welcome to my Nightmare,” but I wasn’t an avid Alice Cooper fan. So just a couple of years ago, I thought that I must be missing something since Rob and the rest of the band liked Alice so much. So I sat down and listened to it, and it changed my life. It was unbelievable. And I’m glad I started listening to it now, later in life, because I can really appreciate the musicality and all the changes and all the instruments and how it all worked together, as well as the writing and the production. I am really excited to do this tour because I get to see Alice all the time. It’s going to be amazing.
KS: You’re endorsed by Fender and play all Fender products. Besides the free gear, what’s it mean to you to be endorsed by such a well-respected company?
J5: That is one of the huge things in my life. I’ve always played Fender. My first guitar was a Fender Stratocaster, and I’ve always loved Telecasters. Everybody’s got their hobbies, whether they enjoy cars, skiing, golf or whatever. What I love is old Telecasters and the history of Fender for some reason. Maybe because when I was a kid, I loved it. But I’ve always loved looking at old catalogs and all that stuff. It’s just a dream come true to have my name be a part of the Fender family and history. I can’t even explain to you how happy I am about that. It’s a dream come true because that’s my hobby. I’m a Fender fanatic.
KS: Will you be touring or doing any one-offs to promote “The Art of Malice”?
J5: Whenever Rob makes a movie, then I have some time off. People always ask me why don’t I do a tour. But if I do clinics, going into music stores and playing … there’s a lot of young kids out there. I was adding my pluses and minuses to see which one I wanted to do. Did I want to do a tour or clinics? With clinics, it’s free. It’s all ages, you get to ask questions and get an autograph after. So I think that it’s a lot better for kids and people. Instead of doing a tour where it’s usually 18 and older, it goes on late and you can’t ask questions or meet me. So I think I’m going to do a lot of clinics and go out and promote and meet the people. I think that’s the best way to do it.
KS: Last words, comments or plugs?
J5: Check out the new record, “Art of Malice,” on May 11th. And come see the Gruesome Twosome Tour, it’s going to be awesome.
By Kelley Simms