When John 5 received his first guitar at age 7, it became a lifelong love affair (lucky for us). He had no way of knowing that, within just a few decades, he would be seen as one of music's most acclaimed and sought-after guitar-slingers. All I gotta say is when Slash calls you one of the most mind-blowing guitarists around, you know you're doing something right. Not that John 5 needs little endorsement, even from our favorite top hat-wearing shredder.
He's played guitar for an array of high-profile artists, including David Lee Roth, k.d. lang, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Halford. Since 2005, he's worked as Rob Zombie's main guitarist and released a string of solo albums, cementing himself as a virtuoso guitar hero and pioneering a style that's part shred guitar, part wild country pickin', part flamenco, part mesmerizing macabre.
When John 5 received his first guitar, his parents didn't realize that their son would become such a revered musician either -- and frankly, his guitar obsession became a cause for concern.
"I was so obsessed with the guitar that my left hand grew larger than my right hand, so my left hand is actually physically, and noticeably, different," says John 5.
When he was 18, John 5 (real name: John Lowery) moved to Los Angeles, and during a gig with his band Alligator Soup, he took center stage and shredded when the lead singer was pulled off, tending a bleeding head wound. In the audience was Rudy Sarzo, who was so impressed he asked John to work with him, ultimately leading to John meeting legendary producer Bob Marlette (with whom he still works today).
His August 2014 album, Careful with That Axe, showcases his usual fretboard acrobatics and audacious style, but it turns up the heat even higher. Titled as a nod to Pink Floyd's 1968 jam "Careful with That Axe, Eugene," it refers to a guitar as an ax, and "ax murders" (some of the song titles center on killers).
But the name also has a personal charm for him: He is a Fender Telecaster connoisseur, and owns one from almost every year since 1950. His rare 1950s Broadcaster cost him about $135,000, so you'd better believe he knows how to be careful while navigating his gigantic collection, which also includes about 50 Les Pauls, and a bunch of Gretsches and SGs. However, he also looks forward to the guitars of the future, designing his own custom Teles based on bizarre concepts, like the lava lamp Tele and the Tele-vision.
Currently John 5 is working on the score of Rob Zombie's newest horror flick, 31, and finished up two albums with Zombie, a live one and a highly anticipated studio one. He also hit the road for his first solo tour, and will be in Scottsdale at Pub Rock Live this Saturday, February 14.
Up on the Sun talked with John 5 about his love for Arizona, Rob Zombie's upcoming album, and his next custom guitar design.
Up on the Sun: Your solo albums tend to pay homage to your influences. So was there a different concept you were going for with 2014's Careful with That Axe as opposed to your last 2012's God Told Me To?
John 5: Well, God Told Me To was half-acoustic, and this one is completely different because I did it with a band; a drummer and a bass player. And we all played at the same time and there was just magic there because when it came out, I was so proud and happy of how it came together. It was sort of like training for a boxing match -- just training and training and training -- and then you go into a studio and do it. I'm so happy with how it turned out, and it's by far my favorite record I've ever done. And now we're taking it on the road!
It flows really smoothly from track to track.
Yeah, I'm really, really happy with how it turned out.
What's your personal favorite track to play live from Careful with That Axe?
I love "This Is My Rifle." I love "Jerry's Breakdown" and "El Cucuy." And "Flight of the Vulcan Kelly." [Laughs.] They are all so fun.
I think it is track nine, but I love the Spanish influence in your music that has punctuated your solo albums. Like "Nocha Acosador" on God Told Me To. What is it about that style of music that draws you in?
You know, I really enjoy music in general. I just have such an appreciation for music and not just one kind either -- just all kinds. And certainly great guitar music. There's so much great Spanish guitar music out there, and I love to study different things. It's like eating different kinds of foods -- you don't want to eat just one kind; you want different varieties. That's how I am with music, too. It's refreshing to the ear when you have other things to listen to. It takes you to other places.
I feel your music could be a perfect soundtrack for a place like Arizona: Wild West country pickin', Spanish influence, and rock 'n' roll.
Yes, it really is. Like a California, Arizona, Texas . . . definitely the West. You're right on the money with that. Right on the money.
In the Phoenix metal scene, there's obviously a ton of Latin and Spanish influence, so you always fit right in.
Yes. You're so on the money with that. I really enjoy it so much, and I'm not just saying this, but I love, love, love the West, like in Phoenix. I enjoy the warm weather and the music.
I do remember last time we talked you said you loved the heat in Arizona.
I am the only one, I think. Laughs
You've also worked with both Rob Halford and Alice Cooper, Phoenix residents. You've definitely got some ties out here.
Yes. [Laughs.] It'll be good to get back there.
You became totally obsessed with your first guitar that your parents felt the need to "have a talk with you." That has to be one of the best stories for an opening song that I've heard in a long time.
That's exactly 100 percent right. I was so obsessed with the guitar that my left hand grew larger than my right hand, so my left hand is actually physically, and noticeably, different. I wouldn't stop playing as a little kid so the palm of my hand stretched. It's really strange looking. So that first track is about my parents being concerned about me being a recluse with my guitar.
You included two Jerry Reed tunes, since your dad always played that music when you were growing up. You used one of the rarest items from your vintage Tele collection, right?
It was just to get the right sound for those songs, and to pay an appreciation and a tribute to those great songs, with a little bit of my flair on it as well.
That 1950 Broadcaster is an amazing piece of work.
Yeah that guitar is a lot of fun to play. And I'll be playing those live, too! I think doing a show like that; it'll give the audience a break of just getting pummeled over the head with loud, loud, loud all the time.
I love reading about vintage guitar collections because I think it's one of the most beautiful instruments out there, in sound and appearance. How many do you have in your "top secret" location?
I don't know how many I have exactly, but I do know it's one of the largest Telecaster collections in the world. It's massive! Which I'm very proud of. You know, all the old ones . . . I have a lot of really unique custom Fender telecasters. Like I have a guitar that has 1,000 LEDs in it, and then my lava lamp guitar. I even have an iPad guitar; I put an iPad mini in one of the Telecasters so while I'm playing you could watch a movie on stage if you want. It's really neat.
Your guitars are definitely a sight to see on their own at your live shows. Do you have a concept for your next custom guitar design?
I'm doing these monster-themed guitars. Like, I have a friend designing a Wolfman one, and someone's painting a creature one for me right now. The other thing I'm really into is Universal [Studios] monsters. It goes back to, you know, like when you're a kid and loved scary movie monsters. It's like having your old friends painted on your guitar. It will be a monsters series of guitars.
There's a couple of cool vintage guitar shops in Phoenix you should check out.
Absolutely 1,000 percent! That's what I love do! I love to go to vintage guitar shops, as many as I can get to, wherever I go. It's a blast! It's a treasure hunt! I even bring a black light and a scale and all that stuff. You know, if I'm going to buy stuff, I have to do the inspection!
At your live show, can fans expect a mix of tunes from your solo albums?
Yes, I'm going to be doing songs from most of the instrumental albums, but it's really crazy. I've let a couple of close friends come down to the rehearsal and they are just like, "Oh, my God." It's so intense you know? It's loud, and continuous and . . . You know how bands will finish a song, and then talk or something? It's like these musical segues that go on. So it's constant sound going on.
So there will be no playing the "Star Spangled Banner" with your tongue?
[Laughs.] I don't know, maybe. If people want it, I will. Sure!
I actually haven't seen you perform your solo albums live. How did you go about recruiting the Creatures, or is it the same people who recorded the last one with you?
Well, actually no one has ever seen me do a live solo tour, because I've never done one! But the drummer I'm using is named Rodger Carter, and he played on Careful with That Axe, and some other instrumental albums of mine. He's incredible; I've known him most of my life and am very happy to have him coming along. And then I needed a great bass player, so I had Matt Bissonette playing bass on the album. But he plays with Elton John, so he was obviously going to be touring with Elton John. But I needed a great bass player, so I got this guy -- I guess I should say I got this kid -- Ian Ross. He's 26 years old and absolutely phenomenal. So it is a great band, the Creatures.
What can you discuss about Rob Zombie's upcoming album?
Yeah. We have a live album coming out, and it's really special because Rob will say, "Oh, we're recording tonight." But he won't really say what it's for. So I'll pull the band together and say, "All right, you know, we gotta be great." Because Rob doesn't like to do "fix-its" or overdubs if anyone messes up. So we have to play just perfect, because Rob doesn't like to fix stuff like that. And when you're jumping around like that, it's easy to make mistakes. So we recorded for two nights, everything is completely live with no fix-its, and it sounds amazing. I'm not sure of the release date yet.
And then there's a new studio album that is just crazy, crazy great. I can't wait for people to hear it. [Laughs.] It's unbelievable how this record came out. I think people are going to dig it. Because you know, I was a Zombie fan before I was even in the band, and this is just a monster.
So, two separate records?
Yes, a live record and a new studio record, but I'm not sure of the release dates for either. It's so exciting for me to see things come together, and I couldn't be happier about it.
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