Posted February 13, 2018 by Jeff in Tunes

John 5 Is Who He Is

John 5 by Rob Fenn
John 5 by Rob Fenn

In addition to having played with shock rockers such as Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, John 5 has worked with a range of artists, including Paul Stanley, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Shania Twain. Slash has called him “one of the most mind-blowing guitarists around” and Rob Zombie has said he’s a “shredder.” His newest full-length studio release, Season of the Witch follows his previous solo work, Careful With That Axe. Earlier this year, John 5 released his first live album, It’s Alive! He recently phoned us from the road to talk about it. “We just did our first show last night in Orlando, and it was awesome,” he said at the start of our conversation.

Did Hee Haw really inspire you to want to learn to play guitar?
Yeah, I was a little kid, and we used to watch TV all the time. We just watched what my parents wanted to watch. It was the show Hee Haw. There were incredible musicians on there. That’s what made me realize it was what I wanted to do. It’s really what inspired me. I loved it.

Did you learn to play banjo?
Oh, yeah. I play some banjo during the show, actually. It’s pretty neat.

You moved from your native Michigan to L.A. when you were 17. What was that like?
It was pretty tough right in the beginning. I didn’t know anybody. It was scary. They stole my money the first night I was there. It was scary because it was a whole new thing, but it all came together well, I guess. I’m just glad I stuck to my guns and stayed out there.

What was the key to finding work so quickly?
It was just word of mouth. That’s all it was. I just kept playing and playing all the time in clubs and anywhere I could. That’s how it came together. I had to keep plugging at it. It didn’t happen as quickly as you think but it didn’t happen eventually. I just stuck with it.

How’d you wind up going on tour with KD Lang?
I had to audition and there were like 200 other guitar players. I just learned every single note and all the instruments and the keyboard parts. I just learned everything. I played every part on guitar because I didn’t know what she wanted me to play. She was impressed. I was ready to play the show, so it worked out well.

What was different about your style back then?
I am who I am. I practice all the time, but this is how I play. I’ve always loved metal and rock and country. It is just who I am.

I think that’s rare to play that many different styles.
I just have such a love of music, and I think that helps out a lot.

What made you want to release a live album?
It kind of happened by accident. We were setting up as we always do and the sound guy asked us if we wanted to record. We were like, “Of course, we want to record.” I have always fantasized about having a live album. It’s really difficult. You have to have a big truck and recording gear and people to run that. It’s really expensive to do. This was our shot. We had one shot. I pulled the band aside and told them to really concentrate. That’s what we did.

Talk about the venue you played and what the show was like.
It’s a really nice theater in Pennsylvania. It was a place we played before. We played our regular stuff.

What was the vibe of the show like?
We didn’t move around much but we were super happy with the show. It’s as live as it’s going to get. hey had one crowd mic. I’m so proud of it. The pictures in the album are from all over the tour.

The opening track “Guitars Tits and Monsters” is an epic jam. What initially inspired the song?
That’s what inspired me — guitars, tits and monsters. They’re all of the things I love in my life.

Here’s to the Crazy Ones” is another great jam. Talk about that song a bit.
If you look at the video for it, it’s Planet of the Apes. We all dress up. It took six hours to do the make-up. It’s all prosthetic. The video for that is great. The title is a quote from a letter Steve Jobs wrote to his employees. It’s such a great quote. The song is all over the place. There’s slapping and crazy picking and arpeggios. It’s a really crazy track.

Music has changed so much over the years. Do you think there are many virtuoso electric guitarists as there have always been?
Let’s be honest. I have to be honest with myself and you and everybody. Of course, it’s completely different than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s like if people weren’t buying ice cream but I was one of the few ice cream shops still open. If you want ice cream, you would come to the shop. It’s kind of good and kind of bad. It’s a tough market but I love it.

I don’t do it for the money; I just do it for the love of the guitar.

It is difficult to be a solo artist?
It’s really difficult to be a solo artist because there’s so much responsibility. I’m happy and psyched and I just love doing it. We’re all having so much fun.







Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].