Cut from the same musical cloth as six-string shredders such as Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen and Jake E. Lee, guitarist John 5 embraces a much wider range of music than your typical guitar hero.
His initial inspiration, for example, stems from watching episodes of the country music TV show Hee Haw
when he was a kid.
“We just watched what my parents wanted to watch,” says John 5 in a recent phone interview from an Orlando tour stop. The guitarist extraordinaire performs with his band the Creatures at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16, at the Beachland Ballroom
as he brings his tour in support of his first live album, It’s Alive!
, to town. “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.”
A Michigan native, John 5 moved to Los Angeles when he was only 17 to pursue his dream of playing electric guitar with the stars. While the initial transition to La La Land didn’t go smoothly, John 5 would eventually find work — and then some.
“It was pretty tough right in the beginning,” he says. “I didn’t know anybody. 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. 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 away at it. It didn’t happen as quickly as you think, but it didn’t happen eventually. I just stuck with it.”
Early on, he toured with hard-rocking singer-guitarist Lita Ford as she toured with KISS.
Then, he auditioned to play with country singer k.d. lang. While plenty of other guitarists (reportedly a couple thousand) attempted to get the gig, John 5 stood out simply because he had worked so hard to learn the material.
“I just learned every single note and all the instruments and the keyboard parts,” he says. “I just learned everything. I played every part on guitar because I didn’t know what she wanted me to play. [Lang] was impressed. I was ready to play the show, so it worked out well.”
Having established himself as a versatile player, John 5 went on to work with Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, Van Halen’s David Lee Roth and Marilyn Manson. Guns N Roses guitarist Slash subsequently called him “one of the most mind-blowing guitarists around.”
In 2004, he launched a solo career with Vertigo
, a hard rock album that shows off his nimble fretwork on tunes such as the industrial rock-inspired “Needles, CA” and the twangy cowpunk number “Sugar Foot Rag.” He adroitly plays the banjo on the rollicking "18969 Ventura Blvd." and delivers a whimsical rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown." The album clearly shows off his ability to play just about anything.
Earlier this year, John 5 released his first live album, It’s Alive!
Recorded at a gig in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, the album happened “by accident,” as he puts it.
“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 a live album,’” John 5 says. “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. We didn’t move around much, but we were super happy with the show. It’s as live as it’s going to get."
The opening track “Guitars, Tits and Monsters” is an epic jam that John 5 says was appropriately inspired by “guitars, tits and monsters — all the things I love in my life.”
The Planet of the Apes
films inspired the shimmering tune “Here’s to the Crazy Ones.”
“If you look at the video for the song, it’s Planet of the Apes
,” says John 5. “We all dress up. It took six hours to do the make-up. It’s all prosthetics. The title is a quote from a letter from [Apple's] Steve Jobs that he 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, so does John 5 think the shredding guitarist is a dying breed?
“I have to be honest with myself and you and everybody,” he says. “Of course, it’s completely different than it was in the '80s and '90s. It’s kind of good and kind of bad. 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 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.”