John 5 and his monster's ball

Rob Zombie guitarist ready to hit the road with The Creatures, Doyle
By Peter Lindblad
John 5

John 5 has always had a thing for monsters.

His youthful infatuation with old horror movies continues unabated to this day, and the kid in him still worships at the clawed, platform-soled feet of KISS, whose Kabuki-inspired make-up and carnivalesque stage theatrics never fail to amaze and delight the ex-Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie guitarist, known for creating his own creepy facial masks.

In a matter of days, John 5 and his band The Creatures – with Rodger Carter and Ian Ross – will kick off the "Mad Monster Tour" with a special show in Ramona, Calif., on Nov. 4. To get tickets, go to Some of the dates will be supported by Doyle, the band led by former Misfits member Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein.

Remarkably versatile, with audacious fluency in a variety of genres – having recorded everything from bluegrass and country to Flamenco music and metal, rock and pop – John 5 is a demon on guitar, an incredibly smooth player whose speed is almost supernatural. Along with scoring the Rob Zombie film "The Lords of Salem," John 5 has collaborated with a wide range of artists, working alongside everyone from Ricky Martin to Rod Stewart, David Lee Roth and Lynyrd Skynyrd, in addition to his more well-known gigs with Manson and Zombie.

Since 2004, John 5's burgeoning solo career has yielded eight diverse studio albums spotlighting his virtuoso skill. On "The Mad Monster Tour," John 5 and company will be promoting an upcoming greatest hits album, paired with a live DVD of John in concert. Three brand-new singles will be released, a series that began this month. Recently, John 5 took time out to talk about the tour, how the new Rob Zombie material is coming along and a career that has taken him further than he ever thought possible. (Tour dates follow the Q&A).

How did the tour with Doyle and his band come about and what are you looking forward to most about it?
J5: Well, I always thought Doyle was like a real-life superhero, and I just really think he’s amazing. He looks like a real-life superhero, like he could fly over a building and knock it down. You know, he’s got the guitar and he grabs it, and he’s a great, great musician. So, I always wanted to do something with him; he was my first choice for someone I wanted to do a tour with. And I just said, “Hey, are you available around this time?” And he said, “Yes,” so it came together pretty easy and we start the fourth in Ramona, Calif., which is the San Diego area. And then it’s the Whisky in L.A. So it’s going to be a blast running through these shows, because it’s all my crazy instrumental stuff and it’s crazy and it’s fun, and we’ll just go nuts.  

Mad Monster Tour poster
When were you introduced to the Misfits and what were your initial impressions?
J5: Well, it was, like for everybody, just a natural thing. Everybody loves the Misfits and punk rock. Everybody was just into them. It was just the thing. It was just how it was. And I loved the horror-rock thing. I’m so into that as well. So it’s just the perfect fit and yeah, with Alice Cooper and The Misfits and Ozzy, I love that stuff. It’s fun. It’s a blast. And KISS, of course. KISS, yeah. It was like monsters with guitars, and when I was 7 years old, I was just blown away. This was just the greatest thing ever.

Reading your bio, you talked about where you grew up and being the lone rock kid, but did you have friends who felt the same way?
J5: Oh sure. I was always the one that had the stuff. Like, I had the first Van Halen when it came out, KISS Love Gun … I was that kid that had the stuff. So I think I showed it to a lot of people, but I remember someone bringing over Kill ‘Em All by Metallica. I listened to that, and I go, “Oh, wow!” I remember having times in my life where friends brought over music, and I remember it. I remember it so vividly, because it made such an impression on me.

Was there one that made the biggest impression?
J5: Well, obviously, KISS and Van Halen, because I remember I got the KISS album in the early years when I was super young. I think Love Gun had just come out. And I was shocked because I loved that Monsters of Filmland magazine. And then I loved The Monkees and “Hee Haw,” but when I saw the monsters of guitars in KISS, I was blown away. I was just like, “Oh my God. Here we go.” So it just changed my life, and then I remember my guitar teacher brought over Van Halen I, and it was just another epiphany. It just changed my life completely.

Kirk Hammett I know has a massive horror collection. Do you collect horror movie memorabilia?
J5: No, mostly I just collect guitars … Telecasters. I’m really into that kind of thing, really into loving my “Teles,” but there’s so much. I mean I have a lot of horror stuff, but it’s mostly stuff people have given me. And I like that stuff from the early- and mid-‘60s and ‘70s, when the monster boom really, really happened. So I like a lot of that stuff. And you know fans give me stuff, so I have quite a collection, but nothing, nothing, nothing in the world of Kirk Hammett, of course.

Have you ever seen his collection?
J5: I haven’t, but me and Kirk talk, and he’ll tell me stuff, and I’m like, “Jesus,” you know? And he always says, “You’ve got to stop over and check it,” and all that stuff. Hopefully, one day I’ll get there.     

I wanted to talk about other stuff going on with you, and you have a greatest hits album coming out. Did you ever think you’d have a greatest hits album and what goes into making one? Is there more to it than people think?
J5: Well, yeah. What it is really is just a collection of my favorite songs. Not one of them was a hit, but it’s a collection of my favorite songs that I’ve recorded over my catalog of doing instrumental stuff and the fans’ favorite songs. So I put them all together, and then I put a DVD with it, which is so cool. The DVD’s really great, and I’m going to be selling that at the shows, so people at the shows will be able to get the CD and DVD. And then after the tour you’ll be able to buy it on my website, and also it’ll be on iTunes, but you won’t be able to get the DVD, obviously.
So much has happened over the span of your life to bring you to this point, but I wanted to ask you, where does the open-mindedness with music come from? Because you do country, you do all kinds of things. Does that come from your family?
J5: You know, for some reason, I’ve always appreciated someone who does something really, really well. And it could be someone that rides a bike and is a bike expert, or juggles or … I just always appreciate someone who does something so well, because I know how much dedication and practice it takes. So when I hear some Western swing music or bluegrass music or great, great, great, great horns, I’m like, “Wow! That’s amazing.” So I appreciate all of that stuff. I’m so inspired by anyone who does something really, really well and who is an expert and at the pinnacle of what they do. And I totally, totally appreciate that. So that’s where I think a lot of that interest comes from, that they can actually … you know, the greats. I just am really influenced by people like that.

Is there a style of music you haven’t worked with yet that maybe you’d like to?
J5: You know, jazz is such a huge thing, but I’ve never really studied, studied, studied jazz. I don’t know why. It just hasn’t bitten me yet, but it will. I will get into it. I think I really love the really super, super fast, aggressive stuff. Like the bluegrass stuff is so fast, you know. It’s like Slayer with no distortion. It’s crazy with bluegrass. And then the same thing with flamenco music, it’s a Spanish style of music. It’s so fast, you know? It’s like Slayer on acoustic. It’s that kind of thing, and I really enjoy that stuff, but also I’d like to get into jazz at some point, I believe.

Could you do a bluegrass version of “Welcome to the Violence”?
J5: Well, that might be tough (laughs). Yeah, that’s possible.

What impresses you most in a guitarist or a live performer?
J5: Someone that is fluid and clean and no effort. It’s just like drinking a bottle of water. It’s effortless, and there’s a small amount that are really effortless. If you ever see a classical violinist or piano player, it’s just effortless, you know? I appreciate that, but I also appreciate any guitar player also getting up there on the stage and doing a great job, because it’s a lot of work and a lot of stress and a lot goes into it.

What goes into your live performances? You’ve got the makeup and everything going on. What’s the day of a performance like for you?
J5: Well, the whole day is about the performance. The whole thing is prepping. It’s getting your fingers warmed up, it’s doing meet-and-greets and meeting people, and making sure everything is right. Sound checks … the day all leads up to the show. It’s very important. I just want to give fans the best show we can, so it’s just playing, warming up, making sure the playing is right, getting ready and giving the best show we can. It’s very important to us with Rob just getting just a great show together, and then we always talk about the show after the show – make sure this is right, that is right, how we could make it better. So, it’s great. It’s a great life. I cannot complain. 

I was reading about your history and you were robbed in L.A. when you first moved there. Did you ever come close to giving it up?
J5: No, no … never did. I was so determined and I was so driven and determined. Just imagine, you get to L.A. when you’re young. I was so young. I didn’t know anything, and then the first night I got all my money stolen. I didn’t know what to do. I was lucky I knew one other person, and anybody else; most people would have just gone home and said, “Let me try this in another couple of years.” But no, I was so driven.  

By the same token, was there a moment when you felt, “I’ve finally made it”? Or were there many moments like that?
J5: I mean, yeah. You know, I’m just happy to be playing guitar and making a living, but I never wished to be a known guitar player. I just wanted to be a session musician, and this is all just an incredible, incredible gift, because it was too far away. I never really thought I’d be able to do this, because it was just so like wishing you were Superman or something. It just seemed so unbelievable. So I really appreciate it and love it, because it just happened. I’m so happy it happened, because it was never my goal, it was never my thing to become a famous rock guitar player.

What influenced you most as far as stage shows and how you make up your face? Was it a love of KISS or was it more than that?
J5: I use myself as the audience and what the audience would like to see. I think the audience wants to see a show, they want to see a … it’s called entertainment. So they want to be entertained, and it’s just if you put on a show like that – meaning you’re not going to walk around the streets like that, but if you’re onstage, you’ve got to give them something to look at. And when we go into our dressing rooms, we’re in our normal clothes, there’s a couple of camera flashes and stuff like that, but when we come out of our dressing rooms, when we’re all made up, you can hardly see where you’re walking because there are so many flashes, because we’re all made up. Would you want a picture with Ace Frehley with his make-up off or in his whole get-up? You’d want it in his whole get-up. So that’s why. It’s just a couple things I think about to say, “Okay. This is what make sense,” because some people take a different course about it.

Why does it work so well between you and Rob?
J5: I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I really look up to him a lot, because he does so much. Now a lot of people can do a lot of things, but to finish them and to make them really great, that’s the hard thing. And that’s what he does. Whatever he starts, he finishes, and I really like that. He’ll start something and then he’ll finish it. And that’s what I really like. He’s always finished it, and I really respect that. We really enjoy the same things. We love the Universal Monsters. We have such a love for those Universal Monsters, those monster movies, so that’s a great thing. We both have the same hobbies. We love music and movies, so it’s just like being in a band with your best friend. It’s amazing.   

In what ways were your experiences with Marilyn Manson and Rob similar?
J5: Well, they’re both two different animals, of course. With Manson, it’s different every day and every night, so you never really know what’s going to happen. With Rob, everything is scheduled – we’re going to meet here, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, and we’re going to be on the bus and here we go. So, with Manson, you don’t know if we’re going to be backstage until three in the morning and if we’ll make it in time for the next show. It was that kind of thing. You know, both are amazing artists, both are amazing performers, so that’s how they’re similar.

Did that chaos with Marilyn translate to the live show and make that a different experience?
J5: Absolutely. Sometimes, we’d play only three songs and we’d be done. Sometimes you wondered how long you were going to play. 

What was your greatest moment with Marilyn and then with Rob?
J5: Well, that’s really, really tough. You know, the greatest moment between those two, there’s some many, great, great, great moments that have happened with both bands. Getting a No. 1 record with Manson, that was a great moment. Doing the "MTV Video Music Awards," that was a great moment. That was my very first gig with Manson. Getting awards and getting to play all these great places, and then having your friends at these great moments, and getting to travel the world and playing the greatest venues, having great records that come out and having these great friendships that will last forever. There are so many great moments, you can’t just limit it to one, because there are so many and I’m lucky for that. 

Of all the projects you’ve done, was there ever one you went into thinking, “I don’t know about this,” and then it turned out to be a better experience than you thought?
J5: Well, no, because I tend to be pretty careful about what I take on. You know, I’m very, very careful about the reputation of my name, so it’s not like I’ve ever gotten into a situation where I'm like, ”How am I going to get out this?” No, I’ve never done that. 

I know so many people have helped you along the way. Rudy Sarzo played a big role in helping your career. What do you remember most about meeting him that first night?
J5: Well, meeting Rudy helped me tremendously. He introduced me to Irving Azoff, who is a master in the music business, and a manager of record people and taught me this, that and the other thing about the business ... He let me into his home. He helped me out, and he’s a wonderful, wonderful talent, and taught me a lot of things. So I owe a lot to Rudy Sarzo.

And you’ve stuck with people and worked with them over your entire career, like your producer Bob Marlette.
J5 : Yes. You know, it’s funny. Everybody I’ve worked with I’m pretty much still in contact with. Everyone … because they’re good people, and I never leave anything on a bad note, where it’s like, “Screw you!” So it’s good, because you see everybody because it’s such a small, small world, and you don’t think you being in this world of, “Oh, I’ve seen this person. I’ve seen this person. I’ve seen this person.” It’s wonderful, and I’m so happy that I don’t have any bad blood.

You’ve worked with some amazing guitar players, too, including Lita Ford. That must have been a blast for you.
J5: Yeah, it was a blast. I see her every once in a while and she’s such a great, great, great talent. And she’s a great songwriter, great performer and singer … luckily, I had the privilege to play with her and play some songs with her. I really respect her. She’s great.

Probably underrated as an artist …
J5: Oh sure, she’s great. And she’s been doing this forever. I mean, The Runaways? Come on … just awesome. She’s so great. And then all of her solo stuff – what a career.

How did you get this band The Creatures together?
J5: Well, I was recording my instrumental stuff. I had recorded so many records, but I never played live shows. The drummer that I use said, “You should do some live shows.” And I said, “Well, it’s tough. The Zombie schedule is so busy,” but I said, “I’d love to do it. We’re going to have to get somebody. Let’s do it. Let’s do some shows.” I was really nervous because I’ve never done these kinds of shows. I didn’t know if people would show up, I didn’t know if people were going to care, I didn’t know anything about it. But we went out there, and it was such a huge success, and I was so happy. It just really changed my life, and we just said, “All right. Let’s do this.” And it’s so much fun. I’m so happy that the drummer, Rodger Carter, kind of pushed me to do this. And it was wonderful. It really changed my life.

Does it continue to evolve, this project you’ve got?
J5: Yeah, absolutely. We’re doing another tour starting in November … we’re just going to keep doing it, keep doing it, and whenever I have time away from Zombie, I’ll be able to do this.

What did you enjoy most about working on the last record working with Rob? Was it different from any other records you worked on with Rob? Or did you like the songs better and do you think he’s underrated as a songwriter?
J5:  Well, the record we have coming out with Zombie now, that will come out next year, it is so good. We went up to his place, and it is very secluded, and there’s nothing out there. There are no distractions – really, really a great place to make great music, and you really have the time to live with it. And that’s what I think is very important, because you have the time to say, “Oh, let’s change this or make this better, or I can play it like this.” And I think that’s important, because a lot of bands they do these records and they have to deliver them at a certain time. We took our time and this record that’s going to be coming out … I mean, the songs are amazing. It’s great, it’s heavy and it’s just … you know, I was a Zombie fan before being in the band and this one’s going to be great that’s coming out.

Do you remember hearing White Zombie for the first time? What did you think of them?
J5: Well, yeah, it was seeing the video of “Thunder Kiss ’65” … yeah, that was rad. It was the look, it was the sound and it was just cool. It was just something that you saw that made you say, “That’s got something special to it.” So, yeah, it was just a great, great, great thing.

"The Mad Monster Tour" dates:
Nov. 4 – Ramona, CA @ Ramona Mainstage
Nov. 5 – Los Angeles, CA @ Whiskey A Go Go**
Nov. 6 – Las Vegas, NV @ Count's Vamp'd**
Nov. 7 – Phoenix, AZ @ Marquee Theater**
Nov. 8 – Ventura, CA @ Discovery**
Nov. 10 – San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge**
Nov. 12 – Orangevale, CA @ Boardwalk**
Nov. 13 – Fresno, CA @ TBD
Nov. 18 – San Antonio, TX @ Sam's Burger Joint
Nov. 19 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
Nov. 20 – Tyler, TX @ Click's
Nov. 21 – Houston, TX @ Scout Bar

** Dates with Doyle

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