From The Pit To The Mic: Interview with John 5 of Rob Zombie and John 5 and The Creatures

Photo by Talon Kane Photography

When you hear the name John 5 a large number of people will automatically associate him to Rob Zombie. Some may associate him to John 5 and The Creatures. When I asked John 5 how he would describe himself he simply said, “I’m a musician. That’s what I am, that’s what I do. That’s been my whole life and I really haven’t known anything else luckily.” Though he did share he did park cars for a living and worked out of a frozen yogurt place, which both of us laughed over. “I’ve been a musician ever since I was 7 years old.” I’ve noticed a trend that many of the great musicians started off early in their childhood. And his biggest influence as a child to want to pick up a guitar? The show Hee Haw. I thought that was a joke, but John confirmed, “Absolutely 100%. It’s because I saw a little kid playing and I was so impressed. I was so impressed.” And it impacted his life so much that John 5 actually found that exact clip on YouTube which he says was “that actual moment of what changed my life.” That boy’s name was Jimmy Henley.

John 5’s guitar skills manifested quickly. And so much that much older musicians were asking him to perform with them in local venues, which were usually bars. “I was so young. I was so young. But, all these musicians, older guys who were like 25, 26, and I was like in 8th grade, 9th grade and I went kind of went to more of a preppier school. But the long-haired guys knew I knew how to play all these songs and they wanted me in the band. So they put a black wig on me because they all had straight black long hair.” John 5’s parents were very supportive of his endeavor. They made a deal with him saying, “You can play, as long as you get up and go to school. And I was like, ‘OK’.” And most important about his ability to start playing so early on stage, “It’s all experience. It really is experience being on stage. It’s just getting in the ring or something like that. It’s all experience. You can punch the bag as many times as you want, but you know you have to get in the ring sometimes.”

He moves to Los Angeles at the very young age of 17. He started a band called, “Alligator Soup and it was the worst name in the history of bands.” They played all the most popular venues in town and as he described it, “It was probably the time of my life. It was so much fun. It was total decadence and it was crazy. It was completely crazy.” John 5 started to develop a reputation for being a skilled guitarist and a promoter told Rudy Sarzo of Whitesnake about him. Rudy and his wife were the only two in the crowd to see Alligator Soup perform which led him to join Rudy’s band “Sun King”. And he played with a number of artists including, Lita Ford and Rob Halford. He did a lot of session work for multiple musicians including Wilson Philips, Robin Zander, and many many more. So John 5 worked a lot.

But, one of his proudest moments was getting the opportunity to work with David Lee Roth. “Oh my God, it was so incredible. The first time I met him I was in shock because he was my hero. He was literally my superhero and I’m like standing with him. I knew everything about Van Halen. And I was like, wow, I’m standing with Dave.” That meeting led to John 5 working on the album ‘DLR Band’ and John 5’s guitar skills were highly praised. He said he and David are still good friends.

From there he went on to work with Marilyn Manson who had provided him the name of John 5. “I met him at a restaurant on Ventura Blvd and I didn’t even play a note for him yet and he goes ‘We want you to be in the band and your name is going to be John 5 because I’ll be doing a lot of things with numbers’ and I was like ‘Great! Sounds good to me!'” John5 said he was a big fan of Marilyn Manson’s work and apparently Marilyn Manson was a fan of John 5’s work as well. “He had all the albums that I did, well you know it was very few, it was like he only had the David Lee Roth record in his car and he had the Rob Halford album. And it was so cool because that’s where he did his research. And so I joined the band and he gave me the name John 5.”

John 5 parted ways with Marilyn Manson in 2004 and started up his own band called Loser in 2005. The band even signed a record deal with Island Records. It was also this same year where John 5 met Rob Zombie. During their meeting John5 said, “‘Hey if you ever need a guitar player’ and he’s like well I’m going to be doing two weeks on Ozzfest do you want to come. And I was like ‘Absolutely’. I loved Rob Zombie more than anything. And sure enough two weeks turned into 13 years. It was the best decision I ever made in my life.”

In between his time with Rob Zombie, John 5 found time to do his own solo albums. He has 8 studio albums so far some released under the name of John 5 and others under the name of John 5 and The Creatures. John 5 explained, “It was just John 5 because I really didn’t have a band. And then when I started playing live I was like, well shit you know, I’m gonna need a, I have this band, I want to put them in the mix too. So that’s when I came up with “and The Creautres”. Because they deserve credit. They work hard, they’re amazing musicians. That’s why I started adding them in the mix.” John5 explained earlier in our conversation that he actually found his band members through YouTube. “Because that’s what I did with The Creatures. I would look at videos of people and go ‘This guy rules’ let’s check him out.”

John 5 went on to tell us the story of why he decided to release the first solo album. “Well I just, my very first instrumental record I did, I was like, I’d just play guitar all the time, all the time. But, nobody knew I could really play guitar except for, you know, musicians backstage because that’s where I would play. And like I would always have a crowd of people around me when I was playing backstage. Cause I was playing the stuff like I do now and they were like ‘Holy shit!’ and you know I’d always have this whole crowd of people around me. And so its like maybe I’ll just put out an instrumental record for fun, for my friends, see what happens. And then it was such a big success, the very first one, ‘Vertigo’, it was like, you know, and I just put it out for fun. And you know cover of Guitar Player Magazine and you know, it started everything. So I was very, very happy that it was well received.”

John 5 released 7 more studio albums since then, with the last being ‘Season of the Witch.’ And now he’s releasing his first live album titled ‘It’s Alive’. This album was recorded during one of the tour stops for ‘Season of the Witch’. He told us the story of the decision to do the live album. “We were just setting up and the guy was like, “Hey you guys wanna record tonight?” and I was like “Sure I guess” you know. And they had a whole pro tool setup. And I was like, wow, let’s do this, let’s take advantage of this situation. And I told the guys, ‘Listen, let’s really concentrate and see if we can do a really great job here because this is a great opportunity for us.'” The majority of live albums record the whole way through the tour and then pick the best tracks from the tour to put on the live album. For John 5 and The Creatures they had just one shot to get it right. John5 explained to the crowd that night that they weren’t jumping around a lot because they were recording a live album. The fans reaction was, “They loved it. I left that part on the record because I just wanted to make it as real as possible”, in reference to the explanation to the crowd that night. “This is probably the most real live record you’ll ever hear in your life. It’s as live as it gets and that’s what’s cool about it. And I said to the guys ‘We have one shot’, you know, it sounds like an inspirational movie. It’s true. And we did it. And that’s why I put it out because I’m so proud of it and I’m really proud of the story too.” The album was released on January 25th.

The tour, which kicks off in Orlando, FL, on February 1st, is to support ‘It’s Alive’. And this is the first time John 5 will be playing in Orlando, FL with John 5 and The Creatures. A live tour to support a live album. I thought it was a little weird, but John 5 provided some music history that I had forgotten, “Which fans used to do back in the day. Back in the 70s, bands would tour, and the 80s, they would tour their live records. Like there was KISS Alive II Tour or the KISS Alive tour and that’s why live albums were so big because bands would go out there and support these live records. But now, it’s basically just a special release, a Christmas release, a whatever. But back in the day it was a big thing to have a live record.” John 5 said this tour will be a bigger show than the last tour. And he’s trying to create this “Alice Cooper like themed show.” One of the stage sets will include these TVs he made from amplifiers, some big inflatables, some monsters that come out.

What truly impressed me about John 5 is for someone of his level of fame, how easy it was to talk with him, he was cordial, humble, and so grateful of the opportunities he’s had in his life to be where he is today.  “I just wanted to be a session guy so it was really, really exciting for me just to be doing what I was doing, and now to be doing what I’m doing is a complete shock.” And I can relate, as I never thought the day would ever happen where I’m writing up an interview that I had with John 5. He continued on stating, “I’m so thankful for people talking like to me and wanting some advice or something like that. It makes me so happy so that I never take it for granted.”

John 5 left us with some great words of wisdom whether you are a musician or not, “If you’re not gonna to do it, someone else is gonna to do it. That’s how I live my life. So I always thought ‘Well why not me?’ and I just went after things and that’s how it all came together. I was like, I want to, if I want this I want to go out and get it because if I don’t do it someone else is gonna do it. And basically what has happened. I just was dedicated and I was focused and um, I tried to do something every single day to move towards what I’m striving for. And that’s what you should do too. It doesn’t have to be in music it could be anything. It could be anything. So that’s what I say. If you don’t do it someone else is gonna do it. That’s a guarantee. Just like the sun is going to set.”

Click on the media player above to hear the 30 minute interview in it’s entirety.