Interview and Article Photos by: Robert Cavuoto
Feature Photo Credit: Dave Burke Photography
John 5 and The Creatures will be out touring this spring for his Behind the Nut Love Tour beginning in March 2016. The tour will start in Westland, MI and conclude in Londonderry, NH with a total of 16 live shows which can be found here: www.john-5.com
After that he will be back touring with Rob Zombie for another set of tour dates from April 30th to May 29th.
John 5’s guitar abilities are unsurpassed to most guitarists with the perfect combination of brilliant technique and style. A visionary player that can sculpts sound and bend minds in equal measure. He is a true innovator and virtuoso on the guitar.
I caught up with John to talk about his upcoming tour, his new CD, as well as working Ace Frehley and David Lee Roth.
Robert Cavuoto: I saw you play at NAMM Jam this past January was impressed by the wide variety of musical styles you play on stage from flamenco to country to bluegrass to metal. What do you think attracts metal fans to your music or do you feel that you attract fans of the guitar?
John 5: That’s a really good question. If I was at a drumming or piano event, as long as it was done well I would appreciate it. Any musician would appreciate something that’s done well. I think it’s interesting to look at it in that way. A guitarist who doesn’t have a bluegrass CD or background in that style of music could still appreciate it because it’s done well. Maybe they would like to learn more and do something like that for themselves.
Robert: I noticed that you don’t intro your songs or really speak during your shows. Is that because you are in character or perhaps it’s part of your stage persona, similar to Alice Cooper?
John 5: To be honest with you, I’m more comfortable with the guitar than behind the mic. I don’t really have anything planned to say [laughing]. All these front man have great raps. I just speak totally from the heart. I say what’s on my mind at the time. I remember saying at NAMM Jam, “It’s wonderful that I can entertain all of you guys with just the guitar.” I was so appreciative of it. I want to give my fans as much music as I can during a show. I love my fans and always say without them none of this would be possible. I love meeting them and just saying hello or interacting with them.
Robert: Your solo band is tight and flawless when playing live. Tell me about them?
John 5: I rehearse them so hard; I think they get tired of it. I rehearse all the time because I love perfection. All of those quiet dynamic parts each need to be performed just perfectly. I have known my drummer, Roger Carter, forever. He is responsible for me doing these live solo shows. I wasn’t sure if people would dig it [laughing] I had no idea it would be so successful. It’s been a truly amazing time.
Once we decided to play live, I needed a great bass player. The bass player I used on Careful with that Axe is the bass player from Elton John’s band, Matt Bissonette. So I held auctions for a bass player and the first guy that came out was Ian Ross. He was amazing. I thought, wow this was going to be a great day for auditions. If the first guy is this awesome my chances of find someone is great. Unfortunately it was all downhill from Ian [laughing]. Ian is very quiet and professional. He is also smart and great at what he does.
Robert: They are very talented guys to be able to keep up with your playing. Do you have a lot of flexibility with your set lists during each show?
John 5: Another great question, here is what I’m doing. I’ve been to the East Coast before and very aware of my previous set lists. When I go to New Jersey to play a venue, you will never see me play that same set list in New Jersey again. I’ll always play a different set list. I think that’s what keeps it fresh.
Every month this year, I’ve been releasing a new video for one of my new songs. In January I released the video/song “Blackgrass Plague.” In February it was just “Behind the Nut Love” and on March 1st, Ill release “Making Monsters.” That one uses dolls and stop animation, its crazy cool. I’m in it as an action figure!
So I’m incorporating all of those songs into the set list so everyone will know them from the videos!
Robert: I assume these three new songs will be on your new studio CD as well. Do you have a title for the CD and when will it come out?
John 5: The new CD will be called Guitars, Tits and Monsters – great title right! [laughing]. The running theme for it is…guitar, tits and monsters. [laughing] It will be out in the summer.
Robert: You play on Ace Frehley’s new CD, what songs did you play and how did the opportunity come about?
John 5: I have known the Kiss guys for most of my adult life and really close to Peter Criss. He is one of my great friends. I have known Ace for ever too. Ace called me up and said, “Would you come and play on my record?” I said, “Of course!” He gave me a bunch of song to learn then texted me a few days later and said we are going to do “Parasite”. I was like “YES, how rad is that, to play Parasite” with Ace!” I also played “Bad Castle Magic” – one of Hendrix’s songs. I love spending time with Ace, he such a great guy and super cool. We get along really well.
Robert: Did you play “Parasite” true to the original or did you change it up a bit?
John 5: Here is what happened, we are playing the song and I started improvising. Then Ace said, “Ill improvise after you.” I then said why don’t you just play the solo “as is” as it’s such a memorable piece of music? He played it exactly how it was created in one take. Fans will love this version.
Robert: You’re just a fantastic guitar player, is there something that you can honestly say that you struggle to play and haven’t quite nailed it?
John 5: I’m doing a cover of the Gershwin song called “I Got Rhythm.” It is really, really difficult; you can see it on my Instagram account. It’s such a fast song and I’m doing it in a country western swing way. The bass line is fast and the melody is great. I’ve been working on that.
Robert: Will we see that song live?
John 5: Eventually you will, but not this time around. I’m going to throw the other guys under the bus here as they aren’t ready! [laughing]. I pile so much work on them and they have to work hard.
Robert: I spoke to Nils Lofgren a while back and he told me that while on stage with Bruce Springsteen that Bruce is known for calling out songs on the spur of the moment, songs they haven’t played live in years.
John 5: Tom Morello told me about that as well. I have to know to everything back and forth like I’m breathing. That would be absolutely frightening to me!
Robert: I recently watched a You Tube concert video of you performing with Rob Zombie at Wacken in 2015, what’s going on in your head when you look out at all those people?
John 5: You actually do see that many people while on stage. I can see them standing there all as far back as the eye can see. But what is more stressful is when you’re playing a show and you have someone 4 inches away. Like they are so close you can’t turn a different way. I love playing those intimate shows as they can get so quiet. When we are playing the great big festival it’s hard to get that dynamic. I also love playing the massive festivals with Rob, its wonderful feeling. It’s one of my favorite things to do and see the people rocking out and getting into it.
Robert: What is David Lee Roth really like, is he as much fun in person as he seems on stage and in his videos?
John 5: He so clever and smart. He would say things that are so funny and off the cuff. It would make you go “How did he think of that so fast?” He is a great guy to hang out. He is so knowledgeable, he knows a little about everything.
Robert: Tell me about two of your guitars the light up one and the lava lamp one; they were my favorites when I saw you live.
John 5: You don’t see guitars like them every day or even used instrumentally. I look at things as being a show. I love to entertaining people with the guitar, just like I mentioned, I want to incorporate guitars into the show so people like you would say, “That was my favorite guitar or that was my favorite part of the show.” I want to make it so that if you brought your wife or girlfriend to the show they would be entertained. I’m working on developing a guitar that shows a video on the body of the guitar.
Robert: I know you collect guitars, have you added anything new to your collection?
John 5: Not really as I’ve been so busy. When I buy a guitar I get so into it. I inspect the wood and lacquer. I haven’t had any free time. Half the fun of it is the “thrill of the hunt.” I love it but it takes a lot of time. When I get back on the road I’ll have more time in-between shows.
Robert: I love going to pawn shops searching for rare guitars or bargains.
John 5: You know who loves going to pawn shops is Ace! We’ll jump into the car and go to pawn shops.
Robert: Maybe I can go with you next time, Ill drive! [laughing]
John 5: There you go! [laughing]