John 5 knows a thing or two about showmanship. After all, the enigmatic and gifted guitarist has proven his worth performing alongside David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie — three of the greatest and more theatrical hard-rock frontmen.
He’s stood right next to these guys and studied them, taking mental notes of every move, every utterance, every stage prop that they used to keep their crowds enthralled. And the work was worth it because, with his band The Creatures, John 5 finds himself the center of attention.
“You learn from the best,” says 5, who also has worked with Lita Ford and Kiss’ Paul Stanley. “I really did. I’m like a sponge. If I’m around these guys, listening to what they’re talking about, listening to their business and stuff, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m gonna take advantage.’”
This surfaces most effectively when John 5 & The Creatures perform live, and the band have taken full advantage of that by releasing a live album called It’s Alive this year (it dropped in January via 60 Cycle Hum Records). The album, as it turns out, kinda happened by accident.
“We recorded this when we were on tour,” 5 says. “When you record a live record, it’s very expensive. You’ve got to get the crew out there, trucks, all sorts of things. You usually record multiple, multiple nights. We had the one shot. I talk to the crowd, and I left all of this on the live record. I said, ‘We’re doing a live recording tonight so that’s why we’re not jumping around.’ It’s probably the most live record you’ll ever hear. It came out phenomenal. I was so proud of it, because it came out so well. I even left on talking to the engineer — Ieft everything in there because it’s exactly as it happened in the show.”
John 5 feels that he has the best of both worlds, splitting his time between his crazy instrumental shows, where he can play a zillion notes, and also having the opportunity to be in Rob Zombie’s band and play in front of thousands. Regarding his work with Zombie, 5 feels that the pair have reached a creative peak.
“It’s very exciting because for 10 years I’ve been making records with him where we start with the music, get stuff that he’ll like, and then he’ll write the lyrics,” he says. “This time around what we did, which was so smart on his end — we started with lyrics and melodies. A drum beat or a very simple guitar. Then I came in and played around him. This is by far the best Rob Zombie album and the best White Zombie album. It’s unbelievable. It’s phenomenal. That’s a high bar, but it’s a bar that’s been reached.”
Zombie is currently shooting the sequel to his grindhouse-esque cult classic The Devil’s Rejects, which gives 5 the chance to focus on his solo work for a while.
“It really works out perfectly because I’m not bothering him,” 5 says. “Me being an adult, I’m like, let me figure out on my own something I can do that I’ll enjoy and that people will enjoy as well. I’m so lucky that I’ve figured this out. My friends said that I should try some solo shows. Boom, people actually like it. I have to entertain everybody with just a guitar, but it turned out great.”
That brings us neatly to the show John 5 & The Creatures play at the Whisky on Friday. Thanks to the fact that every John 5 gig in L.A. seems to bring out an insane array of guest stars, there’s a huge buzz surrounding this event, and it sold out very quickly.
“It’s gonna be insane,” 5 says. “I’m excited about it. I’ve played the Whisky, just like anyone, my whole life of playing music. Whenever I’m doing my own shows now, I always have my buddies come up and play because it’s so much fun. The show is so technical because it’s all instrumental, but it’s not your typical instrumental show. It’s like an Alice Cooper instrumental show. We do bluegrass, Western swing, heavy music and all sorts of things. But then we’ll break it up at the Whisky with my buddies coming up and playing. So it’s always a really great time.”
So who can we expect this time? As per the norm, there are some true rock & roll giants scheduled to appear.
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“We have Ace Frehley [Kiss], Nikki Sixx [Motley Crue], Scott Ian [Anthrax] and Scott’s wife, Pearl, who is an unbelievable singer,” 5 says. “Then we have Sebastian Bach [Skid Row], and all sorts of people that are gonna be at the show as well. It’s just crazy and so much fun. In the past, we’ve had Michael Anthony [Van Halen], Rob Zombie, Doyle from the Misfits. It’s always fun. People hear I’m playing and want to do a song.”
This summer, John 5 will get back with Rob Zombie, his current employer, for a mammoth tour that will also feature Marilyn Manson, his former employer. And as 5 says, that just sounds like one hell of a good time:
“Nothing says fun in the sun like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson.”
John 5 & The Creatures play with State Line Empire at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 6, at the Whisky A Go Go.