Careful With That Axe John 5, an interview 07/10/201610th October 2016
Sitting backstage of the Cathouse in Glasgow, clad in a snake-skin jacket, jeans, cowboy hat & noodling on a Telecaster is an unassuming figure, the infamous John 5.
I was invited to sit down, hang out & chat to the man, who’s currently on tour playing some insane instrumental music backed by the formidable Creatures.
You’re here playing with The Creatures, how have the shows been so far?
Wonderful. We’ve played 2 shows already & its been really great. We’ve never been here before with the instrumental thing & its been unbelievably great. People are really enjoying it.
To be honest with you I’m surprised that people enjoy it so much because it’s crazy instrumental, there’s no singer but it is entertaining.
People really enjoy the shows so I keep doing ’em as people really dig them. I’m doing this for fun, the love of the guitar, the love of music & being close to the fans & all that stuff. I love that.
It is a lot more intimate than the huge stadiums of large arenas.
Yeah, when we play festivals or something like that, There are barricades & the crowd has gotta be like 100 feet away. It’s incredibly crazy how far away it is. I love doing these shows, it’s a blast & the people know that they’re here to have a good time, enjoy the music & to hang out & have fun.
What do you enjoy playing the most in the set?
To be honest, every song is so insane, I just love every song. They’re so crazy, so intense, it’s like juggling chainsaws. It’s so technical so all the songs are really a lot of fun.
You’ve done your own takes of Beat It (Michael Jackson) & Welcome To The Jungle (Guns n Roses), How did you decide to do them?
I honestly don’t know. That’s a good question. In the set there’s an 8 minute medley with tonnes of riffs & I guarantee you’ll probably know every single one of them.
You’ve played with KD Lang, Avril Lavigne, Chuck Mosley, Sinead O’Connor just to name a few. How did you come to play with so many varied performers?
Yeah, Ricky Martin, The Scorpions, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Stanley, there’s so many & it’s so varied. I just love music. Everyone we’ve just reeled off I’m a fan of & I understand their catalog.
If they say ‘come write with us’ & if they refer to a certain album of certain song then I’ll know what they’re talking about.
I’ve just had really good luck writing with people.
Writing with David Lee Roth, we’ll just go in & record it. It’s not just writing, it’s writing to record it & sometimes that day which is a lot of fun. We’ll write in the morning & he’ll book the studio for like 6 o’clock & we’ll straight into the studio. He’ll put like palm trees & deck out the studio with loads of really cool stuff. He’ll cater the whole thing & it’ll be like a set. It’s really really neat.
So it’s not really a recording session, it’s more of a vacation.
Yeah, it really looks like a vacation spot. It’s really a lot of fun, but he’s really serious too & we’ll get it done. It’s always been a lot of fun to write with Dave.
So what do you do on your down time?
I just play.
You have no hobbies? Just sit & play the guitar.
I have the wife & the family & all that stuff going on but I’m always with a guitar in my hands. It’s just comfortable with a guitar & it’s what relaxes me & I enjoy it.
Is that also how you write as well, with no set structure?
Oh no set structure.
I’ve always wondered what goes on in the head of John 5 as there’s so many different elements to each album. From chicken picking, slide, full on power chords, shredding leads etc.
Oh yeah, I love TV & movies, so I’ll hear a piece of music that I’ll think is really cool & I’ll do something like that or some weird techniques to turn it into songs.
I’m always sat with a guitar & I think that’s what helps me a lot.
What turned you on to Telecasters?
Just like when you were a kid, if you loved a certain superhero, comic book, TV show or band, you remember it the first time you see it in your life. That’s how I was with guitar. I was watching TV, a show called Hee Haw & at that point I had an acoustic guitar & the all had electric guitars & they were all Telecasters. I thought to myself that I really want an electric guitar & I thought that was the only shape they made. I didn’t think they made any other shape of electric guitar.
I love the history of the Telecaster as well. The very first solid body guitar was made in 1950 & was shaped just like a Telecaster but was called a Broadcaster.
Do you own a Broadcaster?
Is that the most expensive guitar you’ve bought?
I’m I allowed to enquire how much?
It’s a lot (laughs)
Are we talking 4 or 5 digits?
I don’t want to say really (laughs)
Ah, it’s one of those that if the wife finds out she’ll kick your ass? (laughing)
Yeah, something like that (laughing)
What was your lightbulb moment when you decided that this is what you wanted to do as a career?
I think, going back to TV, I saw a kid on Hee Haw & he had a banjo, he was so good that I was shocked at how good this kid was & that was the moment when I thought that I wanted to be a really good guitar player & it was down to watching that kid.
It’s funny as I’ve just found it on YouTube & looking back at this clip & seeing that moment when I thought that I wanted to be this guitar player. It’s far out to think about that, as that WAS the moment.
How many guitars have you brought out on the tour?
Just 2 Telecasters, a mandolin & a banjo. All the others are with Zombie in Berlin as once I’ve done this small run of UK dates I’m straight to Berlin to begin a tour with Rob (Zombie)
Stomp boxes or rack effects?
oh, stomp boxes. I have no idea how to work rack effects (laughs). It’s so much easier just to put in a battery, a cable & away you go as that’s all I know.
What effects are you using on stage on this run?
A noise suppressor, distortion, delay & a tuner. That’s it.
You’re that stripped back!?
Yeah, it’s that basic.
What about cans & heads?
They’re all Marshalls. I use the JVMs the Marshall 900’s. Just regular cabs, but I’ve always used Marshalls.
Whenever I come over to Europe I always have Marshall make me a different colored head, as you know most of them are black. So I have a red one, white one, a blue one. I have a yellow one, a purple one, a tan one & a green one so far.
It’s great Marshall do that for you.
Yeah it’s really cool of them. I’ve been with them a long time.
Who’s been the most famous person you’ve met & in what instance did that come about?
I was at a restraunt in Beverly Hills called Mr Chow. I was with my sister & my wife & we were sitting down. Bette Midler was on the next table over & then the next table over from that was Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne from ELO & Joe Walsh & they were all at one table. We’re sandwiched between these 2 tables. It was a crazy, crazy thing.
I can imagine, it’s not an everyday occurrence to be sandwiched between those people. Almost as if you’d walked into the Twilight Zone.
Yeah, it was really, really strange. I was also at another restaurant called Crossroads & Robert Downey Jr was there, Ringo Starr. I live in Beverly Hills & you see these people walking around all the time. It’s really cool.
What’s the best advice you could give to a band/musician who is just starting out?
I would say, get on Youtube. It’s a great way to be kinda recognised or discovered. There are people like that lady with the Chewbacca mask that’s just gone viral. So I would say just get on YouTube as I think that’s the greatest way to be discovered nowadays. If you’re amazing you’ll have all these people seeing you & then get out & play.
It’s such a different time now. I would’ve given a completely different answer 5 or 10 years ago.
Where do you think the future of guitar playing is going to go?
I’m in the world where I see all these amazing players but I have to look for it. But I don’t know if it’s just the opposite where it’s not that you don’t see that anymore, you did back in the day but you don’t see it that often. But I look for it & luckily I do see it here & there.
The last guitarist I came across that made my jaw hit the floor was a young guy by the name of Aaron Keylock. The blues slide that he’s pulling off is mind-blowing. If you get a chance then I recommend you check him out.
Oh, I will do. It’s just like that. It’s that tight & word of mouth.
Obviously you get your Eddie Van Halen clones or Jason Becker, Marty Friedman players but you don’t really see anyone pushing the boundaries of guitar playing anymore.
Right, When I started to do a solo record I wanted to do something different & that’s why I was doing the country & then the crazy rock stuff too because it’s so different. Which is why people are like ‘this is cool, I’ve never heard that before.’
Mike Varney (Executive Producer of Ritchie Kotzen, Marty Friedman, Joey Tafolla, Jason Becker) has helped a little with your instrumental albums too
Yeah he did the first couple of records & then I started doing them on my own.
Finally John, what’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Wow, there’s been quite a few. I’ve done so much. I’ve played every venue, every continent, I’ve had number 1 records. I’ve done so much stuff. Having my parents come & see me ata huge venue, that was incredible. It’s so funny to say this because I’ve done so much. I played an instrumental show at the Whiskey a Go Go & the place was absolutely jammed packed &. I had Rob Zombie come up on stage & do a Misfits song & then Paul Gilbert come up, Michael Anthony come up & that was just my show. It was such a proud moment & I was very happy with that.
I have these moments all the time. I was in London & the crowd went absolutely nuts. I was so blown away by it because I’m so surprised there are people who want to hear this crazy guitar playing.
These shows are really fun & I’m enjoying it & I think the crowd sees that we’re all really enjoying it & it makes them have a little fun too.
It’s been a pleasure to sit here & talk to you. You’ve been sat here the whole time with the guitar in your hand just noodling away as we’ve chatted. I can tell that you love playing & the guitar truly is an extension of yourself.
It’s nice, it’s comforting & I love it a lot. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t.