He has become one of the most acclaimed heavy metal and bluegrass guitarists working today. John Lowery, performing under the stage name John 5, has played with Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and David Lee Roth, and has recorded with Lynyrd Skynyrd. But his appreciation for his guitar goes back to seeing “Hee Haw” when he was a child.
The musicianship he saw performing country tunes inspired him to pursue a virtuosity that is as much at home in a heavy metal club as it is in a hootenanny. During concerts with his group, John 5 and the Creatures, he plays tunes ranging from rock to country, which only seems strange when you consider his stage makeup.
“I love Roy Clark,” he told Jake Barlow of CBS News. “I started playing the guitar when I was seven years old. My parents always watched ‘Hee Haw’. It all comes when you’re a little kid, your brain develops into what you want to do, what you like, what you don’t like And I remember seeing this kid he was probably a little older than me but he was a game player amazing banjo. I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!'” [The boy, Jimmy Henley, won a bluegrass banjo world championship at age 10, and would go on to appear as a regular cast member of “Hee Haw” for more than 25 years.]
“And I knew I wanted to play electric guitar, so I thought, well, instead of playing banjo I will play the electric guitar. He was so obsessed with playing the guitar. I don’t know what I would be doing besides guitar because I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. The only other thing I like to do is clean a house. I know it sounds weird, but I feel very organized, so maybe I’d be a servant if I wasn’t a guitarist.”
To watch an interview with John 5, click on the video player below:
He described a fairly sheltered life growing up, moving to California to give him the old “high school test.” High school try? “Because I didn’t go to college,” she said.
“I went to Los Angeles and I was, like, looking around and figuring everything out and I met a couple of people, and the first night I was there they stole all my money and everything. But I never give up on anything. So, I was like OK, let’s move on.
“I was meeting people and I said, ‘I play guitar,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we’re going to do a session for this.’ I said, ‘Oh well, I’ll charge this,’ because I knew what people were getting, what people were charging for these sessions, and I thought to myself, I’ll do it for half the price and half the time. Because they want you in and out. So, I have this little reputation of, here’s this guy who will do it for half the price and it only takes half an hour to do his stuff.
“I just wanted to be a session musician because I hated traveling. I was doing Rick Springfield and Wilson Phillips and TV shows like ‘Baywatch,’ ‘Jay Leno Show,’ the movie ‘Mortal Combat.’ I did all these things, every day was something else. . And I had a lot of work, because no matter what you do in life, you always want to save a dollar, so I was doing it cheaper than everyone else. And I knew people would go for it. I tried to do what was best for them, and I really it worked”.
A fan of Marilyn Manson, Lowery played with David Lee Roth and had just returned from a European tour with Rob Halford in 1998 when he got a call from Manson’s manager, Tony Ciulla, who said they were having problems with his guitarist and asked if he could meet with Manson. “And I said, sure!
“We went to Gaucho Grill in Ventura, and I remember stopping there, and I never saw Manson, I never met him or anything, I never saw him at a concert, but I remember looking in his car, he was like, this should be your car: there’s a David Lee Roth CD and a Rob Halford CD in the backseat. That’s quite a coincidence!
“So, I walk upstairs and he’s wearing big red sunglasses and a Loverboy T-shirt: ‘I want you to be in the band. Your name will be John 5, I want to do everything with numbers’.
“And I was like, ‘OK. Yeah, I love your music and I’d love to be a part of it.’
“And he’s like, ‘You just have to shave off your eyebrows and you’re in.
“And I was like, ‘Okay… Here? ‘No, no, no, later!'”
In fact, the first time John saw Manson live was the first time he played with him, at the 1998 Video Music Awards. He would perform with Manson’s band for six years, before moving out on his own.
“After I left Marilyn Manson, I really didn’t know what to do, so I thought, well, maybe I’ll do an instrumental record. And I wanted to do it for my friends for Christmas and give it to them.” like a gift. I thought it would be a fun gift. And this little record company said, ‘We want to put this out. I thought. ‘Oh, that’s weird, you know? But it’s okay, great!’ And they took it out. And it was like that, it’s incredible, but it had a great response. They put me on the cover of Guitar Player and all this stuff, because it was different. I played this heavy metal and country music. , all these crazy styles. And people loved it.
“And I didn’t do it for anything other than to give it to my friends. And I love playing guitar and I appreciate music and I did it from the heart.”
“But I never wanted to tour. Every interviewer asked me, ‘Are you going to tour?’ I said, ‘No,’ because in the back of my mind I thought: No one will want to see this. Nobody wants to see these things! I really thought that. I am being honest. My wife said to me, ‘You should go out and play shows.’ Really? And it was so successful, and I thank the crowd every night, and I was surprised, but people really enjoyed it, maybe because I Enjoy it a lot, I love it.”
In addition to his recordings with Zombie, Roth, 2wo, Paul Stanley, Sebastian Bach and others, John 5 has recorded 13 solo albums and with his band, The Creatures. His repertoire ranges from hard tunes, like “Midnight Mass” (from the “Invasion” album):
…to the very non-metallic track “Howdy”:
…and the bluesy-urban track “I Like the Funk”:
Their latest album “Sinner” mixes heavy metal with jazz standards, including “How High the Moon” and “Georgia On My Mind”:
“I’m always looking for inspiration and I’ve been through epiphanies, always, starting with ‘Hee Haw’. [and] Roy Clark,” he said. “And seeing Jimi Hendrix when they were showing the movie ‘Woodstock’ on cable, I became obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. And then I got into Kiss and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the best. And then I was so obsessed with Kiss that I bought the first Van Halen record because it said ‘Gene Simmons’ on the back cover. He was getting anything he could kiss. And then going from Kiss to Van Halen, then Yngwie Malmsteen, then Chet Atkins, the list goes on and on. But I’m always, always looking for inspiration.
“I think nowadays Instagram is a wonderful tool for that. Because if you search for a guitarist in your feed, you’ll see other guitarists. Just like if you search for cooking, you’ll get a lot of cooking stuff in your feed. So, I use it as a tool, not just to promote myself or have my own TV channel, but for education, to see other guitarists, to learn things. It’s a wonderful tool.”
John 5 and the Creatures are currently embarking on a North American tour.
“I never dreamed of any of this. I didn’t even think anyone would want to talk to me, I just wanted to be a session musician. So, I never dreamed or expected any of this at all. I just wanted to play guitar. I love guitar and guitar so much. music, that’s all I wanted to do. Now, doing what I do, no matter the cold, the rain or anything like that, wherever I am, if I have a guitar in my hand, playing for people, I I appreciate very much.
“I practice all the time. If I wasn’t talking to you, I’d be playing right now,” he said. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing, because it’s really taken over my life so much. Sometimes I’m playing and I start in the morning, and I’m like, it is dark; I better eat and go to the bathroom. That will happen when no one is around. For example, if I’m on tour and no one is with me and I have the day off, I just lose track of time. It’s a crazy obsession, but it’s a good obsession, at least I’m not doing anything to hurt anyone or myself or anything like that. So I’m fine with that and I hope to make a couple of people smile along the way.
“I love going out and playing for people. And I love meeting people and hearing their stories. It really is a dream. I really think the meaning of life is just doing what you love. It’s been wonderful.”
John 5 and the Creatures are now on their “Sinner” tour, which continues this week with dates in California (Roseville, Garden Grove and San Diego) and Las Vegas. The tour runs through July 17 in the United States and Canada, and then continues to Australia in December.
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Story produced by Jake Barlow and David Morgan.