“When I drove to LA when I was 18, from my parent’s home in Grosse Pointe, I never thought I would be standing on the stage with some of the world’s most renowned performers. I never dreamed I would be making records with bands I grew up listening to. I just wanted to play guitar. I just wanted to have a career as a session musician, make music and that would have been happiness enough. I can tell you honestly, I still grin from ear to ear completely humbled by what life, music has done for me. I feel like the happiest man alive sometimes – I kid you not!” – John 5, LA, February 2013.
John 5 is undoubtably one of the hottest shredders on the planet right now. His impressive resume of working with frontmen such as Marilyn Manson, Rob Halford, Dave Lee Roth and his current gig as the right hand man for Rob Zombie, show he’s impressive skills have not gone unnoticed, but it doesn’t do him justice to label John 5 as a shredder – he’s a guitarist, a great guitarist – and there’s little he can’t put his hand to.
Growing Up. Hee Haw, Clubs and Make-Up
John 5, was born John William Lowery, on July 31 1971, in Grosse Pointe Michigan, in a safe, affluent neighbourhood “it was safe, and I had my own maid“. His love of guitar came at the age of seven, from the Hee Haw series he would watch with his father, as well as The Monkees; “I watched the guitar playing and knew that was what I wanted to do. My friends wanted to be astronauts and such but all I wanted to do was play and play and play”. Other influences included KISS and Jimi Hendrix “one of the hardest but most graceful guitar players of all time“.
For John it was having the support of his parents who permitted him to play in bars and clubs on the condition that he kept his grades up, which gave the biggest push to his burgeoning career. That support of family still drives John today “I‘m very lucky, I practise all the time and yet my wife, my family get it. You come to my house and you will rarely find me without a guitar in hand and I am so blessed to have the support of my family in what I do.”
John’s first high-school band – ‘Dirty Tricks’ won a major battle of the bands contest in the sixth or seventh grade. Hours of practise paying off. Another band – ‘Vampirella’ – was where he began to experiment with the unique facial make-up that he still wears to this day; “we looked crazy on stage. I’d already started wearing eyeliner anyway but the stuff we wore on stage was crazy“.
Moving to LA. Robbery, Marlette and lots of work
When John was 18 he made the decision to pack up his guitar, move away from the safety and mod cons of his family home, to the bright lights and big city of LA. The move, almost proved to be the quickest start and end of career in history when on his first night, he found himself the victim of a robbery, loosing every penny he had come to LA with. Many would have gone home but John found himself more determined to pursue his career, hunkering down in abandoned warehouses as he went door to door and sell his skills. “I did not want to give up, it would have been too easy to go home but I’m not someone who gives up at all easily.
His first band experience in LA was called “Alligator Soup”. A bizarre accident saw the lead singer pulled from stage tending a bleeding head wound. Filling the space and making sure the show still went on John took center stage and played. In the audience was Rudy Sarzo who was so impressed that he took John out to dinner and asked to work with him. As a result of that meeting, John also began working closely with producer Bob Marlette – whom he still works with to this day. Marlette provided a gateway for John to work on music for TV shows, commercials and film soundtracks. Bigger breaks included working with the legendary Lita Ford, opening up with her in support of a KISS “I mean KISS man, I was opening up for KISS – this is like all your Christmases come at once“. John also worked with former Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo and his first big project – Red Square Black. Together they released one EP – “Square”. The project was short-lived as in 1996, John found himself selected from over 2,000 other guitarists to play with K.D. Lang. In fact you can see John on the Live in Sydney tape of the tour. “KD is an amazing artist. I loved working with her“.
That same year John narrowly missed out on an audition with Marilyn Manson following the departure of original guitarist Daisy Berkowitz. Instead he teamed up with Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and formed industrial/classic rock band “2wo” (Two).Their album, “Voyeurs” was produced by Nine Inch Nail’s frontman Trent Reznor. “Working with Rob was a dream come true – he is a METAL GOD, there is no doubt about that.”
Following that, John was able to work with another hero – Dave Lee Roth of Van Halen fame. “I was sitting at my friend’s house and I wondered, what is Dave Lee Roth up to. I’ve been a fan of his since I was little kid, so I thought, should I call? I did. I called, and the next thing I know I’m submitting music to his management and they love it. And then I’m in his studio – playing“. John’s familiarity with Roth’s style became one of the overriding reasons as to why he was picked to play and help write “The DLR Band” album – “we did it in two weeks, and I remember Dave saying before we started recording, if you can’t do it in two takes, then you can’t do it.” No pressure then!?! “Exactly!”
The Manson Years and the birth of John 5
In 1998 John found himself sitting at lunch with Marilyn Manson. Manson had just finished recording his studio album “Mechanical Animals” and was searching for a new live guitarist following the departure of Zim Zum. “I had returned home from Europe after touring with Halford and I had this call from Manson’s management asking me to lunch. I get there and it’s Manson himself sitting at the table. As a result of that first meeting I had a new name and I was in the band – the God of Fuck was asking me to be in his band“.
John signed on initially to work as a live guitarist for the Rock is Dead tour and then to work on the next studio album. In between, John also contributed to the Grammy nominated “Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes”. The track appeared on The Last Tour on Earth CD as well as MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch soundtrack.
Following the tragic events at Columbine High School in April 1999 the group retreated after a media backlash (even though the two killers did not like the band) and several death threats “we were wearing bullet proof vests at one point”. The band regrouped at the Houdini House in Laurel Canyon and began to work on “Holywood: In The Shadow of the Valley of Death”, an angry response to the media witch-hunt the band suffered. It was the first full length album John 5 had worked on. “Manson is a phenomenal producer and visionary. His production knowledge is astounding. It’s a rollercoaster working with him but I think the end product stands out as to how good he is.”
John also continued working as a session guitarist, contributing works to several albums, including the Jimi Hendrix Tribute album “Hazy Days” and reuniting with Dave Lee Roth for the track “Thug Pop”.
After the promotion for Holywood, which saw a worldwide spectacular Guns God and Government tour, the band returned to the studio to record a different kind of album – the Burlesque, Weimar Republic stylized “The Golden Age of Grotesque”. The subsequent tour proved to be demanding and deeply conflicting as personal life clashed with his work life and as a result some tensions arose in the band. “It was hard for us all, we were all dealing with things. I’d experienced some very very close family losses, all of which came at the same time and the tour was hard.”
In 2003, Fender teamed up with John 5 to build his first signature guitar – The John Lowery Signature Fender Telecaster. Guitarist Magazine dubbed it “the sexiest new signature guitar on the market”. John showed it to Metallica’s frontman James Hetfield; “you got to get me one of those“, Hetfield remarked.
Solo Footsteps. A new adventure begins
After five years in Marilyn Manson, John 5 and Manson decided to part company “I’ll never regret working with Manson, it was such a blast, but we both knew it was time to move on“. John retained the name he had been honored with by Manson and began working immediately. A meeting with the legendary Les Paul, helped pave the way forward. “I was playing at a club and there was Les Paul. He was in the audience and he said to me, ‘son, you have to put out your own music’, so I did, I went into the studio. I’d already had some ideas when I was touring about some solo guitar pieces but it was Les Paul that helped me to just say, yeah, make this happen“. Vertigo, became a deeply autobiographical album pulled from turbulent personal memories. And it proved to be a surprising hit with fans, as John 5 not only brought his trademark Drop-D tuning shredding to the album but intermixed it with some of the Bluegrass music he had listened to as a child.
John 5’s newfound solo career also turned out to not be a flash in the pan. Since 2004 he has released six studio solo albums (Vertigo, Songs For Sanity, The Devil Knows My Name, Requiem, The Art of Malice and God Told Me To) and a remix album (Remixploitation) based on his previous work. The albums have also seen John work with other memorable players, including Albert Lee who called John “one of the nicest guys I’ve worked with“, Steve Vai who called John “underrated”, Joe Satriani, Jim Root, Eric Johnson and many more. “I still can’t believe how well the music has been received. Solo guitar albums are often seen as only to be listened to by other music aficionados but here I am getting kids, grandparents, moms, rockers, country fans and everyone else in-between telling me how much they like what they hear.”
As well as a growing fan base, his album The Devil Knows My Name won Best Shred Album from Guitarworld.com – “such an honor“.
Over the years John 5 has also embarked on several ‘guitar clinics’ where he gets to play to an intimate audience as well as talk to the fans and answer their questions “I love meeting with the fans and hearing what they have to say. They are very smart and know what they want, and it’s a pleasure to meet them at clinics or backstage or at the tour buses. See I remember what it was like – I was that kid too, so the more I can give back, the better. It’s great!”
As well as his solo albums John 5 teamed up with the vocal talents of Joe Grah (formerly of Texas band Jibe) to form “radio rock project” Loser. Their first single, “Disposable Sunshine” featured on the Fantastic Four soundtrack. The young band also comprised of Charles Lee, Glendon Crain and briefly drummer Elias Andras.
“Coming from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a kind of upper-class area, I was the rock kid and I stood out a little as everyone else around me were wearing Polo and Brooks Brothers. I kinda looked like a loser around those folks and I think everyone can relate to that at one time or the other.”
However in 2006, John found himself conflicted as he found himself torn between his new band and a chance meeting with Rob Zombie. Following an onstage meeting at Dave Navarro’s Camp Freddy and then being asked to join Zombie on stage for a short Ozzfest tour (“Rob told me not to get too comfortable at that point“) John began working with the musician turned film director on a new album – 2006’s Educated Horses. Despite trying to find a replacement guitar player for a forthcoming tour Loser were about to embark on, the record company were not happy with the arrangement and John was faced with a very hard decision; “Being the founding member of Loser, my decision to leave was not an easy one.”
John returned to the studio with Zombie and contributed eight out of eleven tracks on Educated Horses.
Rob Zombie. A new band, a new home.
Moving to Rob Zombie was huge as the rocker had began to build a career as a film director “Rob was at this stage in his career where he was ready to move on which is why for Ozzfest he said not to get too comfortable but working in the studio on “Educated Horses” you could see this great spark between all of us. Rob is a great musician and performer to work with, he’s so focused, so driven, he’s the single greatest experience I have had working with someone.”
Educated Horses was just the start. Following a North America tour which saw the band tear up the festival scene as well as their own dates, the band went back into the studio for “Hellbilly Deluxe 2″. John 5 also found himself working on other projects with Zombie – including in 2013 the score for The Lords of Salem “it’s primitive, it’s music that will scare you, but it will never distract from the film. Rob has created a fantastic movie and what I have done is complement this.”
In 2011 Rob Zombie toured for the first time outside of the US in years including visiting the UK – where he had last toured with his band White Zombie twelve years previously.
In 2012, between filming and touring, Rob, John 5, Piggy D and the newly acquired Ginger Fish from Marilyn Manson, entered the studio to work on “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor”. The addition of Ginger Fish to the band was akin to reuniting with a brother “I love Ginger, and working with him is great, I missed him so much over the years so being able to play and work with him again is fantastic“.
For John he sees Zombie as the place he will call home until whenever Zombie calls it a day “this is home.”
The futures bright
Working on new solo albums, Zombie albums would make one busy enough, but John 5 has continued to work as a “hired gun”. Whether it be contributing to guitar leads, such as on Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell 3: The Monsters Loose, or going into the studio for not one, but two Lynryd Skynrd albums and surprising fans by working with Ricky Martin and Rod Stewart – to name but two, life is busy for John 5. “I do kick myself sometimes. I’m busy, constantly busy with work but I look at who I am in the studio with or sending music to and I think sometimes, how can I top this and then something else comes along and it just gets better. You know I would love to get on the road again and see the fans up close for clinics but things are so busy at the moment. I wouldn’t want it to stop though – the kid from Grosse Pointe did good“.