With his goth/horror make up, John 5, at first glance, would ordinarily be typecast as a heavy metal basher. His stints with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie would do little to dispel this image, based on photos and videos. Upon experiencing an actual listening session, impeccable bluegrass lines played at light speed, tasteful R&B riffs, 2 handed Van Halenesque tapping, and melodic classical-metal shredding that rivals Yngvie and Vai all burst volcanically from the speakers. Little do most people realize that John 5 is the alter ego of gunslinger session guitarist extraordinaire John Lowery, whose work has been heard on video games, films, records, and tours, with artists from k.d. Lang and Les Paul to Rob Halford, Paul Stanley and Fefe Dobson. A dedicated musician who is slavishly devoted to perfecting his craft, John 5 is a consummate guitarist with very exacting standards in his music and equipment. His newest release is, “The Art of Malice”.
John Seetoo: I recently was looking through an issue of “Guitar Player” from the mid 1990’s and saw a John Lowery endorsement ad for the Laney Alliance amp. You’re holding an Ibanez guitar in the photo. Do you still have the amp and guitar, and do they ever get used in the studio or on stage nowadays?
John 5: I don’t have the guitar. That one is in the Hard Rock Café. But, I do still have some of the amps.
John Seetoo: The intro for the title track, “The Art of Malice” has some very nice flamenco lines morphing into bluegrass and then morphing into metal shred on “Ill Will or Spite”. Was that composed to be performed straight through in one take or was that a compilation of different themes that developed into the final recording, and how did you cut those tracks?
John 5: They were meant to be performed in one take. They were all composed that way. It just gives a little variety for me and for the listener.
John Seetoo: “J.W.” and “Steel Guitar Rag” have some very cool electric bluegrass playing. Did you use your signature Teles or some of the vintage ones from your famous collection, or are there other guitars on those tracks? Also, the clean sounds have a hint of distortion when you dig in on the bends. Didn’t sound like your Marshall rig – what did you use?
John 5: 90% of it is my signature Telecaster. I did use a couple Telecasters on there. My ’53 Telecaster and some older ones, to double with my signature Tele. I used my 1955 Fender Champ Amp for some of the clean sounds.
John Seetoo: “Can I Live Again” has some very tasteful slide playing counterpointing acoustic guitar. You’re not normally known for slide playing – what did you use and what circumstances guided your approach for that arrangement?
John 5: That’s exactly what I wanted to do, since I don’t play slide that often, and I wanted to because I really enjoy it. That David Gilmour style – I love and appreciate it and I wanted to have another style on the record because I love playing it so much.
John Seetoo: “Can I Live Again” is very melodic and could easily be used for either a soundtrack or as music to accompany lyrics. I’ve read that you’ve actually done quite a bit of songwriting with a wide diversity of artists from Avril Lavigne and Meatloaf to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Garbage. How do you decide which songs to keep for your own records and which ones to use in collaboration with other artists, since you are apparently very prolific?
John 5: I kind of write for the situation. If I’m writing for a certain artist, I’ll get in that mind frame. Same goes for myself. If I’m writing for my instrumental record, I’ll search and find out what I’m missing.
John Seetoo: I understand that you played all the bass tracks on “The Art of Malice” except for “Ya Dig”, which featured Billy Sheehan. Will we be seeing a Fender John 5 Signature bass in the future to add to your Teles and acoustic models?
John 5: I don’t think there will be a John 5 Signature Bass, but I do have a nice collection of Fender basses & I do enjoy playing them. But I also really love a good bass line. There are some pretty cool bass lines going on throughout these songs.
John Seetoo: Your MySpace page has an interview where you go into the virtues of the Telecaster and all of its versatile elements, as you showcase your jazz, country and bluegrass chops. Are you a fan of guys like Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton? Also, since you have such a grounding in country music, do you ever use a B-Bender Telecaster, like Clarence White and Jimmy Page?
John 5: I love Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan; they are exceptional Tele players. I have a big Tele collection. Believe it or not, I do not have a B-Bender. It’s on my list of ones to get. Maybe the next instrumental album will have a bunch of songs with a B-Bender, who knows?
John Seetoo: Your signature Telecasters have DiMarzio D-Activator pickups, and I think all of the bridge pickups in the different models are humbuckers instead of the original Tele single coil . There are some purists who would call that almost sacrilegious, yet you get amazing Tele tones when you play them. What led to your choice of the DiMarzios and bridge humbuckers in general for your Teles?
John 5: With the kind of heavy rock music I play, it’s very difficult to control that distorted sound at high volumes with a single coil. So that’s why I added a humbucker to the configuration. I have so many Teles with original single coils, and also with humbuckers. So DiMarzio makes some of the best pick ups in the world. I like to associate myself with the best products in the world.
John Seetoo: Previously on www.guitargearheads.com, I reviewed the Zoom G1J John 5 Signature Pedal (http://www.guitargearheads.com/module … s/article.php?storyid=444 ) , which is a pretty impressive unit, made more so by your customized patches. I was surprised that there was less distortion on the settings than anticipated, and I thought you captured a lot of classic 60’s and 70’s tube amp sounds, which are usually cleaner than a lot of 21st century guitarists would ordinarily assume. Have you ever used the G1J in demos or recordings since the unit was released?
John 5: I don’t really use it that much in recording. I mostly use it at home and on tour in hotel and practicing. I mostly use my Marshall amps & Boss effects in the studio.
John Seetoo: The other thing that impressed me about the G1J patches was the logic in your patch sequence and inclusion of 12 string, octaves, and noise gating, and progressive distortion programs in the patches that would make layering of overdubs a much easier task. I know that in your extensive studio musician experience, you’ve probably encountered dozens of producers throwing all kinds of last minute sonic demands at you. Was this your intended design? I thought it was a terrifically brilliant way to pull sounds out of a hat in a pinch with the clock ticking.
John 5: All producers do want a non-traditional sound, and that’s why I did something like that – for overdubs & doubling. Producers will always want a different, unique sound. I did that to give a little variety instead of the normal distorted guitar sound.
John Seetoo: If the Zoom G1J can be viewed as an all purpose kind of “rig in the box”, what would be John 5’s Desert Island all purpose rig set up for maximum versatility?
John 5: My main John 5 Telecaster. Then all I would need to make things work is a little Marshall practice amp, a cord, and a pick. And an electrical outlet. Not sure they have those on desert islands.
John Seetoo: You have made some rather unique guitar instructional DVDs. Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert are two others whom have been interviewed at www.guitargearheads.com that are very committed to education. Is teaching something that you plan to continue to explore and pursue?
John 5: I would love to make another instructional video. The reason why they are so important to me is, I love to learn; my favorite thing in the world is to learn. I would love to do another one. I just did a big piece for Guitar World, which you’ll see soon with a lot of cool licks from “The Art of Malice”.
John Seetoo: You are also featured on Rob Zombie’s forthcoming “Hellbilly Deluxe 2”. What was that project like, and was how was recording that record similar or different for you in comparison to “The Art of Malice”?
John 5: When recording with Rob – it’s a lot of fun, because since we are usually in a very large studio, I bring in a ton of guitars and try different sounds and ideas. We did use an old Dobro on one of the songs. We used a nice Martin D45 on the record and an extensive number of Telecasters. A lot of cool Marshall amps, JCM900s. It was fun experimenting.
Compared to recording on my own, it’s usually really quick in the studio. I rehearse, rehearse, rehearse at home and it takes more time getting a sound then a performance take. I do one song in about 45 -60 minutes for a guitar take. I will go home and work up the next song. It was quick in the studio doing “The Art of Malice”. More upfront time than actual performance.
John Seetoo: You are presently touring with Alice Cooper, who can be considered the rock ancestor of Manson and Rob Zombie. What is that experience like for you, and was the fact that you both hail from Michigan a factor?
John 5: I love doing this tour. It’s one of the best bills out there today. It is a true honor to be doing a tour with Alice Cooper, with all that he has invented and with all the great songs he’s written and amazing stage production he’s come up with. I love watching him every night. It’s a true, true gift to be able to hear all the songs and watch him perform every night.
John Seetoo: The breadth and range of artists with whom you have worked or played is staggering, and ranges from Rob Zombie, Manson and the Scorpions on one end all the way to Les Paul and k.d. lang on the other. Anyone on your wish list that you haven’t played with yet?
John 5: I love playing guitar and am looking forward to playing with whatever opportunity comes my way.