Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Cover Story: John 5 • Immersed In Music

| December 31, 2023

When it comes to musical diversity and performing genre-hopping styles, guitarist John William Lowery (aka John 5) is one of the most prolific. 

Whether he’s creating rock, industrial metal, funk, EDM, progressive, or bluegrass compositions, the lethal six-string slinger is guaranteed to shred all over it. 

With a musical resume that includes such diverse artists as k.d. Lang, Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton, David Lee Roth, Meat Loaf, Rob Halford, Lita Ford, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and most recently, Mötley Crüe, it’s a given that John 5 can adapt to whoever he’s playing with and can handle anything thrown his way. “In the rock era, everybody kind of knows everybody,” John 5 explains during a recent phone interview. “You could name any band in rock, and I probably know them, and they know me, or they know this guy, or they know that guy. So everybody kind of knows each other, and they know what they’re doing. But in different genres of music, like you were mentioning—k.d. Lang, Rod Stewart—I’m not on their speed dial. But if I go and audition for it, I know every single note that those guys have ever written and recorded. I’m going to know not only the guitar part, but I’ll know the bass part, and I’ll know the other parts; I know everything. So, when I get an opportunity to audition or jam with somebody like a Skynyrd or someone like that, I know their whole catalog.” 

ON HIS OWN

John 5 is also an accomplished solo artist, releasing ten studio albums and completing many successful headlining club tours. In fact, John 5 exclaims that he’s so dedicated to playing live that he’s going to be doing a winter tour that will make its way to our blustery city on February 1 at the Arcada Theater. “I’m excited to get back there and I love it so much I even come in the dead winter,” John 5 exclaims. “(Chicago) is familiar to me. I know it sounds a little hokey, but I know where everything is. I know where these record stores are, and I know where the drug store is, and I know where the good, cool restaurants are. I know where everything is around there. And the crowds—and I’m not just saying this—the crowds are incredible in the Midwest.”

The John 5 and the Creatures’ winter tour is his first solo tour since joining Mötley Crüe, and he’s expecting it to be something special. It will also be the type of show that he’s never attempted before. Armed with only his drummer, Alex Mercado, John 5 will perform a two-man show by playing bass, the banjo, the mandolin, and, of course, the guitar. Rounding out the set will include an updated cover song medley, which is a highlight of John 5’s solo live shows. By wearing all the hats, John 5 will be taking the audience on one wild ride, including a Mötley Crüe cover medley. “Then I’m doing some new songs and some old songs, of course, but it is going to be a wild ride because the song list goes in so many avenues. I don’t think anybody will get bored because one song will be playing this style, and the other song will play this (other) style. So it goes up and down so much where you don’t get tired of just one thing.” 

FINDING INSPIRATION

John 5 explained that he never knows when inspiration is going to hit him. But when it does, it really grabs him. As an all around lover of music, John 5 constantly searches for new musical inspirations by searching various YouTube videos and careening down the rabbit hole. “When I’m studying music and studying guitar, YouTube is my place to go,” he states. “But if I’m just listening and appreciating, I will go to Apple Music. The technology is amazing. Do you remember (riding) in your car and you had like a zillion cassettes or a zillion CDs traveling with you? Now, you can pull up anything that your mind can think of, and there it is. I still buy vinyl and cassettes and eight tracks because I’m a collector of that kind of amazing music.”

As an avid fan of the country music variety show Hee Haw (1969-71), John 5 has introduced twangy bluegrass styles into his music quite often. Tracks such as “Hell Haw” off his 2017 Season of the Witch and “Howdy” from his 2019 Invasion albums are excellent examples of the show’s influence on him. “I have been on this finger-picking bluegrass banjo-style kick lately; I’ve been listening to a lot of that because I’m writing a song right now like that,” he says. “It’s like banjo, but on guitar. If people listen to certain guitar players of that (Hee Haw) era, it will terrify anybody. These guys were beyond (great musicians). It’s wonderful, and the music’s great too. I am just a lover of all genres of music. I just love music in general.”

John 5’s latest contribution to iconic country singer Dolly Parton’s recent rock-oriented album Rockstar further proves his musical flexibility. John 5 explains: “Here’s the story… So Nikki was (asked to) play on this Dolly Parton track, and then Nikki goes, ‘Hey John, why don’t you pick up a guitar and play on this?’ I know the Dolly people, and they were happy. So, me, Rob Halford, Dolly, and Nikki did the song (“Bygones”), and it was just incredible. We just had a blast, and I’m very proud to be a part of that Dolly history.”

Recently, John 5 released a new track and video, “The Ghost,” inspired by his new custom-built, all-white Fender Telecaster. Although John 5’s last instrumental solo album was 2021’s Sinner, he plans to release a few songs one at a time before compiling enough tracks to complete a full album. “The Ghost is what I call my new guitar; it’s completely all white,” John 5 beams. “The neck is white, everything is white, and I have red binding and red hardware. We put it on sale, and it sold out in a little over an hour. I have such a love for my new guitar that I said I’m going to write a song about my new guitar and everything it can do and what it sounds like and all that stuff. It’s just such a monster. I wanted to create a song just for the guitar. I’m always writing new music and I’m going to be probably putting out another song in a few months.”

PART OF THE FAMILY

With the announcement of guitarist Mick Mars’ retirement from touring with the band in late 2022, John 5 was asked to step into the empty guitarist slot. “Me and Nikki are very close, we talk umpteen times a day,” he explains. “We’re always on the phone and chitchatting about our life and about things we have to do during the day and just what friends do. I first got the call near the last show of the Freaks on Parade tour when I was with Rob Zombie. Mötley was still touring, so I got a call saying, ‘Hey, Mick’s gonna retire. Is this something you’d be interested in?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I would love to.’ I was working on *The Dirt* (movie, 2019) with them. I worked on that song “The Dirt” and the other songs that were on that (movie soundtrack) album they released. I’ve worked with Nikki on a bunch of other collaborations in the past, and I’ve worked with Tommy in the past, too. So, I’ve always been kind of in the family.”

Mick Mars is one of the most underrated guitarists with such a distinctive guitar tone. Stepping into the Crüe, John 5 was more than willing to change his gear and guitar tone to adjust to the Crüe’s already established sound. “Mick’s tone is incredible, and his playing is incredible,” John 5 admits. “I had to change (guitar amp) heads; I adjusted my sound. I still use a Telecaster, but Mick also used a Telecaster during *Girls, Girls, Girls*. He used the Telecaster quite a bit. I have such a respect for and a love for Mars, and he knows that.”

A new album by the Crüe with John 5 is inevitable, and they have already begun the writing and recording process. “We have recorded some songs with Bob Rock,” he says. “Just the other day, Nikki called me and he was playing guitar over the phone and he’ll play a riff, and he’ll sing this melody, and it sounded like it could be something off of *Too Fast For Love*. It’s just natural for him to write these songs that I have loved and lots of other people have loved. I think we’re always going to make new music because man, this guy is pumping out amazing lyrics and great music. When we all get together, it’s pretty magical.”

KISS’S LAST SHOW

It’s a well known fact that John 5 is a huge KISS fan and an avid memorabilia collector of the band. He made the trip to New York to attend KISS’s last show ever on their End of the Road farewell tour at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 2, 2023. There’s a backstage photo of bassist Gene Simmons getting ready to eat a hot dog that has circulated across the Internet. Funnily enough, it is John 5, who Simmons is conversing with in the photo, and he proudly states that it’s the last ever picture of Gene Simmons in makeup. “I went to go talk to Gene, and he was already talking to a bunch of people, and he was getting ready to go, and he saw me, and we talked a little bit, and we took that picture that you saw,” John 5 explains. “But what is so interesting about that is that’s the last picture of Gene in makeup because I watched him go in his dressing room right after that, and he started to take off all his makeup. I have the last picture with Gene from the last show of him in makeup.”

With a new Crüe album in the works and a new solo album to follow, John 5 continuously practices, writes, and immerses himself in music. In fact, he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon. “It’s so hard to describe because I love playing guitar so much,” he says. “It’s just like if you need to eat or you need to sleep, that’s how I am with guitar. It’s just something that I do every single day, all day. I love making people happy with music, and that makes me so happy. I can never see myself retiring because I don’t see it as a job. I’ll always play, and I’ll always tour.”

Appearing at Arcada Theater on February 1.

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