Early in the morning is the last time you’d expect any musician to up and running, especially while on tour. However, John 5 is no normal beast. On a travel day between his first few shows in the Pacific Northwest, the guitarist extraordinaire is full of energy. Yes, he’s excited about hitting the road behind his new — and seventh overall — album, Season of the Witch, but an earlier moment in his career prepared him for the discipline of being at the top of his game when his contemporaries are busy catching some shut eye.
“When I first recorded with Dave (David Lee Roth), we did it at 6 o’clock in the morning,” the singer recalls. “And we only got two takes per song because he said if you can’t do it in two takes, you can’t do it. We did did it that early because I had rehearsal with Halford (Rob Halford) at noon and he wanted me fresh.”
Though he’s been releasing albums steadily for over a decade, John 5 has rarely toured. Factoring his other jobs, in particular recording and playing arenas as Rob Zombie’s man axeman, have taken precedent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that his solo material sits dormant.
Season of the Witch sees John 5’s flair for experimentation even further than usual. Mixing in elements of western swing, Spanish flamenco and of course, texturized heavy metal, the album has the usual grit and flair that’s allowed the guitarist to continue add to his aura. Though not a linear album in name, he’s released a video for six songs, creating a distinct visual element that he says is coincides perfectly with what he does since there’s no vocals.
Now that he’s leading his own band, the Creatures, 5 leans on the lessons instilled by veteran influences like Roth and Zombie.
“Rob (Zombie) doesn’t treat it like this is his thing,” the guitarist says. “We know that he’s the boss and that he makes the decisions. But he doesn’t treat us like that. He treats us with such respect and kindness that it just feels like you’re in this band with your buddies.”
Though the rooms for his solo tour are smaller than he’s used to playing with others, John 5 has noticed a hunger and angled by his audience for the intricate musicianship that music provides, which even surprised him.
“The last show (in Portland) was completely packed,” he says incredulously. “It’s not strange for a regular band with a singer and all of that stuff. But this is a hard sell because it’s instrumental music. That’s why there’s not a lot of instrumentalists. We’ve been so lucky that people really, really dig this. I’m so thankful for that and for the fans for that.”
John 5 has gradually been building a devoted group of loyalists since his first solo album. Playing in front of his own fans is a recent phenomenon. Prior to this current run, John 5 and his bandmates only performed live as ensemble for one full-scale tour. It wasn’t due to a lack of time or desire. Instead, 5 didn’t think that anyone would want to check out an all-instrumental performance.
“I wasn’t going to until someone told that I had to get out there and people will come,” he explains. “So I booked some shows to see what happened, and boom. People come out and they dig it and I think there’s a real excitement around this record.”
Looking back on the 20 years since he shot to prominence with the DLR Band, John 5 is thrilled with the manner his career has enabled him to perform in bands and on his own. He recently caught up before this tour with the Van Halen singer and his long time pal. “I owe him so much,” he says. “He was my hero growing up and now to call him a close friend is pretty amazing.”
As time continues to go by, 5 has managed to maintain his rigorous calendar, even as the time between gigs starts to bleed together.
“It’s like when you’re a kid, and it’s summer, and that summer felt like a year,” he says as he describes his career. “But when you’re an adult, that year feels like an hour. It’s almost too poetic.”
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.