He prowls the stage in garish horror film makeup while peeling off guitar licks that switch effortlessly from molten shred metal to lightning-fast country chicken pickin’. Clearly, John Lowery, better known as John 5, Rob Zombie’s chief guitar god and all-around solo star, is a man who enjoys colouring outside the lines.
“I just love diversity,” John explains. “I guess I get bored easily. Don’t just give me the same thing all the time – mix it up.” This holds true for John’s taste in guitar albums: “A great guitar album has to have diversity,” he says. “If I’m going to listen to a record from start to finish, I need somebody to take me on a journey. Bring me on an adventure. If you can do that, you’re more than a great guitar player – you’re a musician.”
John’s list of “essential guitar albums” features a varied lot of six-string virtuosos: Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Joe Maphis, Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. “All brilliant and all extremely unique,” he notes. “These are people who really inspired me and challenged the way I think about the guitar.” He pauses, then adds, “It’s what I try to do, in my own way. If I can excite somebody and shake them up the way these guys did for me, that’s all I can ask for. It’s how we pass along our love of guitar playing. It goes from one generation to the next.”
Over the course of his career, John has released eight solo albums, and on October 31 he will issue Greatest Hits Vol. 1, a 15-track collection that spans his first disc, 2004’s Vertigo, to last year’s Careful with That Axe. “There’s not a genuine hit on the whole album, but they’re John 5’s greatest hits,” he says with a laugh. “These are songs that my fans love, and they’re things that I really enjoy.”
The set even includes a DVD of John in concert, shot by a fan in Michigan. “This guy had two cameras and he filmed the whole show,” John explains. “Normally those things are what they are, but when I saw this footage I thought it was incredible. I got in touch with the guy and asked, ‘Is it OK for me to put it out?’ He was into it. It’s really great stuff. No edits, no fixes – it’s like you’re at the show.”
**Van Halen – Van Halen **(1978)
“Everybody picks this record, but there’s a reason for that: It’s one of the most important albums in the world of guitar. Very few things changed the landscape of guitar playing like the first Van Halen album. I remember my guitar teacher brought it over, and it absolutely shocked me. The sound, the spirit and, of course, Eddie’s complete mastery of the instrument – it blew my mind.
“Before this, I’d listened to Hendrix and KISS, and I was getting into some country guys. I was taking guitar lessons, but it was just something I kind of did. All of that changed when I heard the Van Halen album. From that moment on, I was completely inspired. I said, ‘I’m going to learn this whole record, and I’m going to dedicate my life to playing the guitar.’
“I played it all the time, and in time I did learn the songs. Whether or not I mastered it, who can say? No one can play quite like Eddie. No one. But I had a great time doing the songs in cover bands. I loved it completely. It’s not that often that somebody comes along and expands the language of the guitar in such a profound manner, and that’s what Eddie did here.”
Yngwie Malmsteen – *Rising Force* (1984)
“This is another one that made me think, ‘Yep, this is a game changer.’ Even more than the Van Halen record, this record put things on a new level – it took the guitar to a place it had never been before.
“I always loved seeing people do things well. Whether they’re juggling or skate boarding or riding DMX bikes – if they were exceptional at what they did, I appreciated it. When Yngwie came along, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is the best there is.’ I saw videos of him and couldn’t believe it. He was so fluid; his fingers moved along the fretboard like water.
“Of course I’d heard Ozzy with Randy Rhoads, who put a bit of classical licks in his playing, but this was my first real exposure to somebody incorporating classical music in rock in such a distinctive way. So many guitarists copy other players, but very few of them innovate. Yngwie did his own thing completely. Whether you liked him or not, you could never say he sounded like anybody else.”
**Racer X – Street Lethal **(1986)
“This record was another epiphany for me. I was totally into Yngwie, but when I heard Street Lethal, I said, ‘Oh, my God. This pushes it just a little bit further.’ I didn’t think it was possible to get beyond Yngwie, but here was a guitarist, Paul Gilbert, who was stepping on the gas and saying, ‘OK, let’s see where this can go.’
“You didn’t hear music like this on the radio, but I read about Racer X in the guitar mags. From the minute Paul Gilbert, I was sold. He was like Yngwie with the speed and precision, but he didn’t sound like him; he did his own thing. His style of string-skipping, tapping and playing arpeggios seemed more intense than what anybody else was doing. But he wasn’t just wild for the sake of being wild – there was a lot of thought and creativity that went into his playing.”
Joe Maphis – *Fire On The Strings* (1957)
“This album represented a big change for me, and it was extremely inspirational. Joe Maphis is an incredible picker whom I got to really love and appreciate. Fire on the Strings is such a stunning piece of work. You don’t even have to be a guitar player to get it – you just sit there, stunned at what he can do.
“My dad loved country music, and I loved anything fast and aggressive. This was fast and aggressive, but with no distortion. It blew my mind. The picking was effortless – Joe breezed around the neck and didn’t even have to look at it. The music just poured out of him. The guy had a whole different ball game going on. Plus, he could play fiddle, mandolin, banjo – anything with strings he just killed it.”
Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins – Me & Chet (1972)
“Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins did two albums together. One was Me & Jerry, but this is the follow-up, Me & Chet. They’re both incredible records, but this is probably my favourite. I heard ‘Jerry’s Breakdown’ and was just floored. I even did a cover of it on my last album.
“This is another record that I heard because of my dad. It totally caught my ear and became part of my life. I started to emulate Chet Atkins’ style of picking, and I tried to fingerpick like Jerry Reed. Their styles were quite similar, and because of that, when they play together it’s like you’re listening to two guys having a very interesting conversation. They were both real artists on the guitar.”