When it comes to collaborating with classic-rock royalty, John 5 has one of the biggest resumes in the business. The face-painted shredder is best known for his long-term stints in both Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson‘s bands, and for releasing a slew of solo albums over the past two decades.
But before he joined Manson’s band in 1998, 5 (born John Lowery) paid the rent as a session guitarist, working with the likes of Asia‘s John Wetton and Judas Priest‘s Rob Halford. His first big break came in 1998 when he got invited to play on David Lee Roth‘s DLR Band album after cold calling the singer’s management company and asking if he could submit demos.
Since then, 5 has lent his fiery guitar talents to dozens of albums by classic-rock elites, including Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Alice Cooper. As a staff writer for the Chrysalis Music publishing company, he’s also cowritten songs with myriad artists, from Steve Perry to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Sebastian Bach. And that’s to say nothing of his touring and ghost-playing stints with the likes of Lita Ford and Night Ranger.
Nowadays, 5 is still expanding his musical horizons and jamming with even more of his famous friends. In 2021, he debuted the hard-rock supergroup L.A. Rats featuring Zombie, Motley Crue‘s Nikki Sixx and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Tommy Clufetos. And on the same year’s solo LP, Sinner, he recruited Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine and original Kiss drummer Peter Criss.
John Wetton (Asia)
John 5 got his first professional session experience recording a 12-string acoustic guitar passage for Asia and King Crimson singer and bassist John Wetton. “I thought I was coming in there and playing some rock guitar or something like that,” 5 tells UCR. “It was this 12-string guitar piece and all that stuff, and I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ But I was so ready and so excited. It was my very first session, and I got a check, and I think I still have the check stub. It was from, like, 1990 or something like that.”
Robin Zander (Cheap Trick)
John 5’s second professional guitar session took place with Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander. “My resume just had one person on it, John Wetton. So now I thought I was Steve Lukather or something ’cause I had two,” 5 jokes. “I don’t think [my playing] ever made a record. I don’t know if he was doing a demo or anything, but I didn’t care. I went in there for half of the price of everybody else and half of the time. I just would knock it out so quick. They were like, ‘Great, thanks for coming, down, here’s your money.’ And it was like no money. I was like, ‘Kick-ass!'”
One of the early, minor entries on John 5’s resume is serving as a ghost player on a Night Ranger album. Even he is fuzzy on the details. “I don’t even remember that, but I remember it,” 5 tells UCR. “I think they needed to make the guitars thicker or something happened. And I was like, ‘Yeah, dude, of course!’ … I don’t even think I got paid ’cause I was so excited.”
David Lee Roth
After finishing David Lee Roth’s 1997 autobiography Crazy From the Heat, John 5 cold-called the singer’s management and was shocked when they invited him to submit demos for Roth’s next album. Impressed by the guitarist’s “best Van Halen impersonation,” management arranged a meeting between John 5 and Roth, which led to John 5 playing lead guitar and cowriting half the songs on 1998’s DLR Band album. “[Roth] said, ‘If you can’t get it in two takes, you can’t get it,'” 5 tells UCR. “We did another record not too long ago. I don’t know how many years now, but it was the same kind of thing. Just get a really good performance, a really live, good performance. He doesn’t want a lot of tape, and I think that’s cool because you’re put on the spot, you better do your best.” In 2020 and 2021, Roth issued a trio of new solo songs featuring 5: “Giddy-Up,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar and Grill” and “Lo-Rez Sunset.”
John 5 briefly served as Lita Ford’s touring guitarist in the mid-’90s. “I was recording something, and [Ford’s] drummer said, ‘Hey, Lita needs a guitar player, we’re gonna do some shows,'” 5 recalls. “This is when I was doing a lot of sessions. I was like, ‘Eh, you know, I love Lita so much, I’ll record anything for her, but I don’t like to travel that much.'” 5 quickly changed his tune, however, once he learned Ford was opening for Kiss. “I was like, ‘Okay!’ So I did the show, and Lita was so great. When I got to know her, I was like, Oh, my God, she rules as a musician, and she rules as a person.”
John 5 cowrote six of the 12 songs on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 2009 album God & Guns, two of the 11 songs on 2012’s Last of a Dyin’ Breed and played guitar on both. The collaboration went swimmingly once the members of Skynyrd got over the culture shock. “This was when I was playing with Manson, and I had no eyebrows and I had a big fur coat on, and I looked like a monster,” 5 recalls with a laugh. “I walked in, and they thought someone was pulling a joke on them.” The guitarist quickly won over the Southern rock legends by playing “Jerry’s Breakdown,” the country guitar showcase by Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins.
Fans wishing for a “Tornado of Souls”-style shred-off between Dave Mustaine and John 5 will have to wait another day, but the Megadeth bandleader lends his vocals to the hook of 5’s Sinner track “Que Pasa.” “The record company was like, ‘Okay, we can’t have this sample’ — because it was like a James Brown sample — ‘Who do you want to have?’ And I said, ‘Dave Mustaine!'” 5 says. It was a dream come true for the self-proclaimed “Megadeth crazy fan,” who was once gifted two bullets from Mustaine’s own belt.
A proud member of the Kiss Army and a friend of the band for decades, John 5 recorded his first collaboration with Peter Criss on Sinner‘s final track, a cover of “Georgia on My Mind.” “He loves Gene Krupa, and he loves that style of drumming,” 5 says of Criss. “He’s so great at it, too, but he doesn’t get a chance to really play that.” The minimalist microphone setup on the recording also allowed producer Barry Pointer to capture some of Criss’ conversation, which opens the track. “They set up mics just like the old jazz days … it was just like an overhead and a couple other things here,” 5 says. “And that’s why you hear, at the beginning of the song, Peter talking to my producer, Barry Pointer, and he just captured that. And what a great way to start the song.”
L.A. Rats (Rob Zombie, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Clufetos)
In 2021, John 5 teamed up with longtime collaborator Rob Zombie, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Tommy Clufetos to form L.A. Rats. The supergroup’s first single, a cover of Geoff Mack’s 1959 country standard “I’ve Been Everywhere,” came out in May 2021 and appeared in the Netflix movie The Ice Road starring Liam Neeson.
Never one to rest on his laurels, John 5 teamed up with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee to lay down guitar tracks on the drummer’s third solo album, 2020’s Andro. 5 plays on the clobbering nu-metal track “Knock Me Down,” which also features guest vocals from rapper Killvein. The guitarist gave fans a glimpse into the sessions in a June 2020 Instagram post, which shows Lee literally getting knocked on his ass while listening to the track. (Last summer, Lee and 5 also appeared with singer and rapper Tyla Yaweh on the “ESPN House” to perform Yaweh’s song “Tommy Lee.”)
Before they formed L.A. Rats, John 5 and Nikki Sixx cowrote three new original Motley Crue songs — “The Dirt (Est. 1981),” “Ride With the Devil” and “Crash and Burn” — featured on the soundtrack to Netflix’s 2019 adaptation of The Dirt. “Nikki, he’s my best friend, we love each other,” 5 told Outburn the same year. “He has inspired me and taught me so much about life in general. He’s a phenomenal songwriter, lyricist, author, everything.”
The former Journey singer recruited a huge roster of musicians for 2018’s Traces, his first album in 24 years. One of Perry’s less predictable collaborators was John 5, who cowrote and played guitar on “Sun Shines Gray.” “We have a great time,” 5 told WMGK of his relationship with Perry in 2019. “He is the coolest dude and is such a great person. Like if he wasn’t Steve Perry and he’s just like this regular dude, we’d [still] be great friends, because he’s that cool.”
Ace Frehley first met John 5 when Kiss were rehearsing for their 1996 reunion tour. Two decades later, Frehley invited the fellow six-stringer to play on his two covers albums, 2016’s Origins Vol. 1 and 2020’s Vol. 2. 5 lends his talents to fiery renditions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic,” the Beatles‘ “I’m Down,” Cream’s “Politician” and Frehley’s own Kiss composition “Parasite.”
John 5 has played guitar on two Sebastian Bach solo albums, 2011’s Kicking & Screaming and 2014’s Give ‘Em Hell, contributing a dizzying solo to Kicking‘s “Tunnelvision” and slinky, grimy riffs to Hell‘s “Temptation.” But the duo technically started collaborating more than 20 years earlier, when 5 made a cameo in Skid Row‘s “Piece of Me” video, filmed at the Canyon Club in Los Angeles. “There is a guy who comes on the stage, and I toss him into the crowd while he does a stage dive,” Bach told Consequence in 2019. “That’s John 5, who at the age of 18, stood in line — because he saw in the paper there was a Skid Row video — so he came down to be in the audience.”
John 5 took a turn for the mellow when he cowrote “It’s Over,” the mournful ballad off Rod Stewart’s 2013 album Time, with Stewart’s longtime keyboardist and cowriter Kevin Savigar. 5 explained to Metal Insider in 2013 that Savigar had coproduced his first two solo albums, 2004’s Vertigo and 2005’s Songs for Sanity. He later invited the guitarist to write some songs together, and those writing sessions resulted in “It’s Over.”
John 5 appeared on 2012’s Back From the Dead, the only studio album by Adler, the eponymous group formed by ex-Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler. The guitarist lays down a blazing solo on the swaggering arena-rock cut “Good to Be Bad.” “He came down, and practically the first take that he did we kept,” Adler guitarist Lonny Paul told Metal Forces. “We couldn’t be happier with what he did.”
Alice Cooper has worked with a murderer’s row of guitar virtuosos over the years, and he added John 5 to his roster on 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, the sequel to his 1975 opus. 5 plays on “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever,” punctuating the campy disco number with beefy riffs and a furious guitar solo.
Of all the acts on this list that could reasonably be considered “classic rock,” Filter is the most modern and arguably the most within John 5’s wheelhouse. The heavy alt-rock mainstays enlisted 5 to play guitar on their 2008 comeback album, Anthems for the Damned. The guitarist also cowrote the songs “What’s Next” and “The Take.”
John 5 teamed up with Scorpions on their 2007 album Humanity Hour 1, laying down guitar on the opening track, “Hour 1.” “[Producer and songwriter] Desmond Child hooked me up with Scorpions,” the guitarist told Sweetwater in 2019. “I love doing the sessions, ’cause you’re kind of like in a different band every day.”
John 5 struck a friendship with the members of Kiss in the ’90s when he opened for them as Lita Ford’s touring guitarist. He’s collaborated with various members over the years, including Paul Stanley on the rocker’s 2006 solo album Live to Win. 5 plays lead guitar on “Bulletproof” and “Where Angels Dare,” the latter of which he also cowrote.
There are very few scenarios in which John 5 plays guitar on an album and isn’t immediately the best shredder by a long shot. But on Meat Loaf‘s Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, he might have faced his stiffest competition. 5 cowrote the furious, seven-minute album opener “The Monster Is Loose” with Nikki Sixx and Desmond Child. Other guitar wizards on the album include Steve Vai and Brian May, along with session pros Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney) and John Shanks (Bon Jovi).
Rick Springfield revisited some of his favorite songs from over the years on his 2005 covers album The Day After Yesterday. The “Jessie’s Girl” star handled almost all guitar duties himself, but he invited John 5 to play on covers of Mr. Mister‘s “Broken Wings” and John Lennon‘s “Imagine.”
Rob Halford (2wo)
John 5 foreshadowed his role in Marilyn Manson’s band when he partnered with then-ex-Judas Priest singer Rob Halford to form the industrial metal outfit 2wo. The group signed to Trent Reznor‘s Nothing Records, and the Nine Inch Nails leader produced their sole album, 1998’s Voyeurs, adding to their alt-metal bona fides. The record scraped the bottom of the Billboard 200, and Halford dissolved 2wo shortly afterward.
Randy Castillo (Red Square Black)
Ozzy Osbourne and short-term Motley Crue drummer Randy Castillo played in lower-profile projects in the mid-’90s, including metal-industrial-pop hybrid Red Square Black, which also featured John 5. The band released one EP, 1994’s Square, and did a short tour before calling it quits.
After moving to Los Angeles, John 5 began playing in a band called Alligator Soup. One of their gigs at the legendary Sunset Strip club Gazzarri’s was virtually empty except for one important guest: Whitesnake bassist Rudy Sarzo, who was so impressed by John 5’s impromptu guitar solo that he invited John 5 to join his band, Sun King, giving the young shredder his first taste of the big leagues.
Top 100 Classic Rock Artists
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