"You know, this is one of the best interviews I've done in a while," says John 5, talking to Revolver about the 10 records that made him into the musician he is today. "Because it takes me down memory lane. I can actually see myself listening to these albums for the first time."
For John, a trip through his record collection is also a trip through his own childhood and musical development. Which is why he takes the assignment seriously (in fact, he insists on adding on two extra albums, in order to cover the non-hard-rock and -metal side of his influences). "I wanted to get this exactly right. So I decided I wanted to start early on, with the first record that influenced me," he says. "Because these are things that change our lives. And that's pretty crazy if you think about it."
For John, the albums he loved growing up not only inspired him to become the insanely accomplished guitarist he is, but also influenced the way he approaches everything about his own music. Take, for example, his new and first-ever live album, It's Alive! "Back in the day, live albums were huge," he says excitedly. "[Kiss'] Alive II. [Ted Nugent's] Double Live Gonzo. And then the artists would go on tour and celebrate the live albums. So that's what I'm doing. And I also made a tour book, I'm selling vinyl, I'm doing all that stuff. Because that's what all my favorite bands did."
What it all comes down to, and what John 5 makes clear in the following interview, is that regardless of all the success he's had as a solo artist or playing alongside everyone from Rob Zombie to Marilyn Manson to Rob Halford to David Lee Roth, he's still as much of a fan as he ever was. "All these records that I'm talking about here, I listen to them still today," he says. "I'm still obsessed with Kiss. I'm still obsessed with Van Halen. I guess we don't change that much from being kids." He laughs. "Either we don't change that much or we just have really good taste."
This is the first record that really, really inspired me. I was probably around six years old. I loved TV, and I watched anything with music — Hee Haw, Happy Days, anything like that. So I loved the Monkees. I remember playing this record a lot. Especially the opening — "Hey hey, we're the Monkees!" I was so into it. And then there was "Last Train to Clarksville," all these great songs. And there was some pretty rippin' guitar in it. Because they had all these session guys on there. And great songs. Because they were all written by professional songwriters. As far as the band, I loved Mike Nesmith, because he played guitar. But I really liked Micky [Dolenz], too. I was really into Micky for some reason! [Rob] Zombie used him for his movie [2007's Halloween] and I remember meeting Micky and I was like, "Dude!" I was so star struck. I couldn't believe it. Meeting him was great. But those Monkees records, that was really something that had such a huge influence on me. I would bounce around as a kid listening to that stuff. It was great.
This was the next one that really changed my life. Because I saw Hendrix, there was like little video clips of him on TV and I was like, "Oh my god!" He was doing all these crazy things with the guitar — lighting it on fire and all this stuff — and I was so shocked by it. Because I was into guitar by then. So I really worshipped this record. I was probably seven years old, and I remember just running around with my guitar and trying to do all the same things. And I just played the hell out of that record. I know every single note of it. I thought it was so cool, and I thought he was so cool. He looked so cool and he acted so cool. That record left a real strong impression on me. It really was an inspiring thing. And inspiration is a hard thing to come by. It's what I still look for today.
I remember this vividly: It was 1977, and I was in Sears with my mom. And I saw this display, and it was for Love Gun. I bought the record just because of the look of that display. Because I really loved monsters. Just like any young kid. Especially at that time. And Kiss looked like monsters! I remember coming home and putting the album on my turntable…and I lost my mind. It literally blew my mind! "I Stole Your Love." "Christine Sixteen." "Shock Me." "Love Gun." "Plaster Caster." I loved every song on there, even the cover song, "Then She Kissed Me," which was originally "Then He Kissed Me." All those songs I loved and worshipped. And then I went back and got every Kiss record. And I became a massive, massive Kiss fan.
By this time I was taking guitar lessons. I had a guitar teacher, and I remember I wanted to learn everything I could by Kiss. And one day my guitar teacher, he brought over Van Halen. And he said, "Listen to this record that just came out." And I knew of the album, because it had Gene Simmons' name on the back, because he was the one that funded their first demos. But I had never heard Van Halen before. And when my guitar teacher played it for me, I just couldn't believe it. Just the sound — the sound of it was unbelievable. It was something we'd never heard. People are still chasing that sound. I had probably been playing guitar for, like, a year at that point, and it was a game changer. I knew the Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Kiss, and now Van Halen. I was so into it. I still am today.
The next big one for me was probably Blizzard of Ozz. I was 10 years old, and now I had been playing guitar for a few years. I remember learning "Crazy Train," though I think the first song I learned was "I Don't Know — 'cause it was a lot easier to play! And then I went to, I believe, "Suicide Solution," and then "Crazy Train." And I just wore that record out. It was my everything back then. Even the cover. It changed my life. It was a very important record to me.
The first time I heard Yngwie… I can literally see this in my mind: I was listening to this radio station, it was like this half-hour metal show, and [the band] Alcatrazz came on. When I heard the guitar playing I was like, "Whoa. I've never heard this before." This was maybe 1983. I didn't even know who it was. But then I read about Yngwie in Guitar Player. And I bought Rising Force. And again, it changed my life. It was just a whole new style of playing. "Black Star," "Far Beyond the Sun," "Evil Eye," "As Above, So Below," "Little Savage" — it changed the whole way I looked at the guitar. What I loved about Yngwie's playing was that it was effortless. It was graceful, if you will. If you ever watch water pouring, it was like that. Just so fluid. There was no struggle, there was no anything. It was just perfect. And that's hard to find, even today. I try to be that clean and effortless in my own playing, and that's because of Yngwie.
I was so into the "fast." Everything had to be fast. I remember looking in Guitar World and Guitar Player to find all these new guys, and they were all talking about Paul Gilbert. And so I checked it out. And of course he was a fast player and all that stuff, but he was also so different. I think he's one of the most inventive guitar players, just like Eddie was. He was such an innovator as far as how he played, with the string skipping and all that stuff. Paul was and still is a huge influence on me. I would see Racer X back in the day and I loved it. And then I found out [drummer] Scott Travis joined Judas Priest and I was like, "Really? The guy from Racer X?" And Juan Alderete, the bass player, joined the Mars Volta. And now he's in Marilyn Manson. That's unbelievable.
When I heard Eat 'Em and Smile, dude? Oh my god. I remember that my sister actually told me about it first. She said she heard the new David Lee Roth, with Steve Vai in the band. And I knew who Steve Vai was from Guitar Player and all that stuff. And this is so funny — I remember that I said, "How was the guitar solo?" And she goes, "I didn't really hear one." And I was like, "What do you mean you didn't really hear one?" And you know why? Because it was "Yankee Rose"! But those songs — "Shyboy," all that stuff — I mean, I played that record so many zillions of times. Even the album cover was so fucking great. Dude, what a great cover!
I had heard Kill 'Em All and I had heard Ride the Lightning. But — and people are gonna slay me for this — they didn't change my life. But when I heard Master of Puppets? That was it. I was in. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The production, the playing, everything. Then when I heard "Battery" and "Damage, Inc." I was totally obsessed. Because I loved fast. And I loved anything done really, really well. I knew there was something really special and out of the ordinary about these guys.
I went to go see Metallica twice when they were opening up for Ozzy on the Ultimate Sin tour — once at Joe Louis Arena and then at Pine Knob. And I remember I bought a pass off somebody. And I just walked backstage! I don't tell many people this, and I don't know why because it's a pretty cool story, but I remember being backstage and talking to Cliff [Burton]. And I remember he was drying his hair with a blow dryer. He was brushing his hair and drying it after the show. And he was wearing bellbottoms. And I hadn't really see that before. And I was like, "Man, I really love your band and I think you guys are the greatest." I was just talking to him! It was really weird. It was something else for me. That's for sure.
The guitar playing was incredible. But then the production, it's unbelievable. And this was in the days when people were really concentrating on amazing production. And this record, it was really something else. It was everything. From the beginning to the end, it was just such a great record. Every song. "Erotic Nightmares." "The Audience Is Listening." "Greasy Kid's Stuff." All those songs were just like, goddamn… Just great, great, great songwriting.
This is a strange one, but I really love Steely Dan. Because I love production and I love musicianship. I would hear Steely Dan on the radio all the time, and I listened to Aja a lot. I mean, "Black Cow" and "Aja" and "Deacon Blues" and "Josie" and "Peg" … all these songs are on one record. It's crazy! I really learned a lot about different modes and scales and things like that from the album. And there's all these different musicians — there's gotta be close to 20 musicians on the album. Bernard Purdie and Steve Gadd, Michael McDonald and Timothy B. Schmit. And Larry Carlton is all over the record, that's for sure. Sometimes there are two drummers on one song because they liked how one person played the verse and another played the chorus, or something like that. I listened to this album my whole life but I didn't really get into it until around the time I was into the heavy, heavy stuff. And even today, I always say, "I'm looking for Steely Dan perfection." Because there's perfect, and then there's Steely Dan perfect.
Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed did so many records together. There was Me and Jerry, and then there was Me and Chet. And there was another one, I think it was Chet Atkins Picks on Jerry Reed. My dad had all these records, and this is what I would learn guitar from. I would play them all the time. It's just ridiculous stuff. I do a lot of these songs today, like "Jerry's Breakdown" and "Jiffy Jam" and "The Claw." I still play them every night in my set. Because it was a part of my childhood growing up. It's what I played all the time, on top of the Van Halen and the Kiss and the Yngwie and all that stuff, I would play Chet Atkins. That's what I would listen to. I still do.