Music & Nightlife

From monsters to ‘Hee-Haw,’ Rob Zombie guitarist does way more than shred

Standing before the set of a reimagined “Hee Haw” – more fit for Halloween then hoedowns – with a zig-zag slash of black makeup across his kabuki white face, it’s apparent that John 5 is not your typical guitarist.

As Rob Zombie’s second in command for the last 12 years, 45-year-old John Lowery (crowned John 5 by former band mate Marilyn Manson) writes writhing riffs and gritty guitar leads, but as a band leader himself he’s all over the musical map. That’s where “Hee Haw” comes in.

“I used to love watching that with my family,” says Lowery, who stops at Neighborhood Theatre with his instrumental trio The Creatures on Thursday. “I saw this little boy who was a banjo champion, and I was blown away because he was my age or a little older. That TV show influenced me a lot.”

The cornpone humor and finger-picking made a big impression.

“You pick up a lot of things as a kid,” he adds. “That’s why I play Telecaster. That’s why I like big jugs. That’s the reason I play guitar.”

When he and the Creatures wrote a song inspired by the early influence, it was a no-brainer to create the aforementioned music video for “Hell Haw” with a horror twist.

Lowery plays horror-themed industrial metal for Zombie, but his own repertoire – as “Hell Haw” proves – is much more eclectic. He can play everything from bluegrass to jazz to flamenco, but never strays far from his first loves – monsters and music – on his new album “Season of the Witch.”

“Ever since I was a little kid, it was monsters for me. When I saw Kiss and it was monsters with guitars, I thought this was the greatest thing that ever happened,” says Lowery, who hasn’t lost his childlike passion. “Everything stuck. Nothing went away. It’s still the same.”

He cites Van Halen, Kiss and Yngwie Malmsteem as other influences, but that inspiration wasn’t at his fingertips like it is for fledgling players now.

“It a lot easier, because you have YouTube and can look up anything you want whenever you want,” Lowery says.

One such inspirational epiphany influenced one of the tracks on “Season.”

“I came across this picker named Joe Maphis from the ’50s, a country guy who played on that old ‘Town Hall Party’ (radio and TV series),” he says. “It’s incredible. It sounds like what I would be doing. That’s why I do (the song) ‘Black Grass Plague.’ 

With such a vast wheelhouse, one might think he’d get tired riffing for Zombie, but that’s not the case.

“Creatively, it’s a completely different animal,” he says. “This crazy instrumental stuff and no vocals. Then, when I get with Zombie, I’m trying to write the best song for him as possible.”

It doesn’t hurt that Zombie’s band has become such a tight-knit unit.

“The lineup has remained the same now for a long time. And that’s important. It’s important for the fans, too,” says Lowery, whose old Manson cohort Ginger Fish rounds out The Creatures with bassist Piggy D.

There’s no fear his solo work will tear him away from his day job. In fact, Zombie has already rehearsed for its summer tour.

“In Zombie, it’s like a family,” he says. “I love being there more than anything.”

John 5 and The Creatures

When: 8 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.

Tickets: $15-$17.

Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.

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