Last year saw a sizable – and rather high-profile – shake-up in Mötley Crüe’s electric guitar department: after Mick Mars retired from touring, citing health reasons, his boots were filled by John 5.
Though what seemed like a straightforward switch soon turned into a drawn-out and bitter legal battle between Mars and Mötley Crüe, John 5 himself has been focused on one thing: nailing his new gig.
Before his recruitment, the former Rob Zombie guitarist was well-placed for the role. A close friend of bassist Nikki Sixx and a fan of Mötley Crüe’s work, John 5 had been including Crüe covers in his solo setlist for some time prior to Mars’ official departure from the band.
Plus, following his appointment, the guitarist began posting solo performances of Crüe tracks on social media as he warmed up for the band’s first rehearsals ahead of their ongoing world tour.
The feedback at the time was glowing: Chad Kroeger said he heard John 5 play “every single Mötley Crüe riff” flawlessly, and Sixx reported the first rehearsals were “fucking epic”.
But John 5 had to start somewhere, and as he explains in the new issue of Guitar World, he spent “every day for months” going through Mötley Crüe’s back catalog in order to learn every solo and every refrain note for note.
“I wanted to play those solos exactly as they were written,” he explains. “Those solos are so important to me as a fan, and they’re so important to the audience. The squeals in Looks That Kill or the harmonics in Dr. Feelgood – these are very important to me and the world.”
Indeed, John 5 strictly stuck to what had already been recorded, giving himself no leeway for improvisation over particular parts of classic Crüe tracks. Explaining his approach, the Fender signature artist likened learning Mötley Crüe to approaching the work of Mozart.
“It’s like you’re looking at some sheet music; you’re looking at Mozart, and you’re like, ‘Well, I’m gonna improvise over this part,’” he says. “No. That’s how those songs were written, how they were recorded, and how they should be performed. I wanted to give those songs respect.”
But despite his desire to stay true to the solos as heard on the records, the band ended up giving John 5 their blessing to go completely “berserk” on his own ideas.
He continues, “I checked with the guys and said, ‘I’m going to play them as they are on the records.’ They said, ‘Okay, well, you can have a solo.’ And that’s when I go completely berserk. It’s kind of a perfect situation.”
Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of the amazing debut @MotleyCrue album #TooFastForLove (https://t.co/zvNK2IsZiH)Happy Birthday! 🎂🥳🎸#MotleyCrue @MrTommyLand @NikkiSixx @thevinceneil @mrmickmars pic.twitter.com/CdcNBSQNmMNovember 11, 2022
Solos aside, John 5 already had a solid grasp on Mötley Crüe’s catalog going into the gig. In fact, the only thing he had to learn was “the arrangement of the medley that’s in the middle of the band’s live setlist.”
“Honestly, I really did know all the Crüe songs,” John 5 admits. “I’ve known all the songs for as long as I can remember.”
As mentioned above, John 5’s promotion to the ranks of Mötley Crüe came while the band was locked in legal disputes with outgoing guitarist Mars, who sued the band for conspiring to fire him and accused Sixx of miming on stage.
Sixx – who denied the accusations – also sat down in the latest issue of Guitar World to discuss the personnel shake-up, saying Mars’ exit caught the rest of the band all by surprise.
“We didn’t choose this,” he reflected, “but since we had to be put in this position, we’re very happy with where we’re at right now.”
Head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the new issue of Guitar World, which features the full interview with John 5 and Nikki Sixx.