The Unexpected Way David Lee Roth’s Guitarist Got the Job
John 5 may have been at the right place at the right time when he originally secured a place as David Lee Roth's guitarist over two decades ago.
But while most musicians audition for positions or perhaps earn a recommendation from another bandmate, John impressed Roth in an entirely different way. He had just finished reading Roth's 1997 autobiography, Crazy From the Heat, when he found the phone number for Roth's management in the back.
"I thought to myself, 'Hmm, I think I'm going to reach out and call this number and see what's going on,'" John said in a recent interview with The Sessions. Knowing that Roth wasn't involved in any large-scale projects at the time, he decided to try his luck.
"I said, 'Are you guys accepting any [music] right now or anything like that?'" he continued. "And they said, 'Well, not really. But you can send a CD, and we'll see what we've got.' And I was, like, 'Oh my God!' Just that little bit, I was shocked. I was, like, 'This is insane.'"
He immediately headed to the studio to put together a handful of tracks with no vocals, just his "best Van Halen impersonation," according to John.
"I sent it to them, and they said, 'We like it. Can you send three more?' I was, like, 'God. This is the most crazy thing ever,'" he remembered. "So, I did three more, and they said, 'We like these too. Can you do three more?' And I said, 'I'm sorry, but I don't have any more money.' Back then, studios cost a lot of money. Now we can just be in our house and do it. And they said, 'Okay, well, Dave wants to meet you. Go to his house.'"
John did as he was told, arriving at the same house where Van Halen had filmed the 1982 video for "(Oh) Pretty Woman."
"And there's Dave in his overalls," he said. "And he's, like, 'John, great to see ya. We're gonna make a record. I really like what you're doing.' And I was, like, 'Oh my God.' I couldn't believe it."
That same year, John would make his debut with Roth, playing lead guitar and co-writing half the songs on 1998's DLR Band. Their partnership was not a one-off encounter. In addition to his work with acts like Marilyn Manson, Meat Loaf, Paul Stanley, Rob Zombie and many others, John has continued to work alongside Roth.
Last November, Roth released an interactive online comic that included five songs featuring John 5. They are reportedly part of a full LP the duo recorded together several years ago, but Roth isn't quite ready for its release.
“This is material that we wrote variously for me solo and for Van Halen, and it’s quite a bank of stuff," Roth told Detroit radio station WRIF in 2019, nothing that he was giving priority to “getting out on the road first. Let’s see the band, let’s show ourselves off, let’s travel all over the world.” John 5 was not part of Roth's solo band during the singer's 2020 Las Vegas residency or his COVID-shortened stint as Kiss' opening act.
"I think it will come out when Dave is ready to release it," John said of the album to Master of Shred. "I think you'll love it. It's a wonderful record. I'm so proud of the album."