Ever since hearing The Scream’s album “Let it Scream” in 1991, I have been a huge fan of John Corabi. Since then, John has been somewhat of an unsung hero of hard rock. He was a member of Union with former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick, he was a guitarist for eight years in Ratt, and as most know was the replacement (and upgrade) to Vince Neil in Motley Crue. After all of that, John seemed to lay low for a little while only to resurface in 2012 with his first solo album simply titled “Unplugged.”
I had the opportunity to speak with John on the phone from his home in Nashville. John was a really great guy and we talked about his time in Motley Crue, patching things up with his former Scream band mates, and his love and appreciation for music in general. John has a fascinating history and as you’ll see by this interview has plenty to say. This was a really fantastic conversation and I hope you all will enjoy getting to know more about John Corabi.
Hi, is this John Corabi? This is Don from The Great Southern Brainfart.
Yes it is. How are you doing Don?
Man, I wish I could go back in time to 1991 and tell myself I would getting to talk on the phone with you.
[laughs] Well thank you very much Don. I appreciate that people still want to talk to me [laughs].
Happy New Year John. I’m glad the Mayans got it all wrong so that we could do this interview.
[laughs] Man, I’m kind of at the point now that even if the Mayans would’ve had it right I would be ok with it [laughs]. Life is good man.
So you’re living in Nashville these days right?
Yeah. I’ve been living in Nashville for about six years now and honestly it’s a great town. It’s got that southern charm to it and there’s nothing about LA that I miss [laughs]. I’ve got everything that I want right here and it’s pretty awesome.
So has living in Nashville been somewhat of a culture shock to you?
Well actually, I wasn’t born and raised in LA. I was born and raised in Philadelphia and then moved to LA. My first day here in Nashville, all my neighbors go together and left a box on my door step with a bunch of cookies and pies and phone numbers and addresses. I was in LA for like 21 years and never had anything like that happen.
Yeah, if someone would’ve left stuff like that on your door step in LA it would’ve got stolen by some starving musician.
I’ve been a fan of yours ever since The Scream album Let it Scream came out in 1991. When that album came out, did you know it was going to make as much of an impact on people as it ended up making?
A lot of people I talk to want to sit down and ask me, “Did you sit down and write music with that sound in mind?” We didn’t even think about what the songs were going to sound like. We just loved the riffs, we loved performing them, and we were just excited about what was coming up around the next corner every day. We were just a kind of blues driven band that had a guitar player who was as good as any other guitarist out there. I can’t really explain it. It was just reckless abandonment and we just did what we wanted to do. When we were doing The Scream album, we were just so fucking excited, young, and green behind the ears. Then you throw Eddie Kramer into the mix who was a huge producer who worked with all the bands we grew up listening to. We were just happier than pigs in shit to be there [laughs].
Thanks Don. I mean, if you really think about it and you know this as well as I do, you can sit and look at any piece of art and find more things to do to it. At some point you just have to sit back and say, “Enough!” I still write that way.
Your fans have been waiting a long time for your debut solo album. Did you feel like it was a risky move making your first solo album an acoustic album?
I know it’s a bit of a risk after all these years of me talking about doing a solo record and the first one out is an acoustic record. I just wanted to do something different. I don’t like doing what people would expect of me. I just really wanted to expand my horizons and think outside of the box. I want to show people that I’m not just that guy who can get out there and scream “Hooligan’s Holiday” and “Smoke the Sky.” I’m a songwriter and I’m more than just a screamer. My fans have been very supportive of me for 25 years but maybe I’ll pick up some new fans that necessarily wouldn’t be apt to buy a Motley Crue record, a Union record, or even a Scream record.
I think that this album is really fantastic. You really opened yourself up like a book on this one. Has it been a liberating experience doing an acoustic solo album and the acoustic shows?
It has but in all honesty I didn’t put that much thought into making this record. Every song I have ever written whether it was “Father Mother Son” from The Scream record or “Uncle Jack” from the Motley album has always started on an acoustic guitar. I play acoustic guitar all the time. My electric guitars don’t come out until I’m ready to play a show but my acoustics are out all the time. I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Marriot of Humble Pie and even had him singing on The Scream record with us. I’ll never forget him telling me once, “If you can sit down in front of a crowd, no matter how big or small, and entertain them by playing your songs with only no loud drums, other guitars, or any of that shit, then you have a good song.” That always stuck with me.
It’s really cool to hear you doing some of these Scream, Crue, and even Union songs in this stripped down environment. It almost gives them all a new life of sorts.
Right. When I started doing the acoustic shows, people would be yelling for “Hooligans Holiday” and “Smoke the Sky” and I had no idea of how to pull them off. I got together with my bassist Topher and we worked out an arrangement for “Hooligan’s Holiday” and it just morphed into what you hear on the record. It took a bit. It took some time to figure it out and it works. I love this new version of it.
Back in 1994, it was huge news when you were picked to replace Vince Neil in Motley Crue. Looking back on it, did you have a feeling you were walking into something that could potentially backfire on you?
Well, I don’t know how you can’t not feel like it could blow up in your face [laughs].
I knew a few of their songs like the ones that I’d heard on MTV or the radio. Honestly, I can’t say that I was fan. I went in there not knowing if it was going to work or not. I will say that by the end of the first week that I was with them we pretty much had “Hammered” and “Misunderstood” written. The writing sessions and the demo sessions for that record were pretty unreal.
You were in Motley Crue for five years. When the split between you and the band came up, was it a surprise to you or did you really see it coming?
Well, here’s the deal. Vince Neil said in his book that it was my idea to leave Motley Crue. Just to set the record straight, Vince is only partially right about that. I just told the guys that I was so tired hearing about “Vince would do it this way…” I just told them, “I’m so fucking sick and tired of hearing about what Vince would do from you and your management.” I was just sick of the guys comparing me to the guy that you told me for the last five years to not be. If you get hire for a job and your boss keeps talking about what great job the other guy did or compares you to the other guy, at some point, you just say, “Fuck you. Go back to that person then.” I told them that if they wanted Vince and Vince was the fucking answer, maybe they should call him back and work shit out. If not, we should all just shut the fuck up and try and make this work.
It’s too bad that they chose the later of your options.
Man, I’ll tell you what. I don’t give a shit about the money. I couldn’t give a fuck less. I’ll always figure out how to make a fucking living [laughs]. Their money didn’t mean anything to me when I joined the band and it didn’t mean anything to me when I left the band. To me, everything was about what you say. I don’t care if the deal is for $0.10 or for $10,000,000, a deal is still a deal. I hung out with those guys every day for five years and I haven’t seen them more than five times in the last 15 years. That bothered me more than anything. I thought those guys were my friends and that’s what I miss more than anything. I was more bummed out over the loss of our brotherhood than anything. Those guys are just the kind of people that will embrace you when you’re in their circle. They’ve had some many buzzards and vultures picking at their bones for the last 25 years that when they look down and they see me calling them, I bet they immediately think, “What does he want?”
That’s really sad dude. Then it makes you feel like they never really knew you.
Yeah. A good example is this. My son’s band just recently got a record deal and the drums that he played on his album and in his bands video was the drum set that Tommy gave him when my kid was like 12 years old. He’s become friends with a bunch of guys like Brian Tichy, Eric Singer, Morgan Rose and Tommy Lee through me so when he did his video, he was so proud of it and he wrote to all those guys and sent them the video. He wrote more of a person message to Tommy showing him that it was his old kit and thanked him for inspiring him. Every one of those guys responded to him but Tommy. At that point I just said, “I’m done.” I’m not reaching out to those guys anymore. It takes me a little longer to figure things out than most but I figured that there really is no friendship there.
I’m not really sure if that was a stipulation or not. I don’t’ know if they had to pull the record or if the record company just discontinued shipping it. It has made it a kind of cool, underground cult record thought [laughs]. Becoming an underground cult record unfortunately means that the fans have to pay way more for it than they should. I told the record company that if anything they should put it up on iTunes. That would allow them to recoup some of their money and allow me to make some songwriting royalties. It’s a win win for everybody. The fans can download it for $10.00 or so instead of paying 10, 50, or $100.00 for it.
Did this piss off your former band mates?
It was weird man. When I told the band about what was going on, they all told me that I should go do it. We weren’t making any money at that point and my son was 3 or 4 at the time and was diagnosed with diabetes so they were like, “Dude, you gotta do this. You’ll be able to take care of your family and you’ll be set.” They seemed ok with it at the time but somewhere between then and 8 or 10 years ago something happened that soured their viewpoints on me. We’ve since hammered a few things out and things are going well. The other guys went on to do some cool things like Juan Alderete who’s in Mars Volta and Bruce Bouillet is now in Asia. Unfortunately Walt Woodward passed away 4 or 5 years ago.
After leaving Motley Crue, you formed Union with Bruce Kulick which put out a few stellar albums but the real shocker for me was when you joined Ratt as a guitarist. Was that just a move for the hell out of it?
Honestly, Union wasn’t getting any support. I’ve been blessed in cursed at the same time. I’m blessed to be a musician and to travel all over the world and it’s amazing when you’re working a lot [laughs]. When you’re not working a lot, at 53 years old there’s not a lot that I can figure out how to do at this point of my life [laughs]. Union wasn’t selling any records or getting any kind of support. Bruce Kulick got offered the Grand Funk Railroad gig and Bobby Blotzer had talked to me about auditioning for Ratt as a singer. I didn’t want to be the guy who goes down in history as being the replacement singer for all these enigmatic front men. My name was even in the hat to audition for Velvet Revolver and I told my old manager who was their tour manager that I wasn’t interested. Take my name out of that hat and burn it [laughs]. I just didn’t want to be the guy compared to Vince Neil, Stephen Pearcy, and Scott Weiland [laughs]. Blotzer told me that they were looking for a guitar player also so I called my manager and said that I would tour with them even if they just want someone until they find somebody else. I don’t think those guys were aware that I could even play guitar so I went down and jammed with them for a little bit and Warren liked the fact that I could both play the harmony leads and sing good backing vocals. In all honesty, it was a mind break for me. I didn’t have to be the guy worrying about ticket sales, album sales, or t-shirt sales. I just got on the bus with my suit case and my guitar and the hardest decision I had to make in the 8 years I played with them was what bunk I was going to sleep in [laughs]. I was just a side guy playing guitar, singing some backing vocals, having a Guinness and a cigarette and getting paid on Friday.
When I was really young there was some magical moment. It was some TV show my parents were watching and the Beatles were on it. I was watching the reaction of the kids in the audience and something clicked and I wanted a guitar. I really started to realize what effect that playing a guitar had on women [laughs]. The power of music is just so great and how it could make one of those Catholic school girls take her uniform off [laughs].
What goes through your mind that very moment before you walk out on stage for a show?
Usually I’m so fucking amped and nervous that my stomach is just in a knot. I’m hoping that I can remember the lyrics [laughs].
Are there any current bands you hear these days that you’re really digging?
Ya know, people ask me all the time what my favorite current bands are. There’s a few things I hear every now and then that make me say, “Oh who is that?” and it might be Sevendust or Kings of Leon or something like that. I just don’t really pay attention to much new stuff. I couldn’t really tell you five new bands if you asked me to right now [laughs].
I think it’s kind of funny to see so many bands coming out these days and people think they’re hearing something brand new or original. Actually, so many of these bands are doing things that were already done before and just building on it.
It’s usually that way. Like look at the grunge thing? I mean, first of all, what is grunge? I mean, if you really want to break things down, let’s break it down. Alice in Chains is like Zeppelin with some Beatles fifths harmonies over it and just really dark. Soundgarden is just Black Sabbath with Beatles like references and harmonies. And as for the down tuning, that shit didn’t start in the 90’s. The first two songs I ever wrote (“Insane” and “I Want You by My Side) and their both in B tuning. I mean, Tony Iommi pretty much invented that. He was the first guy I ever heard ever taking advantage of that. There is nobody, myself included, doing anything original. Nothing. Look at Marilyn Manson. He’s a cross between David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Nine Inch Nails. Even his logo on his backdrop is the same one Bowie used as Ziggy Stardust.
What is a song that, every time you hear it, you go, “I wish I wrote that!”?
Oh fuck man. There are so many [laughs]. I love “Misty Mountain Hop.” “Oh Darlin’” by The Beatles and “Seasons of Wither” by Aerosmith. I love that fucking song. I actually had the opportunity to do that song with Steven Tyler in a rehearsal room sitting on a couch. That was the highlight of career. There are just some songs that I will listen to like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and just say, “Fuck, how come I can’t write something like that?” [laughs] I’m a huge Black Crowes fans and Chris Robinson’s lyrics are just amazing to me.
If you had to be remembered for one body of work, what would it be and why?
I would have to say that over all you would have to look back on the entire body of work. I mean, like to me, if you look at everything that Paul McCartney’s done from the Beatles, to Wings, to what he’s doing now, his entire body of work is insane. At the end of the day, I would like to be remembered for a body of work that you could look back on and say, “This is pretty good across the board.”
If I wasn’t a musician I would be…
A roadie [laughs]. That way I could still be around music and be in the lifestyle.
Finally, do you have any touring plans set for 2013?
I’m still working on setting things up with my agent for this year so we’ll see what happens.
It was really cool talking to you today. Thanks so much for this John.
Thank you Don. It was a pleasure. Have a great day buddy.