One of the biggest tragedies in music history will always remain Motley Crue’s self titled sixth album. The timing of John Corabi joining the band could not have been worse, this album was doomed no matter who stepped behind the mic. By 1994 the musical tsunami of “Grunge” was erasing everything remotely affiliated with the previous decade. The casual fair-weather fans turned their back on the good time rock, tossing in their leather and spandex for flannel shirts and the miserable, depressing music that followed. The die hard fans were then divided and unfortunately many of them were never going to accept anyone other than Vince fronting the band.
What makes this truly a tragedy is that Motley Crue’s sixth album is quite possibly the strongest album of their career. No disrespect to Vince Neil (who is a great front man), but anyone with a pair of working ears has to realize that John Corabi is the superior singer. John’s raspy, bluesy, soulful voice powers through some of the most intense and powerful songs the Crue ever recorded. Do yourself a favor, go grab a copy of this album and crank it up loud. You will hear Motley Crue stretching their abilities as musicians, taking chances both musically and lyrically and creating some truly classic music. “Misunderstood” could very well be the best Motley Crue song ever recorded.
Rolling through Toronto for a couple of acoustic shows, John sat down with the Decibel Geek for an exclusive in depth interview…
DBG: Well, might as well start at the beginning. How did you first become interested in music and tell us about your first guitar?
John: Actually it was my Mom who was probably the biggest influence on my taste in music. She had the most massive record collection ever. Back in the sixties people were often into these “record clubs” where they would send you records and you could listen to them and if you didn’t like them you could send them back kind of a deal. So she was involved with all that shit and I just remember listening to crazy shit like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash, guys like Triny Lopez, Glen Campbell and also bands like Bad Finger, the Raspberries and all these really cool pop bands like that. those were always playing around the house.
I have to be honest with you I really didn’t really get started til I was like 8 or 9 and I finally saw an old video clip of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and I was like “holy fuck, that’s insane” but my first guitar was an acoustic guitar. My parents got together and bought me a Sears “Silvertone” acoustic and I had that so I tortured them for a while and they got me a few music lessons to where I could perform chords and things but then I started playing by ear.
It was one of those things where they had me in lessons and wanted me to play but I wanted to just play ball and ride my bike. So I didn’t want to do the practising part and then once I got to be about 11 the bug hit me and I really wanted to put a band together kind of thing. So then for Christmas when I was like 12 or maybe 13 she got me all these records. These were the first records I ever had, she got me Deep Purple Machine Head, Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced, Led Zeppelin IV, Grand Funk American Band and Three Dog Night some Greatest Hits thing. It was then I just started taking it all in. People ask me all the time who my influences are and I always say the Beatles because they were the first to have me sit up and take notice, but all kinds of music played a part. That’s why I wanted to do an acoustic record and now I am working on a new electric record.
One of my good friends in Nashville, her Dad is Bobby Goldsboro. He was this old country, folk guy back in the sixties and I remember he had a song called “Honey” and I was kidding with my friend Brandy. I said, “my Mom played your Dad’s fucking song so much in the house and she would just listen and cry. So yeah Mom really turned me on to everything. I think if you want to be a well rounded musician you need to be open and take something from everything out there.
DBG: Jumping ahead to The Scream, great band, great album. Are you any closer to getting that album released? I remember you mentioning it on the interview included on the acoustic album.
John Corabi: Thank you but I am still trying. For some reason the record company is digging their heels in and they aren’t going to let me do it. I don’t know why, it’s not going to make millions for anybody but I think there is a lot of fans out there that would dig it and I don’t see the harm in it. Even if they didn’t want to do up a hard copy just do it up for an iTunes kind of thing but I don’t understand them so whatever.
DBG: So there you are, you get the job fronting Motley, probably one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. Knowing now how everything all went down, do you have any regrets for making that decision?
John Corabi: NOPE. You know what, I am not a regrets type person with anything in my life. You know? I don’t regret any of the girls I have dated, I don’t regret any of the girls I was married to. I joke about it (laughing) but I have no regrets. You can’t you know because if you have regrets it means your looking backwards not forwards so I don’t think about it. The one thing people ask me all the time about my trip with Motley and people all have their own opinions on this but the way I see it is this:
The five or six years that I was with the band, it allowed me to do a record that I am very proud of, I wrote a lot of music with the guys that I am also very proud of and it’s allowed me to continue to do stuff like tonight. Here I am in Toronto, Canada doing an acoustic show and for the most part people are going to come out and pay to see me play “because” I was in Motley Crue at one point. I am an asterix in their career you know? So I am blessed for that, I just got back from 5 weeks in Europe. I get to go to Russia, I get to go to Japan and Australia. All these great places because of the fact that underneath my name is John Corabi “that other guy that was in Motley Crue” you know? (laughing). So I really have no gripes about any of it.
DBG: Touching again on the Motley album, I was a Cruehead from the moment I first heard them. They were my first concert and will always be one of my favourite bands but listening to the albums now. The self titled album is far and away the best album on so many levels and I truly compare it to Black Sabbath recruiting DIO and releasing Heaven and Hell a vastly superior album because of Dio and the change in song writing that occurred.
John Corabi: Oh, that’s a great album (Heaven and Hell) and to even be put into that category by anybody is an honour. That was such an amazing album and Dio was such a great singer but that’s the other thing, people often ask me about the Motley stuff and you know, some of the people that I have had the opportunity to sit down and have a cocktail with or get to jam with. People that I grew up listening to. I was in a cover band when I was 17 years old and I was learning “Long Live Rock n Roll”, I was learning “Man On The Silver Mountain”, I played songs from that Sabbath record in my cover band. It was such an honour for me, in 2001 I did a tour when I was with Ratt it was Alice Cooper/Dio and Ratt and to be able to sit at a table with all the guys in all those bands and I remember Mickey Dee from Motorhead was there and they all took me out for my birthday. I was sitting at the table and I was kind of fucking pinching myself, I was sitting there having cocktails with Alice Cooper and his Daughter and Ronnie Dio is sitting right across from me and I am sitting there thinking “I have come a long way” you know?
I have met the Deep Purple guys, Glenn Hughes sang on my record with me. I have met Billy Preston who played on tons of the Beatles and Stones stuff. I got to hang out and jam with Brian Johnson and Robert Plant. I am friends with guys like Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, it’s just really cool and I have my time with The Scream/Motley Cure and Union to thank for all, it was all a blessing to allow me to do all these things and meet these guys that I grew up admiring.
To have Ronnie James Dio tell me “Your a great singer dude, I have heard your music before and don’t ever do any surgery or anything to your throat. There are exercises you can do, your a great fucking singer.” I was like “holy fuck” did that just happen, Ronnie Dio said I am a great singer?!? So I am totally blessed, knock on wood, life is pretty groovy for John Corabi.
Plus I know Brent Fitz!
DBG: You mentioned Union there. I remember when I first heard about you working with Bruce Kulick and I was stoked about it. Here you were rather unceremoniously out of Motley and Bruce ousted from his gig. So we had two of my favourite musicians forming a band.
John Corabi: We were living a parallel life at the time. It was weird, between careers leaving huge bands and having to start over. We were both involved in relationships with girls that blew up in our faces and it really made us realize that those situations (with those girls) were more about the bands we were in. So we were almost therapeutic for each other at the time. I am very proud of the Union stuff. It was very cool but unfortunately the music industry was changing and, I mean it’s so fucking hard any more for anybody and at the time nobody gave a shit. We were pulling people to the live shows but it wasn’t translating into record sales and that’s where you make your money. I hate to be “business guy” but at the end of the day, I love doing what I do and I think I am pretty good at it but unfortunately this is how we make our living. So we all started looking for other things to do. Bruce got the Grand Funk gig, I wound up doing the Ratt thing and oddly enough Jamie and Brent wound up working with Vince Neil.
The Union stuff now, geesh when I was in Europe so many people were like, “when are you getting Union back together” and the thing is we never really broke up. It’s not like we don’t like each other, we had a blast in that band but we were honestly pulling our hair out, it was hard.
DBG: Speaking of Vince Neil for a moment, I did read somewhere that you actually shared a stage with him on a cruise ship. How did that take place?
John Corabi: You know what? Probably 2007 Vince did a cruise out of Miami called the Motley Cruise and at the time I was with Ratt. So the four bands that played were Vince, Ratt, Slaughter and Skid Row and we were just kind of hangin’ out. We went into one of the clubs on the boat and we went up and started jamming and we were just playing some AC/DC songs, there was a cover band already in there. Vince just walked into the room and he jumped on stage to sing and to be honest I am not even sure if he realized I was on stage at the time and we just sang Highway to Hell together, I was playing bass and we just jammed. It was basically a bunch of drunk pirates on a boat having fun.
You know I have been around Vince a lot and we have no issues. I had nothing to do with Vince leaving Motley, I was just a guy who got offered the gig and Vince knows that. In fact, I think he put in his book that he kinda felt bad for me because he knew the shoes I was going to have to fill at the time, but any time he sees me, he is very cordial to me. There has been a few times we have got on stage together under weird circumstances, there was a time in Tampa at the Tampa Times Arena where Vince had a little too much to drink and I jumped on stage with his back up band and did a few songs together. We are fine with each other.
DBG: One other album I wanted to ask you about is Brides of Destruction. No sooner did I read about the band and you were gone?
John Corabi: Nikki and Tracii had already started that thing and they already had a drummer. The first drummer was actually Chris from Adema and they had London, they wanted another guitar player. Tracii and I had just toured together and Tracii kept saying to Nikki, “I know you have some issues but Crab would really be fucking great for this band.” So Nikki called me and we were laughing and he goes “I can see your going to be a thorn in my side again”. So I joined and I told him, I don’t want to do this unless I can contribute and write and stuff and we started working together and there were a couple of songs I have writing credits on.
Now at the time, I was going through a really ugly divorce so my mind wasn’t really totally into the thing and to be honest with you and I told this to Tracii and I mean no disrespect but I personally didn’t understand what direction the band was going in. I felt that the record was just, all over the place and my main beef was that we were all going on about London and how great he was. He’s this great singer, he’s quirky, the greatest thing since sliced bread and the best song on the record, in my opinion and the one with the best shot at radio airplay was the one that was sung by the drummer? “Life” was the song. So with everything going on, I just talked to the guys and I could have just stayed around and collected the pay check but I just wasn’t into it. They might have been mad at me, I don’t know but I did what I thought was right for the band and for me.
DBG: Now you have played quite a number of shows with Russ “Dwarf” Graham, a good friend of the show. How did you meet Russ?
John Corabi: I had known “Dunk” for a while, Darrell and of course I knew who the Killer Dwarfs were but I met Darrell when he was with the band Laidlaw. It was weird, I kind of met Russ on that last run I did of acoustic shows last year and we did some shows together. We had this agent that had booked us up here so I met Russ and I fucking love that dude, he is so funny. We just sit around and we both have this dry, weird, fucked up sense of humour but we have had a blast playing together. He’s just a really good guy.
DBG: As far as writing goes, do you hav
e a formula when you sit down to work on new tunes?
John Corabi: Yeah, you know I just play. A lot of times I’ll be watching TV in the hotel room with the guitar on my lap and randomly I will hit on a riff that kind of kicks me in the balls. So I will record it to my phone. It’s all pretty random, I don’t know when it’s going to come. I am not one of those guys that get up at 9am, have a coffee and begin, I am not that guy. So I sometimes go a couple months and not write anything and then one week I will bang out six, you know? Or at least have 6 or 7 good ideas to start building on with my band.
DBG: Now I understand your son has followed your musical footsteps, playing drums.
John Corabi: My son is actually going to be the drummer in my band. Yeah he went and toured and he came to Nashville. He had some issues and demons he was dealing with and he asked me if he could come out, so we got him sorted out and he basically just said “I have always just wanted to be in a band with you”. I said all right, fuck let’s do it but “do the fucking homework”. Tommy Lee parts aren’t easy, if you don’t learn your parts then we will have an issue but it’s very cool.
It’s really cool because my kid gets it, you know what I mean? His birthday is in July and I remember he said to me “you missed all of my Birthday parties” and as a parent you go “Oh I am such a loser” but he also completely understands that the summer is touring season and I was out working to provide for my family and for him. I am sure he still has some issues with it but he gets it and we talk all the time so why wouldn’t I want to take him on the road with me? To get to share Europe and all the other places I have seen with him and just to be able to hang out with him will be great, you know?
DBG: So as we close out another year, what’s in store for John Corabi in 2014.
John Corabi: Well we are going to do the new record. To be honest with you there is a couple of things I would like to do next year. One is, I would love to help Mick Mars do a record. His own solo thing and the other is to do my record. I can’t say it will happen but Mick and I have been talking and I think from a fan point of view for him, like obviously I have sort of an inside perspective of what goes on within Motley but one of the things that have always struck me about Mick is that he’s the nicest guy on the planet. He’s always the one that ends up, because he runs on emotion and he’ll do something nice for someone and then they turn around and fuck him and I hate that. One of the things I can honestly say is that Mick Mars on the Motley stuff, writes these great solos, very memorable and you can hum them but when I saw Mick at home and his roots and influences and I was like wow, this guy is so much deeper than what people see with Motley.
So I told him, I don’t know if it would work or not but I said Mick, you have always been an under-rated guitar player. I think if you were going to do a record, you should do something that is a complete departure from anything you have done in Motley. You can tell me to go fuck myself or whatever but I would love to hear you do a blues record, just Mick Mars ripping the blues. I told him if there is anything I can do, if he wants me to help write with him or sing on it, anything and I will help him any way I can. Have some guests come in, maybe talk to a guy like Slash or get Glen Hughes to come in and I live in Nashville so I have access like Steve Cropper or Audley Freed who played with the Black Crowes and all these guys would love to help you do this. So I am kinda poking at him and if he wants to do it, I am fucking in with both feet. I will do anything to help Mick Mars, I think he is a fucking god and he never gets the credit he deserves.
DBG: Ok, last question. Thanks so much for sitting down with me today. What is the one song you “wish” you wrote?
John Corabi: That I wish I wrote? hmmm? God dude there is so many, that’s a great fucking question. I wish I was talented enough to write Bohemian Rhapsody, like obviously shit like Stairway to Heaven just genius to me. Paul McCartney out of the Beatles, I mean everyone has their “Beatle” and Paul McCartney for me, I just listen to the shit he did, Live and Let Die, Baby I’m Amazed, very simple and heart felt lyrics. Every time I listen to him, I am like “FUCK!”, nobody should be that talented and to know that he wrote the songs, then goes into the studio and plays all the instruments, sang it, arranged it and I am like “motherf’er!” (laughing)
A few hours later John stepped up on stage at the Rockpile West, acoustic guitar in hand and treated everyone in attendance to an incredible performance. John is the consummate entertainer, performing songs from his entire catalogue. From the opening of “Love (I Don’t Need It Anymore)”, to the bluesy “Man In The Moon” the audience was right along for the ride. Between songs he would talk with the crowd, knowing many of their names, it was like a friend sitting down to play some songs and shoot the shit.
Hooligan’s Holiday acoustic is truly something to witness live, it looses none of the raw power and emotion of the electric version which seems a testament to what a great song it truly is. Loveshine was amazing but the highlight of the night for me was when John rolled Driftaway, probably one of Motley’s most beautiful songs ever into Home Sweet Home. Hearing John belt out one of the classic line up Motley songs both surprised me and quite honestly knocked my dick in the dirt. Never have I heard that song so powerful, so raw and so good, it gave me goosebumps. No disrespect to Vince, he is to Crue what Ozzy is to Sabbath and that’s cool, but that makes Corabi to Crue what Dio was to Sabbath so “sing me a song, your a singer John” and thanks for a great show at Rockpile West!
Meanwhile the next night, out at the ROCKPILE EAST…Decibel Geek Writer Rich “the Meister” Dillon took in second show of John Corabi’s weekend in Toronto.
The night began with the first “big” snowstorm of the season dropping feet, not inches of the dreaded white stuff in a blanket over the city. With twin video screens set up on either side of the stage John took his stool front and centre armed with a bottle of water, a diet coke and his acoustic guitar. John quipped about the weather and how our Mayor Rob Ford must be proud of all the blow on the ground around here! He thanked everyone for coming out for the second night of his Toronto performances and seemed a bit surprised at the attendance given the havoc that Mother Nature was wreaking out of doors. John’s hilarious and personable monologues peppered the evening between songs as he covered such topics as getting harassed at Canadian customs, his first time meeting Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and personally thanking a few patrons who had invited him over to their place for a BBQ before his show on a previous visit to the area. The hostess of said BBQ even requested a tune, which John happily played. A moving performance, filled with emotion and personality…..I look forward to seeing John Corabi once again this year aboard The Monsters of Rock Cruise 2014.
Setlist Saturday December 14, 2013:
“Love (I Don’t Need It Anymore)”
“If I Never Get To Say Goodbye”
“Seasons Of Wither”
“Father, Mother, Son”
“I Never Loved Her Anyway”
“Driftaway/Home Sweet Home” (medley)
“If I Had A Dime” (Request)
“Man In The Moon”