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Q & A with John Corabi
* Former Mötley Crüe lead vocalist, guitarist special guest at July 1 ‘RIPT Reunited in Honor of Verne Smith’ event at Giovanni’s
Editor’s note: Rockford Rocked and Darkhouse Productions will present “RIPT Reunited in Honor of Verne Smith” from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday, July 1, at Giovanni’s/Big Al’s Bar, 610 N. Bell School Road.
Special guest at the July 1 reunion concert of Rockford band RIPT will be John Corabi, heavy metal singer and guitarist who has worked with such bands as Angora, The Scream, Mötley Crüe, Union and ESP (both with former KISS lead guitarist Bruce Kulick), RATT (as a guitarist), Twenty 4 Seven (with his then-RATT bandmate Bobby Blotzer), Zen Lunatic, Brides of Destruction, and Angel City Outlaws (with his then-RATT bandmates Robbie Crane and Bobby Blotzer, and former RATT guitarist Keri Kelli, whom he replaced in RATT).
Tickets for the event are $5. All proceeds will benefit The Arc of Winnebago, Boone and Ogle Counties, Verne Smith’s chosen memorial fund.
Smith, the man the Rockford Area Music Industry (RAMI) called the biggest music fan of all time, died Jan. 12 after a battle with esophagus cancer. He was 64.
A staple at live music events, Smith rarely missed a set. Sometimes known as “Dancin’ Verne,” Smith was often the first to arrive at gigs, sometimes before the bands, and the last to leave.
Advance tickets for the event are available at Culture Shock, 2314 Charles St., open noon-8 p.m., daily. Giovanni’s/Big Al’s Bar can be reached at (815) 398-6411.
Following is The Rock River Times’ interview with Corabi.
By M.J. Parks
John Corabi is best described by his body of work: gritty, soulful, bluesy and sometimes heavy music — music that once you hear it, stays with you.
Whether you are just now discovering him or you’ve been following along since his days with Mötley Crüe, The Scream or RATT, you will know “that voice” when you hear it. Corabi will be the very special guest at the upcoming benefit show “RIPT Reunited in Honor of Verne Smith.” We recently had the pleasure of chatting with John extensively about his career.
Q: Hey, John! What do you have going right now?
A: I am going out on the road with Cinderella right now. They are having me open shows acoustically. I’m going out on their bus, and I’m just doing it solo, literally. Me and one acoustic guitar, so it should be interesting. … My acoustic sets are kind of covering all the bases, some new stuff, some old stuff. The set will be constantly changing, depending on how long I play, anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. I am gonna work in a couple songs off my new album, which is also an acoustic album. The album will have some acoustic versions of my old stuff, along with six new songs.
Q: So, it will be a true acoustic album?
A: Other than some electric bass, yes. Three acoustic guitars and percussion, there isn’t a drum kit used, and then four- and five-part harmonies. It sounds really cool. There will be a full-on regular album to follow, but I wanted to get this out there and ready for the Cinderella tour. Sometimes you’ll hear promoters be like, “Well, why the hell should we use this guy? What does he have going on?” and this acoustic stuff is something I do anyway, so I will have it at the shows for sale and on iTunes and stuff. Then, the full-on screaming solos and rock record will follow when I have time to finish it with the full band that I’m using. I’ve got gigs nonstop this summer with Cinderella, and then E.S.P. (Eric Singer Project) wants me to go back overseas again to do stuff. So, I’m busy, but I am working on the full album when I get time. I figured, in the meantime, people have been waiting for some new songs, so some of that is included on the acoustic album.
Q: It will be cool to hear anything you have in the works. We’ve been hearing that you’ve had new material for a while now but haven’t been able to hear it, so that is really good news as far as we’re concerned, you know?
A: Thanks. It’s just weird, you know, the industry is in such a funk as far as selling music, but it’s just really hit and miss. I’ve got friends that have spent vast fortunes recording stuff, and I don’t wanna be quoted on figures or anything, but when you are spending almost $200,000 or whatever to make a record and only sell 4,000, well, you’re not happy with that. Something has to be done differently. So, I hear stuff like that and just keep hearing it, but then finally I’m like realizing that I’m just overthinking it, and I just need to put something out. Just put out some music, whatever it ends up doing.
Q: Are you looking to hook up with a label or just produce and release it on your own? It seems like everyone is going through Frontiers Records now…10 years ago it was CMC…
A: I’m not counting on any label. I’ve heard everything from they are a great label to no, not a great label at all. I’m just gonna self-release it and go that way. I’ve been working down here in Nashville at this studio owned by a couple of the guys from Three Doors Down and 38 Special, actually. It’s been great — they’re helping engineer and everything, and I’m doing the artwork, and I’m gonna put it out without a record label.
Q: You came up in that Philly scene, and you started out playing there. There’s actually a new documentary coming out about the scene called All-Ages Sunday. I’m sure you have some stories, have you heard of it?
A: No, I haven’t. It was pretty cool, though. I’ve known Tommy Keifer (Cinderella vocalist) since I was a teen-ager. He had a band back in those days, and I had a band, so it was just one of those things where we knew each other and got to be friends. I always thought he was talented, he always had a great vibe, and we just hung out, not really at clubs, but we just had the same friends and knew the same people. I love the way their career just evolved and love the whole vibe of the band, just stacks of amps and music. They are great guys. I played on shows with them over the years when I was in RATT, and really do love hanging out with all four of them. They are one of the bands from the ’80s that I really actually dug my nails into and appreciated, so it’s cool to be playing to their audience.
Q: What memories do you have of that East Coast scene? You moved out to L.A.
A: Yeah, it’s really funny because I left Philadelphia and headed for L.A. because, at the time, there was nothing happening. Then, like overnight, it was like, Jon Bon Jovi was in town doing some stuff for his record and checked out Cinderella in a club and was blown away, and they got signed. After they got signed, the floodgates just opened in Philly. It was Cinderella, Britny Fox, Tangier, Heaven’s Edge and all this like, bam, bam, bam, and there I was watching it in California holding my stuff like “What??” Looking back, though, it all worked out.
Q: Was it kind of a gradual ending of Angora out West and then getting The Scream going?
A: We were together for a while, you know, and went through a few name changes as Angora played out in L.A. We got a pretty good following, but, of course, with the good following came girls and drugs and more girls and more drugs, and things just fell apart. Some of the members of the band were a little more into the partying than others, but it just sort of disintegrated. I met up with this guy John Greenberg, who suggested I hook up with the three remaining members of Racer X who were, at that time, Bruce, John and Scott. Scott (Travis) left to join Judas Priest, and we hooked up with Walt, and then a few showcases later, we wound up getting a record deal.
Q: The Angora stuff I have is great…god bless YouTube…
A: I know, it’s funny I kinda dug into the archives a bit for this record I have coming out and came up with an old Angora song that was never released called “Are You Waiting.” I was just thinking about how I always liked that song and thought, “Screw it, I’m gonna record it.” For all those people who’ve never heard that material, it sounds brand new!
Q: The funny thing about The Scream was that when that album came out, it wasn’t a resounding commercial hit. It got really good reviews and it created a following of sorts. It was really big among OTHER musicians. Perhaps too big because that’s sort of how you came to Mötley’s attention, correct? Had you even gotten started on recording or writing the second album for the label with The Scream?
A: To be honest with you, we hadn’t done anything really beyond just some ideas for the second album. We were still on tour, we toured for like nine or 10 months straight, and someone gave me a copy of the Spin magazine where Nikki Sixx had mentioned that he loved the band. I had went home because we had a few days off before a show in L.A. I figured while I was there I would try and reach out to Nikki and call his manager’s office to say thanks and to see about whether he’d be willing to write some stuff with us when we started work on the second Scream album. I kid you not, literally the same time I am leaving a message for him at his manager’s office, he is on the other line at the office and he’s trying to track down the dude from The Scream to come down and audition. So, as I am leaving the message with his secretary, there she is like hyperventilating ’cause they were there at the offices looking for people to call in…and I hang up. Exactly as I am WALKING towards the door out of my house, the phone rings, and it’s Tommy and Nikki. And that was it.
Q: Your chapters in the Mötley Crüe book, The Dirt, are among my favorites, and I hardly believe half of what’s in those tell-all rock books. Your parts felt real, though—the descriptions of frustration and alienation and excess…all of it. It is also one of the only heartfelt moments in the book when you describe feeling relieved after leaving the band to just come home and watch TV with your son Ian. What goes on in these book-writing sessions and who is gonna play you if they ever follow through on the movie like they keep saying?
A: Well, it’s definitely not what most people think with the books…I just happened to be at Tommy’s house when they were doing his book Tommyland and he was there doing interviews for the book and we’re having a few and start shooting the breeze talking stories or whatever and the writer was like ,“What story was that? I don’t remember hearing that,” and Tommy was like, “Yeah, man, tell it.” So, a few of the stories wound up being in that book, too. The movie…(laughs)…man, I don’t know what’s going on with that. Nor do I care, really, or worry about it. I mean, I wish those guys all the best, but I gotta do what I gotta do and I am SO excluded from all things Mötley anymore that I can’t even explain to you. Nikki is doing everything he can to act like that album never existed, everything from excluding “Holiday” on the last singles collection to excluding the album from the recent box set of vinyl that they put out. It is just a case of them repainting history to make it appear that the ’94 album never happened. It’s only been recently, before that it was always acknowledged. My stuff was on the Greatest Video Hits DVD and the other compilations. I was in the books, but in the last few years, there has been this concentrated effort to stamp out the whole Corabi Crüe era. I just tried to contact Nikki for this compilation thing that I was working on before deciding on this new album. I wanted to contact him to see if I he would let me use the masters from the Mötley record that we did. It’s kinda funny or whatever, but after leaving him a message and trying to reach out to him, he never called back. It is like, hmmm…but whatever, I’m not gonna start kissing anyone’s a– or anything like that, so you just…
Q: The business side of the music business is kind of crappy…people have such short memory spans and loyalties…
A: But, man, it happens to everyone, though…it’s just the way it is. I was just talking to this guy who was running his websites. He was doing the websites for Mötley and DJ Ashba and Sixx AM, I think, and then poof, he said to me, “Nikki doesn’t return my calls…nothing.” And he was talking to them every day, or whatever, workin’ on their stuff, and they just consolidated or took over the webpages, and that’s it.
Q: Time for a John Corabi book, Tales of Total Crüelty and other Screams…
A: That’s one of the other things I am actually working on and who knows whether people do or don’t wanna read it. I don’t know, but I will tell you I already have a manuscript and there is no B.S. in my book. I am not trying to color or paint it in any other light than the truth. I am not trying to puff myself up and make myself something I’m not. One of the things that really bothered me in The Dirt was just the outright lies. Like there’s a part about us being in Japan and I’m pictured as being at some party and getting with all these American models who were staying in Japan, and it just wasn’t true. Yeah, I went back to an apartment, but I only ended up with one of them…
Q: Haha, so the Mötley guys are bad with math?
A: Uhh, yeah…it was just this whole thing of typical crap like I’m in bed with nine chicks and doing dope with them and just basically inflating all these stories…at least the ones about me. I’m not looking to beef myself up with that type of thing in my book. There’s plenty of good stuff in the truth. Just to set the record straight once and for all to everyone reading this…if anyone is interested in my book thinking that it is sure to be a “tell-all” Mötley Crüe book, it’s not. Mötley Crüe is just a part of my life. I am 50 years old—they are five years of that. That leaves 45 years of other things. There’s things in there about Mötley for sure…a lot of things I try to clear up about the music and the songs. Like, for instance, I talk in detail about the song “Uncle Jack” because some people all this time later still ask about that song. Some people think it’s about Jack Daniels (laughs) and, you know, other people know at least a little about the lyrics to the song, that it was about my uncle who molested all these kids. So, I go into detail about that and other stuff like that that actually happened and that were a part of my life and touched my music. That’s my whole thing with my book. Love it, hate it or don’t give a rip about it—just know that it is actually me and it’s real. It really does go through my whole life. The beginning was very much like the kid from Wonder Years, you know, me growing up in Philadelphia as a kid, riding my bike, playing guitar, playing baseball, and then it just breaks and all hell breaks loose. My parents split and then there was the “Uncle Jack” thing and then all this stuff where my mom has to find her way with four kids…that’s hard. We were homeless for a good two years, and then lived in someone’s basement in Philadelphia. Just all this CRAZY crap that went down. We moved in to my grandma’s, who was this raging alcoholic, and it was just this constant fight toward something. I got married at 19 to this girl who already had a kid and I was trying to make it in music…just my whole entire life. It was this constant struggle to be able to get to the music and it is still a struggle moving forward. I am still moving and I STILL have my ups and downs like now…I am starting over again, I am going out and just riding on Cinderella’s crew bus with my acoustic guitar doing gigs for not a lot of money, man. You would laugh if I told you how much I am making, but I am doing it because it’s good exposure. I’m talking about my band and laying the groundwork for that and playing these intimate little sets and, hopefully, turning some new people on to what I do. But I AM starting over…and I’m OK with it. The book will include that. It will be my point of view, on The Scream, on Mötley, on Union, Ratt, my marriages, my kids and, here I am, at my age still plugging away because I truly feel that I haven’t scratched the surface. I still feel like I have tons of great music inside.
Q: It looks like you still enjoy playing…
A: I do…the other bull…
Q: The other 23 hours of the day?
A: (laughs) YEAH…I will tell you what, I shoot from the hip, so I will just say it. There have been times….especially in the last 10 years, where it just gets SOOO frustrating that I just wanna say forget it. I love writing music, I love playing music to people and I LOVE being in the studio, but I don’t like dishonest people. I despise it, and I really think about walking away from it and being a normal guy with a regular job who gets a regular, old-fashioned paycheck on Friday. I tried it a few times, but I just keep coming back to what I love, despite all the stuff that I hate. I end up fighting with promoters and fighting with radio and fighting with journalists, and it just gets old…even the fans…(laughs). I still get letters like, “I hate you, you’re a loser,” or “I hate the fact that you were ever in Mötley” or whatever. “Vince is the man and you aren’t jack!” and I’m like, “Yeah, dude I get that…that was 1994…like almost two decades ago, move on, let it go. Vince has been back for 15 years.” I can’t lie to you and say that some of that doesn’t get under my skin, ’cause it does…I need to have a thicker skin, but I feel it.
Q: I just interviewed your drummer from E.S.P., Eric Singer, who is, of course, playing 40,000-seaters in KISS and he gets unbelievable amounts of bulls— from a select group who seem hellbent. Nice guy, amazing drummer…but some people are just hateful, you know?
A: Oh, god, yes…and it’s the best when I get people who are like, “Where have you been since Mötley Crüe,” and I don’t know what to say. Like they have no idea, no clue, that I did five records since then. I did three Union albums (with KISS’s Bruce Kulick)…you missed all three? I did a record with Bobby Blotzer of Ratt, and I did a record with this guy Karl Cochran. I did all this work…and nobody heard it! Of course, the whole time in the back of my brain is this little thing Nikki Sixx said to me when we were fighting, of course. He said, “You know, Crabby, you will never get another opportunity like this. You blew it.” And then he goes on to tell everyone who would listen all these lies like I didn’t write and I couldn’t sing and all this, and they had to move on, blah, blah, blah…all totally stuff he said. But it’s there…in the back of my brain…and I’m always thinking, “Was that my peak? Was that it?” And you know, I think anyone, you’re a writer, an artist, any type of person that does what I do, you always think you can do something better than what you’ve done before…you just do. You can do better, and I just have to remind myself of that daily. I just wake up, I do a boot camp workout here to try and stay in shape. I try not to drink too much or smoke too much and take care of my instrument and just remind myself how lucky I am. But I can’t lie…some days it is harder than others.
Q: Your time in Mötley should have prepared you for the ups and downs since you guys had everything from glowing reviews and giant shows for a billion people in Mexico to a U.S. tour that was sketchy as hell, right? They were changing management, but that was just another symptom of all the finger-pointing, I would assume.
A: I think so…I think there was finger-pointing on the part of everyone. Even Tommy, I mean…he had success with EVERY record he put out since he was like 17 years old. Then, we do a record…that we were ALL totally proud of and happy with—don’t let anyone tell you any different. When we were listening to the mixes of that ’94 Crüe album, everyone, I mean everyone, was like, “This is amazing. This is the best-sounding record you’ve ever made.” and all this s— and looking at me going, “Dude, you raised them to another level.” And I’m like, “C’mon…it’s not just me…we ALL did this record….all of us, we all gelled, we all complemented each other in a cool way and KICKED ASS,” and it was sooooo funny because all those people, those exact same people that said all those glowing things about me and about that record, all looked at me and said, “It’s your fault!” (laughs). It’s like…wait a minute…that doesn’t make sense. It wasn’t just those people, either. It was the record label, the management…hell, even the other Crüe guys started looking at me like, “Hmmm…I don’t know, maybe it is your fault, Crabby.” Now, looking back on it, things have become a little clearer, but to be honest for a while there, it kinda messed with my head a little.
Q: As much as you are comfortable divulging, what was the actual response of those incredibly successful and pampered rock stars to the half-empty places and the whole scene just going belly up?
A: Well, yeah…it was all happening at the same time that the whole musical landscape was changing with Nirvana and Soundgarden and everything, so there was also that. I remember Nikki and those guys just being really, really depressed. It was depressing to them. To be fair, I did try to suggest some things, and was outvoted every time. Like, I was dead set against doing the big places and booking that kind of tour. If you just opened your eyes you could tell a lot had changed since Dr. Feelgood. I wanted them to start small and do little, packed clubs and reconnect with the fans and just let it kind of build to where we would maybe do small theaters with the whole stage set and everything and all that cool stuff. I wanted to have local bands open up the shows and have it be like a friendly competition….“Power To the Music in the Streets” kind of thing. I also wanted to promote it by doing unannounced pop-ins on radio stations and journalists. I tried telling them, “Dude, these kids now hate, hate, hate the concept of a ‘rock star’ and all the trappings of trying to look cool. We just need to come off as regular, approachable dudes.” Again, I was shot down, 3-1. I mean, in that climate, it was hard enough to get over with a band like Mötley Crüe, but to try to go out all guns blazing and play like it was business as usual was suicide.
Q: Super ironic, since that is exactly what they did on the subsequent tour for Generation Swine. I actually met the guys on that tour and they were making it a point to reconnect with the fanbase and sort of start over…then later on, they were allowing the fans to choose songs and pick local opening acts…
A: I know, I know…(laughs). They are doing good, the four of them, which is what it is. The other thing I was dead set against during the promotion of the ’94 album was that they insisted on bashing Vince at every opportunity. I told them over and over and over how I was uncomfortable with it. I didn’t like how they kept saying, this is the new, improved Crüe. Why say that? Your last album was the biggest album in the world. You are COMPLETELY alienating the entire part of your fanbase that is loyal to Vince. Why do that? Just shut up and move on. But they insisted on making it a war on Vince and making fat jokes, saying he can’t sing, and all this. Meanwhile, there’s this whole segment of the fanbase buying Vince’s solo album and it’s like, why turn them off to our album? Stupid. I have performed onstage with Vince when he’s doing his solo thing. We’ve gotten up and jammed sometimes on stuff, and it’s always cool. We did “Highway to Hell,” which was fun, and we get on fine. People think there’s this animosity between us, but it just isn’t true. I see him and we always have a big hug, and it’s cool. We actually hung out quite a bit during the making of Generation Swine when I was still involved with the band, working on the record. Vince and I would be there in the studio just he and I, talking and workin’ on stuff. I have no problem with him personally.
Q: I’m not going to the shows anymore. I don’t have enough disposable income to go see that again and again, and I am in the minority of fans that got spoiled by that album you did with the band. I have seen them since, but it’s just tired sounding to me and that was the last great Crüe album. I have liked songs here and there on Saints of Los Angeles and Swine, but I just can’t get into it like I used to. … To me and some others, that self-titled Crüe album was the last one that really sounds like a group effort and doesn’t sound forced, you know?
A: Thanks. Well, it really was. It wasn’t just the Nikki show. It was he, myself, Tommy and Mick. We all wrote, we banded together, literally, and that is the result. It was truly an enjoyable experience, and we all sort of felt like kids again. The whole “making music” thing was fresh again for ALL of us, and I think it sounds that way. We were all super excited and really into the making of that record. There was all this going on, our marriages, getting sober, staying sober, the music scene changing…all of it, but we just kind of found ourselves breathing and living through that time by making music.
Q: Those of us who are psycho Crüe fans want some clarification. Is it true that when you joined the band you weren’t really a fan and had to actually learn most of the material? It’s hard to believe, as big as they were at that point…
A: It is true. I mean, I was familiar with the band, of course. I had heard them, but I wasn’t like way into them or anything. You have to get to know my musical tastes, which are pretty much all over the map. My record collection is like Deep Purple, Jackson Five, Etta James, just a lot of different kinds of music. I love Prince. I love Chris from Soundgarden and Audioslave. I love Rage Against the Machine and a lot of that stuff. Mostly, I just like really soulful stuff and lots of older music and wasn’t that into listening to tons of that metal scene, although I was IN it (laughs).
Q: At this point, I’d rather listen to Nikki or Tommy’s side projects. I heard that Mick was working on a solo album. Is there a chance you and he could both be guests on each other’s albums? I know you were/are real close with Mick.
A: Actually, yeah. That is a big yes. I love Mick. I just think he is this totally misunderstood, under-appreciated guitar player and he’s a great guy aside from that.
Q: The E.S.P. (Eric Singer Project) allows you and Bruce to go out and do some of the stuff you did with Union again. That Live in Japan album is unreal. Obviously, people know you and Eric and Bruce from KISS, but your bass player Chuck is amazing on the old KISS covers when he does the Gene parts. It’s like 1975 Gene. I know the band does amazing business overseas, so that’s why you guys keep going back to it, but is it also as much fun as it sounds?
A: It is. It’s like a big hangout. And yes, it does do really well overseas, so that doesn’t hurt. I love Eric. Chuck is a beast, you’re right…he played with Eric in the Alice Cooper band and he does do a mean Gene. It’s cool ’cause we get to play stuff from all of our career and then just also play like amazing classic rock stuff. We did “Oh Darling” by the Beatles. Bruce and I are like oil and water, but somehow it always works. We clicked musically in Union, too. So, it’s cool to be able to do that stuff for the people that appreciated it. He is just…he is a really particular, neat…organized guy, and I’m just a kind of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of guy.
Q: We are so honored to have you up here to do this show in Rockford, which is a benefit show for Rockford’s biggest music fan, Verne K. Smith. He was at every show, every band and was just a local icon for as long as anyone can remember.
A: That is very cool. I think doing these benefit gigs are a lot of fun. It makes you feel good to be able to put something positive out there and do something good for someone, to be able to do something to help. I have lost people close to me to cancer, so that is something that really hits home. And for this company, the Arc, to just exist and be there to help people and families. It’s a great thing. I am looking forward to playing and doing my thing and hope people dig it and have some fun.
Q: One last question… Is it true that Nelson from RIPT is your spiritual, musical and personal inspiration?
A: Yeah…(laughs)…is that what he told you? Jesus, I love the guy. Yes, he is right behind Paul McCartney. It’s Sir Paul and then Ringo Nelson. I met Ringo while I was out with Firehouse and we just became great friends. I would hide out and hang out with him. I’m looking forward to getting to see the RIPT guys and maybe jamming a couple tunes. I know they were pretty popular there in the area, so I look forward to getting to see their crazy fans…I have heard about the RIPT fans!!!
June 29-July 5, 2011 issue