If you say you’re a lover of great rock and roll music and you’re not familiar with the work of John Corabi, then I say shame on you. Although most people associate him with being “the guy who tried to replace Vince in the Crue,” there are many more layers of musical integrity to this guy. He is finally able to scratch releasing an unplugged album off of his musical bucket list, as his aptly titled Unplugged CD was recently released. Well, before I get into that and my interview with John, let me give you the cliff notes version on his work so far.
John has given us some amazing works of music going back to his work with Angora. He later formed The Scream and released an awesome album in 1991 entitled Let It Scream, which fetches a pretty hefty penny on Ebay if you ever run across it. In 1994, he sang on the most underrated and underappreciated album in the Mötley Crüe catalog. Speaking of underrated, he formed the band Union with former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick and released two studio albums that were lost in the grunge shuffle of the industry. He also recorded with the Brides of Destruction and played in Ratt.
Now, that’s your crash course on John and now I think we should dive right into what’s going on with the man that many people go “oh yeah, I know that guy” when I talk to them about him
Hey John, how’s it going my friend?
Hey buddy, I’m doing alright, but I have bronchitis right now. It’s just something that’s going around right now with everybody. The meds that they have me on really knocks me out a little bit.
We can do this later if you’re not up to it John, I totally understand if you’re not.
Oh no, I’m fine, let’s do this. It was funny because I was doing some show here in Nashville with Tom Keifer and his solo band. I was talking to some of the guys in the band and they said that their bus was like a rolling Petri dish, they were all sick. Tom actually missed the Monsters of Rock cruise because his bronchitis turned into pneumonia.
How was that Monsters of Rock cruise? Was that your first one?
Actually, this is the second Monsters of Rock cruise that I did. I also did one with Ratt in 2007 or 2008 and I did one with Vince Neil called the Mötley Cruise. Yeah, this one was fun man. You get to hang out on a boat with people from all over the world that you don’t get to hang out with in a club that come to see you play. I took my girlfriend the last couple of years and everybody’s been so fucking polite and cool and so respectful. I had a, pardon my French, fucking blast man! The only bad thing that I can think of is that there are so many bands and so many things going on at the same time, even for me. I mean, I didn’t get to see Tesla this time because I was setting up.
Let’s talk a bit about your Unplugged CD that just recently came out. I spoke to you when you opened for Cinderella in 2011 and you were working on it then. That thing has been a labor of love for quite a few years now hasn’t it?
To be honest with you, to do an unplugged CD has probably been a 25 year labor of love for me. No matter what song that I wrote for whatever band or CD, they have all always been written on an acoustic guitar. That really allows me to hone in on a melody. When I get home from a tour, my electrics get packed underneath my bed and my acoustics are scattered all throughout my house. So, I did the Cinderella tour a few years ago and I really didn’t know how it was going to go over with me walking out on stage by myself, with an acoustic guitar. It went over great and when I spoke to you, I had started recording a couple of things. Yet, due to the mechanics and the politics of the music industry, it was delayed. Initially, it was supposed to come out on one label and then Universal got involved. There was something about the Universal America people being totally behind it, but the Universal London people weren’t and at that point, Rat Pack jumped in. The record itself has been done, but there’s been a lot of political bullshit going on. We were trying to find the right people who believed in it to put it out and go to the wall for me the way that I want them to go to the wall for me. I believe in this record and I want someone behind it who is going to believe in the project as well.
I’m glad Rat Pack stepped up and believed in you because this is a great album. It really does span your entire career. How hard was it to narrow it down to twelve songs?
There could have been a couple of obvious tunes on there from Union like “October Morning Wind” or “Robin’s Song”; I could have just redone those, but what’s the point? I kind of wanted to do two songs from Scream, Mötley and Union. From Union, we went with “Love, I Don’t Need It Anymore,” which has always been one of my favorite songs. I always thought it was this jam that nobody ever paid attention to. I chose to try and do a version of “Everything’s Alright” and I thought it would translate well. For Mötley we did a completely different version of “Hooligan’s Holiday” and I really couldn’t think of anything else from the Mötley session that I could pull off, but we ended up going with “Love Shine.” For Scream, “Man in the Moon” is quite a bit different than the original and “Father, Mother, Son” is a little different and we went with kind of a bluegrass version of “Never Loved Her Anyway.”
You have five new songs on there as well. Are they all brand new songs or were any of them works in progress going back a bit?
No, some of them are brand new and some have been sitting around for quite a while. To be perfectly frank, there was a time when I was in Ratt where I was sitting there and looking at the state of the music business. I had just gone through four years with Union and trying to make that work and then here I was trying to do the Ratt thing. Around 2003, I sat there and thought, I really don’t know if I want to do this. I was questioning myself and if this is what I really wanted to do. We did the Rock Never Stops Tour in 2003 or 2004 and it was Dokken, Ratt, Firehouse, Warrant and L.A. Guns and I had this weird moment. We were at the Pig Pen, I don’t remember the city but I remember the place, and outside of it they had a stage set up. We had five bands on the bill and it holds about 3000-4000 people and there were about 200 people there. I watched L.A. Guns do their set and then Warrant and Firehouse, and then we did our set. As I watched Dokken, I got really introspective and I thought, “Fuck man, any one of these bands, ten years ago, would have completely sold this fucking place out on their own. Now, there are five of us here and there are only 200 people here.” I don’t want to be a guy that becomes a nostalgic act and play music that I recorded 20 years ago. I thought to myself, “Did I fucking peak in 1994 with Mötley?” I was probably over thinking it, but I told myself that I needed to get out of this for a little bit. I knew at some point that I wanted to a solo record, but I had just done three with Union and nobody gave a shit. I can’t get on MTV, I can’t get on radio and I am looking at these five bands that nobody seems to give a shit about anymore. I kind of had a really negative, dark thing going on for a period, but it didn’t stop me from writing; I had a shitload of ideas. It was weird because around 2008 or 2009, I had a few people come to me telling me that I really did have a lot of fans and that I really should do something. I said, “Fuck it, it is what it is. I’ll get out there and do a record and promote it and hopefully the fans will embrace it.” I’m in a headspace now where I am what I am and I do what I do. I love writing and being in the studio and being on the stage connecting with the audience. It’s kind of funny because I had a business friend of mine tell me that the difference between fame and obscurity is one song; if you think about it, it’s the truth. It helped to snap me out of that place that I was in. I don’t really want to say that I was being negative; I’d like to think that I was being optimistically pessimistic or optimistically realistic.
Going back to what you said about the bands on that tour that you were doing. I’ve never understood why so many people who followed those bands back then just gave up on them. I don’t understand when someone says they outgrew a band. If I like a band, then I like that regardless of how old I am.
I get what you’re saying and as big of a Beatles fan that I am, I don’t like every fucking song that they write. I mean “Piggies” off the White Album, I could take or leave that, and I could take or leave Zeppelin or Aerosmith or Queen songs. I know you’re not going to get a 100% ratio, I get that. The music business in general is going through a really strange time right now, not only just for musicians, but even for people like DJs. When I was growing up in Philadelphia, they were like rock stars themselves; guys like Jim Ladd and Bob Colburn. Their wings have been completely clipped because some guy sitting in an office in Atlanta is sending out playlists to 180some stations that Clear Channel owns. Radio is so different these days because it has no outlet for local bands anymore. I grew up in Philly and on Sundays they had a local band thing and they played five or six songs from local bands that were looking for exposure. They don’t do that anymore, in most cases. The DJs have personalities and they would have a request line where you could call in and request a song, even if it was something obscure. All that’s been removed from the equation and America is being forced fed a play list of ten or twelve or twenty songs that they put on a loop card and play over and over again. That’s why I think we get burnt out so soon. If I sat here and listened to “Stairway to Heaven” fifty times in a row, I wouldn’t want to hear it for a while. That’s what I think the fucking problem is! They just burn out whatever, whether it was the 80s hair bands, then the grunge thing, then the whole Green Day punk/pop thing, then the boy band thing, and just goes on and on. There are plenty of guys or artists like me out there who are considered done, dinosaurs, finished, over the hill and it’s not the cool thing anymore. I said it in an interview before that I had a record company tell me and Bruce Kulick in Union that they wouldn’t sign us because there were two guys in the band older than the guy who wanted to sign us. I’m like, I’m not trying to play linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles, and I’m not trying to be a boxer. There’s not supposed to be an age limit in art. I mean even George Foreman won the fucking heavyweight when he was 50, anything’s possible. I know it has nothing to do with music, but I was so fucking happy for George Foreman when he won the heavyweight title at 50. That is the biggest “fuck you” to everybody that I can possibly think of. That’s the head space that I have gotten myself into lately. I don’t feel like I have peaked from an artistic point of view, I feel like I am just getting started.
It’s not over until you say it’s over my friend. Did moving to Nashville help to change your perspective on things? I keep hearing so many great things about the music scene in Nashville.
I moved here about five years ago. I actually came here to write with a few people while I was still living in L.A. To be honest with you man, I was in L.A. for 20 years and I had some great ups and some horrible downs there. When I got to Nashville, I was looking around at the people and how laid back everyone is here. I’m not blowing any smoke up anyone’s ass, I tell all my friends that there’s something definitely to be said about southern hospitality. I went back home after visiting and I was sitting on the 405 freeway in L.A. and we were not moving at all and I just go, “Fuck this! What am I doing?” I really liked Nashville, so I packed it all up and got the fuck out. I kid you not, it was four days later and I packed up my car with my guitars and grabbed some clothes and came to Nashville and started over. I have a couple of friends in L.A. who are like, “I can’t believe you’re in Nashville with these country bumpkin mother fuckers.” I had to refresh their memory because if you sat down with Jimmy Page and asked him who some of his biggest influences were on guitar, as heavy as Zeppelin was, one of the guys that he idolized was from Nashville and Memphis; Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s guitar player. He was a huge session player in Tennessee. There’s another hugely influential guy with a lot of these rock cats like the Rolling Stones and is a really good friend of mine by the name of Steve Cropper. You also have to remember that Cinderella lives here, Kid Rock, Winger, the Nelsons, Slaughter, Kings of Leon are from here, Robert Plant, Jack White, the Black Keys and Sheryl Crow, so it’s not just the country bumpkins that everyone thinks it is.
Last year, Mick Mars was on 93.3 WMMR in Philly and he said that he thought the album that you did with Mötley was the best album that they had ever done. I’m sure you probably heard about this. How did that make you feel?
Look, everybody probably wants to read into my relationship with Mötley whatever they want. I can’t, for the life of me, make the haters stop hating me. For the record, I am fine with the guys; I don’t hate any of them. I adore Mick, I adore T-Bone and as much as Nikki and I have locked horns over the years, at times we’re one in the same person. We want the best musically that we can get, we’re so alike in that way, neither of us do things half-ass and I get Nikki. There are a lot of misconceptions of the guy and he’ll walk around and shrug it off because he walks around trying to be this tough, tattooed rock star, but I’ve seen him on the other side. Nikki did one of the coolest, fucking things ever when I joined the band. He went out and bought me a brand new Harley. Even Vince, people would think that he and I would hate each other. Vince knows that I had nothing to do with him leaving the band and he also knows that his shoes were very, very hard to fill. I think he even mentioned it in his book that the cards were stacked against me to begin with. I think deep down that Tommy, Mick and Nikki know that we made a great record together. Is it their best record? I’m not going to be the one to say that, but for that time period and time frame, I think we made something really special. A guy liked my fan page on Facebook so that he could come on there and tell me that I sucked and that Mötley got rid of me for a good reason. In return, I “liked” his comment and I wrote, “thank you very much sir, oh by the way, Vince has been back since 1998, so let it go.” (laughs). Anyone can think whatever the fuck they want to about me, but the bottom line is I dare any one of those fuckers who write to me like that or hate me; I dare any of them to do anything differently than I did in the same position. I have no qualms about the album, actually the three albums that I did with them. We did the self-titled one, Quaternary, and what became Generation Swine. I hold no ill will at all towards the guys and I wish them all the best. I have a tattoo on my chest that says in Italian, “life is as it should be.” Things just happen the way they happen and I’m here talking to you and they’re off doing their thing and life is good.
If you could go back in time and give the younger version of yourself any advice, what would it be?
I would probably tell myself to quit smoking. I would tell myself that I will one day join Mötley Crüe
and a lot of the people who suck up to you during that time really aren’t really your friends. I would say that there are a couple of girls who you are going to come up to you and they’re going to take you home and have their way with you and you’re going to end up getting married. When they say hello, please keep walking (laughs).
Do you remember the first album that you ever bought?
My first real start to a record collection was when my mom went out one Christmas and bought me Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced, Deep Purple‘s Machine Head, David Bowie Ziggy Stardust and Led Zeppelin.
Wow, those are classics man! They just don’t make records like that anymore. I guess we need to wrap this up so you can get back to resting up. I hope you get to feeling better soon John. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us today.
I’m thankful that there are still people out there who want to talk to me! I do want to thank anybody and everybody who has been involved with my career and has supported me over the last 25 years. I absolutely adore each and every one of them and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Go check out my album and you can get it at Amazon, iTunes or ratpakrecords.com. At the end of the day, it’s all about guys like you who get it and truly dig the music. If you ever make it to Virginia or North Carolina, we’ll kick back and catch up and have some tequila.
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