John Corabi has quite the prolific career within the rock and metal community; aside from his most readily recognized role as “that guy who replaced Vince Neil in Motley Crue,” Corabi has served as a member of such bands as Angora, The Scream, Ratt, Union and Angel City Outlaws, the latter of which was an all-star rock collective featuring both current and former members of LA Guns, Ratt and Motley Crue.
His 1994 studio album as the lead vocalist for Motley Crue remains one of the most underrated efforts from a prominent heavy metal band, and over time has developed a dedicated cult following in addition to a more open-minded audience. Fast forward twenty years later, and Corabi is preparing to venture out with his own band in support of the anniversary of the effort, as the members of Motley Crue are embarking on the next leg of their farewell tour.
However, it’s important to note that Corabi intends on remaining relevant through new material, as opposed to simply becoming a nostalgia act; his latest release, 2012’s ‘Unplugged,’ offered a more reflective perspective into the rock frontman’s discography, and he plans on crafting his follow-up to serve as his most diverse offering yet.
I recently sat down with John Corabi to discuss a broad variety of topics including his plans for performing the eponymous Motley Crue album in it’s entirety, his thoughts behind the effort, his ongoing relationship with Motley guitarist Mick Mars, his career as a member of Ratt and his palette of musical influences.
Music Enthusiast: I appreciate you speaking with me this evening, John, but in case you haven’t heard, Gene Simmons has declared that “rock is finally dead.” My first question for you is which profession would you like to move in since we’re all out of a job?
Well, I kind of disagree. I don’t think it’s… obviously it’s different. It’s a little more difficult, I mean, when I think Gene says “rock is dead” that he’s just talking about the days of going out and selling, you know? Bands like, even KISS to a degree, bands like KISS and Motley [Crue], Ratt, Poison, Bon Jovi, I just think the days of those bands going out and selling ten or twelve, fifteen million records like they used to do back in the day, it’s not happening. Is it dead? No. But I think it’s a little bit harder, there’s a little bit more of a groundswell then what it used to be before, you know? Bands could go get a record deal, have a big record, have a recording advance and all that stuff. With technology being the way that it is right now with Pro Tools and all that other stuff, more and more people are recording stuff at home and just utilizing YouTube and Facebook. So I don’t think it’s dead, I just think there’s new ways of doing things, that’s all. You’ve got to adapt, or get out! (laughs)
Retaining a more serious approach, I had the pleasure of catching your recent appearance at the 80s in the Park music festival in Melbourne. Was the weather as brutal onstage as it was out in the crowd?
You know, I was a little disappointed in the festival in its entirety. I don’t know how many of those things they’ve done, but I just think that… for lack of a better term, it was a bit disorganized and then the weather didn’t help either. People were standing knee deep in mud, the backstage was horrible. I went the day before and played, and everybody warned me to wear a pair of sandals and shorts. I literally got out of my car and stepped in three feet of mud, so it made it a little difficult. Whatever. Then there was an issue with the promoter, the guy who runs the thing? You know the guy who actually runs the event, it was his concert. He told me to be there at one time, and when I showed up the production people were pissed at me because I showed up a half hour late. I actually thought I was a half hour early! It was just disorganized, but the fans that were there had a great time. I had a better time just sitting back at the hotel, back at the piano bar just fucking off and having some fun, so it was cool.
I believe it was their second time running the festival, so that might explain the organization side of it, but I agree, the mud didn’t make it so enjoyable.
Yeah, and it wasn’t just mud, it was like a combination of, like mud and manure, you know what I mean? So it just had this real funky smell, and I just didn’t dig it.
I hear you. Going back to your actual performance, you brought out selections from your previous efforts as a member of The Scream and Motley Crue during your set. Songs like “Hooligan’s Holiday” will most likely always find their way into a John Corabi performance regardless of the setting, but do you enjoy catering to nostalgia-oriented audiences during those types of throwback festivals?
I don’t mind. Look, at the end of the day I just like playing, and at the end of the day it’s difficult to get people, new fans, old nostalgic fans, whatever, off of their couch and put the remote down and get in the car, spend money in gas, spend money to get in, spend money for drinks, spend money for shirts and all this other stuff.
I just like going and being able to play and have fun and do my thing. I’m getting ready to do a new record, and I want to evolve, I want to grow. I just don’t want to be the guy who was in Motley for the rest of my life, I want to be able to grow into something.
But at the end of the day, there’s talent involved, there’s timing, there’s luck. There’s all these other things, so you just go out and you do what you do. You try and have fun, you try and make a living and just enjoy what you’re doing, and I do.
Moving into your more recent efforts, you notably played the entire set acoustically, similar to the approach found on your 2012 unplugged release. What is it about sitting with an acoustic guitar that is so appealing to you personally?
Well first of all, it’s easy. A lot of the club owners and promoters that I’ve dealt with like not having to deal with a full band. They don’t have to deal with a tour bus, they don’t have to deal with anything. I just basically show up, I walk out of the car with an acoustic guitar, I plug in, I tell some stories and at the end of the day it’s very intimate, you know what I mean? I’ve had so many people come up to me in the last year, year and a half – I’ve been literally touring for about a year and a half now on that acoustic record, and everyone’s come up to me and just said, “Wow, I didn’t realize that’s what you were singing there.” They can really embrace the lyrics and the melodies, and it’s not just like… they’re not just being bombarded by power.
So it’s pretty cool, and way back in the day when I was doing The Scream album, I had the good fortune of meeting a gentleman named Steve Marriott from Humble Pie. He had commented on a couple of The Scream songs and he thought that they were really great. He just said something to me that really stuck throughout my whole career, and that was, “If you can play a song on an acoustic guitar and entertain an audience, just on the melody and the lyrics, then it’s a great song.” So it just kind of stuck with me, and as a little side note, pretty much every record that I’ve ever done – Scream, Motley, Union, everything – pretty much every song that I’ve ever written has started out on an acoustic guitar. So, why not? I did the acoustic record, I did my thing and it’s been so far so good, man. It’s been awesome.
I agree. Now the last I heard, you were preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Motley Crue’s 1994 self-titled studio album on tour. How are you carrying this effort out on the road, considering the dramatic arrangements to such numbers as “Welcome to the Numb” and “Smoke the Sky”?
Well to be honest with you, I’m off now for the next three weeks. I’m doing another cruise in November, the Monsters of Rock alumni cruise, and then right after that we’re going to start. We have a couple of shows in Wisconsin and a couple in upstate New York, and my agent right now is starting to book shows for that. My band has done a great job putting the music together, and now for the next couple weeks I’m just going to get into a room with them and plug in the PA and I’m going to start singing and running through all the stuff with them.
We’re actually doing the whole record in its entirety, plus a couple of extra songs. Everything I’ve heard musically so far, the guys have nailed it. I have two guitar players, a guy named Josh Dutoit and Jeremy Asbrock, and then I have my bass player Topher Noland, and my son is playing drums for me. I’ve gone down there a couple of times to rehearse, and they’ve got it, man, so it’s going to be pretty cool. I’m just playing guitar on a few of the songs that I need to play on, and then the rest of the stuff I’m just gonna front.
That Motley Crue album is particularly interesting because of the cult following it has developed over the years; fans were very hesitant to embrace it upon it’s original release, however there are many heavy metal followers who consider it to be Motley Crue’s best album. Mick Mars even considers it his equivalent to The Beatles’ ‘White Album.’ What is your opinion of the effort, and your reasoning behind bringing it onto the road?
Well at the end of the day – well, I’m going to apologize because I say “at the end of the day” quite often. (laughs) I just recently found out that Tommy [Lee]’s using, he’s playing in his drum solo a couple of snippets from the record in his drum solo, which is awesome and I texted him and thanked him for allowing me to participate in his drum solo. It was honestly my manager’s idea, and his concept was, “Listen, Motley’s going out, they’re doing their last run this year.” And he said, “Oddly enough, it’s on the 20th anniversary of when your record came out.” So he goes, “Before you go in to do a new record, I think you should go out and you should play that material, because those guys aren’t going to play it.”
I’ve had long talks with Mick [Mars], and Mick’s a little disappointed, or he told me he’s disappointed in the fact that Motley doesn’t do any of the material I did and they don’t do any of the material that they did when Randy Castillo was with them. They just kind of bypass those two or three records, I know I did two records, start of a third. I don’t know how many Randy did, I think one. They don’t do any of that material at all, so I put it out there to some of the fans and asked them if they would like to hear this, and the response was just totally overwhelming.
So right now, I have a guy who called me about doing some shows in Europe, about three weeks or a month in Europe. My agent here in America said that the response has been really, pretty cool. We’re going to go out, we’re going to start in November, I think it’s either the 21st or the 22nd, we’ve got a couple of shows up in Wisconsin and then we’re doing a couple up in upstate New York. So we’re going to do that, and we’ll see how it goes from there. We’ll see, if there is truly some want for it then I’ll do like a run, man. It doesn’t have to be… I’m starting it this year, but I’m thinking it’s probably going to carry over into next year, and while I’m doing that I’m going to start writing material, getting material together for my new album.
Like you mentioned, Motley Crue are currently out on their final world tour. Huge hypothetical here, but if you were still a member of the band would a farewell tour be something you’d be in support of?
If I was still in the band? Well, in all honesty I’m not in the band, so I can’t really tell you what their mindset is and why they’re really kind of stopping now. Me personally, I’m not ready to stop playing, but if I was in a band situation with those guys and they said, “You know what, we’ve been doing this for 30+ years” – I mean, it’s been twenty years since I was in the band, and they had already been together for another ten, so they’ve been going for like 30+ years and they’ve been dealing with each others’ idiosyncrasies and egos and different things like that. So if I was still in the band, it’d have to be a group thing and if they said, “We don’t want to do this anymore,” then I would go along with it, but it wouldn’t mean that I was done, you know what I mean? Me personally, I would want to continue doing music, that’s the only thing I know how to do. Without sounding too spiritual or sappy, I think that’s what God put me on earth to do, so why waste the opportunity?
After the band is finished with their farewell tour, Mick Mars is planning on moving into a solo career. Would you be interested in working with him outside of Motley Crue, and have the two of you discussed collaborating again since you’ve left the lineup?
Mick actually lives here in Nashville, which is where I live. We’ve actually had contact with each other, and right after Mick’s birthday I took him out for sushi for dinner. I just wanted to go and hang out with him, and I told Mick, “If you decide to do a solo record,” because he had talked to me about possibly writing with him, “whatever you want to do, just let me know. I’m in. If you just need help writing, I’m in. If you need somebody to actually help write the stuff and sing it and go out and do some shows, I’ll do that as well.” We have to make it work so I can do both, like I could do Mick’s solo thing and then my solo thing, but I think it would be fun. I love Mick, he’s such an underrated guitar player but he’s a good guy. I just love hanging out with Mick, he’s funny, he’s one of the most kindest human beings you’ll ever meet in your life. So I told him, “Whatever I can do to help, I’m in.”
Over the years you have been a part of an array of different projects, one of which had you serving as a guitarist and backup vocalist with Ratt for eight years. During that time frame, Stephen Pearcy, Robert Mason and Jizzy Pearl all stood at the front of the lineup; you were a more consistent member of the band than their lead singer! What do you take away from your time as a member of Ratt?
Well first of all, I wasn’t a member of the band when Robert Mason was in the band. They had auditioned Robert and then actually wound up going with Jizzy, and Jizzy and I kind of joined around the same time. To be honest with you, I knew all of the guys, I had met Bobby [Blotzer] and Warren [DeMartini], I had known Robbie Crane for years. I have known Robbie Crane since he was like 17 years old, so I knew those three guys and I had even met Stephen and Juan [Croucier] and all the guys prior to me joining the band, like when I was in Motley and so on and so forth. For lack of a better term, when I hooked up those guys, I just wanted kind of a break but I didn’t want to step out of music.
You have to understand, at that point I had already been with The Scream, I’d done the Motley thing, Union we did three albums, and nothing was really clicking or happening. Bruce Kulick had just gotten an offer to play with Grand Funk Railroad, you know, so I talked to Ratt and they needed – initially, they were talking with me about singing with them, which I did not want to do, but they talked with me about possibly playing guitar and singing backing vocals. And I was like, “Well, I’m pretty cool with that,” because it meant that I could just go and play, travel, still go out and do shows and not have to worry about the others which I was worrying about, like how many tickets were sold, how many t-shirts were sold.
As a singer, having to worry about “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that,” and “Don’t drink” and “Be careful, you have to get to bed at a certain time.” I didn’t have to worry about that, it was kind of easy because I could just go, hang out with pals and have a Guinness, or five, and I could go to bed at four o’clock in the morning and get up at seven, and not have to worry about being on the top of my game to sing, you know what I mean? And all that other shit. I was just looking at it as a break, and I had a great time, man! I spent eight years with the guys, we had a lot of fun and I just got to the point where I’d had enough of a break, and now I’m ready to get back out and start writing again, and going back out and singing and being my own guy again.
That was it, and I left on great terms with them. I’ve seen… hell, at the NAMM show I saw Warren down there and I saw Ratt play at the NAMM show, then I played the following night at the House of Blues, and the following day I met with Bobbie Blotzer and Robbie Crane and we just sat and had lunch at a place called the Sage Husk Cantina. We sat there and hung out, and just got completely obliterated from, like one o’clock in the afternoon until about seven o’clock at night. We hung out and just had a blast, so it was awesome.
You have a songwriting credit for “Don’t Let Go” on Ratt’s 2010 studio album, ‘Infestation.’ When was that song put together, and did you regularly work on material with the band while you were their guitarist?
No, actually that was from a record that I did with Bobbie, the  Twenty 4 Seven record. I believe the original version of it was called “Due Time,” and Bobbie and I had worked on that song, it wound up being on the record but that record didn’t do squat. So I guess Bobbie brought it in and he played it for Stephen, and Stephen dug the riff so Stephen went in and redid the lyrics and changed the title, and they gave me a songwriting credit on it.
Ratt currently do not have a lead singer, as Stephen Pearcy has left the lineup to focus on his solo career. I know you said you were hesitant about singing for the band back in 2000, but if you were approached about it now, would you consider handling the main microphone for Ratt, even temporarily?
Nope. No, I don’t mean it in any other way than I’m very happy with what I am doing now. I’m my own boss, I’m my own guy. I go out, I have a great agent, I have a great manager. I have a great record label, Rat Pak Records, so I have a good team around me, I have a great band that I love jamming with, they’re easy going, they’re fun. You know, my son is my drummer, so I’m kind of excited about the fact that I’m going to be able to write new material and record it and travel the world with my son. I’m actually going to be able to, within the next year, go and play in Europe and actually take him with me and show him places like Germany and Italy and Spain and Japan and Australia and all over America, all these places where he’s never been before. So I’m excited about it, man! I’m not interested in doing anything other than what I’m doing, so when I say “no” it’s not for any other reason than that I just want to do what I’m doing. Period. So, it’s all good.
Turning back to your solo career, do you think your next album is going to be more in line with ‘Unplugged’ or are you returning to distortion-fueled songs? Where are you heading musically?
I think, to be honest with you, I’m truly almost to a fault very eclectic. I love everything, I love everything from Led Zeppelin, [Black] Sabbath, I love The Beatles, I love bands like Jellyfish, The Black Crowes, I love the [Rolling] Stones. I just love great music, so at this point right now I’ve got some great stuff that’s just kind of demoed that’s pretty heavy, and then I’ve got some stuff that’s still electric but it’s going to be very musical, i.e. Queen meets The Beatles, with some great power guitars on them. I’m excited to see what comes out of this next outing with the band and what comes out of my head, you know what I mean? It’s going to be pretty cool. I’m excited about.
Yeah, me too. When you talk about having a broad taste in musical influences, what do you think the possibility is of having your next album be more of a varietal effort, with country elements or pop elements?
Well, if you really think of the progression of music, I kind of feel this all started in one place. There was blues, there was all the blues stuff with the greats, like the black blues artists, and then it was turned again by artists like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Louis and Chuck Berry, and all that stuff. They kind of put their twist on it, and all along people have just been adding to that formula, you know? And then you had those guys who were influenced by the blues guys, and then you had those guys who influenced guys like The Beatles and the Stones and all that stuff, and then that whole English Invasion.
But if you really think about it, too, your old Elvis Presley stuff wasn’t really that far off, it was kind of rock and roll but it was also kind of rockabilly, and then you had guys like Johnny Cash doing his stuff with kind of skittle beats behind it. So, country and rock… there’s been kind of a weird line between country and rock, I think they’re just offshoots of each other. And then you had bands like The Beatles, who took the blues stuff and were doing shit like “Roll Over Beethoven,” and they were doing all these classic rock songs, but they were also into country stuff. If you think about it, one of The Beatles’ early hits that Ringo Starr sang was a song called “Act Naturally,” and that’s an old Buck Owens song. It’s a country song.
So, I don’t really look at those labels, I just write the way that I write and I put it forth the way I put it forth. Now, you have all those bands like The Beatles, the Stones and all that stuff, and later it kind of evolved even further into bands like Queen and Led Zeppelin. I’m reading a book right now by Joe Perry, and a lot of the artists that he grew up listening to were early rock guys, like Elvis and Chuck Berry and all those cats, but he was also into punk, he was into country, he was into a lot of different things. For me, it gives you more to draw on, like it just gives me a lot more colors to put on the palette. So I don’t really look at the labels, man, I just don’t dig it.
When I say that I’m into everything, I’m truly into everything. I love a lot of different rock stuff, I love R&B stuff, I love the old Motown – like, I’m not an encyclopedia on it, but there’s some things that I heard when I was growing up that stuck in my head and it was definitely Motown. Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, all that Motown stuff. I just kind of take from wherever, you know what I mean? My mom used to listen to, again, everything from Led Zeppelin to Glenn Campbell, Johnny Cash, Wayne Newton, whatever. Frank Sinatra. If it works, it works, but I don’t think about it when I’m writing.
Let me tell you what, I’m definitely interested in hearing actually what the end result is on your next studio album.
I think it’s going to be… sorry, I’m going to say it again. At the end of the day, I don’t really have a record label, or anybody standing over me going, “Well, your other records sounded like this. You’ve got to sound like this. At this point in my career, I have the complete freedom to just do what I want. I can have stuff on the record that is as heavy as the Motley record, and I can have stuff on the record that is as light as the acoustic record I just did, and I can do everything in between. I wrote a song with a friend of mine here in Nashville, a guy named Matt Farley. Matt also played some percussion on the acoustic record, and I wrote a song with him that I’m really excited about because I’m hearing it very… I’m hearing elements of Queen in this song so I’m really stoked about it, and it’s called “If I Could Only Sleep.” It’s, pardon my french, but it’s fucking awesome, and I’m really excited about it. It’s kind of a departure from anything that I’ve done before, but I’ve got some other stuff that’s very Led Zeppelin-esque, just stuff that reminiscent of The Black Crowes or old Rolling Stones, so it’s going to be a great record, but it’s going to be all over the place.
I recently sat down with Jeff LaBar, he’s the guitarist with Cinderella, and he also talked about how being signed with Rat Pak Records has given him more musical freedom to move from something almost Megadeth-esque to something similar to Fleetwood Mac, and still return to the style fans recognize him for as a member of Cinderella.
It’s funny, I am just finishing reading the Joe Perry book, and he kind of goes through from the very beginning when they [Aerosmith] just got their first deal right up until… I kind of stopped, I’ve still got a little more of the book to read, but he’s going through the point where they were doing the ‘Nine Lives’ tour. So they’re doing all this stuff, and back then the record label would give you all this money up front to record the record, and then they would come into the studio and they would sit there and listen to the record as a whole, and they would go, “Eh… I like this, this, this, this and that, but I don’t like these two songs. I think you need to go back in and either re-record them, or re-sing them, or change the lyrics.” They were protecting their investment. Now there’s no investments to protect. I basically have enough studio equipment at my house that I could…
Record it on your own?
Yeah! I’m in the process now of buying a new house with my wife that has a huge area in the house, like in the bottom of the house that I can set up a full rehearsal/recording studio and knock it out. And even if I can’t… if it’s not good enough to do an album, which it will be, but even if the tones and the sounds aren’t great, I’ll have enough stuff to where I can literally sit down there and really get great songs together, and then go into a studio and lay down drums and do the rest at my house, or whatever. It’s going to be cool, I’m excited about it. That’s the cool thing about being on a label where I can just work with whoever I want to work with, and I can just find what I feel are the ten best songs that just kick me in the ass, and put them on a record. It’ll be cool, man, I’m really excited about it.