The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
INTERVIEW 2013 John Corabi The Rockpit












John Corabi needs little introduction to many of our readers. You might have first heard his name as singer of the band ‘The Scream’ back in the late eighties, or later in the nineties when he replaced Vince Neil in Motley Crue? Maybe you remember him from later still when he joined Ratt on guitar (and stayed for eight years)? It makes no difference; something about John Corabi always stands out.


For me it was initially his voice and his work with The Scream on the classic ‘Let It Scream’ debut with tracks like ‘Outlaw’ and ‘Man in the Moon’ promising so much. Certain friends of mine still tell me that he sang on Motley’s best album. 


The best thing about John Corabi though is that he is still with us, and late last year he made arguably the best album of his career. Some people you get the chance to interview are a real pleasure, but John just might be one of the nicest guys in rock. It’s early on a January morning in the heat of Australian Summer that we catch up with him. After a few issues with dial codes and international connections we revert to Skype and the reception is crystal clear.




 John:  Hey buddy, how are you?



Mark: Not too bad mate, the line’s great here. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.



John: Hey no problem, sorry I’m late!



Mark: It’s early morning here, it’s all good.



Mark: I guess the first question I have to ask is the one that’s playing on my mind: your last record was back in 2000 with the UNION why has it taken you so long to get back to us with a new album?



John: Well (laughs) I kind of took a little time off to be honest with you. You know after the two or three records we did with the Union we weren’t really getting any help from anyone. I mean we couldn’t get arrested on the radio, got no support from MTV or any of that stuff, so to be quite honest as this is how we make our living, things kind of came to an end: at the time Bruce got the Grand Funk gig and I went and did the Ratt thing and Brent (Fitz) and James (Hunting) got the Vince Neil gig, but in all honesty the break was kind of refreshing.  I enjoyed the time with Ratt where I got to keep my toes in the water without having to worry about how many albums we’d sold that week, or how many T-shirts we’d sold and so the pressure was off and I took a break for a while. Then around 2008, 2009 I decided that I wanted to get back into writing and singing and recording again and it just took me that time really to put together a group of guys around me who were easy-going, talented were easy to get along with. So it’s been a while but it will pay off at some point! (Laughs)



Mark: I actually think it’s certainly worth the wait, the ‘Unplugged’ album certainly took me by surprise it’s pretty amazing, there’s obviously the songs on there by your past bands like Union, The Scream and of course Motley from your rich musical past, but it’s the new songs that really stand out.  I get a feel of bands like Tyketto and Mr Big, and done acoustically it’s pretty timeless.



John: To be honest with you I’ve always wanted to do an acoustic record and if you go back and look at all my albums there’s at least one but more often two acoustic numbers on every record. Everyone so far has been saying to me why are you doing an acoustic album for your first solo record and if I look at it that way it’s maybe a risk but I really didn’t think that way. I’ve done 8 or 9 albums, I’ve always wanted to do one, I do a lot of acoustic shows and they seem to go over well so I thought why not?  As well as that a long, long time ago during the Scream rehearsals for the first album I met Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton.



Mark: Sorry to interrupt the story but Steve Marriott has to be my all-time musical hero.



John: Dude on a little side note here Eddie Kramer was working with those guys in 1990 when we were in the studio and they were in and out of the studio next to us, and at the time there was talk of getting the original line-up (of Humble Pie) back together – you know:  Steve, Peter, Gerry (Shirley) and Greg (Ridley). And as I’m also huge Steve Marriott fan too, I was sat with the guys talking to them and generally being a bit of a ‘fan’ and I asked him if he would do something on the album, anything. He told me he’d heard the band and he dug the kind of organic bluesy vibe that the Scream had and would love to.


John:  It was at that point he said to me “If you can get up in front of people and entertain them just with voice and a guitar, then you’re a winner you’ve got a great song”. And from that point I’ve always wanted to try and do that.



Mark: I was lucky enough to meet Steve once before he died in a tiny little pub in the UK, he came and stood next to me at the bar between sets and just smiled with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, it’s the only time I’ve ever been stuck for words.



John: He was a monster talent and such a great guy.



It’s at this point the interview sound drops out for a minute before it clicks back in.



Mark: I think he’s absolutely right, if you can strip it all back and the song still touches people and entertains you have a great song on your hands.



John: You know I mean as a singer you know being in a band situation it’s a little different to acoustic as you’ve got huge drums and volume behind you and you don’t have to be perfect every time, you don’t have to be great, you can just do your bit and you can get away with a lot of things. What I took out of it from Steve was that in an acoustic situation you really have to be on your game. People are just listening to your voice, the lyrics and the melody and that’s it. So I just wanted to try it.



Mark: The new songs on the album all sound pretty fresh and they pass the test where after just a couple of listens my wife is singing along to them all (which is normally a good thing). Have any of the songs been around with you for a while or are they all pretty new?



John: You know a couple of the ‘new’ ones have been around as ideas for a bit. I kind of stockpile things: one of the songs ‘Are You Waiting?’ Wow that would have to be demoed in 1988 or 1989.



Mark: That makes sense, that was the one that most sounded like The Scream to me.



John: It was contemporary with those songs, I actually demoed that one and Steve Vai produced the demo, and it was always a song I thought was cool and so I pulled it out and played it for the band and they thought it was kinda cool. And it’s a song that has lyrics that haven’t really dated at all, so we worked it up, and my guitar player D.A. Karkos, my bassist Chris Nolen and Drummer Cheney Brannon all just listened to it and said ‘Dude why haven’t you released this before it’s a great tune’ and to be honest with you I had kinda forgotten about it! You know we took that one, blew the dust of of it; and then ‘Open Your Eyes’ is another song that has probably been around for maybe five or six years that I never really did anything with, I just demoed it up.



Mark: I think that was our favourite song of the new tracks.



John: Maybe it was even a little older, but six or so years ago I did that demo with a guy who for whatever reason just decided to put my demo up on the internet, but I never relay released it, and so I was not real happy about that as it wasn’t the best demo. So I always wanted to redo it and I sat down with my guitar player D.A. and he’s just sick when it comes to harmonies and we just had fun with it. So we tried it as a band and it came out really well. Man I have so many ideas: I just found a Dictaphone I found laying around in a dresser (Laughs).  I just filled it up with riffs, and there’s stuff on there from like five years ago – a riff I completely forgot about, there’s a ton of stuff there, but I’m a little bit of a slow mover! (Laughs) I’m planning on doing an electric record too so it will be great to blow the dust of a bunch of those ideas as well.



Mark: I was hoping you were going to say that. It must be wonderful to stumble on these things. What do you plan to do with the record John? Are you looking to take it out acoustically, maybe play a few festivals this year?



John: I would love to, you know I’m a little old school, people are already talking to me about the electric record but I kind of feel that there’s a cycle with every record and to me it’s a bit of a waste to start focussing on another project when this one is still kind of in its infant stage.  And so I totally want to go out and get all of the guys together, they are such great players, and writers and singers and so I just want people to hear this thing live. Honestly there isn’t a single song on that record, and there are a few others that we do, that don’t sound exactly like on the record when we play them live. I want people to hear it like that. Up till now I’ve been kinda doing things by myself which is OK, but I’d much rather do it with the band, you know get out there come to Australia, Europe and all these different places and just play.



Mark: You’ve actually been out to see us here a few times and sorry if my memory fails me, but was the first time with Ratt in 2007 or was it ESP?



John:  I was out there for the Ratt and Winger dates, but I was out there two times before that with ESP, and just recently I was out just before the holidays with another bunch of friends called ‘Lost Angels’: we did Sydney and Melbourne then we did an acoustic show in a town called Rye.



Mark: I sadly missed those shows: what was the reception like? I mean with you, the two Eric’s (Brittingham from Cinderella, and Dover from Alice Cooper and Slash’s Snakepit) and Troy (Patrick Farrell (White Lion, Pretty Boy Floyd) you’ve got a killer line up.



John: Yeah, it was great we had a great time, actually both shows were really good and the Rye show was great as it was acoustic it was pretty mellow. I guess Rye is pretty close to Melbourne so we did an acoustic show in Melbourne, then Rye, then Melbourne electric then over to Sydney. We had a great time and the fans were great. You guys are so cool; I think for the most part Australians are probably the jolliest bunch of people I’ve ever met in my life! My girlfriend said it the other day, we met a girl here in Nashville and we said something and she said ‘No Worries’ (John’s high pitched Aussie female accent is pretty good) and we walked out of the store and my girlfriend said I swear to God Australia should put that on their flag!



Mark: I think we should, that’s why we all live over here! Next time you get over you really should get out West – it’s beautiful out here but the only guy we really see is George Lynch as he likes the surfing.  We’re right on the West Coast.



John:  I would love that too, obviously being a big fan of AC/DC and Bon Scott, I know Bon was from the Perth area.


Mark: George described Western Australia as ‘like California without the people’ that one always stuck with me.



John: (Laughs) George has an odd way at looking at things! I’ll take that and chew on that for a little while.



Mark: If we could have a look back at some of your past bands, I was actually listening to the Angora album the other day...


John: Oh God! (Laughs) That’s a long, long, long. Long time ago my friend!



Mark: Do you ever listen to that? Or any of the really old stuff?



John: You know it’s really funny and I don’t l know what it is, but I really don’t listen to a lot of my own music.  I’ll do a record, promote it, go out and tour it, do everything, but at the end of the day, once I finish it I put it away and then I move on and focus and concentrate on the next thing. When I put a set together with the guys we’ll sit down and I’ll pick songs and then ask them to lay their input on me. And sometimes they will pick some songs where I have to go back and listen again to figure out what I was doing on guitar or what the lyrics were, whatever the deal is. But that’s usually when I do go back and listen to the music: when I’m putting a set together. Normally I don’t go back and listen to the stuff at all! And it’s really difficult for me to listen to the Angora stuff as it’s, you know over 20 years ago, so the things I was influenced by, or rather the things I was writing about were the things that I thought were cool then. I just go back and I listen to my lyrics and I go ‘Jesus what was I thinking!’ Some of the stuff is just so raw and basically I was just writing about going out and getting laid! I’d like to think there’s a couple of extra layers there now! 


Mark: (Laughs) I think everyone was writing about that back it those days – it was the law! The style of the times!



John: I’m pretty sure!


Mark: For me one of my defining moments in rock was the first time I heard OUTLAW by the Scream walking into a little local club I used to frequent – looking back on those times what were you best memories of that band?



John: Was that in the UK?



Mark: Yes, I remember back in the day you guys actually came out and played one show that we drove down to at the...



John: The Astoria theatre! We did one show and that was the only show in Europe that we did. I was actually telling someone not that long ago about that whole ordeal! Our record had just come out in Europe and so they brought us over to London to do the whole press thing, you know we did a bunch of interviews and we were in England for about five days in all. So we finally go to the Astoria theatre and I go in and I’m looking around and thinking ‘who has just completely lost their mind; who has put us in this room it must hold 3000 people!’ It was crazy because at that point we were just doing clubs and stuff in America and we were drawing pretty well, but it was pretty intimidating to walk into a club that size in another country and be expected to do well.


(Editor’s note: The Astoria was one of the UK’s most iconic Rock venues was closed in 2009 after being compulsory purchased to make way for a rail line despite massive public opposition. It officially held 2000 but Mark tells me that at times you were packed so tight you could barely move in there - Leslie ).



Mark: I think at the time the promoter had this grand plan if I remember rightly to bring out the cream of the up and coming American rock Bands?



John: Yeah they had this thing called ‘American Dream Time’ and they brought all these bands over for one night in London all at the Astoria theatre. But it was such a great night man. The night before we l went out for some drinks at the Hard Rock and we were sitting there at the bar, and these eight kids were looking at us kinda unsure thinking ‘Maybe it is them’ and they came over and started chatting. It was hilarious: they were like ‘Oh man we flew in from Spain to see you guys play tomorrow’ and we were blown away by all this thinking ‘Oh Wow, Spain from England that’s like all the way over the other side of the World!’ we had no idea, not a clue! (Laughs)



John: The day of the show we did our sound check, had dinner went back to the gig and we were in the dressing room and Vanessa (Warwick – Ricky’s wife) came in, interviewed us, and then she brought the Ramones in! They just wanted to say hi, so we were completely freaking out about that, and then we walk on stage and the curtain opens and it was completely fucking sold out! Am I’m like: this is amazing, I have arrived! And all I need now is a Newcastle Brown and a shot of Jameson’s and I’m good!  



Mark: That’s a classic story. I remember that night too, we piled about seven of us in a car not believing that you guys had flown in all the way from the States to some and see us!



John: Great memories of a great time.



Mark: You’ve been in two of what people might consider the biggest HAIR METAL bands of all time in MOTLEY CRUE and RATT (8 years on guitar) how different were those two experiences?



John:  (Laughing) Look you know, Motley is an experience in itself!  I guess in context, coming off the Scream thing, a new band not really making a lot of money, and then all of a sudden in the course of four days I’m not in that band anymore, I’m in... Well I guess one of the biggest bands in the world. At that point Motley had just come off Dr Feelgood and that was a bit of a culture shock to me. Overnight I went from flying economy to first class, putting a cigarette in my mouth and eight people were trying to light it for me, so that was something that took a little getting used to, And then the people I was meeting was again a little weird, I mean I’m sitting here and I’m supposed to act like all of a sudden these people are my peers and it’s people like Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Robert Plant , Brian Johnson, Glenn Hughes: all these people I used to pay to go and see. And they are sitting talking to me asking my opinion on things, about music and all this other shit: it was a very strange, strange time! But also a very cool time, and a very creative time for both me and Motley. I’m hugely proud of that record and good bad or indifferent, you know love it, hate it; love Vince, hate John whatever I love that record and I stand by it today.



Mark; I was just happy that Motley got a real singer, but don’t quote me on that!



John: (Laughs)  Hey, I’m just going to ask you to do one thing -  just put parentheses after that last statement and say that I said that you said that, not me – you!


Mark: All joking aside, I know you must get a lot of people telling you but it is my favourite Motley (well either that or ‘Too Fast’ I guess) I just thought it was horrible how it turned out with the label seemingly forcing everyone’s hand. I always wonder what would have happened if it had sold a few more copies...



John: You know what at the end of the day I have a tattoo across my chest that says in Italian ‘Life is what it should be’ You know life has a way of throwing you curveballs and handing you lemons and you know I’ve had my moments where I’ll sit and I’ll scratch my head about things and wonder  ‘what if this happened’ or ‘why didn’t that sell more’ or ‘why am I doing the things I’m doing, when this guys is...’ – we all do it! You know what I mean.



Mark: Its human nature, we all do it every day.


John: We are where we are for a reason, and I don’t know what that reason is but all we can do is continue to make more music and keep trying. Someone asked me the other day (a) if I was happy and (b) what motivates me to keep going, and the first thing I said is ‘Yes I’m happy’ and (b) I don’t know if I’m delusional, or if I’m looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses but at the end of the day I still don’t feel I’ve done my best record yet. Some days I don’t even feel like I’ve scratched the surface, I’m picking up more and more steam as I go , but I don’t feel yet I’m at the place where I’ll end up, I feel that I’ve still got better things and it’s all onward and upward.



Mark: That must be a great motivation in itself and one the evidence of the new album I think you’re probably right as well! 



Mark: we did actually bump into you once; I doubt you will remember as we’d both maybe had a couple of drinks. Both of us were walking round the after-party perplexed as to why the entire hotel smelt of bacon. Do you remember that festival at all or that night?



John: drinking? Not me, I’m a good catholic boy! You know what I do actually remember that, I remember the hotel smelling like bacon and I could not figure out why though I do have to admit I was half a bottle, or more  of Patron into the evening, I never did find out why.



Mark: apparently we were told they just cooked loads of bacon over night for the next morning and the kitchen backed right onto the room we were in, so I was a bit disappointed by that. That was a great festival, are any of the guys you had with you on that day still in the band?



John: Well Tolfer, the bass player, he’s’ still with me and Troy I do the Lost Angels thing with we’re still really good friends and Kevin as well,  the guy that played guitar we’re good friends too but Tolfer was the guy that really stuck with me : a lot of it is that I’m kinda starting all over again. So Tolfer’s with me he’s a great player, a great song-writer, a great singer and an easy going guy but he also lives here in Nashville, and unfortunately Troy lives in LA and Kevin lives in New York so it made it very difficult for rehearsing and doing gigs; and as I’m starting over again the money factor of having to fly people back and forth that was a bit of an issue so I told them I can’t do that just yet. And the guys that I have now can all get here: Cheney has a two hour drive from Atlanta and D.A. is originally from Rochester New York but he moved here two years ago so everyone’s local and I can call the guys up if I have an idea that I need to demo. We have barbeques and we break the guitars out and start singing Beatles songs and all this other stuff, so we’re friends and it just makes it easier to get out and play gigs.



Mark: I know the distances are killer, being Australian we just jump in the car and think that log distances are nothing so I remember getting in a car to drive from Dallas to Houston and eight and a half hours later we’re still going!



John: Oh man Texas is a big State East to West it’s like driving from New York to Florida.



Mark: I know earlier we talked about Union and how things conspired against the band, but that you never really broke up. Is there a chance that you’ll do more with Bruce in the future?



 John: Yeah, Bruce and I do stuff together still, we get offered stuff like acoustic gigs together, we do Kiss Conventions together, and we also do some ESP stuff. I know at the end of this year there’s maybe eight or so ESP shows that we are going to do throughout Europe, I don’t know where yet. So Bruce and I play a bit together and I just saw Brent when Slash was opening for Ozzy. We’re all good friends, but we’re all so busy at the minute, even Jamie just had a run in Japan with Roger Daltry – I think they did Tommy and he played bass for them.



Mark: As a singer and a guitarist who has been in the industry over 20 years now who would you say your most enduring influence has been over the years.



John: Probably my two main ones for me are The Beatles and Zeppelin, not to day that Aerosmith and Humble Pie and Steve Marriott and Rod Stewart aren’t up there, but they kind of come and go. The main staple has always been The Beatles and Zeppelin. The majority of my writing is either very Zeppelinesque and blues-based  and if you listen to ‘Crash’ or “Open Your Eyes’ there’s some Beatles in there and obviously ‘Everything’s Alright’ has a huge tip of the hat to The Beatles. I think they’re my main to either writing or playing and then I just take other things and throw them into the stew.



Mark: Last year you caught up and actually did some work with some friends of ours from Western Australia – Babyjane.



John:  Oh yeah.  Well it was funny, Nik I think it was, the drummer, he contacted me and said that they were recording in Nashville and he’d noticed that I’d moved here and he said ‘Hey man, I don’t know if you do this, or would be up to do this but we’d love to have you come down and maybe do something or sing something on our record’.  It’s not often that I’m home and I get the opportunity to do something like that when I’m free and I thought what the hell if nothing more comes of it than meeting some people from Australia and hanging out and swapping a few stories, whatever. But it was funny it went  so easy , they had the song ready, they knew what they wanted me to do, they played the song for me and put the lyrics on the stand for me and said ‘go cream some’!  So I’m like OK, and I ran through it a couple of times, I guess they liked it, I haven’t really had a lot of contact from them since they left , but apparently it made it onto the CD whatever it was I did!



Mark: It’s the first song on the album and they haven’t stopped talking about it! A cool song.



John:  That’s cool, they were a good bunch of guys and I had fund with them, and it’s kinda funny too in that I remember meeting Steven Tyler, Brian Johnston and Robert Plant and all these guys and I was just sitting there going things like “Robert, what’s the story with the mud-shark and the chick?”  or “Steven what was ‘Seasons of Wither’ about?” and I can see it with those guys they were asking me things and wanted to hear some stories and we just had a blast man. I think I was in the studio with them like 20 minutes and then we all went out for lunch then we went back to the studio and just bullshitted for another hour. Michael had a ton of stories it was cool, a good time.


Mark:  Just a couple of quick ones to end with John if you don’t mind. If you could have been a fly on the wall for the creation of any piece of music or event in Rock History what would it have been and why?



John: Wow, that’s a good one, well I would have loved to have been in the studio when Freddy Mercury brought Bohemian Rhapsody to the guys in Queen – just to see the looks on their faces when they thought ‘where the fuck did that come from?’ Then I remember hearing a story about Robert Plant and they were in a Castle or something and Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were noodling around with these chords and he sat down and the melody just came to him, so he sat by the fire and wrote the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven! Are you kidding me! I just want to stab you in the neck with a spoon right now! You know what I mean?



Mark: I’ll hide the spoons! (laughs)



John: And obviously any of the Beatles records from Rubber Soul on – I would have loved to have been in the room and just watched them.  Any of that stuff, watching any of those songs together would have been a dream come true.



Mark: I don’t think anyone has come close to creating what any of those three bands have and probably never will.



John:  Do you guys have Netflix over there? (Editor’s note: sadly it’s not in Australia yet) They do this thing on there in the documentary section and it’s like ‘Classic records’ or something and I’m so fascinated by that stuff as they go back in time and they pick apart the records, it’s kinda like being that fly on the wall. I love Deep Purple Machine Head one and Night at the Opera. I was so fascinated by the Queen one as it explained all those things I could never work out. Sounds like what I thought were trumpets and trombones were in all actuality Brian May sitting at a control desk for like a week trying to work out tones. There’s one song on there with like a ragtime trombone section in the song and all these years I thought it was horns but it’s actually his guitar. Then you get the tap dancers, and it’s Freddy and Roger Taylor on a metal desk with them with thimbles on their fingers and they mike their fingers!  It’s the most amazing fucking documentary, it’s actually quite sick as there is absolutely no way that anyone can be that talented and then you sit there and think – all four of them were that talented! And they somehow made it work – it’s insane.



Mark: I was talking to Gary from Extreme a couple of days ago and those guys got to meet them at the Freddy tribute concert and he has some stories to tell!


John: And Eric Singer was in Brian May’s solo band and I’m round there one day looking at this coffee table book and I said ‘what’s this” and he tells me that it’s Brian May’s astronomy book, and I’m looking through this thing thinking this amazing musician is also a professor of astronomy, so OK he’s another one I want to stab i the neck with an ice-cream scoop – something long lasting and painful! (Laughs)  Anyway it just blows my mind how smart some people are!



Mark: And finally, what is the meaning of life, so far?



John: Well you know, I’ve been around the block a few times and the one thing I’ve kind of figured out with all the ups and downs I’ve had in my career, and all the money I didn’t have, then I’d have and the didn’t have again, is at the end of the day the meaning of life is, and there’s several parts to this. Is find something you enjoy doing and will enjoy doing for a very long time; something that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. And then the other thing is good health, good friends, and a good love (laughs) and family and that’s it. Everything else will come and go. It’s the simple things man and really at the end of the day life is really quite simple.



John: When I was at the lowest point in my life when Motley let me go, and my mom died and my son was diagnosed with diabetes, my girlfriend left, my phone stopped ringing and at the end of the day the one thing that really truly got me through everything were the friends that were with me from the very beginning and I realise that my family loved me. It didn’t matter to my kids if I was daddy the singer in Motley Crue, or day the singer in Union , I was just daddy and that was it and that woke me up quite a bit. Money will come and go, you know everything comes and goes but family health and your good friends that you know are going to be there through thick and thin are all that matters. And then find something you like doing man, something that gets you out of bed and go do it every day.



Mark: We’ve only got one shot and we may as well do something we enjoy while we’re here, and do it surrounded by the people we love.



 John: You’re right man, and I love America so don’t take this the wrong way, but I think some Americans get caught up in the idea of he who ends up with the most toys wins (laughs) and it really don’t matter ‘cos at the end of the day would I love a nice sports car – well yes, would I love an Harley Davidson again – yes,  and I’d ;love to have tons of money in the bank but you know what if I walk outside right now and a satellite falls on my head and kills me I  ain’t taking any of that shit with me! It don’t fucking matter it really don’t matter.



Mark: Thanks John it’s been a real pleasure, hope to catch you later in the year


Mark: For sure, and thanks buddy have a great day!




John was interviewed by Mark Diggins January 2013





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