This isn’t the tale of some sad sack musician whose best days are behind him still chasing the dream. Not at all. While John Corabi’s been releasing music with various bands since the early ’90s as the lead singer of bands like The Scream, Motley Crue and Union, perhaps his greatest amount of recorded output has come over the last 5 or 6 years as both a solo artist and the lead singer of The Dead Daisies.
In February, Corabi released Live ’94 (Ratpak Records), a re-recording of songs he did with Motley Crue in 1994, and, in April, The Dead Daisies third album with Corabi at the helm, Burn it Down, will come out on Spitfire Records.
Before heading out with The Dead Daisies in April, Corabi is doing a quick run through the midwest playing acoustic, storyteller-type shows (like the one he did at the Bethel Road Pub in early 2012) with a stop at The Shrunken Head on Friday, March 16 with support from Chuck Oney and Rockhouse.
I had a chance to talk with Corabi last week and we seemingly chatted about everything but his solo album or the new Dead Daisies album (though we did talk about the band he’s in with Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio), Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake), Deen Castronovo (Journey, Bad English), and David Lowy (Red Phoenix/Mink)!
When you head out for the acoustic tour, is it just you hopping in your car or do you travel with somebody?
On this run, I’m probably going to bring my son with me. I have a solo band, besides the Dead Daisies, and my son is my drummer in the solo band. I’m only doing 4 or 5 shows but a couple of the drives are pretty long so I just asked him to come along and help me with my merch and load in and out and basically just come along so I have somebody to talk to.
On these drives, do you listen to music, listen to podcasts or will you use the time to have conversations with your son?
I have my own coach, it’s a motorhome but it’s literally the size of a tour bus so I’ll take that with me. If my son gets bored, he can turn the TV on, it’s got a satellite dish in it.
I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the NFL so a lot of times I’ll switch between music, a news channel, I’ll listen to the NFL Network and listen to all the trades and things that are happening right now. Much to the dismay of my wife, she gets tired of walking into my house with the NFL Channel on all 4 or 5 TVs in the house. I’m a bit of a Rainman with that stuff.
It sounds like you’re more than just a one-team follower.
To be honest, I was born and raised in Philadelphia. We just won our first Super Bowl, but, yeah, I kind of like watching what’s going on with all the teams. I’m just watching … I know you’re in Columbus … I’m waiting to see if Cleveland is ever going to get their franchise quarterback.
I’m a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan. It’s so frustrating, but I can’t stop rooting for them.
It amazes me that the people in charge, the General Manager, the scouting, I can’t, for the life of me, understand how they passed on Carson Wentz and DeShaun Watson. We’ll see, hopefully they’ll figure it out this year.
One of the things I love about you is that, to this day, you’re maintaining the rock star look with the hair, the clothing, the lip ring. When you pull into a gas station or a Starbucks or wherever, people must look at you and wonder, “Is that guy in a band?” Do people approach you and ask what band you’re in?
Yeah. They don’t know who I am. I’ve always been one of those guys , where, if you drew an imaginary horizontal line in the air and everything above the line was fame and everything below the line was obscurity, I think, for lack of a better term, my stomach has been scraping the top of the line or my back has been scraping the bottom.
I’ll have people say, “You look so familiar, you’re obviously not a dentist or a brain surgeon. You’re in a band, who do you play with?” And I’ll just say, “I was in The Scream and then back in the day I replaced Vince Neil in Motley Crue” and then their ears perk up. It’s like they think they know, but they’re not sure. It is what it is, I don’t mind.
Quite honestly, I look at myself as a dude that is really blessed to a) still be in the business 30+ years later and b) no disrespect to anybody that has to get up and go do something that they hate doing, but I’m not that guy. I’ve been very blessed in a lot of ways.
I don’t really get into the “recognize me” thing, it doesn’t really matter as long as I’m still doing what I love doing and I’m happy doing it, that’s really all that matters.
I distinctly remember buying The Scream cassette at My Generation record store in a suburb of Cleveland where I grew up. And I can remember popping it in the tape deck of my 1984 red Camaro Z-28 with t-tops and driving down Detroit Rd listening to the album for the first time. I can’t tell you what I had for lunch yesterday but I can remember everything about buying and listening to Let it Scream. Have you ever had an experience like that?
That’s the beauty of music, there’s happy events in my life where I remember what song I was listening to and there’s other events, where I was breaking up with a girl or something traumatic was happening in my life, and I can remember the music that I listened to at that point. It’s funny, I’ll still hear that song – one of those songs where it’s happy or sad – and as soon as I hear it, it takes me back exactly to that moment and I think that’s one of the things about music that is awesome.
On a side note, not to get crazy or political, but that’s one of the things I love about music. I can go out, as divided as America is right now with politics and religion and skin color and all these things, I can still walk on stage at any club, anywhere in the world and for two hours, everybody in that club forgets that they may have differences of opinions. It’s pretty cool the things music can do for people.
Years ago I had a blog and one of the regular features involved asking musicians to talk about a song that, when they heard, reminded them of something very specific in their past. I’m not a Nickelback fan, but I thought that if, say, the bass player said he remembered riding the school bus, listening to an album that I like, I might still not be a fan of Nickelback’s music but I could find that common ground and relate to that guy because we had that same shared experience.
I remember I had some friends that kind of took the piss out of Nirvana and all that stuff when it was happening and coming into popularity – bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains – they were like, “It’s ruining music.” I was like, “No, it’s not. There’s a different vibe.” But times were changing and I think the good thing about music … but it’s a bad thing … all those ’80s bands were popular like Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, LA Guns, Warrant, Faster Pussycat, all those bands were popular and what was happening is all these record labels were looking for the next big thing like that. So the market gets flooded with a bunch of wannabes or replications of those popular bands and it’s always going to take some new form of music to come in and kind of clean a lot of the stuff out.
The bands that have been around doing it, like Motley, Def Leppard, Poison, Bon Jovi, all those bands – the guys that were the originators and trudging and forged forward … LA Guns are still doing their thing, Motley Crue, I know they just retired, but they went out on top. They were selling tickets like crazy. It just kind of cleans out the copycat bands and lets the cream rise to the top.
Even as far back as The Beatles, The Beatles got signed and then it was like The Who, The Stones, The Kinks, all these bands and then suddenly somebody else comes along like Hendrix and Janis Joplin and shakes up the apple cart. It’s just kind of a common thing … ha … I have no idea what the question was!
I don’t really dislike anything. I respect anybody that can go out – there were a lot of people that even talked about Poison. I can’t disrespect anybody that’s gone out and sold millions of records. They are going out again this summer and they are doing a huge headline tour with Cheap Trick. They are still selling tickets, if you look at the record sells, I think they sold 40, 50, 60 million records. Obviously they struck a nerve with somebody. You can’t disrespect that. My final statement is, everybody hates a winner.
If you had a time machine, set the dial for the Richfield Coliseum just outside of Cleveland in 1988 following a Whitesnake concert, found me after the show in the parking lot and handed me a copy of The Dead Daisies new CD, I would have asked, “Can I buy a ticket NOW for your headlining arena show in 2018 because I know you’ll be one of the biggest rock bands in the future?” While I think you’re right that there are some of the ’80s bands still at the top of their game and playing arenas, it hasn’t fully rebounded. 2018 Chip feels the same way 1988 Chip would have felt and thinks The Dead Daisies should be headlining an arena this summer but you’re not. You have had the opportunity to do some opening gigs for KISS and Whitesnake but, instead, you’re doing things like playing motorcycle festivals like the one you did in Ohio last year.
We were in Chillicothe. We did a motorcycle rally there. It was actually crazy, I think it was in August and it was some freak day that you guys had in Ohio where it rained and was like 35 degrees. It was freezing.
I remember that day! And, I think it was the bad weather that kept me from going to the show. The other big difference between 1988 and 2018 is that, for instance, Warrant is playing in a small town near the Ohio/Indiana border. It seems like bands like Warrant, LA Guns, Faster Pussycat, The Bulletboys are either playing the strip mall bars in the suburbs of cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, or are playing small cities in Ohio that I’ve never heard of. Do you care that you’re playing in Chillicothe rather than one of the bigger Ohio cities?
We did that motorcycle rally and then the next day we were in Milwaukee where we played to like 20,000 bikers at a Harley-Davidson thing. It’s weird, the thing about music is there are so many variables in this thing now. Weather. I’ve done some things where it was in the dead of summer and 100 degrees out and some people didn’t come to the show. I don’t really take it to heart. It was completely understandable to me when we played in Chillicothe why there wasn’t really anybody there. It was unfortunate, the temperature plummeted into the 30s and it just rained all day. The field was muddy, it was just horrible. You just go out and play the best show that you can and you move on. Now, the year before, we were in a couple of cities in Ohio with KISS. We were in Toledo, Akron, Dayton and you’re going to have up times and down times.
I think the biggest thing now with the music industry, like Gene Simmons said a couple of years ago that rock music is dead, I don’t think it’s dead. What I think he was talking about, and I can’t speak for Gene Simmons nor would I want to, but at the end of the day if I can read into what he said and then take my thought process and add into it, I don’t think the fans are gone, I don’t think the music industry is dead. I think what has changed are the days of having MTV just play music videos like they did back in the 80s. That’s gone. And then, to be quite honest with you, here in America, radio doesn’t really exist anymore. You can’t put your music out on radio, if you go back historically and look at The Scream, our first song, “Man in the Moon”, we had almost 200 radio stations just in America playing that song. So when we started going out on tour, we had MTV playing the video, we had 200 radio stations playing the song, and then we just put a thing out that said, “The Scream – the band that’s on the radio, the band that’s on MTV – they are coming to your town.” Nowadays, in 2018, it’s more about YouTube, Instagram, Facebook. That’s how you let people know what’s going on.
Bands like us go out and do a record and we just bombard – our management’s got it figured out – they just bombard every social media site you can think of, all of them. Then we’ll do a video and put it out on YouTube and we’ll get half a million or 700,000 views. The fans are still there, but I think the method of letting the fans know you’re still there is different. It’s unfortunate because, on MTV they could see it, on radio they could hear it, but on a lot of these social media sites they have to read it and I don’t think a lot of fans really take the time to really read what’s going on.
Back when I was a kid, there was so much excitement built around World Premiere videos on MTV. I remember the build up leading to the premiere of David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose”. Here was the first time Van Halen fans were going to get a taste of David Lee Roth as a solo artist and we all sat around the TV waiting for the video. Now, a band puts a song out on YouTube, Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc and fans don’t have to wait to listen to it again – you can listen to a song as many times in a row that you want, you don’t have to wait for it to come into rotation on MTV or on your local radio station.
I think our (The Dead Daisies) managers kind of somehow figured out how to build that excitement with YouTube. They put a song out in January and then they did a countdown on Facebook and Instagram. Our second single came out today and I think there is going to be a YouTube premiere for our video. You’ve got to do it in a different manner.
Just a couple more quick questions. Another thing I miss about the old days is buying a CD and reading through the credits. I recently found The Scream’s Let it Scream on CD and was reading the Thank You list. You thanked Philly bands like Cinderella, Blackeyed Susan and Heaven’s Edge, but you also thanked Gene Simmons. Do you remember why you thanked him?
Gene Simmons has always been a huge supporter of mine. Before The Scream, I was in a band called Angora and he wanted to sign that band to his label, Simmons Records. Gene’s pulled me over a few times and he told me years ago, even before I got in The Scream, he’s like, “Mr. Corabi, you’re going to be a star.” Then when I got The Scream gig, he’s like, “Mr. Corabi, congratulations, you got your first record deal. Remember what I told you, you’re a star.” And then when I got the Motley gig, I saw him again and he’s like, “Mr. Corabi, Gene Simmons is never wrong.”
Thirty years later, we’ve done a couple of KISS Kruises, The Dead Daisies have toured America, Europe, Australia with Gene and the guys. My solo band, two of the guys are in Gene’s new solo band as well. Gene and I, it’s not like I call him up and go, “I’m coming over for dinner”, but he’s always been an outside supporter of mine so I thanked him on the record and continue to do so when I see him.
Can you tell me about what you’re thinking about for the setlist when you play at The Shrunken Head on Friday?
I never write a setlist, it’s completely off the cuff. A lot of times I’ll just sit down and play a couple of songs and then ask the audience what they want to hear. It’s very much a storytellers things so more than likely there won’t be a setlist.
Finally, can you tell me about how the rest of 2018 looks for you both in terms of playing solo shows and in terms of promoting the new Dead Daisies album that comes out in April?
As soon as I’m done with this run I head back to Nashville, where I live, unpack, do some laundry, repack and then I head to New York for a week or 10 days of rehearsals with the Daisies at which point we split and go to Glasgow, Scotland and start the Dead Daisies world tour staring on April 3 or 4 and then pretty much going to mid-December. The Daises are talking about an August/September 6 to 8 week U.S. tour, we’re just trying to lock up a really cool, strong opening act that we all agree on.