INTERVIEW WITH EX- SWEET PAIN FRONTMAN AND EX-L.A. GUNS TOUR MANAGER MIKE CORCIONE
Date: May 18, 2020
Photos: Mike Corcione (first, second and fourth photos)
MIKE CORCIONE. THE NAME MAY NOT RING A BELL BUT THE MAN HAS HAD, AS HE PUTS IT — AN INSANE ACCESS TO A CRAZY WORLD FOR YEARS — AND HE HAS SOME GREAT STORIES TO TELL. CORCIONE WAS THE FRONTMAN FOR THE NEW YORK BAND SWEET PAIN UNDER THE NAME “CORKY GUNN” THAT INCLUDED BASSIST KELLY NICKELS AND THAT RELEASED ONE ALBUM VIA COMBAT RECORDS BACK IN 1985. CORCIONE WAS ALSO L.A. GUNS’ TOUR MANAGER FROM DECEMBER 1987 TO JULY 1988 WHEN THE SLEAZE ROCKERS WERE TOURING BEHIND THEIR SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM.
IN ADDITION, CORCIONE WORKED FOR RELATIVITY RECORDS, WAS A DJ IN SOME OF NEW YORK’S BIGGEST NIGHTCLUBS, GREW UP WITH BRUNO RAVEL AND STEVE WEST OF DANGER DANGER, AND PARTIED EXTENSIVELY WITH MÖTLEY CRÜE. CORCIONE IS LOOKING FOR A PUBLISHER AND AN AGENT FOR THE BOOK THAT HE HAS WRITTEN AND HE HOPES TO SPIN THAT OFF INTO A DOCUMENTARY OR FILM. CORCIONE GAVE SLEAZE ROXX A LITTLE GLIMPSE OF SOME OF THE STORIES THAT HE HOPES TO REVEAL TO THE WORLD.
Sleaze Roxx: A lot of people will know you from your Sweet Pain days but what has brought on your desire to write a book? I understand that it’s finished. So how long did it take and what prompted you to write the book in the first place?
Mike Corcione: Well, I had started out about 30 years ago. I started writing a L.A. Guns book after I had stopped working for them. I started writing a book and it just, you know, life takes you down a different road and different paths. I [laughs] never finished it. Got it started, did some interviews and stuff with some of the guys, talked with some of the guys. And that kind of went away. Kind of put it on the back burner and then I had written a screenplay with a screenwriter about my days as a nightclub DJ in the early ’80s, which is very much a time capsule of that period with the drinking age being 18. No pictures on the driver’s licence. It’s kind of the height of new wave days — ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84. I was working in clubs holding two to three thousand people out on Long Island [New York, USA]. So I had written a script about that. I really put a lot of work into that and you know, it’s a gamble, it’s a risk and it never got off the ground but I still have the property so I spoke to some friends and they said you just need to tell the stories of the rock n’ roll working for L.A. Guns, your band and stuff.
I really didn’t even think or focused on that being something that would be of interest to people but once the Mötley Crüe movie [‘The Dirt‘] came out, everybody’s just gone crazy for that period. So I took the elements of the DJ world that I grew up in — late ’70s, early ’80s — and my time working for important record distributors, which was a huge import records in the early ’80s which eventually became Relativity and Combat Records. So I worked for them at the same time that I was DJ-ing. I added in the time in Sweet Pain; how all that came to be and what that was all about; in L.A. Guns; and, post-L.A. Guns. It’s really my memoir. My life started out as a fan. I grew up with Bruno Ravel and Steve West from Danger Danger. We all grew up together in the late ’70s going to concerts in Manhattan [New York, USA] and seeing bands like The Brats, different bands that we would see. We were just teenagers. The drinking age was 18 so it really is my time capsule, my memoir of my life and I thought about it 30 years ago.
Life takes you down different roads. You’ve got to work and pay the bills. I’ve got a grown son. You just go through life. Actually, right before the whole Covid thing happened, I had been working on this project to tie it up and then this Cover thing happened, I just had nothing to do. I was out of work so I just finished it up. The interesting thing is that there are a lot of photographs. If I ever got this thing to be released the way I want it to be released, I would want it to be released as 75 pages of photos. It’s insane so I don’t know where that is going to go. That’s one of the reasons that I’m trying to get some chatter out there. I’m looking for a publisher and I’m looking for an agent to represent me. I certainly had some interest on a lower level publishing scale but I’m in no rush. That’s really how it came to be, pretty much.
Sleaze Roxx: So let’s figure out timeline wise. What was your role with L.A. Guns and how long were you with the band?
Mike Corcione: L.A. Guns — I was working for Relativity Records in 1987. I had known Kelly Nickels because we had been in Sweet Pain together. But I knew Kelly way before Sweet Pain. We were friends. He had actually worked for a band. We were all friends together. We all grew up in the early ’80s in Long Island and Queens [in New York City]. So I had known Kelly. I was going out to L.A. for the record label, Relativity, and I would hook up with him. He introduced me to Mick Cripps and Mick’s brother Robert. Mick’s got a twin brother. We just got really tight and towards the end of ’87, I was really at the end of my rope working for Relativity and it was coming to a point where I really needed the change. Mick and Kelly had asked me and said, ‘Look, you got to come work for us.’ Because every time that I would go out there, I would just take care of those guys. They would come to my hotel and I would buy food and beer. You know, get a bottle of tequila and sit on the roof by the pool. So I got really tight with them and they had signed their deal by this point. They had recorded their record and stuff, and their manager was paying their rent and whatnot, but they didn’t have any money really.
So I would come into town and take them out to bars, strip clubs, drinking and I would pay for everything. Like I said, at the end of ’87, they said, ‘Hey, come work for us. We’ve got to go on the road.’ So I said, ‘Sure!’ So I left New York and I moved to L.A. in ’87, at the end of ’87 to work for those guys and that’s really how it started. I met the rest of the guys, the first time that I saw them was probably May of ’87 I think. And Nicky “Beat” [Alexander] was the drummer at the time. They didn’t have Steve Riley yet. I met Tracii [Guns] and Phil [Lewis] and Nicky “Beat.” And by the time I started working for them in December ’87, Nicky “Beat” was out and Steve Riley was in. I talk about all this in the book and I really get into the specifics of all of it. And again, it’s not their history. It’s my time with the band, my point of view and my take on it. But I was very tight with Kelly and Mick. We still are to this day. I don’t speak to Kelly as much as I used to but I talk to Mick all the time. So we were always tight you know, and then there was Steve and Phil and Tracii. We were all friendly but me, Mick and Kelly — that’s how I got into working for L.A. Guns — through Mick and Kelly. We were the three that bonded.
Sleaze Roxx: How long were you with L.A. Guns then, working for L.A. Guns?
Mike Corcione: I worked for L.A. Guns from December ’87 to July ’88. I was on the road with them that whole time. It was just a crazy time. And then, I left and went back to New York. I would go out on the road sporadically after that. Mick would call me up and say, “Hey! Come out on the road with us. We don’t like our road manager.” Or whatever. And I’d go out and hang out with them. I wasn’t getting paid but you know, I’d room with Mick all the time. We’d just hang out and I would take care of them. That’s the thing. Once you get into that, you go on the road a few times. They had switched managers by this point. L.A. Guns switched managers to Alan Kovac so they were part of a bigger machine and then, it’s just like a revolving door of people — road managers, bus drivers — so you’re not really, it’s hard to keep a bond with somebody that’s working for you. It happens. So they just kept calling me, “Come out. Come out and hang with us.” I worked, worked for them as far as getting paid from December ’87 to July ’88.
Sleaze Roxx: So why did you stop working for them in July ’88?
Mike Corcione: It was just… I had enough. They had, and you know, I get into this in the book very detailed, but they had a different manager. The guy that got them their record deal, by the end of their first album, they got rid of their manager. Their original manager was like the sixth member of the band. He was with them all the time, He would be on the bus, hang out. He was a really good guy and watched out for them. He really took care of them but he wasn’t a music business guy. He had owned clothing stories in L.A. on Melrose. He had rock n’ roll clothing stores and he got the band a record deal. He was an intricate part of the whole thing but when it came time to be on PolyGram Records, the bigger machine of the business, he really wasn’t cut out for that.
By the time that L.A. Guns switched management to Kovac in ’89, it was more of a machine and it was more impersonal. Alan Kovac wasn’t hanging out on the road like the old manager did. It was just a different type of thing so the frustration for me came from, I loved the original manager Alan Jones but it was just really unorganized. It was just stressful. I mean, you got to remember, back then, there’s no cell phones, computers, nothing! You’re out on the road on a bus with a roll of quarters trying to find a payphone. So it was just stressful when you don’t have a strong management office. Things don’t flow correctly whether it’s information, money, whatever. So it just became after eight, nine months of that, it was just insane. I mean, there’s a lot of pressure that I get into in the book. I talk a lot about that. But it was a different time man. It’s not like it is today. I don’t know how we did it!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] So you had mentioned to me, with the two L.A. Guns versions going at the same time right now, that you might have some information to shed some light on what’s going on. So what are your thoughts in that regard?
Mike Corcione: Well, I mean, I don’t know about shedding some light. It’s just so ridiculous the whole thing. For me, it’s about those five guys and each of those guys contributed to the success of that band. They all contributed to the first two albums. First album, ‘Cocked And Loaded‘, ‘Hollywood Vampires‘ — yes. They all wrote. They all contributed. I read all these things. Not that I’m a big Facebook guy. I like Instagram a lot but I’m not really on Facebook but occasionally, I read stuff. Everybody things that L.A. Guns was always Tracii and Phil. I’m like, ‘Nah!’ Mick Cripps is more important to that band than any of those guys at the time. Mick was very intrical in L.A. Guns as far as Mick was the guy that got the manager, that got them the record deal. Mick very much led the direction of things.
By the time that Steve Riley came in, Steve took over the business of the band ’cause no one else wanted to deal with it. Steve handled everything. Steve had been through W.A.S.P., The B’zz, Roadmaster, every other band that he had been in. First time that I met Steve Riley was when he was in W.A.S.P. so Steve handled the business. No one else cared. You got to remember something too, Steve was much more experienced and seasoned. Phil had been in Girl and I think toured Japan, did some European shows, but it’s not like touring America man with PolyGram Records behind you. PolyGram at the time had Scorpions, KISS, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Cinderella — they were the rock label. So you had four guys that were like wild animals and then you had Steve who is older and married. It’s just a different dynamic. He took care of the business ’cause no one else cared! Kelly and Steve are doing their thing. I love it! I just think it’s great for no other reason than to say, L.A. Guns was those five guys. Kelly was the main songwriter of [“The Ballad of] Jayne.” “Rip And Tear” — that riff is Mick Cripps’. So it’s not all Tracii and Phil.
When I met those guys, they had Nickey “Beat” as their drummer and they weren’t a heavy metal band because Nickey “Beat” is not a heavy metal drummer. Nicky “Beat” is a punk rock drummer. So they sounded like a different band. They sounded like more punk-ish hard rock, street rock. Once Steve got into the band — and I’m not knocking Steve — but once he got into the band, he’s playing double bass drums and it became heavy metal. The difference is like Peter Criss playing in KISS and Eric Carr playing in KISS.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Sure.
Mike Corcione: You know what I’m saying? I watched the whole thing kind of develop and learned a lot, even before that, about the guys, before Phil was in the band. L.A. Guns was such a soap opera even before it got a record deal. It’s insane. But yes, the legacy of that name — L.A. Guns, Guns N’ Roses, al those bands — it’s powerful but it’s sad what it’s become. I don’t know what else to say about it. I don’t think that the five [guys] will ever get back together. Mick will never do it. I’m just happy that Steve and Kelly are doing something so that the world knows — or the people that care know — it’s not all Phil and Tracii. I am not knocking Phil and Tracii but it was five guys that made those three albums on PolyGram and that made them still be able to go out today. If they didn’t have those first three records with those five guys, they couldn’t go out there today and play “Sex Action”, “Never Enough” and all those songs. So it’s the five guys man! I know the story. It’s just so ridiculous.
Sleaze Roxx: Back in the day when you were the tour manager between December ’87 and July ’88, are all five guys getting along at that point?
Mike Corcione: Oh yeah! I mean, listen. Were there little things that you look back and you go, “OK. That was a telltale sign.” There were incidents that happened along the way but at the time, you didn’t think anything of it. You reflect back and you go, “OK. There was a little crack in the armour there.” But yeah, everybody was on the same mission. The first album — for all those guys — I mean for Tracii, Kelly and Mick, it was really there first big thing. You’re touring America with PolyGram Records behind you. Everybody was happy because you’re trying to make it. It’s amazing what will happen when you switch a manager or something like that. Things change! I still say that the first L.A. Guns is what L.A. Guns sounds like. That’s what the band is supposed to sound like. That’s the way that Phil is supposed to sound. Once you get Phil to try to sound like someone else or you start writing with like Desmond Child or whomever, that’s not Phil. Phil is like a raw kind of guy — a screamer, a shouter. ‘Cocked And Loaded’ was a good record for them but that to me did not sound like L.A. Guns. And again, if you’re a L.A. Guns fan, you’d know that Steve did not play on the first album. That’s Nickey “Beat”. That is like a punk rock street kind of sound. Zodiac Mindwarp or Lords of The New Church…
Sleaze Roxx: Switching gears a little bit, you had mentioned that you had spent some time partying with Mötley Crüe. What was that like and what time period are we talking about?
Mike Corcione: I was a big Mötley fan. I’m working in these night clubs, these big night clubs on Long Island. Malibu — they had live bands there, the big bands of the day. U2 played there. The Squeeze, B-52s, The Ramones, Joan Jett — so I worked at this club which held three to four thousand people packed and you know, I had a big name and good rap as a DJ, a night club DJ. I would report to radio stations, send them my playlist, that kind of stuff. I got to know record label people. They would come down and say, “Play this record. Play my new record. It’s a band that we’re trying to break.” Or whatever. So I got to know a guy from Elektra Records and when they signed to Elektra, Mötley — I loved Mötley Crüe — so he’s hooking me up with tickets, passes.
So once I met them the first time, we all like partied. We were party guys so we were partying. I’d come see them every time that they were in the area. You just keep partying [laughs]. You become friends. You become party buddies. Because I had the connections at the record label, I always got tickets and the passes, and once I kind of met them for a little bit and they got to know me, they would just give me passes and I would show up. I always went with Bruno [Ravel] from Danger Danger. Bruno and I grew up together since we were in our teens. So me and Bruno went everywhere together to see all the bands. And we got to get crazy with Mötley and I have a lot of pictures which will hopefully a portion of them will be in the book. They [laughs] didn’t care. Their first tour, ‘Shout At The Devil’ — I think that the tour was two weeks old and we hooked up with them, and they didn’t care what you took pictures of. I mean [laughs], it was just insane. We were young and I was probably in my early ’20s. In 1984, I was 23 I think. So, [laughs] we were amped and fans of rock n’ roll.
We loved Mötley Crüe. They were like, “Come party with us.” So we were like, “Yeah!” We partied with them a lot on the ‘Shout At The Devil’ tour, ‘Theatre of Pain’ and after that, it changed you know. Once the Vince / Razzle thing happened, you could see that things weren’t the same. After ‘Theatre of Pain’, we wart to see them again but it was never the same. They were getting bigger. Everything was getting bigger. On ‘Shout At The Devil’ man, they were just the most craziest, most dangerous thing that I have ever been around as far as rock n’ roll guys. I have been around a lot of crazy stuff, night clubs, different things, dangerous situations, but Nikki [Sixx] and Tom[my Lee] were out of their minds. You read ‘The Dirt’ and it’s not crazy enough.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Really? I was just going to ask you ‘The Dirt’ was a good depiction of what they were really like but you’re telling me that they were even worse.
Mike Corcione: Well, listen. Do I know them very, very well? No. I hung around those guys and partied around with those guys for those couple of years in New Haven, Connecticut. We’d go see them in New Jersey. We’d go see them all over the area. We’d drive around and go see them for four, five, six shows. Then they’d come back in June and they had Ratt opening up for them for those couple of shows. ‘The Dirt’ — I love ‘The Dirt.’ I thought that the movie was great. I really love the movie because they made fun of themselves and that’s what made it great. They were not trying to be super cool rock stars. They were saying, “Look, we were idiots.” It was awesome because they were nutty then. They were really, really nice to us. I was shocked how nice they were to us ’cause a lot of guys, you can party with people and do drugs and whatever you’re going to do backstage but they would be assholes to you, you know? Look down on you but Tommy and Nikki were always the coolest, nice guys and always ready to party man! I have a chapter telling all the stories. If you like Mötley Crüe, it should be interesting.
Sleaze Roxx: So tell me about Sweet Pain. Obviously, Kelly [Nickels] was in the band as well. So how did it get started? You guys had one album and then it looks like you disbanded? What happened there?
Mike Corcione: Yeah. Well, the way that band happened was I worked for Relativity Records since 1979. Relativity is more of an artsy rock label, more serious rock label. Combat was all the thrash bands. They were also distributing Megaforce Records at the time and Megaforce had, you know, Metallica. So they were distributing Megaforce exclusively and also Metal Blade and all the Metal Blade stuff. So they started Combat Records with all these thrash bands. So the owner of the label who I had known for five years already at that point and he was like, “Hey! I want to do a glam band.” And he’s like, “Who should we sign?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” There was really nobody in New York. At that time in New York, we really didn’t have any Sunset Strip type of glam rock theme. Everything in New York was Johnny Thunders, junky rock. That kind of scene — very dark, very downtown. It wasn’t like L.A..
Everybody in L.A. was signed already really. There was really no great [unsigned] bands in L.A. and if you tried to sign a band in L.A. at that time, if you tried to sign a band in L.A., whomever was big at the time, they wanted to sign with Warner Brothers for like $20 million. So it was very difficult to get a glam band to even care. The thrash bands — I mean, Megadeth signed to Combat because no one else would have really signed them. And that’s where it was for that scene at the time for these labels. Not major labels. Major labels were putting out Ratt, Mötley Crüe and Poison records. So anyway, he wanted a glam band so he was like, “You should start a band.” I had never been in a band before. So I put a band together, I got Kelly. At the time, Kelly was working for a roadie, for a cover band out on Long Island called Hotshot and Hotshot featured Steve [West] and Bruno [Ravel] before they went on to form Danger Danger. I got Kelly in the band because me and Kelly were tight. We were buddies and we were just hilarious together so we got him in the band and found the rest of the guys. We put that band together and recorded that record in two days.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow!
Mike Corcione: I flew out to L.A. to mix it and that was it. It was done so quickly and its not really a typical glam kind of record. To me, Sweet Pain was like a cross between KISS and The Sex Pistols. It sounds ridiculous but that to me was what it was.
Sweet Pain‘s “I Get My Kicks” (The Remixes):
Sleaze Roxx: So what happened to the band? You have the album…
Mike Corcione: Well, Kelly… Wait, first the drummer quit. He left to join The Throbs, a Manhattan band, more of a downtown scene. The Throbs would eventually sign with Geffen for a record and then, I think that they were dropped. And after the drummer left, Kelly left and joined another Manhattan band. And then they went to L.A. and played some shows, and I think that Kelly split from them at that point and then joined Faster Pussycat. By that point, Sweet Pain got two replacement guys who played bass and drums, and it just fell apart. It was a time capsule moment. It was never meant to last. It was more about just partying and being wild and crazy. Combat wanted a glam band so there you have it. But it just fell apart. Actually, the last gig that we played, the guitar player in Sweet Pain didn’t play for ridiculous reasons. And the guy that filled in for him was this guy John Sierra. Rest in peace. He’s deceased. But John Sierra played with Michael Monroe in Michael Monroe’s solo band. But he’s not with us anymore John. But yeah, it kind of just fell apart. Went out with a whimper.
Sleaze Roxx: Were you surprised that the song “Shoot For Thrills (Into The Night)” made it onto L.A. Guns’ debut album?
Mike Corcione: No. I wasn’t surprised. At the time, that’s the only song that Kelly had ever written. When Sweet Pain recorded that, he literally brought it in on the last day of recording. The band played it through one time. I think that we rehearsed it once, played it through, recorded it and that was it. I think we overdubbed a couple of little things and that’s how it went on the record. So he was never happy with it at all. So he re-recorded it. It’s funny because that song — the L.A. Guns version — they used it in that movie ‘Friday Night Live’, which is hilarious.
Sweet Pain‘s “Shoot For Thrills (Into The Night)” song:
L.A. Guns‘ “Shoot For Thrills” song (from L.A. Guns album):
Sleaze Roxx: So obviously, you were good friends with Bruno Ravel and Steve West. How come you never ended up in a band with them?
Mike Corcione: I was never a musician. I was never a singer in the true sense of the word. I mean, me, when I was in Sweet Pain, it was Johnny Rotten meets Alice Cooper. I wasn’t really a singer. I was really more of a behind the scenes guy always but my whole drive in 1979-80, I am DJ-ing in clubs. That’s what I set out to do. Its funny because all I ever wanted to do was become a big nighttime DJ. At the time when the nighttime DJ would literally play to two to three thousand people, four nights per week. So that’s really what I wanted to do and everything else that I attained kind of fell into my lap. When I met Bruno and Steve, we are concert guys. We’d see each other at Cheap Trick concerts. Bruno and I got tight because we liked to party too — drink and party. We’d go see Twisted Sister all the time. Big Twisted Sister fans when they were a club band so we’d go see Twisted Sister every weekend. Bruno is very talented. I never really wanted to be in a band.
Sleaze Roxx: So let’s recap. You have your book ready to go and you’re just looking for a publisher?
Mike Corcione: Yeah. I am looking for a publisher and an agent. I really don’t like dealing with the business of a publishing house. It’s like trying to get a record deal. It’s the same type of thing except it’s with a book. So I really always had visions of this. Part of this book like I said, part of this book came from a script that I wrote and part of it came from a L.A. Guns book that I had started writing so I have visions of parts of it easily being on Amazon Prime, a Netflix series or something like that. That’s why I need an agent. I’m looking for an agent to represent me not only to sell the book but also to spin it off into something like a documentary or even a film. Like I said, I’ve got this other script with the DJ story so there’s a lot of other things.
The book is maybe just to get my toe in the water I guess. Obviously, my script — I couldn’t get that sold and the L.A. Guns book, I’ve been sitting on it for 30 years so I put it all together and there’s a lot of content here. I’m looking and I’m soliciting myself and I’m just trying to get the word out there because I’ve had a lot of support. People have been really encouraging. I say in the prologue of my book. Who am I? I’m nobody famous. Nobody knows me but I had a really insane access to a crazy world for years. So I’m telling the stories. The way things are looking, things are so crazy these days. You’ll never see these days again. It’s never coming back [laughs] so here’s some interesting stories for you about a time and a place that was but isn’t anymore.