John Corabi of The Dead Daisies Interview

Photo by Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography

Date: February 2017
Interviewer: Christopher Carroll
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (first, second, seven and eight photos)

The Dead Daisies recently came off of a highly successful tour overseas and jumped straight into their ‘Dirty Dozen’ tour, a US stint which had them playing a little more than 12 shows. I caught them in Baltimore on this tour and, as one would expect, it was amazing! Not only do you have five world class musicians onstage who are technically impressive, you have seasoned musicians who have played in bands such as Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe, Thin Lizzy, Billy Idol and Ozzy, These guys sat together and wrote an entire album full of great songs! Not a bad song in the bunch. That’s somewhat of a rarity these days.

I have to be honest. I’ve always been a huge John Corabi fan but I was so disappointed to hear that he’d joined The Dead Daisies, an already established band. He’s such a creative person. I didn’t want the fact that he’d have to collaborate with other band members to stifle that. He told me that they sat together and wrote the songs together and when I heard the music I was floored! The songs are so good! The Dead Daisies are one of the best bands around so if you haven’t heard them yet, pick up a copy of their most recent studio CD ‘Make Some Noise’ or even their live CD, ‘Live And Louder’ (which, although this recording has, I believe, no overdubs, it is, sonically, one of the best live CDs I’ve ever heard).

These guys are so comfortable onstage that they just have fun with it. They’re all such high caliber musicians that there are no flubs or bad notes. They’re tight! They’re all showmen as well so it’s a fun show to watch. Since these guys are all doing other projects as well, you have to catch them when you can because they’re not around too often!

I had the opportunity to speak with John, on a recent Monsters of Rock Cruise. John is a fun guy to be around! He’s the life of the party and he doesn’t take himself too seriously… But he does take his singing and his shows seriously. While you may see him sipping on a Jameson after a show, it’s unlikely you’ll see him doing it before one. He’s a super nice, down to Earth guy who genuinely loves the music and that’s one reason the Dead Daisies is such an incredible band. They all share this love of the songs they write.

In this interview, John talks about The Dead Daisies, The Scream, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx and so much more! While transcribing it, I heard myself laughing quite a bit (especially his line about the tuba! I hope the humour doesn’t get lost in print)! The man knows how to tell a story! 

Sleaze Roxx: You have a very guttural voice. How did you develop that style? Did you ever take voice lessons or did you just get out there and somehow ‘figure it out’?

John Corabi: No, I’ve lost a little bit on the top end of my voice and I think a little bit of it was because the first band I was ever in were tuned to A440, then The Scream tuned down a half step and then when I got into Mötley, they tune down another step from that so it was weird. With singing, I know there’s head voice and chest voice. I used to get up into my head and do shit that was a lot higher but for some reason I can’t… It’s that muscle memory thing. I can’t remember how to do it! But, whatever I’m doing, I’m probably doing everything wrong…. But it works. It’s funny because I’ve been singing so much, with the Daisies. We were doing tons of press and two shows a day and all this crazy shit and I’m actually feeling it a little bit. There are spots, like “Oh Darlin” was a little more difficult tonight than normally. But you know, it’ll work itself out. It either will or it won’t! Next time you see me, if I’m playing a tuba, you know what happened.

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] The coolest thing about your voice is that you have emotion in it. That’s not something that technique gets you. We can feel it. Even in photos I’ve shot of you, it’s easy to see that you are feeling that vocal. As far as the notes go, I haven’t heard you miss anything, honestly!

John Corabi: Well, I don’t know… I don’t want to be thinking about it when I sing but maybe just vocal exercises that will open up that part of my voice that I haven’t used in a while.

Sleaze Roxx: The Scream.. how did you hook up with guys from MI [Musician’s Institute]? Those guys were all from Racer X and you come in with this style that is cool and not technique based. How did you guys get together?

John Corabi: Well, the band that I moved to California with, we did a lot of shows with Racer X so I knew John [alderete] and Bruce [Bouillet] and Scott Travis who was the original drummer but he got the Judas Priest gig so, at that point, we hired this guy, Walt Woodward of Shark Island [to play drums in The Scream].  It’s funny, as technical as those guys were, they were into the stuff like, old Joe Perry and the Stones and open tunings and things like that so. I think my voice has lended itself more to the bluesier thing than the technical side. Jeff Martin was a great singer in Racer X and there’s no way I could have sang the way he did. So, I think they just adapted their style to fit my voice.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s a really good mix! You have ultra-technique on the one side and then you just slip in with that voice and make it sound so cool.

John Corabi: It’s funny, my two guitar players [in the solo band], there’s a couple of solos that Bruce does on The Scream album and they had to learn them. They were like, “Fuck! This guy’s an animal!” You know, he plays bluesy but it’s really precise. It’s awesome. I love that record! It’s weird because I love Paul Gilbert’s playing so I’m not taking anything away from him but I always thought Bruce was a little ‘slankier’, you know what I mean? Paul is amazing. We just sat there watching him the other day [with Mr. Big] on the ‘sail away’ and I was just like, “Fuck, this guy’s a monster on guitar!” I just thought Bruce lended himself more to the bluesier thing so it was cool. You know, the funny thing is, when we were doing the record, there were a couple parts where we were talking about doing slide guitar. Bruce was like, “Yeah man, I never really got into slide before” so we all like, “Check out Ry Cooder” and this guy and that guy… so he went out, got the records and literally came back to rehearsal four days later and he was playing these stupid, unbelievable slide solos so, yeah… he’s a badass.

Sleaze Roxx: Bruce has a studio in Nashville…. You live in Nashville now. Do you guys ever meet up anymore?

John Corabi: Well, he did live in Nashville but he moved back to LA.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you ever hook up with any of those guys?

John Corabi: Honestly, I just talked to Juan [John Alderete of The Scream] a month or two ago. My son pulled up to my house — it was in the morning and we were going to have coffee — with music blaring out of his car. I go, “Who is that?” He goes, “It’s Mars Vulta” so I go “Fuck! No way!” Then we started talking and I said, “You know… John Alderete, Juan, is in that band.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know!” so we called him!  He [Juan] and I just sat on the phone and just started bullshitting for like an hour. Bruce I haven’t seen. I talked with him about 1 ½-2 years ago. He said he found a bunch of old Scream video footage and said, “We’ve gotta do something with this stuff!” I don’t want to do anything with it until we get the record back from the record label. I just talked to another friend of mine who is a record executive who said, “Dude, it’s been 25 years. I think that record reverts back to you guys.” So I’m going to go back in again and say, “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you I want the record back.” Then we will get together and sit down and see what we can put together with the footage that he’s got. There’s also some live shit that I found so, it’s gonna be cool!

Sleaze Roxx; OMG! I was going to ask you if you were ever going to re-release that record because I know you’ve been hoping.

John Corabi: I’ve been kind of hitting a roadblock from the record label the whole time but now that it’s been 25 years, I think there’s some weird law where it all comes back to the artist especially if they’re not using it so… we’ll see what happens.

Sleaze Roxx: I talked to you once when you were playing guitar with Ratt. We were sitting at the bar, bullshitting. You sounded great. With all the singer troubles they had, and I do know you jumped in there and saved the day when ‘somebody’ had problems but why didn’t you ever end up singing for those guys?

John Corabi: I didn’t want to. Bobby actually asked me, before they hired Jizzy, and I just sad, “nah.” I had just done Union and just got out of the Mötley thing so I was still dealing with that and I’m like, “I bought that shirt.” Stephen — love him or hate him — my wife was just saying the other day when they played on the boat, “You know, he could sing the phonebook and you’d know it’s Stephen Pearcy” because of that tone he’s got and I don’t sound anything like him so… why even bother?

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah…. I get it. Like when Tony Harnell from TNT jumped into Skid Row. He’s arguably a better singer than Sebastian but, being compared when they have two different styles… It really worked to his detriment.

John Corabi: Hey, it’s a hard thing to do… And I know that now! At one point, I had an old friend of mine that was touring managing Velvet Revolver when Scott [Weiland] went off the wagon and apparently they were looking at possibly getting a new singer and he goes, “Hey, your name’s in the hat” and I’m like, “Take it out!”

Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)

John Corabi: I’m not gonna do it. Not that they would have even called me but he just like, “You’re being floated around” but I’m like, “I’m not interested.” Axl [Rose], Vince Neil, Stephen Pearcy — they just have a very distinctive sound — Scott Weiland as well. He’s got a very distinctive sound. I did that with Vince. Everybody was like, “Well, he doesn’t sound anything like Vince.” Fans would say the new stuff Vince couldn’t sing and fans would say, “I saw them with Corabi and he couldn’t sing the old stuff.” It wasn’t like I was trying to sound like Vince. I was just doing my own thing

Sleaze Roxx: Take me through writing a song with Mötley Crüe. How did that work?

John Corabi: We just sat in a room, all four of us, Mick and Nikki would face each other and I’d face Tommy and somebody would come in with a riff, we would jam the music and I would scat. Even still, to this day, like with the Daisies, we’ll come up with a riff and I’ll start finding a loose melody and I would scat over what we were doing. Then it’s like, ‘thumbs up’, ‘thumbs down’ or whatever. We’d get it, we’d map it out and then just record it onto a DAT machine back then, you know. Then Nikki and I would just go back and start working on lyrics, kinda get that mapped out then go into a studio and lay down a demo.

Then, even when we would go in and do the record, there would be a few things, like Bob [Rock, the producer] might say, “The verses are great but the chorus needs a little work so then we would tear it up and rework everything. But it was a very collaborative effort. The only song that was ever [done differently] was one we played tonight called ‘Friends.’ Bob was like, “God, you guys are so different. I want each one of you to go into a studio and write a song with no help from the other guys and see what you can come up with” so I wrote that. It was very collaborative.

Sleaze Roxx: Really? [Interviewer’s Note: This was simply a casual response, not insinuating that I thought it wasn’t!]

John Corabi: Yeah, totally… Contrary to popular belief!

Sleaze Roxx: Well, I know every song is different but across the board, what’s your involvement in the songs lyric-wise, music-wise. What percentage would you say? I know it’s hard to measure, but…

John Corabi: Yeah, it’s weird, you know what I mean? It’s funny, even writing lyrics, like Nikki just did a thing where he said I couldn’t write or whatever and…

Sleaze Roxx: [Interviewer’s note: Interjecting, trying to keep the peace] Well, he didn’t say that!

John Corabi: Well…. He kinda did! Like, “Well, I had to do everything.”

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah and he said, “He just took so long.”

John Corabi: And to a degree, he’s right!

Sleaze Roxx: Well, you two just have different writing methods.

John Corabi: Nikki is blessed with being able to take a pen and write and he’ll come up with 50 sentences by the time I come up with one. I’m a bit slow and meticulous because to me, it’s gotta have a rhythm to it, and there was a certain rhythm that I’m hearing in my head and phonetically, it’s gotta sound a certain way to my ear and I always try to make things rhyme so I’m a little more meticulous and methodical about it. He’ll just write 50 things and I would go like this and then I would see stuff that kind of sparked something and I would take things out or he would take things and we would form it together. So I think it was a push and pull tug. I thought we worked fine together but… You know, he’s got a different opinion about that.

Sleaze Roxx: Well, it’s probably just a different style than he’s used to [or process].

John Corabi: It’s the same as me and Vince. People say, “Corabi’s a better singer, Vince is a better singer.” It’s not that we’re better, we’re different! We’re totally different which is why Baskin Robbins has 32 flavours!

Sleaze Roxx: Oh! They got an extra one? Because they had 31.

John Corabi: Or 31… whatever.

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Now the Mick Mars thing… I remember, in the beginning, he asked you to collaborate on his solo album, then you were busy and he started doing songs on his own. How did that ever end up? Or is it even over?

John Corabi: I did two songs that he had written already. I just went in and sang them. I tweaked a couple lyrics here and there but really just went in and sang them. Initially, he wanted me to help him finish the whole record. Unfortunately, when we talked about everything I was just doing a solo band and he was just getting ready to go out on the last leg of the tour [with Mötley] and then I got the call to do the Daises. I went and did that and hadn’t heard from Mick in a while, he got back from the tour, I went in and did the two songs and he was like, “All right! Let’s (do it)” and I said, “I can’t right now.” I literally did my first Daisies record, he was off tour in January and I jumped in and did the second Daisies record, ‘Make Some Noise’ with the Daisies [and toured supporting that record with KISS, then heading to Japan and doing an overseas tour]. I just don’t want to hold him up. And I want to make sure… I don’t want to do it just to do it. I want to really make sure the songs are fucking awesome! So, I’ve done two songs at this point so if I have time or I have a little break and I can go down to Mick’s and help him write something or sing something, I’d be more than happy to but at this point I don’t know what’s happening.

Sleaze Roxx: So you don’t know where he is on that album right now?

John Corabi: Well, he just did a thing on Facebook a couple days ago where he said, “The new stuff is coming, it sounds great” so maybe he’s working with someone else, I don’t know. We’ll see.

Sleaze Roxx: The two snippets he threw up on Facebook sounded real good!

John Corabi: Yeah, Mick’s another one, he’s so underrated so I wish him the best.

Sleaze Roxx: In the early days I was like, “Yeah, he’s not a guitar hero” but, you know what? Nobody sounds like Mick Mars! He has an impressive guitar sound.

John Corabi: The thing of it is, you can hum all of his solos! Like, if you throw a Bad Company song on and you listen to Mick Ralphs. He wasn’t one of those shredder guys but when you hear the guitar solo come in you can literally hum the melody. It’s like a melody in a melody. That’s Mick Mars.

Sleaze Roxx: You’ve met a ton of rock stars… What is the coolest rock star moment you’ve ever had? Does anything stick out?

John Corabi: Probably, when we were doing the Mötley record, we were sharing a studio with Aerosmith. I was sitting in the lounge of Little Mountain Studios up in Canada. Sitting there noodling around with an acoustic guitar trying to figure out “Seasons Of Whither.” I started playing it and Steven came up behind me and he said, “Oh, yer playin it wrooooong.” You know, fuckin’ with me. And he just sat there on the couch, tuned the guitar, showed me how to play it and then we did it together… I still have a boner about that one. That was pretty awesome. I think if I ever met Jimmy Page or Paul McCartney, too, I would lose it. I’ve met Plant, Tyler, the guys in Deep Purple, I’ve met a lot of my heroes. They were all awesome.

Sleaze Roxx: How about the worst? A lot of times, people are disillusioned when they meet a rock star and think, “I wish I’d never met them.”

John Corabi: Honestly, I kinda find that the guys that have been around 30-40 years, like the legends, are awesome. They’ve kinda figured it out. Now, they may have been assholes 20 years ago but Aerosmith, Plant, Deep Purple, the AC/DC guys… they’re all, “Hey man! How are ya?” It’s a lot of these [new] guys now, they get a little bit of fame, they get a little taste of it and it kinda goes to their head and it’s like, “The beers not fuckin’ cold enough!” or “My fuckin’ couch isn’t facing the east!” and you’re like…. “Suck a dick.” You know what I mean? Seriously… Let it go. I mean, if that’s the biggest thing that you have to worry about. I find it’s a lot of the newer bands that are just kinda being little shitheads but you know what? A couple little smacks, a kick in the balls and they’ll be normal.

Sleaze Roxx: What’s the best part about being John Corabi?

John Corabi: Honestly, coming to something like this [Monsters of Rock Cruise], ya know, we were sitting backstage and we were looking out before we were doing it and we were like, “Aww, there’s not that many people here, oh well, fuck it, let’s go out and play!” Then you walk out and you start playing and [by then] it was pretty crowded. But it’s weird, there’s people from all over the world and the fact that I can go out, whether it’s with an acoustic guitar or with a band, and just go to South America or Japan or Russia or Israel or any of these places and people are singing along with ya? That’s pretty awesome! I’d love to someday buy the mansion with the pool or whatever but honestly I’m happy. I’ve got a great wife. My son is my drummer. I’ve got great kids. I’ve got a cool band. We’re all friends. Life is good, man. It’s cool!

Sleaze Roxx: So what’s next for John Corabi?

John Corabi: I already recorded a live record, the Mötley ’94 album in its entirety with a video and I’ve just been busy with the Daisies… I’ve been trying to put material together for a new electric solo record so… we’ll see what happens.