John Corabi lets go of the past, holds onto hope, and keeps making music… all while writing a book, sharing memories, and embarking on a TV show.
When I read that John Corabi was coming out with an autobiography, I jumped at the chance to sit down and chat with him. I mean, I literally waited 28 years to speak to this guy! He was the singer of a band called The Scream from 1989 to around 1991 – and I loved that band! Their debut record Let It Scream was amazing and didn’t get the respect it deserved. Then 1992 rolled around and John Corabi was asked to join Mötley Crüe after they fired longtime frontman, Vince Neil. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge Crüehead, so when John joined the band, I was instantly intrigued. In 1994, Mötley Crüe (with John singing) released a self-titled album that didn’t do well on the charts, but if you ask me, this might have been one of the Crüe’s top three records of all time. It was sonically amazing, extremely well-written, and the production was top-notch. If they would have released this record under a different name, I think it would have done way better. There have been many debates on this, of course, and this is just my opinion.
After poor album and ticket sales, Mötley Crüe released John from his duties in 1996 and reunited with Vince Neil. John wouldn’t stop and considered the Mötley Crüe gig as a blessing at the time. He would continue to with a new band called Union featuring former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick, after that he played guitar for RATT, and most recently was the lead singer of supergroup, The Dead Daisies. Basically, John Corabi became quite the musical journeyman, performing now with some of the best that hard rock has to offer.
Corabi recently penned his autobiography, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, with the help of Paul Miles, a long-time historian of the world’s most infamous rock band: Mötley Crüe. The musician discusses some dark stories about growing up in the mean streets of Philadelphia before making the move to the starry nights of Los Angeles sharing a behind the scenes look at his rock journey. It took years for that journey to come to now, and 28 for me and The Aquarian to have a conversation here, but it was worth the wait as I got to sit down with the John Corabi to discuss Horseshoes and Hand Grenades:
Hey, John! I just have to let you know that it took me 28 years to finally nail you down to tell you that that Mötley Crüe‘s self-titled record might be one of my favorite records in their catalog – and that is saying a lot for me as a diehard Crüe fan.
You know, I’ve come to terms with the fact that some people are gonna like it and some people aren’t, and again, this is why Baskin Robbins has 32 flavors. All I know is that I’m proud of that record. I had a great time doing it. And if I can be frank, the fact that I have that asterisk next to my name as “the former singer of,” I think to a degree, without blowing smoke up their ass, it’s actually helped in giving me a little bit of longevity in my career. So, I’m grateful for everything!
What made you ultimately decide to tell your story to your co-writer Paul Miles for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades?
Well, I had started writing the book back in 2002 or 2003. My manager was laughing at me – I was going through my second divorce, just a bunch of crazy shit happening – and he is saying, “Crab, you should write a book, man! Some of the shit you’ve been through…” and he made a joke about it saying, “any lesser of a man would have offed himself years ago!” I was like, “Eh, whatever.” Then this guy reached out to me about doing a book and I started it, but then I put it to bed because to be frank, I started seeing books on Nirvana, books on Soundgarden, books on Aerosmith, solo books from each member of Aerosmith, and then KISS and then the roadies of KISS, and I thought, “Oh, God! If I do a book now, it’s going to be perceived as me jumping on a bandwagon,” so I wanted nothing to do with it. 2019, I went down to Australia and did four or five shows performing live the ’94 album in its entirety and I met Paul Miles again. I’ve known Paul for 20 years and we were just sitting and eating with the guys in my band outside at a café having a coffee and they are asking me stories about Mick, Tommy, and Nikki and The Scream. So, I was telling these stories and Paul pulls me aside and goes, “Crab, look… I think you should do a book. For the most part, you’ve been kind of doing this your whole life. Even though you did a couple of chapters in The Dirt, nobody knows a lot about you. You’ve been kind of this enigma that pops out of the woodwork and says ‘Oh, check out my new album!’ and then you disappear. I think there are more fans out there than you think and I think they would love to hear your story.” So, I caved. We sat down over the course of a year during COVID and we worked this book up and wrote it. I think Paul did an amazing job translating my story and making it sound like me talking, but we also went through an editing process of him starting the book, sending me chapters, I re-edited, took things out, put things in, sent it back and then we just compiled the entire book, and we sent it to Rarebird. They loved it and here it is: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.
There were some pretty dark stories in your formative years, like the one about your Uncle Jack and your siblings and how he served little to no jail time for it. Those Kallinger murders? Were these some painful memories for you to bring back when you were writing Horseshoes and Hand Grenades?
It was actually very cleansing for me to do this book and re-read it again. I was looking at things like some of my divorces, whether is was with women or the bands, and there were a lot of positive moments in the book, but there were a lot dark things, too. I was kind of living it again. To be honest with you, there were times I was reading my own story, and I would have to stop and go make a cup of tea and get away from it for a minute. I go “Holy fuck!” and there would be a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. But it was actually good to put it down on paper, get rid of it, and kind of move on. I think some of the things you were saying like the Kallinger thing, that was just dark – it was a weird time – but I think the more personal things like watching my grandmother die of alcoholism was brutal. And you know… dude, we’re human, and I think people forget that about musicians. I’m a little crude about it, but I always say, “We all still have to take our pants off to take a shit!” I think that people do forget that we’re human still, so when you have something like a marriage not working out or you’re walking away from your family, it is really brutal and I was reliving a lot of that stuff. I have to be honest, there were a couple of times where I was like “I gotta get away from this for a minute.”
After reading the section about your Uncle Jack, I had to go back and read the lyrics for “Uncle Jack” from the Mötley Crüe record you did back in 1994, and when that song came out, I felt your pain, but reading these lyrics and that chapter in your book, really makes that song powerful…
It was definitely weird, man. I remember that phone call from my mother like it was yesterday because we had started the record and 20 years had passed. She called me and told me the whole story about my Uncle Jack again and these two little boys and the whole situation and I was so fuckin’ angry again. We had this riff and we were just calling it “Evil D” because we didn’t have any lyrics for it, and the next day I got into the van that we were driving to the studio and I told all the guys what my mother had told me the night before, and I said “I think I have a subject matter for this song.” I told them it and they were like “Yes! Fuck Yes!” Initially, the song was called “The Ballad of Jack Hayes” and then the record label was like “You can’t mention him by name! That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen regardless if he was guilty or not, you can’t throw anybody under the bus like that.” I didn’t give a shit, but we eventually caved and just called it “Uncle Jack.” The funny thing is a lot of people think it’s about Jack Daniels. It’s weird and I always wanted to clear that up. It’s really weird that in my adult years, since that episode, you don’t realize how many people this happens to. I’ve met over 10 families with little kids or a friend or a neighbor or a father or a grandfather who this happened to so it’s a little bit more prevalent than people realize, so we wanted to talk about it.
I was a pretty big fan of The Scream and turned all my friends onto Let It Scream back when it came out, and then when you joined Motley Crue, that was a pretty awesome time for me as a fan. For you, though, you had some pretty big shoes to fill. What was your decision process like when it came to leaving The Scream and joining one of the biggest bands in rock?
It was hard, dude. I loved The Scream. The Scream was my first. I always tell people that you can do whatever you want in life. You can have sex with a million women, but you’re always gonna remember your first. That was The Scream to me. The thing was, my mom was just diagnosed with cancer, my son with diabetes, even during The Scream as much success as we were garnering, we were still a work in progress. It was two kids, me, my wife, and two dogs living in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. We were scrimpin’, so when I got offered the gig, even the guys in my band were like “You gotta do this! This is gonna elevate you to a whole different level and more importantly, you’re going to be able to totally take care of everyone in your family.” It was a tough decision. It was a long decision. It literally took eight months to negotiate that whole thing getting out of one band and into another. And again, I’m not a person with any regrets about anything, and without sounding cliché, at the time I needed to make money and I needed to make a lot of it. It was funny, I was able to take care of my entire family, and then it was weird because my mom passed away literally two months later and Mötley said, “Hey, we’re bringing Vince back.” So, I kind of look at it like this: love the record or hate the record, the universe gave John Corabi what he needed at that moment in his life. I have no regrets about anything.
Even though that Mötley Crüe record is one of my favorite records because of it’s heaviness and your gritty vocals, I read that it was you who made the decision to leave the band because you felt that Vince Neil needed to be fronting that band. Was there more to this story?
No, there was a lot of shit going out at the time. Honestly, you have to remember, prior to me joining the band, Mötley had just re-signed with Elektra for $30-40 million dollars. They do that, then six months later, they’re calling Elektra saying, “Hey, by the way, we got this new guy. Vince is out.” One of the other things a lot of people said was, “I think the record would have done way better if it was called anything but Mötley.” You’ve got to remember with that, too, you have lawyers, agents, the record label… everybody had something invested in the words ‘Mötley Crüe,’ so, they were like, “Let me get this right…We just gave you $30 million, you replaced your singer, and now you want to replace the name, as well? The brand!” It was just this weird perfect storm of everything negative at the time. We did the best that could, and again, like I said, I have no regrets. We did everything that we could do, we did the best record, gave the fans the best show possible. You know at one point, Tommy and Nikki didn’t even want to do any of their old music. I’m like “No, dude! We gotta play ‘Shout at the Devil’ and we gotta play this stuff!” And I get it. The fans are like “Corabi sounds good on his stuff, but the old stuff he sounds like shit…” Whatever. I was just trying to give everybody a great show. Give them some stuff [that was] little old, a little new, a little borrowed, a little blue. It ended up as just the perfect storm of negative shit… but it makes for good print in the book! [Laughs]
Next you formed this incredible band with Bruce Kulick called Union, which was another masterpiece of music if you ask me. I’m not sure if you’re noticing, but I’ve been a fan of your music and songwriting for quite some time. This Union record came out, like the Mötley Crüe and Scream records, didn’t get the respect is rightfully deserved. When does John Corabi get what he deserves for these brilliant pieces of work?
I don’t know if it will ever come, dude – and I’m kind of okay with it now. I’ve literally sat there sometimes and went, “Why is my bank account not like Nikki Sixx’s or Steven Tyler’s? Why is it that I’m struggling to get my new music out there? What am I doing wrong?” And then I just got to the point where, you know what? You do the best that you can do, write the best song you can, sing the best vocal you can, produce it the best, and get it out there.
The one thing that people forget is, regardless of what you do in the entertainment industry, you can be talented, but the main ingredient to everything is “luck” and “timing.” I’ve done 14 to 15 records. I’m still putting out new music. I still believe that every time I put a song out that ‘this one’s the one.’ I’m as optimistic as I can be and I just keep my fingers crossed hoping it catches. I was even saying with the timing thing that I’ve released a couple new songs, a song called “Cosi Bell (So Beautiful)” and “Your Own Worst Enemy,” and when I say timing or luck, if somebody like Brad Pitt or somebody, or one of those A-list actors heard that song like “Cosi Bella,” and went “Oh my God! I’m doing this love movie, this funny romance, I think this song would be great for this movie!” It turns everything around. One song! That’s all we need. If you’ve been following it, look at what’s happening right now with that artist, Kate Bush. That song is  years old! It was a song that was kind of looked over, but because of Stranger Things, a huge TV series on Netflix, it’s actually blown up again. It’s number one everywhere. That’s all you need is that one piece of luck to just turn things around and then I’m laughing, so all I can do is stay optimistic and keep moving forward.
I listened to “Cosi Bella (So Beautiful)” and “Your Own Worst Enemy” and “Cosi Bella (So Beautiful)” had this Beatles feel to it, which makes sense since they were one of the first bands you ever fell in love with, but then “Your Own Worst Enemy” sounds like it could have been on that ’94 Mötley Crüe album. As a songwriter, do you find it more efficient to write your own songs or collaborations?
I like collaborations. I collaborated on both those songs. However, now it’s gotten to the point where I’m not getting radio. You know that and I know that. Me getting on a regular playlist on a radio stations are short of the fact of me flying to Atlanta to blow everyone at Clear Channel… I’m never getting on the radio. MTV is gone. Magazines, for the most part, are gone. It’s all about podcasts and streaming. I’m just trying to figure it out as I go. The thing that I love about it is that there isn’t a record label standing over my shoulder telling me, “I don’t know if that song is right for you.” I’m always like “I wrote it! Why wouldn’t it be right for me?!” The thing that I love about this now is I can do 10 to 15 songs and once I get the strongest 10 or 12, I can put them on a record, put them on a CD, and throw it out there to the public. That’s all I can do now, and, like I said, keep my fingers crossed and hope some A-list actor wants to put my song in their movie.
Is there a dream collaboration for John Corabi?
I would love to write with Jimmy Page. I’d love to write a song with Paul McCartney. I would love to write a song with Steven Tyler. You know it’s funny, you were talking about what “Cosi Bella” sounded like to you and I’m a massive fan of The Beatles. You wouldn’t know it from the past music I’ve done, but I’ve always been a huge fan of The Beatles. But I’ve also been a massive fan of Queen. I saw Queen five times with Freddie. My two favorite songs ever, “Penny Lane” by The Beatles and “Killer Queen” by Queen. So, not that “Cosi Bella” sounds like those, but it kind of has that vibe, and that is what I was going for. I said you know what? Fuck it. I always wanted to write a song like “Penny Lane” or “Killer Queen,” I’m gonna do it, so we did it!
The Dead Daisies was another great band you were a part of for a few years. You’ve surrounded yourself with some incredible musicians throughout your career and have become quite the journeyman. You say you have no regrets playing music all these years and that’s why I asked about the collaborations. Who else is there to collaborate with?
I can sit down and write a song on my own. The thing I’m more excited about than anything is that I’m actually doing all the lead guitar work on this new music so now I’m interpreting how I want to hear these solos. [Although] I love collaborating because I can sit down and write a song, but to me, it’s always cool to hear some else’s idea. I’ll try it and I’ll go, “Not what I was thinking” and I’ll scrap that idea. in most cases I love working with Marti Frederiksen (Dead Daisies’ producer). Marti will suggest things to me and its like this lightbulb goes off. It’s something so simple and in a million years, I would have never thought about it. One of the things Marti brought to my attention was that I was too literal. “That’s not the way you talk.” He was making fun of my Philly accent and we have this code word, which means “soul,” give it some soul. He says, “Put a little ‘amos’ on it.” He’s basically saying to me to give it a little soul and “don’t be so literal with the lyrics. Don’t say ‘Your mother is going to come.’ Say, ‘Yo Mama’s gonna come!’ Put a little bit of that stank on it.” I really appreciate his input and just have that “Oh, shit! I never would have thought of that! Let me try it!” relationship. We’ve tried some things that, like I said, didn’t work. Then there’s other things that were simple, it was right in front of me the whole time, and I didn’t see it because I was locked in to the initial idea. I do like contributing and writing and collaborating with other people. It just gives you another viewpoint.
I read somewhere that you planned to release an album to coincide with Horseshoes and Hand Grenades?
I was trying to, but the book is already out. I’m releasing new music. There’s a couple of things in the works. I’m actually working on a new TV show, as well, so I’m kind of developing that with a few friends and my manager. I’m just looking at it over the course of maybe the next year, so there’s gonna be quite a few really cool things from John Corabi that are gonna happen.
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