An unsung hard rock hero is ready to tell his own tales
Backstage at the Hobart Art Theater in Hobart, Indiana, smoke lingers in a literally green green room beneath the stage.
A couple couches line the walls. It’s the holding tank for a co-headlined show starring music veterans John Corabi and Donnie Vie. Men with cameras converse in corners—Vie’s crew is filming the night for some future release—and I’m in the room to interview Corabi. No airs or grotesqueries of fame sully the scene. This is the private space of old hands who have toured for decades. Everyone is chill.
Corabi straddles celebrity. One foot walks the glittering ground of fame, and the other dangles over a precipice of rock and roll obscurity. Although widely known for replacing Vince Neil in 1992, Corabi carries a musical pedigree and chops that transcend his brief stint in Mötley Crüe. Prior to his years with Nikki, Tommy and Mick, he fronted The Scream—an L.A.-based, blues-infused rock act that saw some success with their single “Man in the Moon.” After Motley, Corabi played guitar for Ratt. He formed Union with Bruce Kulick of Kiss, and he fronted The Dead Daisies—a hard rock who’s who-collective with a regularly rotating lineup—through three studio albums, two live records and multiple world tours. In more recent years, he has focused on solo work and toured on an intimate, storytelling acoustic set.
AUDIO: Union “Old Man Wise”
The acoustic shows allow fans an opportunity to witness Corabi stripped down to his essence: a generous performer who loves music and connects with people through it.
“This right now is exactly me when I’m at home. There are no airs. I’m not projecting anything,” he said. “I love playing the guitar and singing, and I feel like I’m blessed to be able to still be here 30+ years later doing this. I love people. I mean, even rude people—there’s something you can kind of gather from them and learn from them. I like putting a smile on people’s faces … Even if someone in the audience gets a little over the top, I like fucking with them. It’s all fun.”
Between songs, Corabi takes his audience behind the scenes. He talks about song inspirations, infamous meetings and famous bandmates. He does a killer impression of Steven Tyler. In June 2022, those stories will take a new form. His autobiography Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, co-authored with longtime Crüe chronicler Paul Miles, comes out through Los Angeles-based publisher Rare Bird on June 14.
“Paul’s Australian and I was in Australia in 2019 with my band doing the Mötley ‘94 album in its entirety. He did all four shows with us. And it’s one of those things where you’re talking about stories and Paul goes, ‘Man, you should do a book,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do a book. Everybody’s doing a book now. You’ve got rock stars doing fucking cookbooks.’ I kind of felt like I was jumping on a bandwagon, but he was very persistent. He said, ‘You know what? A lot of people kind of met you via The Dirt (the 2019 Netflix biopic based on the 2001 Neil Strauss book by the same name), but even in The Dirt, it’s a limited amount of information about you. A lot of people don’t know who you are.’ So I caved and we just started writing it. We went back and forth—it was Covid so we had plenty of time. He’d send me the manuscript, I’d edit it and send it back, and we did this like eight or ten times until we said ‘Okay, I think it’s set now,’ and this company Rare Bird immediately got a hold of it and said ‘Yeah, fuck let’s do this.’ So I’m excited about it.
“To be honest, I’m not telling anybody anything that they don’t already know. This book is—like, obviously everybody knows how I joined Mötley and how I left Motley, but this dives into what I was thinking and feeling as it was happening. I was kind of taken aback by a lot of things. So it just dives into my headspace, and it goes way back to the beginning, into my childhood right up to a year ago. I talk about The Daisies and marriages, things that were awesome and things that failed, meeting Donnie Vie…”
Across the narrow room, Vie works on his set list. He pipes up to praise his co-headliner.
“I had tears in my eyes every time I’d see him on tour,” Vie says, reflecting on a mid-aughts tour with Ratt. “I just kept thinking this ain’t right. Johnny playing rhythm…”
Corabi laughs and says, “Chapters 12 through 15 are all about my escapades when I was on tour with Donnie Vie.”
Outside of becoming an author and building a rapport with his fans at his acoustic sets, Corabi has been busy writing and recording. He said fans will see a new album at some point in the future. Working with his full band, Corabi has released two new singles in the past eight months. “Cosi Bella,” a sweet and cheeky ode to all the women Corabi has loved and lost, came out in August of 2021, and in February 2022 he released “Your Own Worst Enemy,” an energetic single with hints of Aerosmith groove and Tom Morello rhythm coming through in places.
“Right now, I’m just doing acoustic shows. My son is my drummer, and he’s out with a band called Rehab, and then two of my guys are out with Ace Frehley and Accept. I’m hoping to have [a full band] up and running [for tour] by the end of the year,” Corabi said. “I still think that there’s a bit of apprehension in people to come to shows. We just did some shows three months ago, and the promoter said, ‘You’ve got to understand your age group is 35 to 55, 60 years old. They don’t want to be shoulder to shoulder and maskless.’ It’s weird—a lot of these promoters are like ‘We sold 200 tickets,’ but you walk on stage and there’s 55 people there. So the people, I think they’re trying to support bands by buying the tickets, but they’re not ready to come to the show.”
AUDIO: John Corabi “Your Own Worst Enemy”