INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Tennessee-born Gary Corbett is a Grammy Award-winning American keyboardist, composer, and producer most famous for playing with such bands as KISS, Lou Gramm, Joe Lynn Turner, Paul Stanley’s solo band, and Cinderella. Corbett is one of America’s most prolific keyboardists of recent times, and he’s been contributing in various capacities to over 27 albums, including working with all of Bob Marley’s sons – with which he won his two Grammy’s. Corbett is nowadays living in Nashville and remains active in many different bands and projects. He’s currently touring with Cinderella, and when the band’s 25TH Anniversary –tour finally reached Finland last June, then we had time to sit down with Gary and discuss various subjects .. read on!
WORKING WITH KISS
Well, it’s been a while since you’ve been in Finland. The last time did happen in 1988 when you played in Helsinki with KISS during the “Crazy Nights” –tour?
Well, I mean, we were here in ’88, but I don’t remember – I mean, we were probably here and out pretty quick, right, because I don’t remember much about where we stayed. I can’t picture – I can picture the hotel in Oslo. I can picture the hotel in Stockholm that we stayed at. I can’t – I can’t remember much about it. But I remember how sneaky it was that there were people from Russia that had snuck across at the time, which I thought was pretty amazing.
How you ended up playing with KISS in the first place?
The guy that played keyboards on the CRAZY NIGHTS album was a guy named Phil Ashley. Phil was a friend of mine from Electric Lady Studios in New York, and he was going on tour with Mick Jagger, who was doing a solo project at the time. And he had also introduced me to Lou Gramm from Foreigner. And so I was going on tour with Lou, and then Paul had called him up and said, “Could you recommend somebody to come on the road with us?” So, he recommended me, and then I went and had an interview with Paul and Chris Lend, and that was it. And then I left with Lou for Germany. They left for L.A. to start rehearsing, and then when Lou was finished, I flew right from Munich right to L.A. and started rehearsing for the “Crazy Nights” -tour.
How the tour went overall, and how the rest of the guys did react when you first appeared on the soundcheck, training, etc.?
We had a bit of a rough beginning together. The “Crazy Nights” -the tour wasn’t a tremendous success in the States. Sometimes the stage would – sometimes, there was more room behind the stage. They would push it forward to make it look better. There would be more room behind the stage than in front, you know? So, in the beginning – well, you know that I don’t think Gene – Gene’s not a big keyboard fan. If it wasn’t for Paul and the fact that he used keyboards on the CRAZY NIGHTS record a little bit, they would’ve never done it. But that was Paul’s baby, that album, and you know, Gene just likes to keep him happy. Every day at soundcheck, as soon as I would touch the keyboards, Gene would stand up and do the – like he was ice skating, you know, around the stage. That’s what keyboards are to him; just for ice skating or – not a rock instrument. That’s what he used to say to me all the time.
How did Bruce and Eric like you and your keyboards back then?
Oh, Bruce and Eric. Eric and I hit it off immediately because he was also living in New York at the time, and so we were staying in a hotel for the month that we were rehearsing. And so he and I would drive to rehearsal together every day. So, we became friends very quickly. Plus, we were both from Brooklyn, and we, you know, had similar backgrounds and with Bruce, too, actually. I knew Bruce in New York when he played with Meat Loaf, and he had a band – you know that band Blackjack with Michael Bolton. And I was almost in Blackjack. I had actually auditioned. I was too young, but when I met Bruce with KISS, he was like, “I remember you. You came in second, but they were a little afraid because you were too young.” So, but yeah, Bruce was around New York and Bob Kulick as well. You know, those guys were easier to get to know and easier to get to know than Gene and Paul.
During when KISS was making CRAZY NIGHTS album, it was said that Paul was playing some keyboards by himself as well, was there any truth behind that?
No, that was Phil Ashley. Phil was kind of like a house keyboard player at Electric Lady, and he had a little studio of his own in the studio. And when Paul was writing the material and doing the demos, Phil was programming and doing the demos for Paul. So, he ended up also playing on the record.
I remember one Finland music magazine saying, “Paul Stanley, the rising keyboard player.”
No. No, I don’t think he – I never even saw him touch a keyboard “laughs.”
KISS also used to have some keyboards on the main stage, and usually, it was Bruce who did “play” on those. Did he actually play anything, or was he just pretending?
He played. No, he played, but I was playing too. I had the same keyboard that he had on stage over by my stuff.
I know that you didn’t do the whole “Crazy Nights” tour but did you do the Japan part of the tour?
No, I don’t think I went to Japan at all in 1988… No, all I did in ’88 with them was the Monsters of Rock and then whatever – and then the tour that followed here. But no, no Japan. I never went to Japan with KISS. That would have been a good tour over there.
Speaking about the Monsters of Rock shows, I remember that I was kind of shocked when I saw the KISS live broadcast on German TV, and they did show you playing keyboards on the stage there!
Oh, from Schweinfurt? Yeah, well, that wasn’t supposed to happen. You know, it was another one of those situations where they just put the keyboards off on the side, and you had the guys with the cameras filming for the TV screens. They didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to be shown. So, during “Rock and Roll All Night,” all of the sudden I look down, and there’s a guy filming, and I wasn’t going to tell him not to, you know? And then, within like two weeks, I started hearing from people. Oh, man, there’s a bootleg video of you. And it was like immediately that thing got – and it wasn’t even – you know, there was no YouTube yet, and it was still VHS tapes, but somehow it got out. I actually got it from a bootlegger not long after.
Yeah, actually, it came out from German TV at the time.
Oh, did it really? Okay. As long as it was that song, I don’t care “laughs.”
Another memorable show from that tour must have been the legendary club show you did in Marquee in London in 1988. Do you have any great memoirs from that one?
Oh yeah, that was crazy. I forgot all about that. Yeah, that was a great show. I have some video; you know I had my own video camera that I bought the day before we left for that trip, so it was the new toy, so I would always have it out, you know. And Eric and I were all over the place with it, you know, and I would film, he would go up to people in the street and interview them, and we had a great time.
KISS had quite a big stage show in “Crazy Nights” –tour in the U.S, but it was a really stripped-down version, which we did see here in Europe. Why didn’t they bring the big show here?
Oh, probably just because of money. I remember back at that time, they used to have a stage set that they kept over in Europe so that they wouldn’t have to ship stuff, but it was very basic. It was about all those fake speaker cabinets. They used to, you know, stick them to the set, but when they would take them down, you know they weren’t real cabinets. They used to stack them inside each other, and you know all of the speaker cabinets were about this much plastic, light and–so you know it was a lot easier for them to do that than to bring everything over “laughs.”
THE PAUL STANLEY SOLO BAND
After the “Crazy Nights” tour, you then played in Paul’s solo band? How was that tour to do?
That was fun. That was a lot of fun because it was a great band and great musicians. You know, that’s when I first met Eric Singer, who I’m still very close with now.
He played with the Badlands back then, right?
Well, he was actually – yes, he did, and at the time, they were just finishing the first Badlands record when we started the tour, and we hit it off immediately. The whole tour, he and I were, you know, always together and going out and causing trouble, you know. And it was Bob and Dennis, and they had a band together too.
Do you mean band the Skull?
The Skull, yeah. And Bob, you know, Bob’s a great guitar player and probably more of the right guitar player that should have been in KISS rather than Bruce.
Is he a more 70’s classic type of guitarist than his brother?
Yes, yes. And, you know, Bruce was more into stuff like Eddie Van Halen, you know? I don’t know. I guess maybe the fact that Bob always that it was because he was bald and he didn’t look right for the part.
And that’s not a big problem nowadays anymore, “laughs.”
Yeah. Now he would’ve had it alright, or he could’ve worn a wig like the rest of them “laughs.”
That Paul Stanley -tour only lasted like two months?
Yeah, it was – you know, when he called me to do it, it was basically – he just did it really for fun. It was not – and that’s why it was fun because, you know, when you have Gene and Paul and the whole KISS thing, there’s a little bit of a – I don’t want to say competition – but, you know, there is always tugging for the spotlight between Gene and Paul. And on the solo tour, Paul was the only one. So, he was very relaxed. There was no pressure. He didn’t – he wasn’t as uptight about everything because it wasn’t KISS. It wasn’t – things went wrong. Things weren’t perfect. It was still okay. We still just had fun. And we did. We had a great time.
I remember reading that back in the day Gene, Bruce, Eric Carr everybody came to see Pauls’ solo shows, and it was actually Bruce told me recently that when Carr saw Eric Singer play with Paul, he did say that Singer will take his place in KISS someday.
That’s what–as soon as I walked offstage at the Ritz in New York and that’s where Eric was, and I walked in the dressing room, and Eric said to me, “That guy’s going to have my job,” and I was like oh no, what are you talking about you know, you’re the drummer in KISS, he’s not getting your job. It was a little strange when it actually happened. But you know what? I mean, Eric Singer’s a great drummer, and you know to me it wasn’t like, he didn’t steal the job from Eric, you know, somebody had to take the job so—the rest is history.
When Paul was doing his solo tour, he did also record a bunch of songs like “Hide Your Heart,” “Time Traveller,” “A Best Man for You,” etc., and most of that stuff was never used. Do you know if he had an idea to put another solo album out of that time?
I don’t know if he was looking to do another solo record or if he was really just looking to write songs for other bands? Like I know, I remember on the solo tour the Warrant was the opening band, and he wanted to write with Jani Lane, but it was more to write so that Warrant would do the songs, not Paul, you know, and I think there was something that he almost produced if I’m not mistaken, the first Guns & Roses record. He had met with them and everything, but I think they scared him at that point, you know. They were still a very wild bunch of guys, and he was not into that at all.
Do you know who actually are playing on those Paul’s late 80’s demos?
That’s got to be Phil Ashley; I would be really surprised if it wasn’t, and I think that those demos were done with a drum machine, and you know Paul was playing guitar.
Yeah, there are some guitars in there and drum machines for sure…
Yeah, and everything else was Phil Ashley, I’m pretty sure. At least I know “Hide Your Heart” because that was kind of new at the time that we did the solo tour. But the older stuff, I don’t know, but yeah, but Phil was Paul’s guy for a little while there were whenever you know because Paul was still spending a lot of time in New York at the time, you know Gene was already in LA and so was Bruce. So before he moved to LA, that’s basically it was Phil who he would use to do demos.
Paul Stanly solo band: Eric Singer, Bob Kulick, Paul Stanley, Gary, and Dennis St. James
HOT IN THE SHADE TOUR
What are your best memories from the Hot in the Shade tour?
The best thing about that tour was that Gene was bringing me out and introduced me for the first–in all the years I worked with them, it was the only time that he ever told the audience that I was there. And at the time, I was still living in New York, so it was a big thrill for me. Growing up in New York, that was always the goal to play Madison Square Garden, you know. And my parents were there, you know, my family and friends.
That tour never reached Europe. Was there some particular reason behind that?
No, and I don’t know why, but I know that it was towards the end of that tour when Eric Carr started not feeling so good. You know, we used to get in the van, you know, right from the stage and get out of there, and everybody would be sitting there with towels and sweating, and he would start to complain like his leg was numb, you know. And we really didn’t think much of it, and I’m not really even sure if that was related, but he was starting to feel a little off, and I don’t know that that’s the reason why the tour didn’t come to Europe, but you know it wasn’t long after that that he was told that he was sick, so…….
Yeah, Bruce once said that Eric changed really quickly. He didn’t get his songs for the albums, and his solo was cut off and stuff like that, so he got pissed off, and he was kind of rebel against Gene and Paul, which must have been, you know, impossible?
Yes, that is impossible, and that might be Paul’s version of it, and he kind of lumps it all in as one thing, and it wasn’t. What happened with Eric’s solo was on the Monsters tour. It was with Iron Maiden. Maiden was headlining. KISS was not headlining, so they weren’t able to do the full show. So at that point, they took the solo out. But then after the Monster shows when we did the rest of the tour when we came here, and everything, and they still said no drum solo. And that really hurt Eric, but at the beginning of the Hot in the Shade -tour for the first three months of that tour, Eric wouldn’t even talk to Gene and Paul. He would get on the bus, headphones, dark glasses, sit down, look anywhere but in their direction. It was pretty uncomfortable to be around for three months. You know you’re on a tour bus, which is a very small area, but yeah, so you know Eric took those things really personally. He loved being the drummer in KISS. It meant everything to him, and his solo tour was very important to him. And Paul, I think, took some pleasure in, you know, pushing Eric’s buttons, and he knew exactly how to do it, and yeah, he did it quite a bit. And it really upset Eric, but you know that was ’88 when that happened, and you know you’re talking about Hot in the Shade when you know, so there’s always stuff going on between the two of them, you know. And Gene really liked Eric, but you know Paul is Paul, and you know? Do you know the story about Eric in Amsterdam?
Yeah, at least some parts of it….
That was my fault. As a matter of fact, when I showed up to Modena I was in the restaurant eating and Paul, I had left the tour for a couple of days to visit my sister who lived in Switzerland, and I didn’t know all that took place after I left with Eric. And I showed up, and Paul was like, oh, I heard you got Eric in trouble, and he tried to blame me for it. But the reason why that happened in Amsterdam was because of the drum solo, that’s why Eric–that was the only time in Eric’s life that he ever did that, and it was because he was really upset about the drum solo. He had just been told that after the Monsters tour was done and they did the regular tour that he still wasn’t going to get to do his drum solo, and he came to me, will you go to the Bulldog? You got to take me with you, he’s “I want to get high,” and I’m like, really? You?
It didn’t happen too often, I know.
No, it was once, only once, but it was a good one.
At the time, if I’m right, Gene was quite busy with other things but KISS?
Yeah, yeah, Gene’s focus was the record company. He was just kind of starting to be over with the acting thing. He was starting to give that up. On “Crazy Nights” -tour, I mean he used to, all he did was watch movies, movies, movies, and very obscure movies, like we’d stop at a video store, and he’d rent 10 videos, black and white movies, and we’d all sit on the bus going what are you watching, you know. And then we’d get to the next town and have to ship them back, you know, this was before Netflix and all of that stuff so you know the tour manager would put them in a box and send them back to Blockbuster, and yeah– but yeah Gene was pretty consumed with other things, but also Gene’s attitude was he knew that he had to keep Paul happy and he did whatever that took too. It was, you know important to keep him happy so that everything could continue so—“laughs.”
THE END OF THE PARTY
When you quit playing with KISS?
Well, I did the first leg of the “Revenge” tour, I did the European part, and it was after that, before the United States leg we did split, yeah.
Why did you decide to leave?
Well, again, you know you’re going to hear a few different sides depending on who you ask. We were all pretty close, but it was just time. I was close with Eric; dealing with his illness and his death was really hard on me. And I didn’t really agree with a lot of things that Gene and Paul did at the time, and after Eric passed away, I was pretty angry at them and I really–when I came over and did the UK with them, and I got on the bus, and again it’s a small space I realized I didn’t want to be there anymore. And I couldn’t just put on the headphones and glasses as Eric did, you know, so it was just time to go. So I, you know–we got back to the States, and I think we were both thinking the same thing because I spoke to Gene, and you know he was telling me that if I was going to continue that I would need to ride the crew bus now because I guess they didn’t want to be around me either you know. And I told him that if I was going to continue, I did want to get double as much money, you know? So we were both using the same way to get out of it gracefully.
So it was a good decision for both parties, I think?
Right, but then once they went back to the makeup, they never used the keyboards again, so–that’s the only thing that bothers me about not finishing the “Revenge” -the tour was because if I had, I could have said I was the only guy that ever did it.
And you missed playing on ALIVE III album…“ laughs.”
Oh, why, they did an ALIVE III with Derek (Sherinian)? See, there you go. Oh man, yeah, that too, but yeah, that did bother me a little bit because, you know, it’s a cool thing to have on my resume. I was never a big fan, I was not a big fan, you know beforehand, but it was you know KISS is KISS, and they’re huge, so it’s a good thing.
JOE LYNN TURNER
Yeah. Okay, after KISS, you did many things, but what interests us is your work with Joe Turner.
Oh yeah, sure, Joe is great.
That collaboration started almost right after the KISS thing, right?
Yeah, pretty much. You know Joe’s in New York, I was living in New York at the time, and Joe’s in New York, New Jersey you know, and I was a big fan of his singing plus a big fan of Deep Purple, and we met, and we hit it off very you know pretty much immediately. And I started doing live shows with him, but we also started writing songs together, and we wrote a lot of songs together that weren’t right for his records, maybe more like Michael Bolton records and pop stuff. But we still, even now, still send stuff back and forth. I still play. I’ve played on his last two or three, you know the records he did on Frontiers, I don’t know if he’s done one since the last one I did.
I think it was called SECOND HAND LIFE?
Yeah, two years ago, that’s the last one, so I did that one, and I did one or two others before that with him. And he still sings great, and I love working with Joe. I heard he was over and living in Turkey for a little while recently. For a couple of months, he was recording with some local musicians. You know, he was doing many things where he’d fly to different countries, and rather than have the expense of carrying a band, he would hire local bands in each city. So I guess you know–and I’m sure he came across lots of really good musicians in doing that. So, but I also heard he had a Turkish girlfriend lately.
Okay, “he laughs,” He had a couple one girlfriends in Finland as well.
That’s Joe, “laughs.”
Okay, Cinderella, how that thing came about?
Well, on the “Hot in the Shade” -tour, KISS was being managed by Larry Maser, who was also Cinderella’s manager at the time, and you know, the first two Cinderella records there was some keyboards, not much. They had a guy that you know they knew from the neighborhood that they grew up in that was a guitar player, and for the first two tours, he did the offstage kind of like what I did with KISS, he played offstage a couple of songs. But then when they were recording the HEARTBREAK STATION record, it got more bluesy, more keyboard parts, and you know. So their manager came to me towards the end of the KISS tour and said, you know Cinderella is in the studio, their record has definitely got a lot more keyboards, they need to get a real keyboard player now, would you be interested? Sure, you know, and so when KISS played Philadelphia, that’s where they were all living in that area at the time, I went to Tom’s house for dinner, we met, we had dinner, we talked for a while, and then we sat down at his piano in the living room, he took out his acoustic guitar, we played some blues for a little while. The next day I got a call saying you got the gig. So that was great, that tour was a lot of fun because you know with KISS everything I played with the exception of their stuff from CRAZY NIGHTS which was only one or two songs and the ballads, “Reason to Live” and “Forever” which you know had keyboards on it, but for the most part, most of what I did was not meant to be heard as keyboard parts, it was just there to make them sound better. So it was a nice change to go to a band where you know, I could actually have a Hammond organ and piano and real keyboards and play like a keyboard player.
And then you were able to play Ken Hensley’s Hammond parts live “laughs.”
He’s one of the greatest.
Am I right? There’s only one song you have been recorded with Cinderella, which is “Hot and Bothered”?
When was that actually recorded?
That was recorded during the tour… that was actually recorded for the Wayne’s World soundtrack. That’s why it was just the one song that we went into the studio to do. And yeah, that was–after we were already on tour, it was like, you know we had a couple of days where they said you have to go in the studio and cut this song. So I was already there, you know I missed all the recordings for the HEARTBREAK STATION record.
That was done after those recordings but before the STILL CLIMBING sessions?
Yes, yes, in between. STILL CLIMBING was recorded, but it was recorded a few times. It got a couple of false starts, you know. That was when Tom started having some vocal problems, so right after the “Heartbreak Station” -tour Fred was gone, and we went through the whole process of looking for a new drummer and found Kevin Valentine. Then Tom started having vocal problems, so everything got shut down for like a year, and now Kevin was in the band, but nothing was happening. And then they started recording the record, and after all the basic tracks were done, they decided they didn’t like the drums, so they scrapped it all. Well, then they went to Gregg Bissonette, recorded all the songs again with Gregg Bissonette, and then went, man, we don’t like these either. They started all over again and did it with Kenny Aronoff, and that’s who’s on the record.
From your point of view, how do you see the future of Cinderella?
Well, I don’t know you know Tom had his throat problems from 2008 till last year. Last year we toured, and he was really good, but from last year to this year, he’s got so much better. He sounds like 20 years ago now. So I think you know up until recently I don’t think there was much thought about anything other than trying to be able to sing again. So now that he’s singing really well again, I think that he might be able to think about other things now. I know that he really wants to tour a lot and make sure we get to all the places we haven’t been for a long time.
Gary and Tom Keifer.
THE GRAMMY’S AND LIVING IN NASHVILLE
During your long career, you have won a couple of Grammys as well. Do you want to tell me some more about that?
Well, the Grammys were–from 1997 to 2004 I was living down in Miami, and while I was down there I got to work with all of Bob Marley’s sons, and first, it was Ziggy, and then Stephen and Damian and Julian and Ky-Mani and I played on all, I even played on Bob’s mother’s records. But Damian, and it was really funny because I think the first one was 2007 where Damian won, and it was about nine months after that somebody said to me hey congratulations, I said for what, he said oh you won a Grammy. Really, you know, and then like two months later, was the next Grammys and Stephen’s record, which I also played on, won that year, so it was like two years in a row. I still haven’t gotten them, though, but–I will, oh I will “laughs.”
Some years ago, actually, it was more than a couple, but you moved up to Nashville. There’s a huge community of former and current hard rockers living and working in there nowadays.
Tell something about that scene that is going on in there at the moment?
Oh, it’s awesome. Well, first of all, Nashville is great for songwriters. In the country scene, the songwriters are brilliant down there, it’s amazing, but then the new country music there is very much what used to be the southern rock, you know, a lot of the stuff. And a lot of the country artists grew up in the ’80s listening to that stuff, so it’s kind of fit together really easily, and I do a project in town with Gunner Nelson and Mark Slaughter and Kelly Keagy from Night Ranger called Scrap Metal. And it’s hard, we don’t do a lot of shows because it’s very hard to get everybody’s schedules lined up, but those shows are always a lot of fun because in addition to doing the songs of each guy in the band we always have special guest vocalists. It could be–well, Joe has done it, Eric Martin has done shows with us–and so that’s a lot of fun. And you know Kip Winger lives in town and so many people.
And then, of course, there’s Vinnie Vincent living in there…“ laughs.”
Oh well, he was a little bit further away. I was recently, right before we came over, I was working with Mark Slaughter at his house, and I guess because of his connection with Vinnie while we were working, he started getting texts, did you see Vinnie got arrested, and we started seeing the pictures, and it was like what a mess.
That published one was the first picture I have seen in 20 years of him.
He’s got some problems, yes.
Okay, this was a good way to end this conversation. Thanks a lot for your time Gary!
No problem, guys!