John Corbett Finds Peace of Mind in Ohio Valley





The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register, January 15, 2006

Wheeling native John Corbett gets a chance to kick back and relax a little this weekend while in town for a visit with family and friends at a farm he co-owns in rural Ohio County with his good friend Greg George of Wheeling.

WHEELING — Starring in popular TV shows and box office hits may have changed his life, but crossing the West Virginia state line still gives John Corbett goosebumps whenever he approaches Wheeling — the place he will always call home.

“When the (Sago) coal mining disaster was going down, I took that ride with everyone else,” said Corbett, who played disc jockey Chris Stevens on the TV series “Northern Exposure.”

“I knew I was coming here and I really missed it. When I crossed the line and saw the sign you are now entering West Virginia, it was a little ‘goose-bumpy’ for me. I saw West Virginia so much on the news, I got a little homesick. It feels good to be here.”

Corbett stopped by his rural Ohio County farm this week seeking a dose of that “home sweet home” feeling before entering into another realm of the entertainment business — music.

“Music is something I have a passion for, but it is definitely not hidden,” said Corbett. “I have been doing it for a long time. I would like to say I am a singer who has done some acting.”

Dubbed the “John Corbett Band” because Corbett “likes the ring to it,” his new group has opened for big names such as ZZ Top, The Charlie Daniels Band, David Allen Coe and others. The John Corbett Band plays country rock, and the members are excited to have completed recording of their first album, “John Corbett.”

Corbett noted that he does not have a favorite song on the 12-track CD because they all are favorites.

“I am hoping that if people like the types of movies I am in and like me on some level, they will be interested in my music,” he said. “We headline, too. We just got back from a Vegas run, and we are playing at Country in the Rockies in Nashville.”

While music is currently the focus of Corbett’s life, his list of previous accomplishments is endless. In the 1990s, his role on “Northern Exposure” netted him both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. From there his career took off, landing him roles on the TV series “Sex In The City” and in hit films like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Raising Helen.”

Corbett, who grew up in Wheeling, was back in town recently to visit friends, family and his 300-acre farm, located in rural Ohio County.

“My favorite part about Wheeling was growing up in the city,” said Corbett. “In the 1970s, Wheeling was a pretty jumping town with an awesome nightlife. ... There was a lot of roaming around to do.”

Corbett recalls climbing on rooftops, playing jail break and a version of hide-and-go-seek with greater stakes. He noted that at the time, 13th and 14th streets in Wheeling had more trees and that the area today looks more like a parking lot.

A 1979 graduate of Wheeling Central High School, Corbett first worked in a small carry-out store in East Wheeling.

“Everyone else was going to college,” he said. “I had an opportunity. Some friends of mine, Gill and Moose and another guy, were going to California. They were going to drive out there and one dude bailed out and there was one space left in the Datsun pickup.”

As Corbett looked back on the trip, he recalled that one person would sleep on a bean bag chair in the back of the pickup truck while the others would navigate and drive. Every six hours they rotated, and they stayed in a hotel only once while visiting the Grand Canyon.

“It was a long, strange trip,” said Corbett. “I’ll tell you what, I got to California and I fell in love with it. I stayed in California and I had never been outside of Wheeling, except for Pittsburgh once.”

Corbett said God must have put California at the western edge of the continent for some reason.

“God laid it out right,” Corbett said. “You can go swimming and one hour later be skiing. I made it my home since 1980.”

While Corbett may have fallen in love with California at first sight, he didn’t head west with the intention of acting. Instead, he got a job in a steel factory and devoted six years of his life to it. His career on screen started slowly following an injury at work.

“I went to a community college and discovered acting,” said Corbett. “In high school I had no inclination of acting. I always thought I’d be in a band. In high school, I played in a band in the Wheeling area. I don’t even know if we had a name. I don’t even remember.”

At the community college, Corbett took an improvisation class. He was living on disability checks from his accident and said he had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

“I was taking acting classes and I got signed up for a cosmetology class and studied hair dressing for a year,” said Corbett. “I went to hair school by day and studied theatre at night.”

Then Corbett received his chance at stardom, a Samsung Electronics commercial. By the time he was out of cosmetology school, the commercial was running on the air. A hair salon was Corbett’s last regular place of employment.

“I had 50 national commercials in four years,” said Corbett. “Some actors are lucky to get one one or two, but the commercials were not fulfilling enough to put yourself on the line with no rewards. I was about to say this life is not for me when Universal saw me in a Jack In The Box (food chain) commercial and called me for a meeting.”

A week later, Corbett was on a plane to Seattle, Wash. He credits the Jack In The Box commercial for changing his life because it gained him a spot on “Northern Exposure,” the 1990s hit TV show.

“I wanted to act and have lines and scenes,” he said. “Northern Exposure ran five years and I was living in Seattle, Washington. I lived there for 15 years.”
The popularity of “Northern Exposure” helped land Corbett in big screen hits such as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” This love story holds the title of No. 1 most successful romantic comedy ever made. The movie was produced by Tom Hanks and his wife, with whom Corbett said he is close friends.

“I think how lucky I am because of all of the movies I have gotten to do,” said Corbett. “Doors just open up. I am like a friend to the world. I can go any place in the world and have a friend. It is a constant and unique thing.”

Corbett now resides in Santa Barbara, Calif., and spends some time throughout the year at the “Corbett-George Ranch” in rural Ohio County.

“I just don’t get back here as much as I would like to,” he said. “There are some knolls here I would like to build a log cabin on and spend more time. It is different living in California. There is no connection to people and your neighbors.”

He said he can come back to Wheeling and see people he has known his whole life, while in California he does not know who lives next door to him.
But when he returns to the Golden State, Corbett hopes to have as much success in the music business as he has had in television and films.

According to his Web site, Corbett’s new CD blends Nashville songcraft with tight, combustive Southern rock arrangements. His material was written by top songwriters like Hal Ketchum, Jon Randall, Darrell Scott, Tim Nicoles, Rivers Rutheford, Bernie Taupin and Mark Selby.

The album was recorded in Nashville with producer D. Scott Miller and Corbett’s longtime musical partner, Tara Novick. The musicians come from a mix of country and rock backgrounds, with Black Crowes’ drummer Steve Gorman and Music City bassist Mike Brignardello laying down a steel-belted rhythm behind guitarists Kenny Vaughan and Pat Buchanan, keyboardist Mike Rojas and steel guitarist Mike Johnson. Harmony vocalists include Sara Buxton and veteran soul-shouter Jimmy Hall, former lead singer of Southern rock ‘n’ soul greats Wet Willie.

Corbett’s CD will be available in stores beginning Tuesday, April 4.

© Copyright, 2006 • Northern Exposure is Copyright Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved. • Created 1/15/06