NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This just might be the role actor John Corbett was born to play.
Known for playing the handsome non-Greek boyfriend in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the philosophical radio DJ on "Northern Exposure" and Carrie's boyfriend on "Sex and the City," Corbett has taken a hiatus from acting to launch a music career.
His debut album — a collection of country-rock songs penned and performed by some of Nashville's finest talents — comes out April 4 on his own Fun Bone Records label.
With his long hair, boots and faded Bob Dylan T-shirt, the 6-foot-5 Corbett sure looked the part of aspiring country rocker during a recent interview. The only thing missing was the cowboy hat.
"I think it's been a big shock to people," he said. "They didn't know I'd be any good at it. A lot of people think I just picked up a guitar, took some lessons and started singing. But I think I'm a better singer and guitar player than actor."
Corbett, 43, has been playing music since he was a kid in Wheeling, W.Va. Back then, he played bass and sang songs by KISS, Styx, Rush and Cheap Trick in garage bands.
He'd always been around country music (his uncle owned a club where Buck Owens once performed), but didn't start really listening to it until the late 1980s, when artists such as Dwight Yoakam and Travis Tritt were bringing a rock sensibility to the genre.
"It's pretty much all I've listened to since then," Corbett said.
A former steel-factory worker, he got into acting on a whim after he'd moved to California. He was attending college and decided to sit in on a friend's drama class.
The experience led to college theater productions and TV commercials. He landed a guest spot in the popular series "The Wonder Years" and broke through with his role as the laid back, philosophy-spouting Chris Stevens in "Northern Exposure" in 1990.
He's appeared in many movies and TV shows since then, including HBO's cult fave "Sex and the City."
But he felt he was getting typecast as the nice guy love interest and grew disenchanted with Hollywood.
He reached a turning point in 2004 when he was invited to be a presenter at the Country Music Television awards in Nashville.
"I met people like Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Keith Urban. I love those guys. I had a connection to them that I never really had as an actor. On their downtime, actors talk about somebody's great performance or some great play they had seen — theater talk. I'd listen, but I wanted to say, 'You guys hear the new Travis Tritt record?'
"I can come here (Nashville) and say, 'You hear the new Travis Tritt record?' and they know every cut and all the writers. I thought, 'Where have you guys been all of my life?"'
Corbett decided then he'd record an album. A couple of major labels expressed interest, but he didn't get the offer he wanted and ended up digging into his own pocket.
Many of the 12 songs — written by tunesmiths such as Hal Ketchum, Jon Randall, Darrell Scott, Tim Nichols, Rivers Rutherford and Mark Selby — have an earthy Southern rock feel with female backing vocals, harmonica and organ. Guests include Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman and former Wet Willie singer Jimmy Hall.
The first single, "Good to Go," debuted at No. 48 on Billboard's country singles chart — the best showing by a new artist on an independent label in a long time.
"I think I'm making the kind of music Montgomery Gentry, Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley are making," Corbett said. "A lot of these songs could be on their records, too."
His girlfriend, actress Bo Derek, with whom he lives in California, shot the cover photo of a denim-clad Corbett with lamb-chop sideburns and an acoustic guitar.
He's been on the road visiting radio stations, opening concerts for acts such as ZZ Top and Charlie Daniels, and headlining shows at 600- and 700-seat venues. He recently completed a three-night stand at Tootsies Orchid Lounge, a storied Nashville honky-tonk.
Asked if he'll return to acting, he makes clear that music is his passion and acting his job — and right now he doesn't much feel like going back to work.
"If I had to pick one, I'd pick music. But I don't have to pick one. I've had a great time making movies, and I'll probably do another one at some point.
"I've cleared my schedule for two years because the guys in my band needed me, too. They didn't want to go out on the road and then me go off and make a movie and leave them hanging. I'm about six months into that, and I'm having the time of my life."