Today’s Guest: Joe Perry, guitarist, Aerosmith
(EDITOR’S NOTE: September 10th is Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry’s birthday and I’m using it as an excuse to dig way back in my archives to share my December 13, 1984 telephone interview — and subsequent December 24, 1984 print review/interview for the St. Petersburg Times. As is often the case with these old interviews, the audio is not great. And Joe spoke at a whisper no matter how often I asked him to speak up. But I spent 40 minutes talking to the man, y’know? And while I wasn’t as well versed in the band as I am now, fans may enjoy it. Or hate it. — Bob Andelman)
Rock’s second-generation bad boys are back.
The Rolling Stones were the first generation in the ’60s, but they passed the torch to Aerosmith, the band that high-schoolers in the mid-‘7Os revered the way today’s generation of students praise Motley Crue. Aerosmith, reunited after five years, came to the Bayfront Arena Friday night and played to a sold-out mix of listeners from all three eras.
“Back in the Saddle” is the theme of this tour, which reunites guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford with singer Steven Tyler, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer.
In a telephone interview, Joe Perry said of the band’s reunion, “It was fun proving ourselves to ourselves. There was a little bit of tension but it really never got to us. There were record companies flying into Des Moines, Iowa – looking at us up and down and sideways to see if we were still capable.”
JOE PERRY excerpt: “Right now, a lot of people like Motley Crue are walking around, saying to the press, ‘We’re the baddest, grossest guys .. .’ Let them talk about it, let them make fools of themselves.I just keep my door closed.”
IN TERMS OF performance, the Bayfront show was uneven, especially when it came to the band’s classics.
Aerosmith is a band resplendent in rough edges and this concert had plenty of them, intentional and not. Some of the songs – like “Dream On” and the set closing “Toys in the Attic” – lacked an emotional punch and sometimes were played out of key. Others – “Sweet Emotion,” “Back in the Saddle” and the encore “Train Kept A-Rollin” – were set apart by more penetrating guitars that cut through the smoke-filled arena.
The only “new” song the band offered was a cover of “Let the Music Do the Talking,” which originally appeared on an album by the Joe Perry Project. It had more melody than the average Aerosmith song and will be recorded by the band on its next record.
“Walk This Way” is easily Aerosmith’s greatest tune, and it commanded the most enthusiasm from both the .group and the fans. Something about the lyrics – “walk this way, talk this way” – and that fabulous interchange when Tyler screams “… just gimme a kiss like this … ” and Perry tears off that familiar guitar riff – puts “Walk This Way” head and shoulders above anything Twisted Sister or Iron Maiden will ever create.
“‘Walk This Way’ was written in a soundcheck,” Perry recalled. “The riff came out – we bad the song but we didn’t have the title. We were joking about Young Frankenstein and someone yelled out ‘Walk this way!’ and we said, ‘That’s it!’ Steven came up with the words off the top of his head. It started off at a coliseum in Hawaii and ended up in Manhattan as ‘Walk This Way.'”
THE GUITARIST said that the first two Aerosmith albums “sound somewhat dated … but after the third one, Toys in the Attic, you take any one of those songs and put it on the radio next to anything that’s coming out now of the same genre, it stands out. ‘Back in the Saddle’ is as heavy as anything. It crunches along, it holds up.
“‘Dream On’,” Perry admitted, “is wearing just a little bit again. But the others are songs I’ve never gotten tired of … All the young couples, thinking of’Dream On,’ is pretty much what it’s all about.”
A funny thing happened to Aerosmith since Perry and Tyler formed it in 1970. The band, breaking almost simultaneously with Kiss, pioneered the outer reaches of the bad boy hard rock now categorized as heavy metal. Almost 15 years later, the band is described as almost a hard-blues rock band – like the Rolling Stones – because metal has come to mean something entirely different.
“I grew up with the blues, rhythm & blues, heavy metal, the Jimi Hendrix end of music. (Steven) was mostly influenced by the Beatles in structure, in harmo ny. I’ve learned a lot from him, he’s learned a lot from me.” With that broad musical background, it’s no wonder most critics look back on Aerosmith and smile today. The group was mild compared to leather barons like Judas Priest. “Now,”Perry said, laughing, “the critics are pretty nice to us. It sort of scares me.
“I don’t know what would have happened if we had been accepted critically right away,” Perry mused. “We were crashed on by the critics for years and years and years, which was actually good for us, ’cause it made us work harder. As far as the bad boy image went, it just sort of came about. We were experimenting, trying to see what we could get away with on the rood. Many, many hotel rooms, people killed in huge outdoor festivals – there have been various things that contributed to it. Then again, a lot of it gets blown out of proportion.”
Perry complained that a nationally reported story of’ an onstage fight between himself and Tyler was an example of how the group is still haunted by its image.
“STEVEN FELL off a stage this summer. He was sick, drinking Jack Daniels to clear his head – I don’t know why he did that, but it happened. He was trying to hold up. He tripped and fell. When people tried to help him up, everybody just construed it as a fight. I was on the other side of the stage. But you read that Joe Perry and Steven Tyler are having fisticuffs on stage. They twist everything all around.”
Perry doesn’t seem to hold many of the new heavy metal bands in very high regard.
“There’s a syndrome that happens in a lot of bands – the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols. When they read their press,they feel they have to be that outrageous and carry on. That’s why they die so fast. They can’t be totally drugged out and at each other’s throats and manic and bleeding every night and have a career. It’s being caught up in your own stardom,” he said.
“Right now, a lot of people like Motley Crue are walking around, saying to the press, ‘We’re the baddest, grossest guys …’ Let them talk about it, let them make fools of themselves. I just keep my door closed.”
Perhaps the biggest change in the life of Joe Perry, Rock Star, is the admission that not everything he has suggested over the years from his own onstage throne was a good idea.
“ONE THING I do mind is influencing young kids,” hesaid.”I don’t want to rub off on anybody else – that’s why I came clean about my heroin problem.” Perry recently admitted in Rolling Stone that the cause of his many personal and professional traumas over the years was drug addiction. “Kids figure you gotta get high to be cool … you don’t have to. I figured if I could stop a couple kids from taking that step, I’ll have made up for it.”
JOE PERRY excerpt: “‘Walk This Way’ was written in a soundcheck. The riff came out – we had the song but we didn’t have the title. We were joking about ‘Young Frankenstein’ and someone yelled out ‘Walk this way!’ and we said, ‘That’s it!’ Steven came up with the words off the top of his head. It started off at a coliseum in Hawaii and ended up in Manhattan as ‘Walk This Way.'”
Asked if he wished there had been a school for rockers so he would have come to that conclusion in 1974 instead of 1984, Perry said that he and Whitford were talking about putting together a seminar to talk about the problems of drugs, being on the road, “what to watch out for, which lawyers to avoid, that sort of thing.”
Perry said what broke Aerosmith apart was “personalities, egos, drugs.” The band continued without Perry and Whitford (who recorded with Derek St. Holmes), albeit listlessly.
“If we had had cooler heads, we would have said ‘Nonsense, let’s take a vacation and get baek together in a year.’ Instead it was very high-pitched, emotional … we turned our backs on each other.”
That’s history now. The original Aerosmith is back together. They expect to sign a contract with a new record company shortly and plan to be in production on an album by the last week of January.
“From what’s happened,” Perry said, “I get goose bumps. All the things you do to yourself on the road, you put that aside, because when you get up there to play it sounds so good. It’s really exciting. When you get on stage there is no age. You don’t feel old, you don’t feel young. You feel just free. For that hour and a half, it’s just one thing pulling everyone together.”