Interview: Aerosmith Guitarist Joe Perry (2010)
Originally published in Guitar World, September 2010
They crashed hard in 2009, but Aerosmith have pulled themselves back together to launch one of their biggest world tours ever. Joe Perry tells how they reconciled with singer Steven Tyler and talks about the plans for their long-awaited new studio effort.
“There are times I just want to get the fuck out of this.” It’s early in the morning on a perfect spring day in June, and Joe Perry, black coffee in hand, is relaxing outside at his New England home. He’s reflecting on his long musical past, and contemplating—just maybe—a future that has a decidedly different focus. “Because I’ve done it all,” he says. “I’ve been going long enough to prove what I wanted to prove, to get the girl I wanted to get, to make the money I wanted to make, to drink all the beer I wanted to drink. I’ve played—not exactly everywhere, but I’ve played enough places.” Perry pauses, and gazes out over the lush green expanse of his surrounding property. “So sometimes I’ll sit here and think, What the fuck am I doing? Because really, I could just be doing this every day.”
It’s hard to argue with the man. Indeed, Perry has, at least musically speaking, done it all. Across four decades with Aerosmith, one of America’s longest running—and, without a doubt, finest—rock and roll bands, he’s powered some of rock’s greatest tunes, like “Walk this Way,” “Same Old Song and Dance” and “Sweet Emotion,” sold more than 150 million albums worldwide and influenced generations of axmen (Slash, for one, has often credited the ‘Smith’s classic 1976 platter, Rocks, with setting him on his own musical path). Along the way he’s been firmly established as a guitar icon of the highest order: a raven-haired, granite-jawed, stone-cold gunslinger whose every move—and riff—drips with attitude, style and effortlessly cool confidence.
Which is not to say that it’s been an easy ride. Perry and Aerosmith’s history is littered with the detritus of years of rock and roll excess: drug addictions, rehab stints, interband battles, members leaving, health scares, and periods of commercial decline and financial woe. Yet they’ve not only survived but continue to thrive at an extraordinarily high level, a fact that is not lost on Perry. “It seems like we always manage to get through by the skin of our teeth,” he acknowledges with a grin. And so while the guitarist could easily ride out his days here at home, enveloped in bucolic suburban bliss, “there’s something about the band that’s really enticing,” he says. “It’s really addictive. And I’m kinda curious to see how long it’s gonna go. So it’s like, Well, let’s stick with it for a little while longer.”
Recently, however, there was a moment where it seemed as if Aerosmith—or at least Aerosmith as we know it—would not go on much longer. This past year in particular proved to be one of the most tumultuous of the band’s long career. A 2009 summer tour with ZZ Top was plagued with setbacks: guitarist Brad Whitford and bassist Tom Hamilton took separate leaves of absence to deal with medical issues, and several dates were canceled early on after singer Steven Tyler suffered a leg injury. Then, at the group’s August 5 show in Sturgis, South Dakota, Tyler tumbled from the stage mid-set, sustaining head and neck injuries and a broken shoulder, and forcing the band to scrap the remainder of the tour.
Things only got worse from there. While Aerosmith sat idle through the fall, rumors began swirling of a rift between Tyler and his bandmates. After the singer pulled out of a planned South American tour at the end of the year to focus his energies on building what he described publicly as “Brand Tyler,” Perry announced that, almost 40 years after their inception, Aerosmith would begin looking for a new singer. “The band wasn’t going to sit around and wait,” Perry says today. “If Steven was gonna do a solo thing, or go be a judge on American Idol for a year or whatever, we weren’t going to do nothing. We’re a good band, and the four of us can go out and play.”
As a result, what played out in the press across the final months of 2009 and into early this year was high rock and roll drama. After hinting at solo activity to come, Tyler abruptly shifted gears and checked himself into an undisclosed rehab facility to deal with an addiction to painkillers. Perry, meanwhile, busied himself touring across the U.S. and Europe in support of his recent solo album, Have Guitar, Will Travel. All the while, the rumor mill churned, with high-profile names like Lenny Kravitz, Paul Rodgers, Billy Idol and Chris Cornell, among others, being floated in the press as possible replacements for a frontman that many thought irreplaceable. (During this time it surfaced that, in 2008, Tyler had secretly auditioned to fill Robert Plant’s shoes for the aborted Led Zeppelin reunion tour.)