“Steve Vai is phenomenal – I’m not sure he gets the credit that he should”: Aerosmith’s Joe Perry names 8 guitarists who shaped his sound

Joe Perry performs in concert with Alice Cooper at the HEB Center on July 29, 2019 in Cedar Park, Texas.
(Image credit: Gary Miller/Getty Images)

After 50 years of musical exploits that include hit songs, massive tours, sleazy riffs and gutsy solos, one thing is painfully obvious: there will never be another Joe Perry.

Alongside Brad Whitford, Perry formed what's often considered the greatest guitar duo in rock history, the linchpin of Aerosmith, aka America's greatest rock 'n' roll band. Cuts like Walk This Way, Janie's Got a Gun, and Cryin' all bear Perry's bluesy signature, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite a lack of formal training, Perry's success and influence are cemented in stone. A combination of God-given gifts, a knack for what feels right, and a host of eclectic influences have guided him through his half-century journey in rock.

"The players that influenced me were ones that made me feel like the guitar was a new instrument," Perry tells Guitar World. "Electric guitar is interesting, though, because every other instrument seems to have roots going back centuries. But the electric guitar, arguably, is like an extension of the Spanish guitar, which is totally different. 

"Regardless, when you plug a guitar into an amp, it's like a different instrument. I'm glad I've been lucky enough to see some of the geniuses that were able to stretch the limits."

Given his ability to seamlessly switch between an array of Fender, Gretsch, B.C. Rich, and Gibson guitars, combined with his habit of creating riffs and solos that stick around for decades, there's an argument to make that Joe Perry is one of those aforementioned geniuses.

Perry shrugs off the suggestion, choosing to be thankful rather than cocksure. And that checks out, given his soft-spoken personality and comfortability deferring to his six-string partner in crime, Brad Whitford.

But make no mistake – there will never be another Joe Perry. With Aerosmith's farewell tour dates in sight, that fact has never been more apparent. Still, Perry remains humble, ending our conversation with, "Thanks for asking me to do this."

But that's not before giving final insights into the players that have meant so much to him throughout a lifetime spent rocking 'n' rolling: "There will never be another Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen," he says. "Sure, there are people now that can kinda play like them or maybe try and copy them, but those are the guys that did it first.

He continues: "I can go online and find people who are phenomenal at guitar, but I'm talking about the trailblazers here. There are some wizards on YouTube that are incredible, but these guys are the ones that started it all.

"I know that I'm probably leaving off a couple, but I can't think of anybody else. These are the guys that I've listened to, learned from, have interested me, and that have meant a lot in terms of how I write songs and put solos together."

As he prepares to hit the road for the final time with Aerosmith, Joe Perry dialed in with Guitar World to run through the eight guitarists who shaped his sound.

1. Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck performing on stage, playing Gibson Les Paul guitar

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"The thing with Jeff is that while a lot of other guitar players also sang, Jeff didn't want to sing. It seemed kind of unnecessary, given what he was able to do. That aside, Jeff was pushing things to the edge, which anybody can tell he was born to do. 

"Nobody else could play like Jeff. No way. He took the electric guitar way beyond what anybody had done previously. Just watching him play…. I still can't believe that those sounds came from those fingers."

2. Jimmy Page

"The thing about Jimmy Page is that he's the whole package in that he's a writer, producer and guitarist that was able to take what he envisioned and make it real. 

"You can't separate Jimmy's guitar playing from his production or his ability to write songs that fit within the dynamics of Led Zeppelin. Jimmy knew what he wanted and executed it. His production skills, combined with watching and listening to what he does, count for a lot."

3. Peter Green

Guitarist Peter Green and bassist John McVie of Fleetwood Mac rehearse at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Peter Green's guitar tone and the way he worked with the other guys in his band were both incredible. I was lucky enough to see Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green at least seven or eight times when they came and toured through the Boston area. Peter Green was great and a huge influence on me with the unique way he played the guitar."

4. Jimi Hendrix

"With Jimi Hendrix, I probably can't say anything that hasn't been said a thousand times already. His playing was so natural and fluid. Even though he was hitting all the same notes that we were all hitting, the way Jimi did it was so far beyond that in terms of the sounds he got in the studio. 

"It's like whatever magic he had was almost hidden inside the guitar, you know? And some of his instrumental stuff and the sound effects he would get – those were just unbelievable. When we talk about a shooting star, Jimi was a guy that left this planet way too early."

5. Steve Vai

Steve Vai playing live at the North Sea Jazz festival in the Congresgebouw, The Hague, Netherlands on 15th July 1995

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"I have to mention Steve Vai because he's just incredibly inventive. He's a player that thinks way beyond guitar, you know? He's got music in his head in a way that just blows my mind.

"I saw Steve Vai play once back when he was with [David] Coverdale and Whitesnake, and some of the sounds he was making were just fucking unbelievable. I think he was playing a seven-string guitar and had some outboard gear that was doing shit that literally shook the building. He was fucking phenomenal. I'm not sure that he gets the credit that he should."

6. Eddie Van Halen

"If you listen to Eddie's playing, it's just so inspiring, you know? When Van Halen's first album [Van Halen] came out, Eddie really opened things up. He took some of the same toys that other guys were using but used them in ways that I couldn't remember others doing.

"He turned things up and did things in a way that sounded fresh, new, and fun. What more can I say about him? He's one of maybe five guys that truly changed things and opened doors when it comes to this instrument that we call the electric guitar."

7. Neil Young

Neil Young sings and plays guitar at Farm Aid in Chicago

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Choosing any more is hard, and I don't even know if I can. But thinking of other guys who influenced me beyond the touchstones that I often go back to, I'd also say Neil Young was a big influence. 

"The way he plays guitar definitely was different. His playing is elemental to the point that I sometimes think Neil has more of a connection from his heart to his fingers than anybody else."

8. Robert Johnson

"Robert Johnson's playing is magic. What more can I say than that when it comes to what he was able to do? It's just so amazing to think that all we're hearing is him alone in a room with just one microphone. He was so influential on me."

  • Aerosmith's US farewell tour resumes in October 2023 – see Aerosmith.com for full dates.

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.