I was a crappy guitar player and I had flunked out of college as an English major, so I figured I had what it took to make it as a music journalist. When the guitar magazines were coming of age, I was there. I was at the right place at the right time. I’ve been there ever since.
Chapter 6: Joe Perry
December 1973, Hollywood, California - Back in 1973, before he was Joe “Fu—ing!” Perry, the Aerosmith guitarist was just another kid in a hard rock band from Boston. Thirty-five years ago, he hadn’t racked up album sales in excess of 150 million or been immortalized in a video game. He was neither one-fifth of the Bad Boys from Boston nor one-half of the Toxic Twins. And he was still at least 10,000 broken strings away from becoming one of the coolest and most copied guitar players of all time.
But you could have never told Joe Perry that. From the moment Aerosmith were formed in 1971, the guitarist had a vision. And the balls and chops to back it up. In his head, the gold records were already mounted on his walls – right next to all of the framed guitar mag cover stories.
Aerosmith were stars just waiting to happen.
That blind faith, however, was sorely tested at the beginning of ’73. Columbia Records had released Aerosmith, their eponymous debut, but it had barely broken into the Top 200 albums. “Dream On,” their first single, had stalled at number 59 on the Pop Singles charts.
It was a bad year for a baby rock band trying to make their bones.
Aerosmith were heads up against competing debut albums by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band. If that weren’t pressure enough, Pink Floyd unleashed Dark Side of the Moon, the Who put out Quadrophenia, and Zeppelin stepped up with Houses of the Holy. Additionally, there were releases by everyone from the Stones and Sabbath, to Beck, Blackmore, and Billy Gibbons.
No one wanted to listen to an American rock group supercharging electric English blues a la the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones. Not when they could go directly to the source. Jeff Beck had assembled his dream trio and released Beck, Bogert & Appice, and the Stones were not far past the masterpiece Exile on Main Street.
Truth was, nobody had much interest in Aerosmith. But I did. Though the album was a little derivative, and Joe hadn’t quite found his guitar groove, I dug the original bits that poked through. I could hear where the music wanted to go.
This was several months before I’d written my first story for Guitar Player. So I couldn’t pitch anything to them. I contacted several other magazines and they chuckled. I had done a few stories for the Los Angeles Free Press and they agreed to take 500 words.
The band had holed up at the infamous Continental Hyatt (“Riot”) House on Sunset Boulevard. The night before, they had played a workmanlike set at the Whisky just up the street. Their songs weren’t terrific and the chemistry wasn’t quite there.
But they looked great. Joe had already mastered the slouching/sneering guitar pose and his cigarette dangled at just the perfect angle. Steven was a whippet-thin firebrand, tossing his scarf-festooned microphone stand around in a crazy hybrid of Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart
Upon arriving at the Hyatt House, I called up to their room. A voice told me they were downstairs in the restaurant.
“Do you think you’ll recognize them?”
“Well, I saw them last night at the Whisky. So, I think I will.”
“OK. Call me back if you can’t find them.”
That wasn’t going to be a problem; they were hard, no, impossible, to miss. The second I walked into the restaurant, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler got up and bounded over to me. They were all scarves, lips, English haircuts, and Boston accents. They shook my hand, introduced themselves and brought me back to the booth. Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton all stuck out their hands and scooted over to make room for me.
From the moment Joe opened his mouth, he was all attitude and swagger. It was the same rah-rah bravado I’d seen on stage the night before. I’d heard this from every musician I’d ever interviewed. With Perry, though, there was something different.
Five years later, I would recognize this same quality in another guitar player: Edward Van Halen.
It wasn’t pompous posturing or that egomaniacal rock star braggadocio. It went deeper than that. Joe was convinced that Aerosmith were the greatest band in the world. Simple. End of story.
You believed it because he believed it.
Tyler, too, was a firm believer. There was that indefinable connection between singer and guitarist. You could feel it. Joe would begin a sentence and Steven would complete it. They knew each other backwards and forwards. Just like Roger and Pete, Mick and Keith, and Robert and Jimmy.
We talked about selling records, about the Whisky gig. About the way they looked.
“A lot of people say we’re Boston’s exponents of glitter and flash,” Joe explained. “The only flash comes from the music, except for the pants we wore last night. But those looked good. Nobody wears platforms. The music is the selling point of the band. It always has been. It’s always been our greatest consideration. We’ve been classed as a glitter band but we ain’t.”
Our conversation didn’t last long. It was a golden Tuesday afternoon in Hollywood and the band wanted to go out and explore. So, when Perry flicked a piece of scrambled egg at Tyler, well, you can guess the rest. Steven returned the favor with a hurled bacon wedge. Sausages and buttered toast went flying.
The formal part of our interview was over.
Joe nailed me with a half-crescent wedge of pancake and I retaliated with a dollop of grape jelly.
We were all laughing so hard, it would have been impossible to continue with the interview even if we’d wanted to. Most of the conversation ended up with one band member talking over the other one anyway. It wasn’t exactly the deepest and most meaningful of discussions.
But I knew we’d meet again. We did. I caught up with Joe in 1977 to do a cover story for Guitar Player.
Then, ten years later, I flew up to Little Rock Studios in Vancouver, Canada to speak with the guitarist for a third go 'round. This time, for a cover story in Guitar World. Aerosmith were recording Permanent Vacation, their comeback album. They’d been though a lot in the intervening years: drugs, members quitting, and a changing music scene.
The band had managed to weather it all through faith, attitude, and a whole lotta luck.
The guitarist had made the long and crazy journey from Anthony Joseph Perry to become Joe “Fu—ing!” Perry. There had never been a doubt in his mind that this is who he would become. Well, there may have been some moments of uncertainty – strung out on drugs and kicked out of his own band – but they passed.
It was exactly the way this unknown guitar player from Lawrence, Massachusetts had planned it. Permanent Vacation marked a true turning point in the band’s career. It was a return to form after previously releasing two less than stellar albums: Done With Mirrors and Rock in a Hard Place.
It would forever – and deservedly so – earn them the title as America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.
Another critical moment arose in 1986 when Aerosmith teamed with Run-DMC in recording a funked-up version of “Walk This Way.” It was the first real collaboration between the rock and rap worlds.
But it was back in 1976, during the Rocks tour, that Joe Perry experienced the true defining moment of his career. He had a chance to jam with his idol and biggest influence, Jeff Beck. Jeff was playing with Jan Hammer at the time and they opened about 20 of Aerosmith’s shows. On one memorable afternoon in Anaheim, California, Jeff finally relented and took the stage with Joe to blow through a blistering version of “The Train Kept A-Rolling.”
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And check out the previous True Adventures in Rock Journalism...
Coming soon ... Jimmy Page: Terror at 10,000 Feet!