Gibson Salutes Joe Perry

Though well-regarded for his solo work, Joe Perry will go down in history as the lead guitarist for the mighty Aerosmith.

Perry’s playing style is one of the most distinctive in popular music today, combining memorable riffs, bluesy bends, lightning fills, and warm crunch. With the exception of perhaps Jimmy Page, no other guitarist comes closer to personifying the hard rock genre through sound, style, and stance. And, since Aerosmith happens to be the best-selling American hard rock band of all time, at 140 million copies worldwide and counting, it’s difficult to fathom the magnitude of Perry’s influence on electric guitar players—their technique, sound, looks, gestures, and attitude. Joe Perry and Aerosmith have been an inspiration for hard rock superstars like Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Buckcherry, the Darkness, and every metal band that ever cranked an amp and tied a silk scarf to a mike stand.

Born Anthony Joseph Perry on September 10, 1950, Perry was raised by an accountant father and gym teacher mother in the small town of Hopedale, Massachusetts. Inspired by blues-based British invasion bands like the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Perry began playing guitar in his teens. Honing his craft in a number of garage bands, he joined Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton in the Jam Band in 1969. Soon after, Perry and Hamilton hit it off with Stephen Tallarico, a fast-talking drummer from Yonkers, New York, and they decided to form a band.

In 1970, the three moved to Boston and, by 1971, Tallarico had stepped up to the microphone and transformed into Steven Tyler. The band recruited rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford and drummer Joey Kramer to complete the original Aerosmith—the lineup that performs to this day. Rapidly developing a regional following, Aerosmith inked a deal with Columbia Records in 1972. Their 1973 self-titled debut album and its 1974 follow-up Get Your Wings were both impressive collections of Stonesy guitar boogie and blues fortified with Led Zeppelin heaviness.

The classic Toys in the Attic, which appeared in 1975 and remains one of the band’s best-sellers, is the album that elevated the group to arena status. Experimenting structurally and sonically, Aerosmith managed to retain their organic blues rock power while adding more adventurous sonic effects, rhythms, harmonies, production devices, and general concepts. “Sweet Emotion” became the band’s first Top 40 hit, before “Walk This Way,” and the re-release of “Dream On” followed—both breaking the Top 10. Rocks, including the hits “Last Child” and “Back in the Saddle,” followed hot on the heels of Toys in the Attic both chronologically and stylistically, and remains Aerosmith’s most blistering album. Though the band’s less elaborately adorned 1977 album Draw the Line sold well, it was less successful than its two predecessors. Aerosmith’s final hit for almost a decade was a hefty cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together”—which they performed in the Bee Gees’ spectacular star vehicle film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

By this point, constant touring, drug abuse, and interpersonal problems had taken a heavy toll. Though they were still a mammoth live draw, Aerosmith were unable to recover the artistic and popular momentum that began gradually dissipating after Rocks. Due primarily to conflicts with Tyler, Perry left the band not long after the release of their next studio album, Night in the Ruts (1979).

After his exit from Aerosmith, Perry sealed a deal with Columbia for his new group, the Joe Perry Project. Their 1980 debut, Let the Music Do the Talking, which became a hard rock classic over time, was received with excellent reviews and strong sales. Perry’s problems with drugs, finances, and a lack of label support hindered the band, and he eventually called it quits.

In 1984, the genesis of what may be the most astounding comeback in rock history began to take shape. Due to no small amount of string-pulling and goading by manager Tim Collins, Joe Perry and also-departed guitarist Brad Whitford were invited back into the Aerosmith fold. Wasting no time hitting the road, the classic lineup sold out arenas everywhere on the lucrative Back in the Saddle Tour.

After the release of their respectable 1985 comeback album, Done with Mirrors, a few factors helped Aerosmith transcend the traditional reunion trap of basing their career almost exclusively on their past triumphs: All five members cleaned up their acts, successfully completing drug rehabilitation programs, Perry and Tyler’s 1986 Run-DMC collaboration on a “Walk This Way” remake was an unprecedented MTV hit, and they began working on new material with some of the industry’s top writers and producers.

Their next three albums, Permanent Vacation (1987), Pump (1989), and Get a Grip (1993), re-established Aerosmith as one of the most popular bands on the planet and included a number of massive hits, including their most successful up to that point: “Angel,” “Love in an Elevator,” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.” In 1998, Perry helped Diane Warren pen Aerosmith’s only No. 1 single, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” the Academy Award-nominated theme from Armageddon. Aerosmith landed in the 21st century with yet another top ten single, “Jaded” (2001), from their 13th studio album Just Push Play. In 2004 they returned to a raunchier style with the critically acclaimed tribute to their blues favorites, Honkin’ on Bobo. Most recently, Joe Perry recorded his Grammy-nominated 2005 self-titled solo debut—on which he plays every instrument but drums.

For years, Joe Perry has played primarily Gibson Les Pauls—Juniors, Standards, and Customs. He’s also performed live and in the studio with Gibson SGs, Firebirds, ES-175s, ES-350s, EB-6 basses, and a customized B.B. King Lucille guitar, modified with a white finish, his wife’s name, Billie Perry, on the headstock, and her image on the body. In the 1990s Gibson began producing a translucent black Joe Perry signature Les Paul, which was replaced in 2004 by his latest signature guitar, the Joe Perry Boneyard model, a Les Paul with a figured maple top, green tiger finish, and the logo for his studio, the Boneyard, on the headstock.

2007 finds Joe Perry relentlessly touring with Aerosmith and preparing for the fall release of their 15th album.

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