Next week, Aerosmith will start their latest sojourn across the United States, hitting sheds in the summer heat, Slash and his erstwhile Conspirators in tow. If this was 1977, it would be a no holds barred rock & raunch three ring circus. But times have changed and Aerosmith are no longer young lions in red satin, shimmying to “Train Kept A-Rollin” on the Midnight Special. The present millennium finds them in calmer waters backstage but onstage is a whole other world. They may be in their sixties when walking the streets but they have failed to shed their adolescent skins on stage. Tyler still jumps and scats, Joe Perry still knows his way around a nimbly blues chord, Joey Kramer is still beating the bejesus out of his drum kit and the “quiet ones” – Tom Hamilton and Brad Whitford – can still fertilize the music with unquestionable virtuosity.
“I’m surprised that we’re still together yet not surprised because I can see the logic of it,” Hamilton told me in 2012. “I remember thinking back then that by the time I was thirty-five I would probably have some normal job, which is strange (laughs). But yeah, here we are.” And there they go, back out on tour starting July 10. Glide had the opportunity to talk with Brad Whitford not long ago about the upcoming tour, which they have appropriately dubbed Let Rock Rule. Although he is not an original member of the band, having come in upon guitarist Ray Tabano’s departure in 1971, and he has not been in the line-up consistently since then – leaving to form a project with Ted Nugent guitar player Derek St. Holmes back in the early 1980’s. But Whitford is never viewed as anything BUT a member of Aerosmith. It’s like there was never a space where he wasn’t there.
With two sons currently in the music world as well, Whitford has not grown into the elder statesman – not yet. He still has rock & roll secreting from his pores, new music popping up. He lives with his family in Nashville, the new “Rock Mecca,” and he’s okay with not having to squeeze into those notorious satin pants.
Aerosmith has been playing live for many, many years. Why should we come out to see Aerosmith again this summer?
Why come out to see Aerosmith? (laughs) Well, maybe sometimes it’s hard to convince people that have seen the show but we’re always hoping some new people will come out and check it out. But the old-time fans are going to come back. It’s just about our commitment to the music and a commitment to the genre. We love to play and we go all out to give it our best. We guarantee a good rock show.
Are we going to get to see some surprises on this tour? Maybe some songs you haven’t played in a long time?
We’re always talking about the songs and what we’re going to play. I’m always pushing to bring back some of the older stuff that I don’t think comes out of the closet enough and I love some of the earlier stuff.
What would you like to play?
I’d like to play more stuff off of the album Rocks and the album Toys In The Attic and even some of the stuff from the late 1980’s, off the Pump album. We always talk about that and we always kind of go head-to-head cause everybody’s got their own ideas about what the audience wants to hear. And of course I think we’re the least qualified people to do that (laughs). Granted, we’re big fans too but we are not our audience and we never will be. So I think we’re always second guessing. These days you can go online and you can get almost instantaneous feedback from your fans about what they do want to hear. We do that too but there’s always some disappointments and stuff like that: “Oh man, we wanted to do that, maybe next time.” (laughs)
What makes playing music still exciting after all these years?
It’s kind of hard to describe. Getting to play your music on stage in front of fans is just always a very special moment. It’s a pretty rare gift that people get to do that, that I get to do that. And it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a tremendous feeling and it’s a fun thing to do. The reason we got into it in the first place was because it looked like a lot of fun (laughs). And everybody seems to like it when they do that: “Boy, I wish I could do that.” (laughs)
Do you have a special time during your set that really gives you tingles down your spine?
Yeah, there are certain things that the guys in the band will do that, I guess, are really just kind of signature, whether it’s a lick or a certain way somebody plays that is truly unique. So yeah, that does happen. I hear Joe Perry start a song or play a certain thing and I definitely get a rush of emotion from that.
Slash and his band are going to be opening for Aerosmith. Why him? You could have picked anybody to open for you.
He’s just an amazing guitar player and I guess it just gives the rock credibility. It should be a good guitar night for sure with Slash out there.
Tell us about the first concert that you ever played with Aerosmith, because they were already together when you joined.
They weren’t even together a year at that point I don’t think. So my first gig was at a little club in Vermont. The name of the club was the Savage Beast (laughs) and we were playing a rock & roll club show so it wasn’t like a real high pressure thing and we’d been rehearsing like crazy. It felt good and it worked out really well. I think we knew we were on the right road.
When was the moment you realized that Aerosmith was indeed going somewhere?
When I look back, I feel it was right when we released Toys In The Attic. Everything started to kind of go really big time and at that point they released our single of “Dream On,” which was from our first album, and that did pretty well on the charts. It was a Top 20 or whatever song that has gone on to become a real rock & roll classic. But that is probably when things really started to take off. It was like 1976.
I understand that you actually played trumpet when you were a kid. Why didn’t you become a horn guy instead of a guitar guy?
I hated my trumpet teacher. He was not a very nice guy and I was, for a long time, I was looking for a way out of that (laughs) because it got to the point where it should have been different and it wasn’t. It was not a nice experience.
What was your first guitar?
My first electric was just a $25 Japanese-built guitar called a Winston and not much more than a hunk of wood with some wires on it (laughs). But it was enough to really kind of get me excited about the electric guitar.
What was your dream guitar?
I don’t know, there’s certain guitars that I have always been a big fan of, you know, Les Pauls and Stratocasters; just the good old tools out of the guitar toolbox (laughs). There are so many of them out there but when you see like some of the original versions of some of the real early stuff, it always gets you really excited cause they were really special back then. They were almost all purely hand built in those days. The Japanese are convinced when you make something by hand, part of your soul goes into the outcome. And I think that was what was happening with some of those early instruments. They’ve got more soul in them, more spirit.
Playing with Joe, how do you guys synchronize your guitars to create music together?
It’s pretty organic, usually very organic. We usually just kind of let the music dictate what we’re going to do. It’s not something we sit down and kind of map out. It just comes out. We’ll be working on something and we just kind of each find our own way into a certain pocket of whatever we’re working on and usually we’re very successful with that approach.
You did another Experience Hendrix tour. How many have you done and why are they so much fun to do?
I’ve done, oh gosh, I’ve done five of them at least. They are just so much fun because of the people. It’s all about the people that are on the tour. It’s easy, it’s fun, we have a great time and there’s no drama about it. You want to be there, you want to be a part of it, cause it is so much fun. Everybody is just great to be around and hang with.
Is there a Hendrix song that was the most challenging for you to play?
Yeah, the ones that I still don’t know (laughs). It’s an ongoing thing, even on that tour, cause you’re pretty hard to concentrate on getting every single one of his things down. A lot of work goes on around that tour. A lot of rehearsing and a lot of daily stuff happens to kind of make sure we at least get it sort of close (laughs)
Do you think the way you play the guitar, physically and stylistically, has changed much over the years?
You are always evolving and changing in little ways and maybe people wouldn’t notice them that much but you’re always looking at the way you do things or working with somebody else and learning something from somebody else. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning all the time. I don’t think it’s changed the end result. I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot. You’ve got to try and be true to your initial inspiration and all that.
You sons also play music. [Graham plays with Tyler Bryant] Did you give them any advice when they decided they wanted to be like you?
Oh yeah, plenty (laughs). Not a whole lot, really. I kind of steered them in certain directions but they didn’t need a whole lot of help. They’re very studious on the instrument and are incredible players.
What was the hardest thing that you learned on your own when you first started out being a professional musician?
Just like anything else, you want to be good at it. It takes a lot of work and hopefully you can do that and you can still stay excited about what you’re doing. But yeah, you’ve got to put the time in; you HAVE to put the time in.
Do you have a favorite time period in Aerosmith, when you had the most fun?
I think it was definitely before any sense of fame gets into it. That’s probably when you are at your best; and it’s probably the most fun. When you’re fighting the fight (laughs), trying to get there, cause once you get there then everything changes. You’re only as good as your last song or your last album and there’s a whole different kind of pressure that comes with the success. But I think we had our most fun then. I don’t know if we were at our best but that fighting and shooting for the stars kind of time I think was really special.
When you look back at some of your old videos from the 1970’s and you’re wearing those tight satin pants and those outfits, what do you think?
What were we thinking! (laughs) It’s pretty funny and there are some pretty embarrassing moments out of that time period (laughs)
You wonder how you ever squeezed into those clothes.
It’s easy when you’re not making much money and barely enough to eat and all that sort of thing but we did it (laughs)
And are still doing it and making great music.
I hope so (laughs)
Top photo by Marc Lacatell and bottom photo by Leslie Michele Derrough