There comes a point in every man’s life when he sits down and starts contemplating his life’s decisions. Did he provide enough for his family? Did he make his parents proud? Did he keep the right ones out and let the wrong ones in? Did he follow his dreams? It’s a rite of passage for everyone and when it happened to Aerosmith’s co-founding guitar player, the rock star Joe Perry and the common man Joe Perry collided together in one small moment that bred the seed of what would become Rocks: My Life In & Out Of Aerosmith, his new autobiography. “When I decided to write this book, I had no idea what it would take out of me,” Perry summed up. His journey from a kid with a love for nature to the legendary rock god he eventually became, brought back all the feelings that make up someone’s existence. The hurt, the laughter, the frustration and the joy, Perry has laid out for us to walk through.
One of the super rock bands born in the seventies, Aerosmith came on with a bluesy crunch, invading the nation with pure rock riffs and singable lyrics. Compared ad nauseam to the Rolling Stones, they carved out their own niche from their Boston roots and spellbinded the youth with such songs as “Dream On,” “Back In The Saddle,” “Walk This Way” and “Come Together.” And their panache for rocking & rolling in the belly of the beast was out front for everyone to see so when it started to self-destruct them, there was nowhere to hide.
Perry, so often seen as the quietly smoldering guitar god, felt the pressure maybe more than the others. He was trying to write songs with an incapacitated Steven Tyler, trying to clean up and keep his band from suffocating on its own hubris. Leaving Aerosmith was the only option Perry felt he had left and for several years he made his music his way without Aerosmith, almost starting back at the beginning of the yellow brick road. When he finally returned, bringing with him a manager he thought would be the band’s saving grace behind the scenes, the backfire was ear-splitting and having to deal with those managerial problems ended up being worse than the drugs and alcohol.
But everything is all there in the book. Perry has made sure to include the good, the bad and the albums they created. From the communal times at 1325 Commonwealth, to stolen equipment, to fighting wives and families born; from wrecked corvettes and #1 hits and a Hall Of Fame induction, Aerosmith has prevailed. They toured as recently as this summer, on their Let Rock Rule Tour, and all the band members – guitarist Brad Whitford, bass player Tom Hamilton, drummer Joey Kramer, Tyler and Perry – were spot on in their performances. At 64, we should all be that lucky to be doing what we want, having followed our passion all the way from adolescence to grandparenthood. And for this, we can thank Joe Perry for sharing his journey with us.
Glide talked to Joe Perry last week about his life and his book, and despite feeling a bit under the weather, he was more than happy to share some of his thoughts with us.
While you were writing your book, did you find out something about yourself that actually surprised you?
I think that probably the thing that stands out the most is the era after the band got back together and dealing with our manager, and when things started to go off the rail, how much I let it get out of hand, because it just went against my gut and my instincts. I think back about those times but to actually read it, you know what I mean, I go, what the fuck was I thinking? I mean, I know why when I think about it in a practical sense, cause I know what we had in the seventies and what we lost and all that, but to actually read it, it almost felt like I was reading about somebody else. So that was probably the most traumatic thing that surprised me, I suppose.
But then I guess, the book does kind of start off with asking a question of myself: How did I end up here forty-two years later, forty years later or whatever, in this career. It was something that turned into a career that no one really did back then and I guess we’re just finding out, just like some of the blues guys who kept playing until they couldn’t anymore. It’s like any other art. You can do it as long as you choose to or as long as you feel like you’re contributing something. I guess it’s the same with any other profession that you call a practice. There’s a reason why they call doctors having a practice, because they get better as they get older, as they learn more, and they never stop learning. So I think the same is true of an artist. They are always learning the technique, always getting better, they develop their talent more as time goes on. Anyway, that’s kind of what it’s turned into, I think.
Would you say that dealing with the manager [Tim Collins] was more stressful than dealing with the problems you guys had with the substance abuse and some of the stuff Steven was doing in the seventies?
Oh definitely. Listen, when he started fucking around with our lives, our private lives, yeah, that’s big stuff, and we let him in for a while because we were doing something that nobody else had done. We didn’t really know, we were kind of learning as we went, you know what I mean. We didn’t know if we were going to have a career if we gave up the partying and all that stuff. But we realized that and we made a decision that us making music without all the partying was better than having us half-dead. So that was the decision we made and that’s when we made Permanent Vacation, which was the start of our second wave or second shot at it, so to speak. But the way we did it was definitely something we had never counted on. It just went counter to everything about what we thought of as rock & roll. But the music was changing, the business was changing at the same time and we were changing, growing older and having families and kids and here was this guy getting in the middle of it. And we knew it was wrong but we were still kind of on the fence about it because we also knew this was something no one else had done so we let it go on for longer than it should have. But it was really hard. I think in a lot of ways we could have progressed further as a band, as artists, if we hadn’t had to deal with that stuff near the end before we fired him.
You start off in the book talking about being this kid who loved being in nature. What fascinated you so much about being under that water?
I think the unknown. It’s probably the only place left except for some places in deepest, darkest Africa and certainly in the Amazon and places where people just can’t go, because it’s like 70 below zero. It’s like one of the last places where you never know what you’re going to see, whether it’s some weird fish you’ve never seen to some shark to whatever. It’s like a frontier. When you jump in that water, you’re swimming in the same water where there are barracuda and you can see them and it’s like being in the jungle with wild tigers, you know. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my (laughs). But it’s real and it’s right there. Who knows? Who knows if there’s really a Loch Ness Monster. I know they are always out there looking for him all the time and there’s certainly a possibility he could be there but that would be the first thing in my mind if I jumped in that water. So it’s the unknown and that’s kind of been part of my fascination with life in general right up till now.
You talk about your parents a lot in your book. Who do you think you turned out more like – your mother or your father?
Oh man, the more I find out about my father, because I really didn’t get to know him that well, but from what I heard and what people have told me, I’m probably more 50/50 than I realize. If you’d asked me that question twenty years ago, I probably would have said my mother. But after talking to people and running into people who knew my father, I see a lot of things there that I didn’t know. So I have to say 50/50.
In the book you talk about walking into the Charles Playhouse and all of your equipment had been stolen. For a young band, that’s devastating. What did you think would happen to the band with this kind of major setback?
Well, fortunately, we had met Frank Connelly, our first manager, at that point, and he had money so he was able to help us replace the equipment. But back then, like I said in the book, it was like finding that stuff wasn’t like it is now. You can go online and basically there are companies and people, individuals, who help you find whatever you want. When you stumble on a good piece of equipment, it really hurts, you know. If you’re a painter and you have camel hair brushes and you don’t have very much money, it takes time to find the right stuff again. So from that point of view, it was a blow, but fortunately we had a manager who was willing to help us. He had enough cash at that point and we replaced our stuff pretty quick in a general sense but it still took a while before we could trade and barter and find some of the equipment that was stolen.
You compare working on Draw The Line with trying to squeeze toothpaste out of an empty tube and that you were all together yet apart. How do you get anything done working in that environment?
Well, I think that at that point we had spent enough time in the studio and worked enough with Jack [Douglas, producer] that we were able to make it work. As far as like the songwriting, as burned out as we were, we were able to put the songs together pretty much the way we always had done. But I just remember feeling like running on fumes at that point. We were tired, physically and emotionally burned out from being on the road and going from the road to the studio to the road to the studio, and maybe we’d get a week’s vacation every once in a while. But it was really like we needed a year off. It was that kind of tired. We made the most of it but it’s a really good analogy of the way we recorded.
We felt we were getting better sounds by putting the actual instruments in different rooms and in different situations but we couldn’t see each other and that’s why it was such a good analogy for the state of the band at the time. We were just kind of burned out on each other and we really should have taken some time off. Then we managed after that record to do Night In The Ruts, which actually we recorded back in the old style in a studio, and I think we did some really good playing on that record. But that’s also the record that I left in the middle of it. I never was there for the end of it so it just kind of shows, you can still get together and play but it doesn’t mean you’re in the best head space, especially with your partners.
When writing about Steven, there are some places where you can feel your frustration coming out, still after all these years. What got you through those times when you literally wanted to wring his neck?
Well, we all still had the big vision of what the band was and that was it and our commitment to each other and to our fans. That was the thing that held us together even though it was really strained at times. It was definitely that thing that pulled us together through the hard times before we so-called made it, you know, so we could support ourselves to all through the years and even today, it’s the same thing. It’s like the vision of being able to play onstage together and entertain our fans and give the fans what they deserve.
One of the very cool things I found about your book is that you added an appendix about your equipment, which I thought would intrigue a lot of the guitar players and the people who are into those things.
Thanks. You know I talked about that with David [Ritz, the co-writer] when we were putting the book together and talking about the flow, and Billie, my wife, was there helping me through the whole writing of the book, especially the putting it together. As far as the writing of it, it was mostly David throwing the stuff together, you know, my interviews, my time that I spent with him and him learning about me and how I thought and how I spoke and all that, then trying to capture that. But when we got down to the nuts and bolts of the editing and all that, and the organizing, that’s when we decided that, I know there are a lot of people out there that are interested in that stuff and if we put it in the book and give it the amount of time it deserves, it’s going to take away from the story. So let’s not even go there as far as the book goes and we’ll put something in at the end where I can really get into the nuts and bolts of it for those that want to hear about it. I know in reading some of the autobiographies that I read, I kind of missed that. As a guitar player and a fan, there are a lot of things that I picked up from reading those other books and that was one of them. I would have loved to hear Keith Richards talk a little bit more about his 1968 Black Beauty that he used on a song but I could see how it would have interrupted the flow of the book. So by putting that appendix in there and actually talking to some of the guys that were there alongside me, it kind of gave a tip of the hat to all the guitar guys and fans that wonder about that stuff. And I get those questions a lot and I wanted to answer them.
You have a longtime love of Peter Green. You mention it in your book, you’ve talked about it for years. What was it about his playing that caused you to love his music still to this day?
I was fortunate enough to see him play. I was lucky enough to see a lot of these guys play back when they were still playing the big clubs and the small theaters that only held like two-or three thousand people. A lot of the English bands would go to Boston and sort of play some gigs there, play at the Tea Party, which was our version of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta or the Fillmore or whatever. But they would go to Boston before they would go to New York so they could kind of get a feel for their material. It was a great rock town because it had so many young people, it being such a huge college town. So a lot of the English kids would stop there first before they would go to New York, where the critics were and all that, and Fleetwood Mac would sometimes stay there for a month and they would rehearse and play shows almost every week and I was able to see them play many times.
Peter Green, he seemed very unlike a lot of the other guitar players. He wasn’t all wrapped up in himself. They played like a band. They were all equal, so to speak. Granted, he was the main songwriter and the main singer but he would stand back and let one of the other guitar players play three or four songs and sing lead and just play backup, you know. So I learned a lot watching him play. Then when he cut loose, he had as much style and as much to say as any of the other so-called guitar heroes from that era, only his was a little more influenced by the blues guys that played. It was just so free and you could tell when he played it came from his soul, it came from his heart and it was very sparse, his playing, but he said so much with very few notes. I learned a lot from him, you know, and I still listen to the recordings, especially the bootleg recordings of that band in that era.
You have a photo at the end of your book, in the very back, of your family. You’re a grandpa now. What do you hope your grandchildren will remember the most about you?
That I was always there for them and they could always be as open and free as they felt they needed to be, with me. We have a really tight family and it’s what I always wanted. I mean, my family when I was growing up was like that and I think I wanted that, you know. I wanted to kind of replicate that. But yeah, I think that’s important.
That’s an interesting question. When the grandkids are sitting around and looking at some of the old posters and listening to the records and certainly reading the different books and things like that, I think it’s going to be a window into where they came from. And believe me, that aspect of the book was not lost on me. I remember talking about it with my wife a lot. Your grandkids’ grandkids are going to be reading this book. You know, I know nothing about my great-grandfather. Billie, my wife, has more of a relationship with, and better relationship, with her family and knows more about her great-grandparents and great-great grandparents. I think she’s got like a fifth generation thing of people that lived in the Indiana/Kentucky area so she knows a lot about their history and she has old pictures and stuff. I have really nothing. I mean, I have a couple of old pictures here and there of my last generation but that’s it. They came over from Portugal and Italy and I have nothing, you know. But having this book is definitely a window into the times and into my life and their grandmother’s life, or their great-grandmother, their great-great grandmother.
What’s coming up for you, Joe? Do you have anything in the works that you can tell us about?
Well, I’m always working on solo stuff and material for whenever I need it for Aerosmith, whenever we decide to go back in the studio. Bottom line is, I just love recording and I love writing new songs. It’s almost like a hobby. I mean, it is a hobby. So I’m writing new stuff as we speak.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough