EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Joe Perry of Aerosmith

My first guitar hero was Joe Perry from Aerosmith. I was turned onto the band in Jr. High. “Get a Grip” had just come out and I had heard them play “Dream On” with Michael Kamen’s orchestra on MTV, from that moment I was hooked. I bought the “Greatest Hits” album and from there fell into a deeper and deeper appreciation for Aerosmith’s music. My favorite album of all time is Aerosmith’s “Rocks.” Joe Perry recently released his memoir “Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith.” I was predestined to love this book. That said Joe Perry went out of his way to knock himself off of the pedestal I put him on. This book doesn’t glorify the sex or the drugs and it’s not about throwing Steven Tyler or anybody else in his life under the proverbial bus. It’s just Joe Perry telling his story, this could have been anybody’s story it just happens to be his.

Fans can purchase “ROCKS: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith” here:
Amazon.com - http://amzn.to/WiG3qm
Barnes & Noble - http://bit.ly/1twTeSY
BAM - http://bit.ly/1Belzi2
Indie Bound - http://bit.ly/Yfg4ln
Audible.com - http://bit.ly/1xgPRSx 

For more information, visit: joeperry.com

Check out the unedited audio right here:

Bob Zerull (BZ): I read your book and I liked it a lot. I’m a big fan from since I was a little kid. What I loved about the book the most was how it humanized you. You’re this giant rock star/guitar god and you brought yourself down to Earth. Was that the tone you were going for?

Joe Perry (JP): I just wanted it to be kind of even. First of all I wanted it to be readable. I didn’t want it to sound like a journal. I wanted it to feel like a piece of literature. The reason it’s like that is because it’s readable. That’s why I worked with David Ritz. He doesn’t talk much about my Boston accent so that doesn’t come through, but you can buy my audio book where I read the whole thing myself. We have plenty of the Boston accent there. Other than that I didn’t want it to be your regular sex drugs and rock n roll rock book. I wanted it to be an anybody story it just happens in rock n roll. 

BZ: Did you and David work on it chronologically or did you jump around?

JP: We worked chronologically. That’s how he works and it makes sense that way. When we did our first interviews he had questions and we were all over the place. He had to get a picture in his mind of where things were going and where things came from. When we were actually writing it we worked on it from the beginning of the book through the end. Obviously it starts with when I first put two feet on the ground and follows along pretty accurately up through the last year. You have to stop somewhere. The fortieth anniversary of the band was an inspiration for writing it. It seemed like a good time to have the book.

BZ: Does social media and blogs have any affect on you wanting to tell your story? It seems like especially back when Steven (Tyler) was in “American Idol” that the media turned every little statement or tweet into an out of context headline. Were you prepared for that?

JP: It was just part of the story to me. I don’t watch that show, but certainly 100 and some odd million people do and have been for a long time. Certainly whoever is sitting in those chairs are going to be under a microscope. With Steven being in Aerosmith he toppled the microscope over. He brought a lot of baggage the other two didn’t. Jlo had her stuff that they wrote about. Randy Jackson had his stuff they wrote about. That’s the genre you’re playing in when you’re on that type of show. All of that stuff was going on at a time when…he didn’t make plans to leave the band, just take a sabbatical for two year so to speak before “American Idol.” It became fodder for the gossip columns and the tweets and all that stuff. Not a lot of hardcore fans were happy about it. I don’t know that he would have done it back in the day, but maybe he would have. He loves the crowd so maybe he would have. 

BZ: In the book you mention that Steven is more pop and you’re more rock, and that’s what makes Aerosmith sound like Aerosmith, but what about Joey (Kramer), Tom (Hamilton) and Brad (Whitford)? Where do they fall?

JP: Definitely more rock if you had to put a label on it. That’s what we all set out to play. That’s what we are. We have that (pop) side to us certainly, the first song that got us on the charts was a ballad, but we’re a rock band with R&B and funk mixed in on the same level. I think that’s what makes the band what it is. They bring the balance to the sound. If you listen to the songs that they’ve written with Steven you can get an idea of where they’re at. It gives Steven and I somebody to arbitrate which can happen in a verbal sense or a musical sense.

BZ: Everybody always wants to know about your relationship with Steven Tyler. As a guitar fan I’m more interested in your relationship with Brad Whitford. Do you think he gets the credit he deserves as a guitar player?

JP: Without a doubt he’s technically and he always has been more advanced than me. He went to Berkley. That definitely has stood him well over the years. A lot of times I’ll be playing something and I’ll ask Brad, is this a chord and he’ll go it’s an A#9th. I can play it because I’m following my ear, but I don’t know the name of it. I’ve figured out some of that stuff just by listening to a lot of the people I’ve worked with over the years. I don’t have that continuity of music that Brad has. He’s a really talented player, he plays great solos. I’ve always envisioned Aerosmith having two guitar players that played off each other as opposed to the old classic thing of rhythm guitarist/lead guitarist. The lead guitar part that gets tacked on to my name if it’s anything is because I’ve written the bulk of the songs with Steven. I do other things besides play guitar in the band. I’m at least as much of a type A personality as Steven which is probably why we go at it the most.

BZ: I love the fact that your book wasn’t like a tell all, whenever it shined somebody in a negative light you seemed to follow it up with something positive or shine that negative light on yourself. Was that intentional?

JP: I think there has to be some balance. It takes two to tango. You’re both off base when you’re arguing about bullshit. I have to take responsibility for my shit whether it was with Steven, my wife or my ex wife or whatever. I had to put it in context. I guess that’s the best way to put it. I just wanted everything to have a setting. One thing we probably didn’t get enough of was the atmosphere of the 70’s. Yeah we talked about Aerosmith did this and did that but you have to look at what was going in the entertainment business then. A lot of what we did was shaped by the time we were in, just like we are shaped by what’s going on in the world today. I do have the objectivity to look at the whole picture when writing the book. You’ve got to put that stuff in there or the book is just lopsided and self serving.

BZ: Rock n roll is alive and well in Europe and other countries, but it’s really struggling here in America. Do you see our attitude towards rock music in America spreading to other countries or do you see it coming back around?

JP: They’re hungry for it around the world. We’re probably more popular per capita in Japan than we are in the states. They love American music and culture. We played in Bangalore India last year and the audience was singing along with all the lyrics, every song we played. We’d never played there before and I don’t know how many records we sold there. It was incredible. It was amazing to be there. South America has become a really great place to tour now, it’s become a standard stop. Every time we go out there seems to be a new country or market open. There’s always been a lot of turmoil around Russia but we played there. They love classic rock n roll. A lot of them have developed their own rock n roll culture, but there is nothing like American rock n roll. There is something about the roots of it, I stopped trying to figure it out years ago.

BZ: Do you see the fans in America not necessarily Aerosmith fans because you can still play the arenas and amphitheater, but it seems like the newer bands are having a hard time getting people to the shows. Nobody can sell records any more but it seems like all the newer bands are having a hard time getting established, you get one shot and then the label drops you. “Toys in the Attic” is when you guys really broke and that was your third album.

JP: Yeah, that without a doubt is one of the advantages of coming up in that era. There are a lot more bands out there now. I use to think there were a lot of bands, but now there are so many bands and the competition is really stiff. I’ll tell you there are a lot of great bands and songs that nobody is hearing and I’m sure you’ve noticed that as well in the business you’re in. It takes more than one record to make it. You have to be in the right place at the right time, the right group of people have to hear it. You don’t get much of a chance. My son worked at Epic Records for two years as an A&R guy in New York City. He said that they'd meet every Tuesday morning, 8 or 10 of them sitting around a table. Everybody had a record of somebody they found or thought had potential. They would have anywhere from 1 to 5 albums on the table and they would play each one for 30 seconds and then take a vote. If it got a thumbs up it went to the next step, but it was literally 30 seconds. He got tired of it because over the years he brought four bands to the table that got thumbs down and would go on to get signed by other labels and sell records and that was years ago. There is a lot of good music out there but its about finding it.

BYLINE: Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.
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