From its disastrous self-titled debut album in 1972, Aerosmith has weathered more than its share of storms, backstabbing, infighting and breakups. But more than four decades later, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford are still making music — together.
While other books have been written about the legendary band, including Tyler’s tell-all “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir,” and Joey Kramer’s “Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top,” Perry decided it was his turn to set the record straight, or at least tell the world what happened from his perspective.
“Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith” (Simon & Schuster, $27.99) co-written with music biographer Davit Ritz (“Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye,” “Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story”) was released Tuesday — and just today, Tyler announced via Twitter than he’s headed to Nashville to record a solo album. Is the timing of the news a reaction to Perry’s less-than-flattering literary portrayal of his bandmate? (According to Perry’s writings, Tyler had a penchant for “stealing things.”)
“Rocks” is Perry’s account of life on and off the road with the band, the fierce and dysfunctional “Toxic Twins” relationship he shares to this day with Tyler, and all the sex, drugs and rock and roll one would expect from a band that has aired so much of its dirty laundry in public for the past 40 years.
Perry, who’s in town Oct. 13 for two book signings, talked about revisiting the good, the bad and the ugly.
Q. When we chatted earlier this summer, you said you were still scrambling to get the book finished. Now that it’s out, did it turn out the way you wanted?
A. I guess I’ll have to start reading it again to really know. I know the stories inside and out, but it’s really going be interesting to go back and read through all of it.
Q. What was the biggest revelation to you?
A. The amount of time we put up with all the craziness. That was perhaps one of the hardest things for me to face up to. I did a number of things for the betterment of the band even though it went against my grain, but I did them for the benefit of the band. Also, I think fans will find it very interesting to know what it takes to keep a band together all these years. A lot of times the problems came from the outside, a lot of times it was ourselves.
Q. You write about so much turmoil in the band, and you point a lot of it in the direction of Steven Tyler and his “personality issues.” You write at one point: “When it came to telling people what he thought of them, he had no filter. When it came to hurting people’s feelings, he had no restraint.” Was it just the fact that you and he would never really see eye to eye?
A. It takes two to tango. Certainly I felt like I had to put my foot down a bunch of times. I’m sure my ego was something to be dealt with. I think in any one of those situations that I wrote about, I would have to take some responsibility for it.
In the ’70s I was a lot more arrogant. I was supposedly the “quiet one,” but there was certain things between the two of us when it came to music, when it comes to music. That’s really what broke up the band in the late ’70s. The band just never looked at itself and said let’s deal with this. Instead it was always f— you. Unfortunately, that’s how it was. Now we just don’t take it home. I put up with his idiosyncracies, he puts up with mine.
JOE PERRY Lunch & Learn with Joe Perry Luncheon, book signing, Q&A When: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 13 Where: Standard Club of Chicago, 320 S. Plymouth Ct. Tickets: $38 Info: eventbrite.com Book Signing WHEN: 3:00-4:30 p.m. Oct. 13 WHERE: Guitar Center, 2375 S. Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights INFO: joeperry.com/music; (847) 439-4600
Q. You write about all the outside influences as well, the managers, the producers, the girlfriends, the wives. Maybe the outside world was as much to blame as the five of you? Sometimes it seems like Elyssa Jerret (the first Mrs. Joe Perry), for example, was your Yoko Ono.
A. I said a lot of times we should have taken a nice vacation and told everyone to f— off like so many bands do, but we were all just too wrapped up in it at that point. Girlfriends and that whole scene, yeah, I supposed, but ultimately it falls down on the five guys. Nobody breaks up bands but the guys in the band. When people point fingers to people outside the band, I can tell you that’s not possible. It’s the band. It’s easy to point the finger outward.
Q. You’re very candid about the drugs and the alcohol, and every time you mention them, it highlights how self-destructive that world became for the band.
A. The egos inflated all of it. The drugs just exacerbated the situations. The personalities are still there. The drugs just made it all worse, because it does cloud things up and make it harder to deal with issues.
Q. Why was it important to write about getting sober, and are you still sober today?
A. I am still sober to this day. It’s no secret. But I’ve always felt it was my own business. We went out there and made it public because lot of it had to do with trying to rebuild all the bridges we had burned. We had to buy our way out of our Columbia contract. Promoters wouldn’t hire us because so many gigs got canceled. We went from having the best representation in the business to having one of the worst. So we had to put it out there, we had to get out there and say we’ve cleaned up our act and we’re ready to rock.
We thought we’d lose our fans because we were “America’s party band.” But when it came down to it, we were either take us the way we are, clean and making music, or not clean and barely making music. We had to make that decision on a personal level as well. It was a tough time for all of us but we had to make the choice to save the band, and our personal lives, too.
Sobriety is a personal thing. It’s anybody’s choice how they want to live their lives. On the other hand, there have been quite a few people who’ve come up and said, “You saved my life. I got clean because of you.” Even if one person says that, you have to give thanks for it. I believe in karma.
Q. You are very emotional when you write about your second wife, Billie Montgomery. What was it about her that changed you and your life forever?
A. With Billie, I think I discovered what true love was. That is an amazing feeling and revelation. It gave me something bigger than myself to work for. And that’s probably the biggest thing. I just wanted to make her happy no matter what. She didn’t want to see me killing myself, and I was headed down that path. It’s not just about meeting the right person, it’s about being yourself and being open to that person. Like I’ve always said, I’ve always been a one-girl guy. She was the girl and still is. Thirty years later, having raised four sons on the road, it’s a miracle that we’re able to keep it together and have it be as strong as it is. Thirty years’ marriage in the entertainment business is like 60 years any place else. Every profession has groupies and temptations and all that stuff. The averages for successful marriages are not very good. I just count every day as a gift.
Q. There’s an interesting passage in the book where you write about meeting Sir George Martin, the legendary producer for the Beatles, when you recorded a cover of “Come Together” for the film “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” You write it was a disappointment.
A. I felt let down. I was hoping George Martin would say, “No, why don’t you try this instead?” Or, “Why don’t you turn your cabinet upside-down?” I mean, he produced the Beatles and is probably one of the most creative musical minds in history. On the other hand, maybe it was his special pat on the back — by not saying anything maybe he was saying we were doing things right. I was just looking forward to a little more interaction with him. In that respect it was a letdown. I wanted to scream out, “GEORGE, WHAT’S THE SECRET?” I guess he liked what he heard, and to this day we play the song as close to how we recorded it that day in the studio. It’s unfortunate that some people think it’s our song and we wrote it!
Q. Do concerts still excite you like they did back in the day?
A. I still get off on it. I know that’s why we still do it. After all is said and done, especially when we’re playing places we’ve never played. But going back to places we’ve been so many times and seeing a whole new generation of fans, I mean some places are like second homes to us, how can you not get off on that? It’s just fun for the five of us to get together. It’s fulfilling a dream. We never thought it would go this far. Who knows how much farther we can take it?
I cracked open a part of my soul for everyone to read. It was a big risk. I don’t know how people are going to take it, but it’s as close to what I remember. Who knows, maybe we’ll get back into the studio at some point. …I love playing, but I also like to record and get on my horse and just ride.