Back in the heyday of Sixties underground radio, there were four stations that were its core: KSAN, San Francisco; WNEW, New York; WMMR, Philadelphia; and WBCN, Boston. Of these ‘BCN is arguably the most legendary. (J. Geils frontman Peter Wolf was a DJ there for a while).
There’s even a book about the station and I’ve heard they were working on a documentary. They were anti-establishment, anti-war and cutting edge. And ‘BCN – specifically a DJ named Maxanne Sartori – were one of the first stations to pick up on Aerosmith.
Draw The Line cover
Released in March 1974, Get Your Wings did better on the charts than their first album but was still not a blockbuster. The band had to tour relentlessly throughout the Midwest and the South, eventually headlining the Orpheum Theater in Boston. (But really craving to play both Gardens: Boston and Madison Square).
The rock press, heretofore indifferent, started to pay attention, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Rolling Stone said that Wings, “Maintained an agile balance between Yardbirds and Who-styled rock and seventies hard metal… They think 1968 and play 1974, something which a lot of groups would like to boast.”
But at the same time, some of the rock press saw them as Rolling Stones wannabes catering to a bunch of disaffected high school kids. Aerosmith had a lot of difficulty getting respect. (Not unlike their heroes Led Zeppelin whose first two albums Rolling Stone initially savaged.)
But at the same time, the band noticed that their audience did consist of a lot of young (mostly teenage, mostly boys) kids dressed in blue denim. They referred to them as the Blue Army. Unfortunately, this army of yes, disaffected teenagers, was prone to throwing firecrackers at the stage which is a strange way of showing the band you love them. (An M-80 thrown at them in Philly once seared Tyler’s cornea and fucked up Perry’s hand.)
The guys kept touring and building their audience. But at the same time, the more money they made, the more they indulged their taste for drugs. And yes, it was the Seventies, and yes, “everybody” was doing this. But I have read a million rock books and drug-wise, Aerosmith are the worst in this regard. Instead of one Keith Richards, there are five of them, Tyler and Perry apparently being the most egregious offenders. (Hence, the “Toxic Twins.”)
These guys could not get through the day without a fifth of Jack Daniels, a ton of blow, some heroin, and a couple of Tuinals. In that barrage of rock books and Rolling Stone magazine articles, I have never in my life read about such persistent, long-term dysfunction in an entire band.
Usually rock n’ roll guys either stop or they drop. It got so bad at one point that Tyler was reduced to copping dope on the street and got held up at gunpoint. The fact that the band today is alive and well with the same five original members is nothing less than a miracle.
But somehow through all the fights (Tyler was a perfectionist, Perry more instinctive), they kept on writing and perseveing. Wikipedia: “It was 1975’s Toys in the Attic that established Aerosmith as international stars competing with the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
Originally derided as Rolling Stones knockoffs in part due to the physical resemblance between lead singers Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger, this album showed that Aerosmith was a unique and talented band in their own right.” As far as I’m concerned, they proved that with their first album, but sure, ok.
And so how could I possibly not do “Walk This Way,” a great funky song inspired by Igor from the movie Young Frankenstein. (If you didn’t know that, totally serious. There’s that Stooges side of the band again.) During a sound check, Perry asked Joey Kramer to play a funky beat like he did in his old R&H bands.
And out came this riff that Tyler later scatted and added lyrics to. (I think that maybe the fact that the lyrics are somewhat unintelligible got this one on the radio. Because boy are they nasty. In the best possible way of course.) 😀
Somewhere along the way, Perry (whose taste seems to be the most eclectic) got hold of an old blues song called “Big Ten Inch Record” performed by a guy named Bullmoose Jackson. (I actually have a blues album from the Seventies that Jackson performs a song on. His songs tend to traffic in, shall we say, naughty double entendres which is, of course, right up Tyler’s alley):
Got me the strangest woman
Believe me this trick’s no cinch
But I really get her going
When I whip out my big ten inch
Record of a band that plays the blues
Well a band that plays its blues
She just love my big ten inch
Record of her favorite blues
Here’s a nice version from Saturday Night Live:
The band continued to tour, record – and self-destruct. Perry and Tyler fought like cats and dogs, everybody apparently hated Perry’s drama queen wife, the money rolled in, the drugs become pure pharmaceutical grade. And with Toys and its follow-up, Rocks, Aerosmith for a time was maybe the biggest band in the world, certainly the biggest hard-rock act.
Rocks and Toys are on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time list. (Bizarrely, Rocks is at 176, just after a Carpenters album at 175.) Rocks especially is revered by rockers from Kurt Cobain (!) to Metallica. Johnny Depp, a huge Aerosmith fan, wrote the foreword to Joe Perry’s book, also called Rocks. Slash said this:
“There was this chick I was going after … and she was pretty hot. I sort of weasled my way into her apartment. So we’re hanging out and she puts on Rocks and I was mesmerized by it. It was like the be-all-and-end-all, best attitude fuckin’ hard rock record. I must have listened to it about half a dozen times, completely ignored her. She’s out there somewhere and I missed it. But it was worth it. That was the record that changed my life.”
Here’s “Last Child,” a Whitford/Tyler song from a live performance a couple of years ago:
This marked what we might call the end of Aerosmith: Act One. The late Seventies is where the drugs, groupies, crazy fans, touring, all really caught up with them. By the time they did 1977’s Draw the Line, they were out of gas.
Next (and final) post – The band hits the bottom. Joe quits (for five years!) and goes it alone. Pseudo-Aerosmith tours. More drugs, manager lawsuits. A rap band pulls their collective asses out of the fire. They get clean. And, like the Phoenix from the ashes, they arise.