It is Tyler’s ability to project crude, leering sexuality that makes Aerosmith attractive. Coming after a brief era when rock n’ roll fans in their adolescence were bombarded with the exaggerated sexual ambiguity of Alice, Bowie, and Reed, it must be reassuring to have a band that knows everything we’ve wanted to know about sex all along: it’s dirty. – Creem magazine.
As for the younger bands, we knew the only difference between us and them is that they’re into jerking off and we’re into fucking. – Steven Tyler in 1988.
By the late ’70’s-early ’80’s, any sense of camaraderie within the band had totally broken down. Drug use was rampant not only within the band but also among their managers, producers, hangers-on, wives – you name it. There doesn’t seem to have been one single person around them who could see clearly what was going on. Inevitably, someone was going to quit, die or the band would just break apart.
In 1979, after Joe Perry’s wife Elyssa threw a glass of milk at Tom Hamilton’s wife over some bullshit, Perry was the first to realize he’d had enough of the drama and quit the band. (First band ever to break up over spilt milk per Tyler.) Perry stayed gone for five whole years, hitting the ground running with the Joe Perry Project. (And divorcing his wife in 1982).
The early ’80’s are Aerosmith’s lost years. Out in the wilderness. Brad Whitford quit a few months after Perry did and, to keep the band going, they hired guitarists Rick Dufay and Jimmy Crespo. (Where are they now?) So some semblance of the band stayed together but it just wasn’t the same.
And Tyler was so completely fucked up on drugs and alcohol he’d either pass out on stage, throw up blood backstage or forget lyrics. And at this point in time, the band were totally down and out. They sold their houses, sold their cars, sold their guitars, moved into condos, hotels, etc.
And it was pretty clear that without the Aerosmith “brand,” these guys (even Perry) could not make it solo. He wasn’t getting label promotion because, as he much later discovered, his managers were trying to force him back into Aerosmith.
Eventually, Perry hooked up with manager Tim Collins who was instrumental (no pun intended) in getting him back in touch with Tyler. To his lasting credit, Collins knocked down every possible obstacle in his goal to get this band back together. Finally, in 1984, the band reconciled and started touring and recording again. They recorded an album – Done with Mirrors – but that failed to chart.
Mirrors did include Aerosmith’s version of Perry’s “Let the Music Do the Talking,” a great song he had saved for his own album. I like the Joe Perry Project’s version better but it’s such a great song I wanted to get it in here. (I love Joe’s slide on this. I have a better appreciation for him after writing this series. He’s not a virtuoso soloist but he is a totally balls-to-the-wall player):
It wasn’t until Collins got a call asking Perry and Tyler to guest on a rap version of “Walk This Way” that things began to take off. Collins had absolutely no idea what rap was. But the band had not been able to get a foothold on MTV, which started in 1981 when their popularity had waned. So the Toxic Twins figured, what the fuck do we have to lose by doing this?
Working with Run-DMC on their cover of the song was a lifesaver for the band. MTV put it into heavy rotation and Aerosmith’s back catalog started to sell. The video is genius as it literally breaks down the wall between rock and rap. (DMC had been sampling the song for years.)
In 1986, the band held an intervention with Tyler who basically accused them of being hypocrites. But eventually, he (and they) cleaned up their act and had a resurgence in popularity with the album Permanent Vacation (1987) which included “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” and “Rag Doll.” (First album they ever recorded sober per Tyler.)
There was some controversy as the band started to use outside writers to help them finish songs. (Tyler was not a diligent lyricist, sometimes taking weeks, months to write something). This was a mixed bag because it gave them good stuff like “Dude” and what sounds to me like an unusually lame wedding song called “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which should have been buried or handed off to someone more appropriate like Barbara Streisand.
I’m not at all anti-ballad. “Dream On” is a ballad. But the difference between “Dream On” and that treacly, forgettable song is vast. The good news is if they play it live, good opportunity to go for a hot dog and/or bathroom break. [End of rant].
Here’s “Rag Doll,” from Woodstock ’94.
Pump, released in 1989, cemented Aerosmith’s reputation as America’s greatest rock band. (Or at least, its longest surviving). I don’t know about the rest of the world, but there’s nothing America likes better than a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-resurrection story. Can’t get enough of ’em.
Here’s “Love in an Elevator.” You’ll note that the band has long since outgrown the “boys only” audience. The song is based, apparently, on a mostly (surprise) true Tyler incident:
Hard to believe all of that was more than 25 years ago. Since then, the band has released several albums, most recently 2012’s Music from Another Dimension about which I know not much. Based on recent setlists I’ve seen, most of their shows are drawn from their glory days albums.
In 2012, the band played live outside of 1325 Comm. Ave to promote the album and remind us they haven’t forgotten their roots. (Most of them still either live around here or maintain ties. Tyler just performed solo at a festival in New Hampshire.)
At the same event, the city of Boston declared 1325 an official landmark which, in your humble reporter’s opinion, is second in importance only to the Boston Tea Party site. 😀
In the late ’90’s, the band was increasingly having problems with their manager, Tim Collins who had wrested control of them from previous management. They were sober but he kept telling them they needed to go into rehab. Not sure what was happening here but the band seemed to think he was a control freak who could only exert that control using these kind of power plays. So, given that he more than anyone had pulled them back together, reluctantly, they fired him.
In 2010, Steven Tyler signed on for a couple of years as a judge on American Idol. The other guys were pissed off because they found out through news reports. I saw Tyler and Perry on the David Letterman show and Perry said he was upset at first, but then ok with it because it ultimately raised the band’s profile again.
Aerosmith meanwhile keeps touring, having long ago conquered the rest of the world. In fact I saw a documentary on TV (Rock for the Rising Sun) that detailed their tour of Japan in 2011 a few months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Fans were incredibly happy to see them, seeking any relief from that nightmare.
From the documentary, I remember one fan had seen them around the world some 200 or so times. Turns out he’s mentioned in Perry’s book. The guy gave the band $300,000 USD to play five songs he’d never heard live. They in turn donated it all to a relief fund for victims of the disaster.
Tyler has veered off into country music and Perry is working with the Hollywood Vampires (Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper). Aerosmith recently announced its “Farewell Tour” in 2017. Tyler advises, however, that KISS did “19 farewell tours.” So we shall see.
To the band’s lasting satisfaction, both Robert Plant and Jimmy page are big fans (and friends), Page telling them that they were “brilliant.” When Zep were inducted (by Aerosmith) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1995), Aerosmith joined them for the big jam. Although all that said, I’ll be the first to admit Aerosmith are not in Zep’s league.
Tyler fell off the stage in South Dakota a few years ago, leading people to wonder if he had relapsed. (According to Perry’s book, he had). Other than that, he and the other guys are clean and involved in stable relationships. Joey Kramer moved to Texas and, among other things, has a brand of coffee. He also just opened a coffee shop in Massachusetts. Joe Perry moved to Vermont and makes hot sauce. Go figure.
And so despite all the trauma, the drama, the booze and “demon alcohol” (thank you Ray Davies), it turns out that hanging in there through all the bullshit paid off. Per Wikipedia:
“Aerosmith is the best-selling American hard rock band of all time. having sold more than 150 million records worldwide, including over 70 million records in the United States alone. With 25 gold albums, 18 platinum albums, and 12 multi-platinum albums, they hold the record for the most total certifications by an American group and are tied for the most multi-platinum albums by an American group.
The band has scored 21 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, nine number-one mainstream rock hits, four Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards, and ten MTV Video Music Awards.
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, and were included among both Rolling Stone’s and VH1’s lists of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 2013, the band’s principal songwriters, Tyler and Perry, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.”
In 2010 we saw Aerosmith (first time, believe it or not) and the J. Geils band perform together at Boston’s Fenway Park. (You can’t get more “Boston” than that unless you actually serve clam chowder.) A highlight was when Tyler went up onto the giant wall, the so-called Green Monster, and did “Dream On.” I leave you, I think appropriately, with that.
Kick ass and leave a footprint – Steven Tyler
Sources: Walk This Way, The Autobiography of Aerosmith. Harper Collins. Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith, Joe Perry. Simon & Schuster.