Interview: Joe Perry, Aerosmith

Rockin' in a Hard Place

When it comes to typifying all that is truly great about the hard rock genre, very few bands actually spring to mind. Sure a lot of bands are good, but very few are THAT good. One glance at the scene today, and it soon becomes very apparent that out of a veritable pot pourri of would be mega-stars, few possess the class and talent that made bands like Led Zeppelin so legendary. Even those at the very top of the tree (mentioning no names) seem to be embroiled in the whole marketing rigmarole which seems to be more important than the music.

But one or two bands, who were fortunate enough to establish themselves well before record companies became so screwed up, have managed to survive and stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Van Halen and AC/DC are two such bands, the latter having already had the dignity of headlining the Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock Festival twice (a feat David Coverdale's Whitesnake will match this year). However, appearing just below them this year are perhaps the other truly great hard rock band of our time: Aerosmith.

Having only recently laid waste to these shores on their Pump tour, the first time they'd visited England since 1977, when they appeared at the Reading Festival, the band are returning to put in what many have seen as a long overdue appearance at Donington. A lot of people are also surprised that the band aren't headlining this year's Festival, but playing second fiddle to a band who haven't, with their Slip Of The Tongue LP and tour, really matched the Smith's success with Pump.

"I know people think it's a bit odd that we're playing below Whitesnake," admits Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. "I think the whole thing is going to be great though. Up until recently Aerosmith haven't really meant that much in England, and we certainly haven't allowed ourselves a high profile over there. David Coverdale's been known in Europe for a very long time, and so have Whitesnake, so there’s that to consider."

"I don't know who's the biggest band or anything like that, but we are the original Aerosmith line-up. We may have split ranks for a while, but we're all here now, and have been over our last three albums you know. As far as I’m concerned with Whitesnake, I don't think you can constantly keep changing your line-up and remain a real entity in the eyes of your fans. I think that after a while they’re going to start losing faith in you."

The last time Aerosmith toured here they chose as support acts the cream of British talent in the shape of Thunder, Little Angels, Quireboys, and Balaam And The Angel (although it’s a pity the latter's record company didn't quite see things that way!), and now they’ve got Thunder and Quireboys appearing below them on the bill.

"I love those guys," Perry exclaims. "I think it's great that those guys are on the bill. They're really cool. I love those guys."

And what did he think about the remaining band on the bill, namely Poison?

"Oh, are they big in England?" he queries.

Well, with their latest single having wormed its way into our Top Twenty of late and their new album Flesh And Blood crashing in at No.3 in the album charts, my reply is very much in the affirmative, which draws a less than enthusiastic response from Mr. Perry.

"Oh right, well we'll have to see about Poison," he snorts, and leaves it at that.

With talk of the Donington competition having been exhausted, we turn to the band's recent tour of America, which has seen bands like Skid Row, The Black Crowes, Warrant, and Metallica in tow as support.

"It's been going real cool," announces Perry. "The Black Crowes are a really good band with a real cool sound. It's been great having them on tour with us. Metallica were great! I love those guys. Some people may have thought the pair of us together would be a bit of an odd bill but I'm sure that they get kids turning up with Aerosmith T-shirts at their shows 'cos I know we get kids in Metallica T-shirts showing up at our shows."

Having shared stages the world over with some of the up-and-coming rock talent of late, what was Perry's view of the rock scene today?

"Well! I think there are some really good things happening," he replies. "I think the scene in England is becoming really healthy, and here in America things are starting to take off. I think that there’s a return to real music in bands like The Black Crowes and things. The whole scene is moving away from being safe. Really, all you need to make it over here at the moment are big hair and a good video producer. So many bands get signed straight out of the clubs like that and I think that’s wrong. There's always going to be an audience for big hair and stuff, but I think even MTV is starting to diversify from all that. Bands like Metallica and Faith No More are getting played which I think is great. Faith No More are like my favourite band at the moment and I think what they're doing is really good for music."

So how did Perry envisage Aerosmith fitting into today's musical field? The Rolling Stones have recently made a triumphant return to these shores in a major way. Did Perry see Aerosmith doing likewise at that age?

"I sure hope so," he states. "All that stuff about being too old is just crap as far as I’m concerned. What The Rolling Stones are doing is great and I love it. I think it's great that they go out and prove they can still blow everyone away. But when so many people put them down then I think that attitude is wrong. People who grew up with rock music in the Sixties are older and it doesn't bother them that rock musicians are older. The whole 'too old' business stems from the Sixties when rock music was still relatively new and the musicians were younger. If people can still play well it doesn’t matter how old they are. I really admire the likes of Robert Plant and The Stones. They're great."

Aerosmith headlined the Texas Jam in 1978, and now in 1990 they will be appearing in one of the poll positions at the Monsters of Rock Festivals. Back then had Perry ever envisaged that the band would be going strong some 12 years later?

"That's stuff I really don't think about," he replies. "The Texas Jam was back then and this is now. It's a totally different thing. Back then I wasn't thinking I might be doing this today and nowadays I don't really think about that stuff too much. It was a one-off thing from a totally different time. We were really big in America back then and we could never have done anything like that over here. Likewise I really don't think we could headline something like Donington nowadays, and that's another reason for playing below Whitesnake. We may not have played under someone for a very long time but I know our time is to come to England."

Well I'm sure a lot of people in this country have thought Aerosmith's time was now, especially when Permanent Vacation, the bands 1987 LP, was the first to ever crack the British charts, and they've followed that up with the impressive Pump and at last cracked our ever so elusive Top Forty with Love In An Elevator. Achievements to be proud of indeed!

It seems that Perry is just as proud of the fact that Aerosmith have not only survived a momentary split in the ranks (Perry and Brad Whitford departing to be replaced Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay for the Rock In A Hard Place album) as well as the band successfully combating their well documented drug problems.

"I think we've done it like no-one else, man," he states enthusiastically. "Yeah, we did have our trouble and stuff but we came through all that. And now we're the original line-up again. We didn't do it like anyone else has though. There was no blaze of publicity glory saying 'Aerosmith are back,' you know. We made it with our music."

And that music is bound to one of the successes of this year's Monsters of Rock. Mind you, it's not an easy job for the band. They've got to follow Poison, who will be making their debut in this country and if all the reports are anything to go by they'll be putting on an impressive display, and even though Whitesnake have got the benefit of all the effects, Aerosmith are bound to give the bands a good run for their money. With more classics that Poison (c’mon, I don’t really think Talk Dirty To Me or Nothing But A Good Time are gonna compare with Dream On or Rats In The Cellar, do you?), and more history than Whitesnake (at least as a band), I reckon there's gonna be a lot of people at Donington with Aerosmith in mind.

Whatever happens on the day, there’s no denying that Aerosmith are undoubtedly one of the rock world's premier band, and with that in mind they're bound to back in the saddle ready to walk the dog in style on Saturday, August 18th.

Jerry Ewing
Riff Raff
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