Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, 64, discusses his new memoir Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith on Oct. 9 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Born in Lawrence and raised in Hopedale, Perry picked up the guitar at an early age and never put it down. As teenagers, he and bassist Tom Hamilton formed the Jam Band, which morphed into Aerosmith with the addition of Steven Tyler, Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer. During the past 40 years, Aerosmith has had one of the most impressive roller-coaster rides in music, complete with rehab, rumors and success upon success, including four Grammys and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His other endeavors include solo and charitable work, film and TV scoring and even a line of BBQ sauces. He has four sons with whom he often collaborates, and he and his wife, Billie, divide their time between Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida and California.
Jonathan Soroff: So how much of the book did you actually write?
Joe Perry: When we got the original manuscript back from David Ritz, there were certain pages with incidents or anecdotes where I had to take pen to paper and rewrite them, because it would’ve taken twice as long to explain. So there are parts that I wrote myself, but David’s talent is to write so that it sounds like me talking, and I’d be hard-pressed to pick out those parts. It was definitely a collaboration, and we went through the editing process at least four times.
A lot. But once we’d settled on the format and the outline, I kind of stopped trying to remember things, and there is stuff that I’ve remembered since that I’m putting down on paper. Hopefully, it’ll end up in the paperback. But the bottom line is that there are certain things I decided were out of bounds. What goes on between me and Steven in particular, and among all the members of the band, runs really deep. Certain things I left out, just out of good taste. There’s also a lot that I put in with some trepidation about how the guys are going to take it, most specifically Steven. On our current tour, it became kind of a joke. Whenever Steven and I would get into it, I’d say, “Careful. I’m working on my book.”
I think that the inspiration for a lot of my songwriting is based on books and my reading in general, so it definitely has to overlap, in terms of my use of language and vocabulary.
Some nights, I think we are. And then there are other nights when I don’t. To me, a rock ’n’ roll band is a fusion of the fans and the musicians, so I base it on the live performance aspect. That’s why when we go out there and play the same songs we’ve played so many times before, we give it as much as we can. We play “Dream On” with everything we’ve got, because someone in the audience might only be hearing it live that one time. That’s foremost in my mind. And some nights are like magic; some nights, things don’t come together that way. But we’re lucky, because we have a pretty well-loaded set list to work with, and a few other things going for us that would put us firmly in the “yes” pile.
The travel. It can get tedious. And now for us, it’s the days off. Steven can only sing two nights a week, so there’s a lot of downtime, sittin’ around doing nothing.
Getting on stage and trying to make it the best show we’ve ever done.
By keeping our own space. Everybody goes their own way when we walk off stage. There are times when I won’t see anybody else in the band until five minutes before we go on. Then there’s other times when we’ll hang around together for a day or two, or go out to dinner. I’m pretty much the loner and always have been. In fact, I travel on the bus as much as I can instead of the band plane with everybody else, so I can have time away. That way, when we’re on stage, it’s a lot of fun.
Yes, I do, but I also think it’s tough to sing when you’ve got one of the best singers in the world standing right next to you. I’ve always had this feeling that if I’ve had any kind of success away from the band, there’s also this pressure of worrying that the band will split up again. When you try to stand apart from a band with as much influence as Aerosmith, it’s tough to get noticed. But the fact that the first song we did when we got back together was the first song off my solo album says something about my solo stuff.
I’m most proud when I hear from fans, “I picked up the guitar because I heard your record,” or “You guys saved my life when I heard you got sober.” Those other things are nice, but the really amazing part is when you realize you’ve touched people.
Cheap Trick. They’ve been together longer than we have. They tour all the time. They’re one of the best live bands. They’ve got great songs. Why aren’t they in there? There are other artists that are great who are, but they’re really not rock ’n’ roll, or haven’t made as much of an impact.
The challenge. Never having done that kind of work until relatively recently, it was interesting to write within certain parameters. It’s just totally different. It has to be done in 29 and a half seconds, and it has to include certain elements. It’s interesting to work within those kinds of guidelines, and coming up with music that furthers the plot or tells the story is really interesting to me.
Off the top of my head, playing with Tom Jones at the concert for Princess Diana. That was so incredible—80,000 people at Wembley Stadium. It was quite a rush.
Probably using it as a pipe cleaner.
There are a lot of them, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. The legends we’ve carried with us, and the shadows that follow us, some are so twisted that I just wanted to set the record straight. The biggest thing is how hard it is to keep the band together as we’ve grown older. That’s probably the hardest thing to figure out and talk about. This book is really about human nature and getting past insurmountable odds. You don’t have to be an Aerosmith fan, or even a rock ’n’ roll fan, to get something from this book.
That’s really a pact between the fans and the performer. If he’s just going out and phoning it in for the money, the fans will know. It becomes self-evident. So there is a point when it isn’t fun for the artist and he’s not giving the fans what they’re coming to see.
Oh, God. It’s all in the music. That’s it. That, and I’d like to be remembered as a good father.
So who’s better dressed: you or Steven?
[Laughs] I think that depends on what you use as your benchmark. What’s your definition of well-dressed: more colorful, or does it fit?