Joe Perry of Aerosmith
On February 8th, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry hit the stage of the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, CT as an extended member of the band TAB, the band created by his sons (Tony on guitar and Adrian on bass and vocals). Rounding out the band is Ben Tileston on drums. The band rocked the crowd into musical bliss with a mixture of TAB originals, Aerosmith tunes, songs from Joe Perry’s solo projects as well as a few covers.
A few weeks earlier, rock God Joe Perry took some time to fill me in on the show, introduce me to the band TAB, and the current state of all things Aerosmith.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | February 2008
Let’s start off with talking about the show on February 8th at The Fox Theatre at Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard CT? Can you tell us a little bit about it? Will there be two different sets or will you be playing with the band TAB that your sons Adrian and Tony are in for the whole evening?
We’re playing together all night, we’re playing as a band. We were doing this thing for Guitar Hero III and they had asked me to play at a private party that they were having in NY to celebrate the opening of Guitar Hero III. Aerosmith has a couple of songs on the game so I said that I would love to except that I didn’t have a band. The guys that I had for my solo project last year with my solo record were scattered all over the globe and so I really didn’t have anybody to play with. In the meantime my boys were downstairs rehearsing for one of their shows and I said ‘can you hold the phone a sec’ and I asked them if they wanted to play with me and let me be part of their band for awhile and they said they’d love to do it. That’s basically how it started. We did this show down in New York and we had a lot of fun. It was really good. I really hadn’t had a chance to play with them before. I’ve listened to them rehearse and I’ve listened to them play as they were putting their set together so I knew they could do it. They are really competent musicians so there’s no question there and plus they have a lot of songs that I really like that they’ve been putting together for their album that I thought would be fun to play on. It just fell together. The gig went really well and they asked if we wanted to play at Foxwoods show. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
So for the Foxwoods show, will you be performing all TAB songs or will it be a mix or what will the set list look like?
We’ll be doing some TAB songs, we’ll be doing Joe Perry Project songs from the first batch, some of the albums from the eighties, and a couple of songs from my last solo album that I put out, probably some Aerosmith songs and probably some covers. It’s pretty hard putting the set list together because there are so many songs that we can play. We really had a good time doing it the last time and I’m really kind of surprised at how good they are. As a proud parent, my wife and I would just be sitting up here while they were playing, like over Christmas two years ago when they were putting their band together and we looked at each other and thought “wow that’s really good, is that one of theirs?” So we were kind of overwhelmed at how fast they were coming along.
They were both players and had their own bands and Adrian was writing a lot of his own material. He had about 20-30 songs at that point. Tony had not really started writing his own stuff. He had a few cover bands he was playing with and I kept asking him about it, “when are you going to start writing some of your own stuff.” I think he was just waiting to get good enough on guitar to be able to express himself. I never really asked him why but it was kind of like the only thing I could think of is that, if he could get his chops to the point where he could have a sound in his head and be able to lay it down. When he started playing basically what he was doing was engineering and producing some of Adrian’s songs because Adrian had a bunch of demos that he wanted to do and they started playing. They brought Tony’s friend in who literally lives about a five minute walk from our house who’s going to Boston University to be a professional percussionist. Tony was playing with him in a couple of his bands so they brought him in to play the drums on these demos. They started playing and Tony started writing and it was almost overnight that they were coming up with their own stuff. Every few days they’d come up with a new song and we were really blown away.
Soon they started booking some dates. At that point Tony was living in New York so they played some gigs in New York, played some gigs in Boston, played gigs here and there and it really fell together. It was really fascinating to see how fast it came together.
I had a chance to check out the music that they have posted on their MySpace profile. I love their sound it’s very raw and refreshing and the fact that it’s not extremely polished is really what the essence of rock and roll is to me. It sounds sort of maybe The White Stripes meets early Rolling Stones kind of vibe. As a proud Papa, how would you describe their music?
I would have to say it’s just that. It’s got twinges of the different bands that they like but just when you think its going to go to do that and really speak of one of those bands, then they put their own twist in there. They are finding their own voice. Every song they’ve come up with has become more savvy than the one before. I’d say that they are showing their roots there. They paid their dues, they really did listen to their Dad’s record collection and being brought up around music really helped.
Adrian grew up on the west coast with his mother and his grandfather is a music teacher. He was the head of the music department in Cambridge before he retired and he taught him music, how to play classical music and read music and he played bass. That was his main instrument and still is although he can play guitar very well too. Adrian had that kind of background and he’s five or six years older than Tony. He was playing his own stuff in bands on the west coast a lot earlier than Tony, so he was coming up with original music pretty early on. I think when Tony started writing with him I think that’s the inspiration he needed to start writing his own stuff, so the two of them together has really turned out to be a powerhouse. The thing that make it a lot different than some of the other brother bands out there is that they didn’t grow up together, they grew up seeing each other on vacations or when they would visit or when Aerosmith was on the west coast or when Adrian was here visiting. They grew up on visits knowing each other but they didn’t really live together so their baggage is a lot different than some of the other brother bands. I’m sure they have their own issues but there’s a lot of stuff that they don’t have to worry about or get into just from a family point of view. They cut right through it. It’s been really exciting to hear them grow and musically their chops are really there. They work and practice hard and they are really starting to get a sound. Frankly there are a lot of songs that they do that I sit back and think “Wow I wish I wrote that. That was awesome.” So there are some songs of theirs that I was really anxious to play so we’ll probably play more TAB songs than the fans would prefer at this point since they aren’t really familiar with their music but once they hear them, it’s that kind of music. It’s got the rock and it’s only that they wouldn’t be familiar with it that would hold it back at this point. We’re going to do probably 4-5 of their tunes, we’ll do some project stuff and we’ll cover some Aerosmith songs and then we’ll do some of our favorite covers. They grew up listening to a lot of the same kind of music that I did.
The good stuff tends to stick around!
It’s funny too, they just happen to be exposed to all that stuff being on the road that much. Adrian has seen a lot of Aerosmith shows, no question, same as Tony, Tony grew up on the road so they really had a good background in not just music but how bands work together and how you give and how you take and the whole thing. It’s just a lot of fun, it’s hard to describe, and it’s bigger than that. Playing with them is a great experience; I can feel certain things that just feel genetically right from just being their Dad. It just falls together; it’s really interesting to hear what works and where things come from. It’s just really fascinating to me, to hear certain licks and how they’ll take the twist of a chord change and what I would have done if I had been writing the song. The whole thing is really cool, it’s hard to describe it, and there aren’t words big enough. I guess that’s what the music is for, let the music do the talking. They seem to be having a good time doing it; we just want to keep enough distance so that they can keep developing their own sound. There’s a lot of times when I really have to keep my mouth shut, I don’t want to steer them too much. If they ask me for help or any kind of advice I’m really careful about what to say. Obviously when it comes to business or technical things there’s a lot of things I can help them with to get some shortcuts going but when it comes to the music I’m really careful about saying anything.
You’ve released solo albums in the past under “The Joe Perry Project” but your last solo album was self-titled and seemed to be a lot more introspective you’re your solo albums in the past. Do you agree and what do you think changed between the releases to dig that much deeper?
Well that came about in having written all those riffs and tunes, they were just unfinished and they were unfinished business. I would play them for the band and some of them got used and we worked some of them up but for every one of those there’s another five sitting in the hard drive. There’s a lot of tunes that got used and a lot that didn’t, but in the case of these songs these were the ones that I felt really needed to be finished. If something ever happened to me I wouldn’t have anything for Billie (Mrs. Perry) to release, they were my basement tapes so to speak. They weren’t finished and they were barely instrumentals at that point. I don’t finish a lot of things because I like to leave room for my writing partner to finish. So I figured, if we’re not going to go anywhere with Aerosmith on these songs, I should get them to the point where they are finished songs. The next logical step was to write some lyrics and put a melody on them just to have them finished. I was working with Paul Caruso and he laid some drums down for me and I was thinking “Why go in and replay this stuff with other musicians when 90 percent of it is done anyway.” So it just made sense to try and finish it, so that’s kind of how it came together. I can see why a lot of musicians end up making their own solo records, if you can do it you might as well to make a true solo record but I can also see why you wouldn’t. There’s a lot of things you don’t have to worry about when you’re playing with other musicians. The next one I do I’ll probably keep the tracks rudimentary and then bring in some other players to make a solo record that’s a little more, bring in David Hull for example, he’s a great bass player and he could definitely add a different take to some of the tunes. So when the next solo record comes out it will probably have more of a band sound.
I wanted to ask you if you had any memories of playing clubs in Worcester in the early days of Aerosmith and what the music scene was like back then?
Well it was pretty much like it was in a lot of the smaller towns that we played back then. I would liken it to the Detroit area or Ohio. Worcester was a lot more like those cities than say Boston or Chicago. Those cities were pretty much the same back in those days. They had more character as individual cities. Nowadays with Starbucks and such, everything is the same, all these chains are all the same, it’s starting to get pretty bland. Back then Worcester had its own kind of vibe and culture and when I say it was kind of like Ohio, I mean some of the towns in the outskirts of Ohio like Columbus. It had it’s own thing going on, bands had a different kind of a sound than say now. Things are generic now, whereas then, Worcester had the culture, the restaurants, I miss that. I miss that feeling of things having their own vibe. It’s the same with a lot of other places where it’s become a “If it works in this town it should work in that town” kind of a feeling. Worcester was a great place to play, I remember Sir Morgan’s Cove, there’s some history out there.
I have read conflicting stories regarding the current status of the new album and where the band is at in the studio, can you give us an update on where things currently stand?
Well right now we’re just in the middle of kind of getting settled from the last three or four years that were very unsettled. A lot of things threw us off our usual path with Tom getting sick and Steven having to deal with what he had to deal with, everything from his divorce, well just everything. It’s all thrown us off. I think at this period of time our philosophy is work is there but I think we’re willing to sit back for a second and take care of life before we actually go in and start working again and putting a record together. That’s kind of what’s going on. We were planning on getting the record started last October/November but we really just needed to take more time off and settle some home things and take care of some life. In the end we’ll come back stronger and in a better state of mind to write a new record. So that’s what we’re going to do, get in the studio in the next few months and crank it out and get ready for a new tour. We’re going to take our time and let it be a little more organic.
You mentioned Tom and what he went through. I have to say, for me as an Aerosmith fan I think one of the most touching moments for me was during the 2006 tour when you played at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, MA and Tom came out during Dream On after having to sit out most of the tour due to his throat cancer. It was so inspiring and I’m just wondering how he has inspired you as a band and as individuals?
Well it is just that, it just illustrated to us what a family this is and how much of a part everybody plays in this machine that we’ve been running for the past 36 years or so. With all its ups and downs it just showed how much we need to pay homage to that. It was a really good learning experience from that point of view but it was like going through hell when you have someone that you are so close to go through that experience. I don’t think there are too many people who don’t have that experience in their family, that don’t have an uncle or a cousin or an aunt that have been going through that kind of hell. It was seeing one of our brothers of choice go through that, it was so much more important to support him there and carry on with the band and again play homage to his part in the line-up.
You just mentioned that the band has been together for thirty six years which is a pretty amazing fact, what do you attribute this longevity to? Most bands do not make it this far and I’m sure you have your good and bad days but what’s your secret?
I think it’s just a lot of luck. We’ve gone through so much and you just kind of have to get through it one day at a time, that’s the biggest thing. We still have the same vision that we started with, that hasn’t changed. We’ve come close to breaking up many times – totally, partially – I think we realized how important it was that if it was going to be the way it was going to be that we had to learn from those experiences and take it from there. It’s just been that, learning from it and taking it from that.
You have achieved so many goals and won so many awards and have been given so many accolades over the years, at the end of the day when you look back at your career, what are the things that are most memorable to you?
It’s probably the fact that we’ve stayed together all this time. When I walk into the front room of the rehearsal space and the other guys are there, wherever it is, it always amazes me that we’re still there and we’re still doing it. I think that’s it. It’s kind of a phenomenon.
You’ve had some involvement with the video game Guitar Hero; can you give us some insight into that and what your involvement has been? Are you a fan of the game?
Well we’ve got some of our songs on the game. Our songs weren’t on the first version and I saw that the kids were having such a good time playing it and I was listening to some of the music and it was great to hear such a cross-section of the music. So I wondered why we weren’t involved with it. I started making some phone calls and got involved with Guitar Hero III. We helped out with that and the guys that are doing it are really great guys that are fans of not just Aerosmith but rock n roll. They think the same way, they don’t think about music being good or bad depending on it’s genre, it’s just what you like or don’t like. It’s been fun hanging around with them and working with them. They look at it like a crusade to get the music out there. Also, it’s a way to turn some of that video game time on the couch into something useful.
So, do you play the game?
No, I’m really not a gamer. I think after a certain point you have to be a gamer to get into it. The way it works is that there’s a real crossover. If you’re a gamer you’re probably going to be a rock fan too, so that’s kind of how it works. I think it’s also shows the cross pollination between these different forms of entertainment. Just goes to show how the music business is changing and how fans are getting their music now whether its on YouTube or commercials or at live shows. It’s good to be part of it. I’d rather support it than turn my back on it and stick to the feeling of “we should still have albums, and we should still have this and we should still have that.” That’s not how its going and I can’t change that but what I can do is try to make the most out of what its becoming. If the music doesn’t sound typically as good as an album then let’s do something about it so that it does sound as good. I think that people are missing a lot by listening to MP3s, they don’t hear music the same way, and they’re missing out. From one generation to the next they don’t even realize, it may not seem like that much but if you go back and listen to a good vinyl recording on a turntable and compare it to a song on an ipod you notice a difference so I think it’s up to people like these guys to try and uphold the standard of the quality and whatever I can do to help, I’m going to do it.
I went to check out what was going on with your hot sauces (Joe Perry’s Rock Your World) and the site is under construction. How are things going with that and if you had something new that you were getting ready to unveil to the world?
As a matter of fact we are! We have a new product that is macaroni and cheese called Rock n’ Roni. There’s actually going to be four different flavors, we figured it would be the next logical step to building this food company. Again, we didn’t invent macaroni and cheese but its fun to put our take on it, so that’s what we’re doing.
Sounds good, when can we expect to see that?
Probably in the next few months, it takes a while to get everything lined up from the packaging to all the details. It’s a big deal to get the whole thing going. It’s finally coming together and it won’t be long.
I have to ask about your American Idol appearance with Sanjaya. I think a lot of people were a little surprised to see that collaboration, did you have any reservations about doing that and how it would be perceived? Are you a fan of the show?
There’s always been some form of grassroots talent show, I can remember Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, those kind of shows go back a long way. I think that they are so popular because it’s like with reality shows, people start to think that it could be them up there and it inspires them to develop their talent as opposed to there being no outlet for them so they start to think that there’s no point in trying so I think it’s a valuable thing to have that outlet. It’s just on a bigger scale, like I was saying before with the culture, it’s kind of the same vibe, it’s just bigger, it’s national instead of local, but it’s still local too. It’s still the same thing, the stakes are higher, but it’s still about the same thing. People are out there practicing and doing whatever they do, and if you have to put up with getting slammed by Simon, you take the shot, a lot of people have had some accolades for their work on the show so I think it’s been a good thing.
The kid sings, and he was pretty good. Everybody has to take some time to develop and it takes a lot of sand as they say to get up in front of a crowd like that and take a chance. So when they asked me if I wanted to do it, it was like why not give the guy a shot, so from that point of view I felt like it was helping him out. Plus it was fun to do it, it’s just another kind of experience and to lend a hand to somebody who’s taking a huge risk. He’s a nice kid, you just have to be ready to take the shots. If he’s willing to put himself in front of all of those cameras and judges then certainly I can bear the strain of a few people wondering what I’m doing up there.
Check out Live shots from the Foxwoods performance here