ENCAPSULATED VERSION: five-piece group from as near to Boston as matters bust their balls and abuse their bodies digging their way out of the grime and grind of the bar circuit to get The Word on vinyl.
By the grace of God, persistence, and the basic size and all-boys-together taste of the United States of America (not to mention passing through each and every one of them with alarming frequency to remind them who you are) the group get their men, and women, and more women, and young male fans who treat them like big brothers, people to haul their suitcases and score their dope, and rooms like this one in L.A.’s L’ermitage hotel, and if not the respect of the World’s Press, at least their ears.
I’ve been summoned by someone from CBS International (who’s insisting on dragging me away from an afternoon of heavy metal great-outdoors music at the LA Coliseum, not to mention devouring my last box of Tic Tacs) to the hot exclusive interview with the band who are headlining this very stadium tomorrow, Aerosmith. The excuse is that they’re coming to “win you over” in Britain (was going to be sooner than you think, now postponed because the creative juices are flowing, and why go touring with an old album when you can get a new one to plug).
Possibly a plot to win over at least one member of the British Press in advance with devilish charm, good quotes and offers of expensive suspicious substances? Not being in quite the right age/sex/sensibility bracket to champion their music, at least it was a good way to start.
L’ermitage is one of those apartment-style hotels with potted plants and full bookcases and kitchens, designed to make you feel at home (assuming your home has a computerised door key, wall-to-wall carpets and a balcony overlooking a uniformed doorman taking number 32’s poodle out for a pee). Tom Hamilton, blond bassist, is playing host until Steve Tyler is ready to make an entrance. Hamilton is polite, obliging, the sort of person who thinks about each question carefully and weighs his words giving an answer.
Tyler skips in wearing a boyish grin and positions himself at the head of the room on a large wicker chair, tucks his feet under him and is ready to face any question I care to throw at him. He’s an interesting mixture of the deliberate and the impetuous. Sometimes you think he’s got the answers all prepared, and other times he comes out with statements that, were they printed, he’d probably regret later (or more likely the writer would do the regretting – do they flatten female reporters’ noses?) We talk about the embryonic album.
“It’ll be between our first album and Rocks“. Tyler defines the upcoming LP: “Like if you turn it up loud enough, you can hear the blood pumping through your veins – a rougher, grab-everything sort of sound.”
Steve assures me it will be a ball-buster. Tom goes along with that but prefers to emphasise its instrumentation, the songs, all those sort of details. Joe’s Perry and Kramer and Brad Whitford are not around to venture any opinion, being either out, or out cold. This is the group that did an I-got-stoned-and-I-missed-it through Rod Stewart’s recent nuptials. All in the cause of upholding the basic ethics of rock and roll Life On The Road, naturally (or rather, unnaturally). Could you expect less from America’s Number One Peoples Band?
THEY’VE FOUND themselves a new producer. Jack Douglas has been given his gold watch and Gary Lyons (1st Foreigner album, Crawler, Trillion and Queen appear on his resume) has been brought in (along with a booking at the Great Outdoors Caribou Ranch for laying down the basic tracks) as the “Little bit of fresh air” Tyler reckons they need. When Draw The Line, the album before the live one, hit the stores, there were some who said that rather than a little breath they needed a bloody tornado.
Draw The Line, ’77’s annual Aerosmith album, came after years of non-stop touring to keep up in the more-than-platinum class. Not exactly a favourite topic of conversation with the lads, who seem to think it an aspersion on their manhood and devotion to their fans if you suggest for one minute they couldn’t take the pace, it’s referred to as their “nuts period”.
“Touring is a bitch.” Tyler says it with a smile. Believe it if you like. “You know, we’ve been touring straight for five years up until two years ago. And when I say solid I mean solid. I can remember freaking out with Kramer, wanting to get two weeks off in the summer, like please can we have a break.”
Quickly adding: “But then we got hung up on not touring and being home, and it was like a different way of life. Imagine being on the road for five years and then going home. You roll over on your bed and you dial room service! It’s really nuts.”
“It’s nuts being home for a couple of weeks, because you start feeling restless. After a few days of sitting around”, says Hamilton, “I start wondering why nothing’s happening. It’s a conflict between dying to get off the road and not being able to live off it”. He says those last words like he means it; he really can’t live without the touring.
“The thing is, it’s so easy and it’s so much fun and it’s such a ball-buster and it sucks, all in the same mouthful.” Tom: “It all adds up to good rather than bad.”
Steve: “It does, but if you’re out there for more than two to three months – we used to go out for four months in a row, go back home for a week then go out again. Even though we have security to take care of our every beck and call nowadays, if we get fucked up on cocaine or don’t know where our suitcases are, which has happened a bunch of times, it’s still such a nut to wake up in a different town every day, you know, suitcases in the hallway in ten minutes boys, and if someone should happen to have a couple of grams of blow around and you’re up all night after the show, you’ve still got to get up there and deliver. Or you get the ‘oooh, what’s the matter with you; you too old at 31?'”
Tyler leaves the room, finding my last cigarette has already been bummed, in search of items mentioned above, and Hamilton elaborates somewhat on that period when the road and the hotels and the dope combined to get them several months off at home to cool out. Draw The Line, which led to the band being accused of laziness and more, took a year and a half to make. “Usually we take two, two-and-a-half months”, Tom offers by way of comparison.
Surely spending so long on that one record was bound to lead to self-indulgence. “Oh absolutely”, says Hamilton. “That could have been one of the aspects of it. We were kind of riding the wave of the last two albums, and we weren’t going about putting it together with quite as much fire. But we learned our lesson from that, and this one – everybody’s getting really into it. We thought we’d put this one down really fast – faster than our first couple of albums.”
TYLER HAS returned, and is leafing through a Japanese rock mag to discover a full-page pin-up of himself. Suspicious white powder is neatly arranged on the monochrome nostrils as the rock star prepares for life-on-the-road panacea. Talking of which, with the relative lack of success of Draw The Line (relative, because out here they’ve never dropped below platinum) it was decided that the famous five should leave their homes in the Boston suburbs and hideaways in New Hampshire, and in the words of a Draw The Line song, try to Get It Up again.
The strategy involved a Back To The People tour of the US via small theatres and clubs. When I last saw them in LA they played not the 18,000 seater Forum but the 3000 seater Santa Monica Civic, and an anonymous gig at the small Starwood club. A good move – not only for morale and for guaranteeing maximum interest, but as a kick up in the backside to the music. The double Live Bootleg album recorded mostly on that tour tells the story.
“Put yourself in a situation where the fans are so close they’re blowing smoke in your face”, says Hamilton, who obviously got a kick out that tour himself. “Just throw yourself into a new environment that’s radically different and something’s got to come out of it. What we were looking for was to go back and remember some of the excitement of the smaller gigs – not that there’s any lack of it at the big ones we do”.
Adds Tyler: “It’s not as toxic as it is in a small club though. That’s the difference. The kids are right there and your adrenalin goes crazy. That’s really from whence we came, same as any band. And if you get back into that, it’s like a new head again, like playing the rat houses and shit like that which we used to do trying to make a buck way back when.”
Hence the working title of the new album: Night In The Rats, referring to the dives they used to play in the formative Aerosmith years, the feel of which they’re trying to recapture. That small venue tour really regenerated the old batteries, because once they’ve whisked that one out they hope to start on an eighth album by the autumn. Producer Lyons is treated almost with awe.
“He’s excellent and he does it real fast – like he’s playing an instrument he’s practised on all his life, He’s that old English type fuck-it-put-it-there”, Steve explains. Elaborates Tom: “We’re going for a more focussed sound on the instruments, more separation, less adding tracks upon tracks; a little bit drier sound.”
Steve: “You mean wetter sound. Dry is produced. Wet is loose.”
Steve: “You know what wet means. You’re married for chrissakes!”
BUT PAUSE as the hotel walls fall away to reveal Sunapee, New Hampshire a decade ago. Tyler spent part of the year mowing lawns and digging ponds on his father, Victor Tallarico (a pro pianist)’s small resort in Sunapee, the rest of the year running with a street gang in Yonkers. The proverbial Teen Rebel, Tyler’s gang later turned into a rock band.
He met Joe Perry when the latter was in the Jam Band, a group that played its own material, and the former in a slick New york group that played Beatles covers. Joe was an improviser, Steve a more deliberate perfectionist. They fought from the word go. Joey Kramer was kicked out of high school for being more interested in rock and roll than the finer points of education, spent half a term at music college before dropping out for good to join a rock band; like another rock fan Brad Whitford. Tom Hamilton was a typical teenage rock fan from the middle of nowhere.
“I came from a real small town in the country”, says Tom, “and one of my only ways to really get off was to – “
“Jerk off behind the barn” (the ever-young Tyler, who else?)
“Well after that – “
“Play at the barn and jerk off afterwards – “
“Was to get my favourite new Beatles or Stones or Who album and play it about 20 times. Every weekend I could I went to concerts in Boston. The equipment trucks outside – even that would give me a big rush. I’d go ‘wow, dig those trucks!’ I don’t think I ever saw a band in that period of time that I thought was bad, because the whole electricity of the situation got me off. I think maybe I was more excited about the prospect of me in the future being up there where they were.”
Aerosmith formed in 1970 and moved to the nearest big city Boston. “We used to play at navy officers clubs for all these straights”, Tom remembers. “We’d go in and play our own stuff and rock out.” Which caused a few problems because they were employed to play top 20 covers.
“We had a theory way back then”, continues Steve. “We had a fella who booked the bands I was in way before Aerosmith. He used to book us into college gigs and fraternity houses. That movie that Belushi just did (Animal House) was taken from Bonesgate at Dartmouth College, where we used to play all the time, a row of fraternity houses. When I saw that movie – a guy driving up into the house on a motorcycle and kids lapping it up – that was nothing! They really did that, with parties going on in the basement, and we were upstairs ripping off their razors and everything.”
“A lot of people remember it by being in college”, adds Tom. “We remember it by playing the colleges.”
“Our theory was”, Tyler resumes the tale, “that we could either make some money through this guy booking us into the frat houses, or we’d do the clubs. They hated us at the clubs! Because we did our own songs and the owners would go, ‘ooh but the kids can’t dance to it, they don’t know those things.’ The problem was they would just stand there in awe! They wouldn’t dance so they didn’t drink. So the owners worked it out, since we were doing our own songs the kids aren’t dancing so they won’t get thirsty and won’t buy drinks.
“It was all the songs off our first album, like ‘Walking The Dog’, ‘One Way Street’ – if those aren’t dance songs I don’t know what are. So we said fuck the clubs and did a lot of college stuff. The rest of the time was rehearsal. And eating a lot of canned soup and brown rice.”
AT THAT time they all lived in one small apartment in Boston. Joe Perry kept his hand in as chief cook. And they hit upon the Aerosmith Sound. “When I first joined the band and we started putting songs together for the first album we all knew we were going to break within a year. It may sound big-headed but we all really did believe that. Just by what we were doing – the kids were really getting off on it. They were songs just right for playing live. It’s like what James Brown does for the black people – like a rhythm thing incorporated with a good stage thing and a lot of energy, good lyrics and fun – “
Tom interrupts: “A big part of our music is the humorous aspect to it – ours is just for fun”. Steve: “We knew we wouldn’t have to use theatrics and all that shit to get an instant rapport with the audience. And that’s why it came to be known as the People’s Band”.
One thing you can say about Aerosmith fans is that they’re devotedly loyal to the group. Aerosmith are particularly proud of their “one-to-one rapport with them”, something they claim to maintain even though they put up physical barriers around the stage at arena gigs to prevent too much intimacy. A just-folks attitude keeps coming up. The band are back to playing massive arena dates this summer (the California World Music Festival at LA’s 100,000 capacity Coliseum is the start of several similar weekends in the States) but say they “worked out a bunch of things” so that “the kids don’t get ripped off – now we have the back screen projection and half house speakers on a delay that feeds to the rest of the house – so even if they’re not in the front they can still hear and see us.
“We were really pissed off doing Pontiac for instance. We got there and, honest to God, you could have flown a fucking aeroplane in that stadium. While the band was on before us we walked round. We got halfway around it and the fucking stage – the only way you could tell it was a stage was because there was this little bit lit up. We weren’t having that again. The kids couldn’t see us and the sound system wasn’t big enough.” Tyler is genuinly disgusted; a real it-hurts-me-more-than-it-hurts-you stance. On another note they also bailed out fans arrested for smoking at another of their gigs.
BUT WHAT about the difference in age and status? Aerosmith fans tend to be teenagers. Both Hamilton and Tyler are married, the latter with a child. Says Tom, “You just have to remember where you came from, not forget it and let it go by.”
“My first marriage was to rock and roll” states Steve grandly. “So this is really my second marriage. I always wanted a kid and I always wanted a wife. Now I’ve got them. It’s down to that old saying: think young and you look young and all that shit. That’s all you got to do. It doesn’t really change. I’m my own person, and I think the kids can read that in my face. Arid you have to remember I can’t even get beer in airports! I don’t look like a 31-year-old man”. He smiles a boyish grin to underline the point. “I can’t believe it myself. I don’t feel old.”
“All you have to do”, says Tom, “is sit down and think back to what used to go through your mind and how you used to feel when you were young like that. That’s not hard. They feel how I used to feel and that gets me off. That simple pure naivity – we still put that in our music…And we don’t challenge our audiences to mature as we do. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, we want to do a mellow album and we want you fans who have grown with us to accept it’. We know that’s not true. It’s important to try new things, but it’s bad to go out on a limb and expect that your fans will accept it no matter what.”
By all accounts their fans accepted the Sgt. Pepper fiasco. They got a hit single out of it. Their only comment on that matter – other than the fact that movie offers are still pouring in for photogenic Tyler to turn down because “they haven’t been quite right yet” – is that they were “a little disappointed in the movie” but felt their part was “great”. But done in by Master of MOR Peter Frampton?
Tyler is in hysterics, so Tom answers: “We went through that part of the movie carefully to make sure it didn’t come off too much like Peter Frampton directly overcoming Steve Tyler physically. When he and Frampton were having that little bout, the heroine, who was tied up and got free, kicked Steven off. It was two against one.”
“I rolled backwards”, says Steve. “I thought it was good, just that little section that we did.”
“And it gave us a hit single” concludes the wise Tom Hamilton. “No-one”, adds Tyler, “beats Aerosmith”.
© Sylvie Simmons, Sounds, 7 July 1979