Tales of Toys and Toxic Twins: Aerosmith

SPOOL BACK four years to the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel on America’s sun-kissed East Coast and I’m sharing a sumptuous afternoon repast with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, a pair of rakish polar opposites whose notorious shared past of cavalier excess and chemical over-indulgence had earned them the self-explanatory appellation of The Toxic Twins.

Lubricated with alcohol-free beer and animated beyond reason, the implausibly gregarious Steven Tyler is characteristically holding court. Countless bangles rattle as his flapping hands accentuate further his rapid-fire, evocative tales of the Bostonian institution’s “full-tilt bozo” daze of Herculean narcotic ingestion and serial alcoholic oblivion. And it swiftly becomes clear that we’re sharing the company of a singularly domineering and utterly unstoppable force.
No sooner has another morsel of industrial-sized shrimp disappeared into the crimson recesses of his inordinately capacious cake-hole than he resumes once more with his inexorable, loose-lipped discourse. It’s all fascinating stuff, granted, but what of his partner in infamy?

Poker-faced Joe Perry squints enigmatically into the blazing sun, and occasionally allows himself the rare indulgence of a wry smile, as Tyler’s uniquely colourful vernacular sinks yet further into licentious profanity.

Perry will offer sporadic, measured insights into what it is that actually makes Aerosmith tick but, as in the live arena, it’s Tyler who jealously guards the interview’s centre stage.
Yet while Steven Tyler is unequivocally a practiced raconteur par excellence, one cannot help but feel that it’s his relatively silent partner in crime that truly holds the crucial key to the enduring and fascinating conundrum that is Aerosmith.


JOE PERRY, the unyielding rock to Steven Tyler’s flamboyant roll, has been honed by the passing years into the ultimate embodiment of guitar-slinging dandy swagger. His stately demeanour and Southern European lineage (his father’s family hailed from the Portuguese island of Madeira and his mother’s from Naples) have coalesced perfectly to present an image unavoidably reminiscent of a street sharp Cosa Nostra. And with his slight, sinewy stature, sharply tooled features, ebony black, oil slick tresses and diamond hard gypsy eyes, he positively redefines impenetrable subterranean cool.

Fifty-two summers since his birth in Boston, Massachusetts, and thirty-two since he initially hooked up with the former Steven Tallarico to form Aerosmith, he’s marking the release of the band’s extensive, double-disc, greatest hits collection ‘O, Yeah!’ by granting Classic Rock an eye-opening insight into the inner workings of Aerosmith, America’s greatest band.

A fascinating saga of paradise lost and paradise regained, stretching from the band’s humblest beginnings to their world-beating renaissance of the present day. It’s all here, from their highest highs to their lowest lows, so read on, as Joe Perry adds some extra tasty flesh to the rawest bones of Aerosmith’s greatest hits.


NEW YORK-born vocalist Steven Tyler was holidaying at his family’s privately owned Trow-Rico resort in Sunapee, New Hampshire during the summer of 1970 when he initially bumped into Joe Perry, then working in the local ice cream parlour.
Tyler had already released a brace of singles (‘When I Needed You’ with Chain Reaction and ‘You Should Have Been Here Yesterday’ with William Proud And The Strangeurs) and Perry was playing guitar in the Jam Band with bassist Tom Hamilton. The three swiftly hooked up, and after recruiting drummer Joey Kramer and guitarist Ray Tabano, toyed with the idea of calling themselves The Hookers, before finally settling on Aerosmith.

You’ve said that when you first got together with Steven you assumed he was already a rock star purely by the way he looked and acted, so were the rest of the band somewhat intimidated by his relatively broad musical experience?

“Well, not only is he extremely talented, but he already had a song on the jukebox at the hamburger joint we used to hang around, so he was two years farther down the road than we were. Tom and I were still in high school when we first met him, still wondering if we were going to go to college, but Steven had already made the commitment to being a musician and had reached a certain level of professionalism. Also, when you’re 17 and 18, 19 and 20 is a big jump.”

Did he ever take advantage of the situation and tend to be quite artistically dictatorial?

“Well, we kind of welcomed it, because we were in a very raw, rough state. Steven’s father was a musician, so he had some classical music training in addition to his natural talent. He came from a very musical family and would put on little skits at his father’s summer cottages to entertain the guests. He was used to doing that stuff from the time he was a kid, so it all came very natural to him, but I came from a family that barely had a stereo in our house.
“So when he came into the band his ear was a little more finely tuned. What he saw in us was this kind of rough, raw, rock ‘n’ roll thing that he was missing, or at least had been missing from the bands that he’d been in before.”

Aerosmith played their first gig at Boston’s Nipmuc Regional High School in late 1970, and following a set exclusively made up of hand-picked cover tunes from such formative band favourites as The Yardbirds and Rolling Stones, a fight broke out between Tyler and Perry over the volume of the latter’s guitar amp.
In the sage words of Tom Hamilton: “So began an Aerosmith tradition”.

Right from the very beginning there seems to have been a certain degree of competitive antagonism between Steven and yourself, is this internal friction integral to the band’s essential chemistry?

“When you’re first starting out, you’re trying to make a name for yourself as well as your band, so there’s a two-way thing going on. Over the years you realise your true strengths come from everybody working together, but you’re still always trying to top what the other guy does, and that’s what makes the sum of the whole greater than its constituent parts.

“If you can keep that competition healthy, you can use if for inspiration, like if Steven comes up with a great lyric or a great piece of music I’m going to want to top it and vice versa. It works to your advantage… as long as it doesn’t break the band up.”


AFTER A relentless round of toughening, tightening and touring, Aerosmith – their classic line-up now in place following the departure of Ray Tabano and arrival of Brad Whitford – were finally signed to Columbia Records for a reported $125,000 by label boss Clive Davis, after he caught the band’s live show at New York’s Max’s Kansas City club in August 1972.

Do you remember anything of the night’s celebrations?

“God, I know we stayed up all night, but we weren’t looking down the road. We simply celebrated that night and that was it. I don’t think anybody thought that everything was going to be fine from now on, and that we were going to have a thirty-year career just because Clive Davis said so. We still had to get up the next day and get to the next gig, so we just took it day by day.”

Destined for inclusion on the band’s eponymous debut, recorded the following year with producer Adrian Barber, ‘Mama Kin’ was a song that Steven Tyler had so much confidence in that he even went along to Eddy’s tattoo parlour in Providence, Rhode Island and had the words ‘MA KIN’ etched onto his left bicep beneath a winged heart.
“I loved that song so much,” the vocalist admitted later, before adding somewhat generously, “I stole the lick from an old Blodwyn Pig song”.

Did you share Steven’s confidence in ‘Mama Kin’?

“Not in any particular song. I felt the band was incredible to play in and play with, but I didn’t hang it up on any one song. The night those guys went out to go get tattooed, Steven felt that that was an appropriate thing to put on his arm. And as it’s turned out it seems to have stood him pretty well.”


AEROSMITH’S BREAKTHROUGH single ‘Dream On’ had its genesis four years prior to the band’s formation. Steven Tyler had written its original melody back in Trow-Rico, and after adding lyrics that exemplified “the hunger, desire and ambition to be somebody that Aerosmith felt in those days”, he finally presented it to the band midway through the sessions for their first album.

There was only one problem: Joe didn’t like it.

Steven has stated in the past that you were never particularly fond of ‘Dream On’, so what was not to like?

“Back in those days you made your mark playing live. And to me rock ‘n’ roll’s all about energy and putting on a show. Those were the things that attracted me to rock ‘n’ roll, but ‘Dream On’ was a ballad.

“I didn’t really appreciate the musicality of it until later, but I did know it was a great song, so we put it in our set. We also knew that if you played straight rock ‘n’ roll you didn’t get played on the radio and, if you wanted a top forty hit, the ballad was the way to go.

“I don’t know if we really played it much live, in those days if you only had half an hour to make your mark, you didn’t play slow songs. So it wasn’t until after it became a single that we really started playing it.”

‘Dream On’ peaked at number 59 in the Billboard charts in December ’73, and on its re-release in April ’76 not only rose to a far more creditable number 6, but also furnished the band with their very first million-seller.

Yet ‘Dream On’ was to cause yet more friction between the Toxic Twins before it was done, in the live arena Tyler was often driven toward abject apoplexy when faced with the sight of Perry laughing heartily with his wife Elyssa during the song’s intro.


AEROSMITH’S OUTWARDLY sure-footed ascendancy toward global fame continued apace during the 1970s. But behind the increasingly gargantuan sales figures enjoyed by Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic and Rocks, the band’s seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm for high-octane boozing and the cavalier ingestion of life-threatening narcotics was gradually spiralling out of control.

“I’m an addictive personality,” Tyler confessed, “I’m high-strung and impatient. I’ve got to have everything yesterday.”

By the summer of 1977, Aerosmith had become peerlessly indulgent: “We were drug addicts dabbling in music, rather than musicians dabbling with drugs,” Perry latterly admitted.

Silver chalices loaded with cocaine and entire cases of vintage wine were regularly polished off and a chainsaw was employed in the routine decimation of hotel suites. Extension cords were demanded to ensure that TV sets actually exploded when hurled from balconies into swimming pools and, as car crash followed house fire, the band’s capital rapidly dwindled along with, not only their ability to perform but, most tellingly, their internal camaraderie.

“A lot of times we really sucked,” remembers Joe, “but we’d stopped giving a shit.”

Toys In The Attic pretty much exemplifies the craziness that surrounded your most overindulgent days, was there ever a time that you felt dangerously close to completely losing your mind?

“I don’t know if I ever felt that it got out of control; maybe I was delusional. Maybe if you were standing on the outside there were times that it looked like we were losing it, but I never felt like we were out of control. That’s one of the hazards of that kind of a lifestyle.

“Much later on, when I decided to get clean, I’d realised that that way wasn’t working anymore, not artistically, musically, functionally or emotionally. So I knew there wasn’t any other alternative than to get clean. At least it was worth a try, because I figured, if that doesn’t work, you can still go back out and drink and do drugs. But that was much later on, during those days in the seventies, I never really felt like we were off the tracks.”

The Toxic Twins’ relationship was already locked into a chemically hastened freefall by the time that they recorded 1978’s Draw The Line album, but it wasn’t until the following December, halfway through the sessions for Night In The Ruts, that the situation finally came to a head.

Following a bizarre backstage incident in Cleveland, Ohio – during the course of which Elyssa Perry (who’d taken to using cocaine as eye-liner) threw a glass of milk over Tom Hamilton’s wife, Terry – Joe walked out on the band citing ‘musical and personality conflicts’ with Tyler.

When you split from the band in ‘79 were you pretty much resigned to the fact that Aerosmith’s days were over?

“There was a feeling in the air when I split, I was getting so much tension from being around the band that it wasn’t fun anymore. I turned a lot of the energy and angst into fire and dynamics, and it worked for a while, but in the end it just felt like more trouble than it was worth.

“Anything seemed better than having to get back together in a room and try to keep the band together. And also, there were other things in my life – that didn’t have anything to do with the other four guys – that weren’t right. So I just felt it was time to move on and try something else.

“I didn’t think much past taking a band out on the road and playing without all the agita, headaches and freak-outs. And in the end it solved a multitude of problems: I got the chance to sort out my personal life, and it gave everybody the chance to re-evaluate themselves and find out what it was that we were in the business for in the first place.

“It was a painful way of doing it. If we’d been saner, we’d probably have just taken a vacation and saved everybody the trouble of breaking the band up. But that’s the way we did it, and it worked.”

Just three months later, Brad Whitford similarly announced his departure from the Aerosmith ranks, and yet the band continued to soldier on with raw recruits Danny Johnson and Jimmy Crespo. If Night In The Ruts was a disappointment, then its successor Rock In A Hard Place represented nothing more than a lacklustre career trough. Without the electricity that formerly crackled between Tyler and Perry the band, now viewed as little more than an archaic anachronism by the international post-punk Zeitgeist, were sounding increasingly like an entirely spent force.


BY 1983, Steven Tyler – having snorted his entire fortune – was living in abject poverty and squalor in New York City’s Gorham Hotel and, hoping to score a generous dope deal on the Lower East Side by virtue of his familiar face, was ultimately rewarded with a gun in his mouth and stripped of his rings.

Meanwhile, the Joe Perry Project – following a brace of poorly received albums – had gone their separate ways, and the Whitford-St. Holmes Band, Brad’s short-lived collaboration with ex-Ted Nugent sideman Derek St. Holmes had pretty much ground to a halt.
Consequently, and more out of necessity than anything else, the classic Aerosmith line-up reconvened at the Boston Orpheum in February ’84, buried their differences, and decided to reform.

When you rejoined for the Back In The Saddle tour, how confident were you that you could pull it off, after all, even though you’d stopped drinking, Steven was still in an almost permanent state of near collapse?

“Well everybody comes to terms with that demon in their own time. But everybody’s hearts and spirits were in the right place when we put the band back together. We ultimately realised that the band was where the strength lay and it was too great a gift to ignore.”

How was morale, was the mood entirely celebratory or was there an undercurrent of chemical-fuelled resentment still bubbling beneath the surface?

“Oh, I’m sure there was stuff, but we were willing to put it aside. The Back In The Saddle tour gave us the platform to put everything back together – there was a fan-base who were excited to see us play again – but we still had to come to terms with our own personal demons.

“The other thing we had to deal with was ‘how are we going to make this work in the ‘80s?’”


RUN DMC, an influential rap crew from Hollis, Queens, had been unravelling their rhymes over the decidedly funky beats of Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ for some years.

Its evocative tale of teenage defloration, allied to an infectious Joe Perry riff inspired by the finest works of James Brown and The Meters, featured an irresistible hook-line lifted wholesale from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and was particularly well-suited to a contemporary, hip-hop makeover.

A live favourite, ‘Walk This Way’ originally appeared on 1975’s Toys In The Attic and had previously reached the American top ten in January ’77. It was an FM radio staple, no more, no less.

But Def Jam label supremo Rick Rubin, currently riding high on the enormous chart successes of both LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, immediately recognised its enormous crossover potential. And, after frenzied negotiations, Tyler and Perry agreed to appear on both Run DMC’s pivotal cover version and its outstanding accompanying video.

‘Walk This Way’ not only returned the Toxic Twins to the upper echelons of the U.S. singles chart, it also afforded them their inaugural U.K. hit.

Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ provided an enormous shot in the arm for Aerosmith, you were suddenly perceived as pioneers of the rap/rock crossover, but did you have any idea of the import of this landmark recording at the time?

“I don’t think so, we really didn’t. To me rap sounded like an offshoot of the blues, so it seemed like a very natural thing for us to come in and play on it. Especially when we saw how they were using bits and pieces of rock records to rap over. It seemed like a very natural way for the music to go, so when Rick Rubin said ‘come on over and sit in’ we thought ‘this seems like another adventure, let’s see how it turns out’.

“It was pretty thrown together, but as it turned out it really did seem to set the course for the kind of music that’s popular today. I wish we could take credit for looking at it like that, but we really didn’t.”

The utterly crucial kick-start that Walk This Way offered Aerosmith’s temporarily stalled career even saw it adopted as the title for the band’s peerlessly confessional memoirs (co-written with Stephen Hammer Of The Gods Davis and published in 1998).

Was working on the Walk This Way autobiography a cathartic experience? Did it encourage a greater understanding within the band or did it simply open old wounds by raising issues that had previously been swept under the carpet?

“All of those things are true. It was cathartic in some ways. Doing the book exorcised some final bits and pieces of internal strife that needed to be dealt with, but there were other things that I think we would have been better off not talking about.

“It was kind of tough but, going along with the spirit of the book, we felt that we had to treat everything with the same microscope. But if we were to write that book now, it would be a different book. I think our outlook on our pasts has changed, and today we’d be more forthcoming about some things, and less with others.”


WITH AEROSMITH seemingly returned to the status of serious contenders by the unprecedented international success of ‘Walk This Way’, there was a single, seemingly insurmountable, stumbling block that continued to stand in the way of a full-fledged career renaissance; their shared chemical dependency.

The band seemed irretrievably locked into a self-destructive spiral that could only reach its logical conclusion in the bone-yard, with Tyler regularly collapsing onstage and the entire band living in total denial of their myriad addictions.

With their latest Done With Mirrors album flopping badly, and its attendant tour collapsing into chaos, band manager Tim Collins (also strung out, but thankfully harbouring just enough foresight to recognise that the end was nigh) made contact with addiction specialist Dr Lou Cox through Alcoholics Anonymous, and offered the band a simple ultimatum: clean up or die.

Getting clean was clearly essential for the band to survive. If Tim Collins hadn’t issued an ultimatum and enlisted the help of Lou Cox do you think the band would have ever taken the initiative to get sober?

“I really don’t know. I did make an effort to stop drinking during the Back In The Saddle tour, so there was a feeling that something had to give, but I don’t know if it would have ever become a whole group thing. What scared the shit out of us was that, although we had the band back together, we weren’t able to write a song to save our lives. So we were already primed for a change.

“It was just such a simple idea, but it wasn’t within our grasp to think of it like that, because we were always such a party band with a tear-down-the-walls attitude, so for all of us to all do it at once, I don’t know if it could have happened.

“So, if you look at the big picture, whatever good or bad Collins did (the band sacked him as manager in ’96 after he falsely accused Steven Tyler of falling off the wagon), he was amazing for having that vision at that time, because he was in the same boat that we were.”

Has sobriety now become completely second nature or is staying clean an ongoing battle that you’ll have to face for the rest of your lives?

“I think everybody has to deal with it in different ways, but I can never go back to that way of life, I just can’t.

“You have this thing called euphoric recall where you remember how much fun you had when you used to do it, but you can’t really remember the hangovers so well, so I have to spend a little time once in a while thinking about those things: remember the depths that you can get to. Naturally, you don’t want to live in all that pain, you just want to remember what fun it was.

“So, from that point of view, it’s always with you. But as a day-to-day thing, it’s not like I wake up in the morning and think ‘God, I wish I could have a drink today’. I just don’t. I did get used to having a beer in the morning and finishing the day off with a shot of Jack Daniels or two, or three, or four, or ten, and it did become my way of life, but when you don’t live that way for a long, long time, you simply don’t think that way.
“I’m very comfortable with drinking non-alcoholic beer, I still wake up at twelve and go to bed at three in the morning, it’s just that I now manage to live a lot more in between.”


AEROSMITH’S TRADEMARK stylistic collision of New York Dolls androgyny, piratical Rolling Stones swagger, and scarf-draped bordello sleaziness, developed organically on the mean streets of New York City in 1972.

“Across Newbury Street,” recalls Tyler, “was an antique boutique called Caprice where we bought all our clothes, jewellery, earrings, whatever we needed in the way of looking cool. If it was on the racks at Caprice, Aerosmith wore it – black lace, feathers, whatever.”

Mix and matching their existing hand-me-down hippie chic with garishly glam, Carnaby Street imports, over-the-top, thrift store transvestism and what Tyler liked to call “our air of snotty, defiant arrogance”, Aerosmith casually concocted what has since been widely adopted as the ultimate rock star look.

Has Aerosmith’s singular dress sense always been based in grass root street fashion or have you ever employed a stylist?

“No, it was always an amalgam of whatever we could get and pick up along the way, whatever was trendy in those days. I mean, people would come back from England with bits and pieces of clothing, and we’d go ‘that would be great’. Sometimes we’d sew our own stuff, or have our girlfriends do it. That was about the closest we ever got to a stylist.”

But Aerosmith’s flamboyant sartorial affectations weren’t always without their practical side, Tyler’s scarf-draped microphone stand, for instance: “Some of them had pockets sewn in,” confessed the singer, “and I’d weight them with Quaaludes and Tuinals. That way I wouldn’t run out.”


HAVING FINALLY slain the debilitating dragons that they’d been chasing for well over a decade, Aerosmith set to work on a series of albums (Permanent Vacation, Pump, Get A Grip and Nine Lives) that further substantiated their claim to the title of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.

There seemed to be nowhere else to go, no further ambition that remained unfulfilled, when their tear-jerking rendition of ubiquitous songwriter Dianne Warren’s ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (from the soundtrack to Armageddon) supplied the band with their first chart-topping single and the most successful recording of their entire career.

The enormous global success of ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ set Aerosmith’s reputation in stone and seemed indicative of the fact that you’d come back from the brink stronger than ever. Was it written specifically for Aerosmith because it does seem to be tailored perfectly to the band’s style?

“Well, I don’t know if Dianne’s first thought was Steven, but she did write it for the movie, and aside from the fact that Liv (Tyler, Steven’s daughter by Bebe Buell) was in it, the producers had already decided to use other pieces of Aerosmith music on the soundtrack. And I mean, Steven sang the shit out of that song. I don’t know if Dianne originally pictured him singing it, but I don’t think it was offered to anybody else.”

But isn’t it a little galling that your biggest hit to date is a cover?

“Well, yeah. But, at the time, we just didn’t have the time to settle down and do it. We were out on the road, so they brought us in to see the movie and said ‘here’s the song, this is where it fits into the movie, you can do it if you want’.

“So we were in the studio within the next three days cutting it. And yeah, we do wish that we’d had a little more time, so that we could have had a shot at writing it, but like you said, it was perfect timing. The song was great, people loved it, and I don’t think people care that much who wrote it.”

Surely there’s an underlying irony in the song’s title. Didn’t memory loss rob you of some of your proudest Aerosmith moments?

“Not really, I remember most of the bigger gigs. We weren’t that out of it. There are certainly other periods of my life that have kind of blacked out, but I remember the first time we played Boston Garden, I remember the first time we played Madison Square Garden (opening for Black Sabbath in May ’77). I remember it just as well as when we played Wembley last time we were in England.

“You’d think that, given the history of the band, it would all be just one big blackout, but though there are periods when it’s just kind of a wash, it seems like a lot of the important stuff is still pretty much in the foreground.”


CONSIDERING THE chequered history of Aerosmith, it’s almost incredible that the entire band survived into the third millennium.

Do you consider that survival itself is one of Aerosmith’s greatest achievements? After all, drugs killed the New York Dolls, a band whose attitude closely mirrored your own. Why didn’t drugs similarly kill Aerosmith? Was there an extra ingredient within your make-up that kept you together and functioning, or was your seemingly superhuman endurance simply down to lashings of dumb luck?

“Really a little of both, speaking for myself, I’ve always felt like I’ve had an inner survival mechanism, I’ve always made that decision not to have that last drink, or do that last bit.

“Even when I was young, and before I started pushing the edge with chemicals, I felt that I had this drive and this survival instinct, so that’s built in, but then there’s the X factor of like, how come I didn’t roll my Porsche? I’m not a great driver. That part of it is dumb luck, I think. It’s just fortunate that I didn’t push it that one extra step.”


AEROMITH’S LUST for life seems utterly unquenchable. It’s exceptionally rare for a band to sound quite so vibrant whilst plunging forth into the fourth decade of their career, but as last year’s Just Push Play collection perfectly illustrates, Aerosmith’s enduring potency seems utterly immune to the dictates of time and tide.

You’ve pretty much achieved every goal possible for a band, so is there any ambition that remains unfulfilled? Ultimately, what is it that drives you onward when you could quite simply rest on both your laurels and bank accounts for the remainder of your natural lives?

“It’s like you just said, our longevity is part of our achievement. We were downstairs in my basement yesterday rehearsing, and it’s such a fulfilment of the dream. We were down in the basement like kids, sixteen-years old, making noise: electric guitars, bullshitting, having fun and making rock ‘n’ roll.

“We’re constantly going ‘I can’t believe we’re still doing this. This is like, amazing’. And, it sounds so trite to say it like that, but after all is said and done and all the ‘How did you do this?’ and ‘What did you do there?’ it’s still really about five guys, just getting in a room, playing music and having fun.

“It’s funny to watch my son who’s fifteen and has a band, they’re all about fifteen or sixteen-years old and over the past few months they’ve actually started to sound like a band. But for the fact that we have a few more miles under our belts and we can tune a little better, that’s all we’re doing. Going down there and trying to impress each other and imagining there are girls in the room.
“Making rock ‘n’ roll, that’s all it is, but that’s everything.”

© Ian FortnamClassic Rock, 2002

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