UNLEASHING HIGH-ENERGY rock and roll led by Steven Tyler’s vocals and the often dueling guitars of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, the members of Aerosmith have made their mark on the young American rock audience. Though today they regularly perform before crowds numbering 80,000, Aerosmith’s formative years were spent in poverty, living in the basements of Boston.
The band’s genesis came in 1970, when Steven Tyler joined forces with bassist Tom Hamilton and Joe Perry in Sunapee, New Jersey. In his previous band, Chain Reaction, Tyler had doubled on vocals and drums; Perry and Hamilton suggested he just handle vocals in the new band. Tyler recruited his high school buddy Joey Kramer, who was a drummer, and guitarist Ray Tabano to complete the lineup. Tabano was soon replaced by Brad Whitford, who had been gigging on nearby Nantucket Island with another group, Justin Tyme.
Sunapee, a small, sleepy town in south-west New Hampshire, was an unlikely place to launch a hard rock band, so Aerosmith moved to Boston, the nearest large city. They began gigging in high school auditoriums, colleges, bars, and anywhere else they could find work. “After we had been there for about a year and a half,” Hamilton recalls, “we suddenly had no gigs and no place to rehearse. The rent kept going up, and we had no money to pay our bills. All of a sudden, this guy let us rehearse in his theater for free, and through him we were finally introduced to our current managers.”
“It was really a classic case,” adds Perry, “and things happened just in time. I can remember when we had our eviction notice in one hand and a management contract in the other; we were really on the skids, trying to stay alive. We literally had no food or anything.”
Though still relatively unknown outside of a cult following in Boston, Aerosmith was signed in 1972 by Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, after he saw them perform at Max’s Kansas City in New York. They recorded their debut album, Aerosmith, in January 1973. Included on this LP is ‘Dream On’, which became a national hit three years later. Get Your Wings, the band’s second album, still did not achieve for them the success they had hoped for. “The media really didn’t take us seriously in the early days,” Tyler says. “They sort of looked at us as just another loud band, but we knew differently. And the kids sensed it, too. It just took a lot of time before we were recognized. Those early years were frustrating.”
In 1974 the band formulated the strategy of continually touring, hoping to become recognized city by city, state by state, until the entire country caught on. Late in the year the strategy began to pay off: Aerosmith was headlining such important venues as the Boston Garden and Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Their next LPs, Toys In The Atticand Rocks, were well received, finally bringing the band the recognition they desired.
Aerosmith was considered a major American rock influence by early 1977; their first four albums had each sold in excess of two million copies. The band slowed down its pace, staying off the road and spending nearly a year and a half to complete their next record, Draw The Line. Hoping to repay fans for their support, Aerosmith then went on a tour of small halls in May 1978. “We hadn’t done club gigs that small for a few years,” Perry says, “and it really felt great. For years and years we’d been playing hockey rinks, and we wanted to get back to a smaller situation. It felt good to get out on a club stage with only a few hundred people and get toe-to-toe with them, where we could get immediate feedback on how we were playing.” 1978 also found Aerosmith playing the largest shows they had ever done, the Texas World Music Festival and California Jam 2, which holds the world’s record for the largest paid attendance at a musical event with 207,000, and resulted in a live album of the same name.
Another side of Aerosmith was also seen last year when they acted the role of “Future Villains” and performed in the musical version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Aerosmith’s most recent release, Live Bootleg, is their first live recording. “We named it Live Bootleg,” Tyler explains, “because for years now people have been following us around, selling unauthorized posters, buttons, shirts–you name it–at our gigs. We’ve been bootlegged so many times that in a sense we felt like we would be bootlegging ourselves, too, by putting out a copy of us playing live. It’s a humorous statement, really. The album features material and experiences from all types of concerts we’ve played; it’s really the essence of the whole band.”
Now firmly ensconced in the American rock and roll scene, Aerosmith plans to continue their no-frills, high-energy approach to music. “We have a more general appeal to rock audiences than a lot of other groups,” says Whitford. “There’s a lot for people to identify with in our band. Steven is a very unique singer, Joe Perry and I have two different styles that guitar lovers can relate to, and Tom and Joey provide some of the strongest and most energized bass and drum work of anyone around. We’re just really high energy.”
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WHEN DID YOU START playing guitar?
I remember having a guitar when I was five. I messed around with them off and on, but I actually started playing when I was 15.
Did you take lessons?
I took one lesson from a guy, and then a week later when I was driving to school I saw a hearse in front of his house. He had died–so that was the last lesson I took. I don’t think it was because of me, however, because I’m sure I didn’t make that much of an impression on him. I just took it as an omen.
Where did you go from there?
I just played around and finally got into a band. I don’t remember the name of that first band, but I do remember I didn’t play guitar, because I wasn’t good enough. I sang. But after a while, I threw everybody out of the band and picked up the guitar and said, “I’m starting a band–does anybody want to play in it?” And that was it. I had different bands all around Boston–throw-together bands–and I used to work dances a lot. After I dropped out of high school, I had a factory job during the day and gigs during the weekends. And in the summertime, I’d quit work and go to New Hampshire and hang around with Tom Hamilton, and we had a band together.
When did you get your first electric guitar?
I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I think I was a sophomore in high school, and I got a Guild Starfire 5. I was very happy to trade it for a Gibson Les Paul when I had the chance.
Whom were you listening to on records when you were learning to play?
The Yardbirds, the Beatles, Roy Orbison, Ike & Tina Turner, Gene Vincent, the Shadows, and the Ventures–just anything I could hear.
When did you get your first “playable” instrument?
That’s when I got a gold-top Les Paul. It ‘s one of the first ones when they started reissuing them, and it had the single-coil pickups–the cream-colored ones. That was about ‘69 or ‘70, and I ran that through a bunch of Fender amps piled up; I’d blow speakers constantly. I sold that setup a long time ago and got a Les Paul Jr. I had never paid more than $500.00 for a guitar, except I got one good, really beat-up sunburst Les Paul in Nashville–and that’s the only one I ever paid more than $500.00 for. I would say it’s a ‘58. I figured it was about time I broke down and paid a ridiculous amount of money for a guitar, and I bought it two years ago for $2,000.00; I guess that same guitar would now be worth around $3,500.00 I believe that anything I buy I want to use so I didn’t go for one that wasn’t scratched or anything. Instead, I went for one that sounded great and felt great–and I didn’t care what it looked like. I used that guitar on the road, but when we went to Canada, there were like ten more cracks in the finish, and I figured the thing is too damn good to use, so I put it away. Aside from that, everything I have I play. If it gets damaged in the process, that’s the price you pay.
What guitars are you using currently?
I use a Fender Stratocaster–a new, left-handed one–a couple of B.C. Rich guitars, a 65 Fender Telecaster, and a couple of Dan Armstrongs. Actually, I have three B.C. Rich guitars–although I only use two–and I have three Strats onstage, with two of them as spares. Because I use a lot of different tunings, I have different guitars for different songs. Sometimes I use more, sometimes less. I have to have about 15 guitars on the road, just so I can have a spare for whatever combination of songs we want to do. And I need at least three Stratocasters, because they’ll eat strings for no reason. I break strings left and right, and sometimes I have to break the guitars in–and the next day, they have to be glued back together. All Stratocasters require a short breaking-in period; generally, a good whack against the side of an amp in a fit of rage takes care of it.
Why do you use a left-handed Stratocaster?
It sounds different and feels different to me. It’s just a subtle difference. And I know the way the pickups are set in there, and the way the tension on the arm is, and the length from the nut to the tuning pegs are all different–so it has to add up to something. It’s the most comfortable guitar for me, and it stays in tune better. The only reason I play it is for the vibrato arm, and the Strat has a certain unique tone.
Is that something you came across on your own?
Well, Jimi Hendrix [see GP, Sept. ‘75] did it, so you learn from the master–it worked for him. [Pickup designer] Bill Lawrence, who is our consultant now, never recommended a left-handed Strat, but I figured I’d give it a try. Plus, it looks really good–I like the way it looks upside down.
Have you modified it in any way?
Yes, a great deal. Stratocasters have never been satisfactory to me–the old ones are either too good or just visibly fall apart on the road. But they don’t stay in tune, and the new ones do stay in tune. So we started from there and worked on it every night – when I say we, I’m talking about me and Neal Thompson, who takes care of all the guitars–from tuning all 23 before each show to gluing Strats back together so they can be used the next night. The guitar has been shielded with this copper or aluminium paint, and we changed the electronics by putting Bill Lawrence L-220 pickups in. We rebalanced the neck and removed the neck’s back plate, putting four screws in there to balance it. And we did a few other tricks with the vibrato arm that I’m not going to mention. If you put this guitar up against a stock Stratocaster, you wouldn’t be able to play both of them using the same amp, because the signal-to-noise ratio would be so bad in the stock guitar. My Strat is as quiet as a guitar with a humbucking pickup. And I also put a brass nut on it, although the tuning heads are still stock, mainly because I haven’t found any others I like better.
What else is there about the left-handed Stratocaster that you like?
Well, one thing you have to avoid is trying to play real high, because you just can’t get up there. With a little practice you know where to go, but you don’t go for the real high notes. That’s why Hendrix had an octave machine, I think. [Ed. Note: See the Feb. ‘79 GP story on Roger Mayer for more on Hendrix’s octave devices.] It’s weird, because the tension is totally opposite–the low E string, instead of being the shortest, is now the longest, and the high E is now the shortest. Also, the angle of the strings over the pickups is different, and that has to do something. Every once in a while you’ll hit the tone control, because it’s right below your hand.
Do you like the Stratocasters with maple necks?
Yes, I like those better. They’re hard guitars to play. The new ones are undeniably stiff and hard to work around, but the advantage of the sound and the vibrato arm is worth the effort–once you start and get into it, you forget about it in two seconds. And then I go and pick up a B.C. Rich Bich, and it’s like wearing weights when you’re running and then you take them off.
Which Rich guitars do you use?
Well, right now I’m using a Bich, which is the 10-string guitar. Brad Whitford has a blue one, and I have a red one. I got it about four months ago, and I took the extra four high strings off. The guitar, played that way, felt so good and sounded so good that it seemed ridiculous to have those extra strings there. I might put those extra strings on for the studio, but right now the thing screams.
So the B.C. Rich and the Stratocaster are your main stage guitars? Yes. And for different tunings, I have Dan Armstrongs. I use them for slide–I really like them for that. And those guitars have been changed. All the guitars I own have been reworked–all the pickups have been changed. That’s how you can avoid paying more than $500.00 for a guitar. I have paid $700.00 for a new Strat, but that was out in the sticks when I needed one. Every-thing is going up, and I know I’m going to have to start paying more. Like those B.C. Rich guitars: I did pay for the first couple, because I didn’t want to endorse anybody until I really liked their product. And so finally I did endorse B.C. Rich, and he gave me a solid rosewood Mockingbird. It’s an amazing guitar. It’s so heavy! I did ‘Come Together’ [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie soundtrack] with it. which was live, and I used it for ‘Milk Cow Blues’ [Draw The Line], which is also live in the studio, so you can get an idea. But onstage it’s one step louder than everything else, so it almost has too much presence. And for that reason, I don’t use it that much onstage.
What tunings do you use?
Some of the guitars are just tuned down a whole step. I have to do this because of the way the songs are written and to get open strings. The other guys will just transpose on the guitars and change their positions, but I’ll play in the same position I wrote the song in. So I have Strats that are tuned down like that. And I have a tuning on the Dan Armstrong that I wrote the music to a lot of songs on, and that’s basically an A tuning for slide. As a matter of fact, I wrote and arranged the music to ‘Draw The Line’ on a 6-string bass tuned that way, and I wrote ‘Sight For Sore Eyes’ exactly the same way, and ‘Bright Light Fright’ [all from Draw The Line] also. I mean, the sound you get out of it is a killer, but it was just too much onstage–it took up too much room in the dynamic range. That’s what’s on the album, so you can hear the sound. And I wrote ‘Back In The Saddle’ [Rocks] on a 6-string bass tuned regular, as well as a couple of other songs on that album.
What kind of slide do you use?
Just one of those stock chrome ones. I don’t know where they get them, but they fit my finger just right. I use it on my ring finger, though no one ever taught me how to do it. I’ve been playing slide for quite a few years using both a straight tuning and an open tuning. Although I’ve played with a slide for quite a while, I have never used it onstage-and I don’t know why. I did use it on Draw The Line, when I wrote a bunch of songs with it. I’d play the basic thing on a 6-string bass and switch it over to a regular guitar. I guess it’s really the first time I’ve made use of it. But I’m not really too happy with the way it came out on the album. Live Bootleg gives a little bit better indication of what’s going on.
What kind of amplifiers do you use?
Music Man, which is the only other company I’ll endorse. I’m not sure what model I use, but we got the first prototypes about three years ago. In fact, I remember coming out of rehearsals for Toys In The Attic, and we went out on the road and got the Music Man amps then. We’ve been re-working them until now. We’ve put a graphic equalizer in the midrange and we have some-thing that will change the amount of top-end you want; it’s like a different way of looking at a midrange control. And all the guitars are set up to go in at line level–they all have cannon [balance line] plugs, so you can have 100-foot guitar cords and there’s no noise– none of that radio frequency interference you get with a regular patch cord, although I can plug in with a patch cord if I want. The Grateful Dead used to do that, but I don’t know of anybody else who does. Everybody is using wireless guitars now, and they’re picking up every CBer in the country. I think you get a lot of noise, and you lose tone in the guitar. I just know that when the guitar gets plugged in, you’re not going to have any trouble with anything. And with line level, there’s absolutely no noise. When we turn the guitars down, it’s really quiet onstage.
What other sound equipment do you have?
We don’t really spend anything on the show, although we should, because what’s a rock band without smoke bombs and flash pots, right? So being boring and quite unimaginative, we buy sound equipment in-stead. What I have is like a mini PA–it has ported JBL cabinets, and they’re designed to be in a 4×12 configuration. I have two JBL stacks, and they’re all redesigned cabinets and they all breathe incredibly. All are equalized for guitar, and we drive them with Music Man amps. And then it goes into this computerized effects box–in fact, what it’s like is a mini studio. It’s all computerized with these fail-safe things, so if anything breaks, you can take it completely out of the system with a flip of a switch. I have a compressor, an equalizer, a phaser, and a flanger–it’s all MXR stuff. But we’re changing a few things, because they’re coming out with some new stuff, and we get all the prototype things from them. In fact, they built a lot of components for us that aren’t stock. And I have an MXR DDL [digital delay line]. We have this guy who is into computers and slightly eccentric, and we tell him what we want, and he sets it up. I’ve never been happy with the echo units or any of that tape bullshit–and five months be-fore anyone ever saw the MXR DDL, I had one. As soon as I got it, I said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a preset so you could have three sets of controls going into the DDL?” So what we did, using LED meters and IC chips, is to preset all this stuff; the thing will flange and make a short delay and then a long echo. So, I have three different presets, and by stepping on a button, I can pick which one I want. It’s like having three different DDLs set differently. I also have a switch where I can leave whichever effect I want on and have it repeat and just play guitar on top of it.
How do you control it all?
It’s all contained in a foot pedal in the shape of an arrowhead, and the mike stand comes out of it. And I have a little black box that is the brain and tells what’s on and what’s not. It can be switched on from any of three places, and any other switch can shut it off. I have a switch right by my mike stand, and then there’s one right in the center of the stage; so if I want to put an effect on there, to use the talkbox with Steven Tyler, George can turn it on for me by my amp. Brad has a reverb unit instead of an airbag. It’s a German reverb unit, a Urei [11922 Valerio St., North Hollywood, CA 91605], that uses plates. I also use my own monitor system for my guitars.
What kind of cabinets do you use?
I’m in the process of changing, but I’m currently using Marshall cabinets–just straight Marshalls, and I’m throwing out the JBLs. I’ve been looking for a change. The JBLS are real clean, but I’ve been using them for a while. So what I’m going to do is plant a bunch of Marshall cabinets all over the stage, as well as two stacks in back of me, and have an amp running them all. The way I have it now, one master amp is set up in the back, so all I have to do is plug into the right places, and one preamp will control all of the output amps. And I can slave them out like that, so one control can handle all the monitors and everything. I also have lights built into the backs–and depending on what breaks on the amps, a light will go out, so the guys can fix anything immediately. Those are the kinds of changes we made–different impedance selector switches and all that stuff. And in the back of the cabinets we have those spring-loaded wires which can be pulled right out or plugged right in. I’ve had only five or six amp failures in the whole time I’ve used Music Mans–tell that to your Marshalls as they go up in smoke! Our crew usually breaks the record for takedown and shut it off back at the amp, I can. Also, I have the circuitry for my airbag [talking device] in there too; so if I want that, I just press a switch. Then the talkbox starts working, and it shuts off my amps automatically, so there’s no bullshit the only thing that’s coming out is coming from the mike. And then George, who hands me guitars and makes sure I don’t trip and fall and fends off bottles and firecrackers, is back there, and he can run the whole show. If I’m standing on the opposite side of the stage, and I want in every house we play in; they are the fastest in the country. We can get out of a place in a little over two hours, and that’s total: stage, our own truss, and sound system.
Basically, then, you just use Music Mans?
Those and whatever extra heads I put up. So now, I’ll probably have a Marshall cabinet in the front of the stage. I used to have an amp that would kill. It had all Gauss speakers, and it was in racks. But I was making up for a shitty PA, so I had my own PA onstage, and it tended to throw the balance off. Now we have someone working on it, and it’s a lot better. He knows a lot about guitars, and he knows how to get our sound–which has a lot of bass in it. The PA is incredible, but in any case now I can cut back on my onstage volume. So what I’m going to do is have short-throw cabinets I mean, the Marshalls go dead at ten feet, as far as what we’re used to. But the thing is, if I have another one at the front, I can have the feedback I want, and it should work much better this way.
How do you set your controls on the Music Man?
Right now, it depends on what guitar I’m using. The master volume is always on full, and I’ll change the channel volume depending on the guitar. If I have a B.C. Rich, I can turn it down. But if I have a Fender, I have to turn it up. That’s basically it. It wouldn’t mean anything to tell you how I have the midrange adjusted because it’s a custom setup, but I put the bass and treble at two o’clock. I take both of those switches off, although sometimes I’ll leave the treble switch up, depending on my mood.
Is this the same setup you use in the studio?
No. When I’m at the Record Plant in New York City, I use some Ampegs they have there–really hot Ampegs that sound a lot like Fender Dual Showmans. The Am-pegs are new ones, but they’ve been re-worked. I also use whatever I can get my hands on. I have a bunch of old amps myself that I keep in my basement–I also have a studio there. What we do is set up a wall of all the different kinds of amps we want and then see which ones sound good. Even in the middle of a song I’ll change amps, just to change it around.
Are you satisfied with your recorded guitar sound?
No. Well, a little bit, maybe. It changes. I’m happy with it sometimes, but it comes and goes.
What special effects do you use when recording?
I don’t go in for them much. I use a little DDL, and that’s all. What I like to do is to have the first signal come out of one speaker and the second signal come out of the other speaker. I don’t go in for flanging or any of that shit.
Is there a particular guitar you prefer using in the studio?
Whichever Stratocaster is behaving. But lately, it’s been the B.C. Rich. I used a Tele in ‘Draw The Line’ for slide, because I didn’t have any Dan Armstrongs at the time.
Do you like using Stratocasters for rhythm work because they are so clean?
It really doesn’t matter as far as that goes, because I like to make them sound pretty much the same. I played some tracks from one of the albums for the sound guy, and he swore left and right it was a Gibson– and it was a Strat. So to me, they might look different on the surface, but underneath they are all the same. I used the Rich Bich on ‘I Wanna Know Why’ [Draw The Line], but I like to use Strats for leads, mostly because I like the vibrato arm.
Which guitar did you use on the first album, Aerosmith?
I think it was a Stratocaster. And then I used Gibsons and that ‘65 Ide on Toys In The Attic. Again, you have to remember that all my guitars are reworked, and it’s strictly how they feel to me that determines which I’ll use, because I can doctor the sound the way I want it. That’s why I like the B.C. Rich guitars, because they feel so good to play.
How was the Telecaster modified?
I changed the pickups and got the shielding together. It’s not that those Bill Lawrence pickups are so much louder; it’s just that they’re so clean–you can boost the shit out of them. I have Bill Lawrence pickups on every guitar. I used to use DiMarzio pickups and in fact I think I did an endorsement for them recently. DiMarzio let me down sound-wise, however, so what can I say? I still use their pickups in a few axes: They have a distinctive sound, but Bill’s are more versatile.
What kinds of strings do you use?
Bill Lawrence strings–they’re the best. They’re stainless steel, and they have a hexagonal wire underneath the wound wire. For some reason, the windings stay tighter.
Do you work for specific runs when you solo?
I suppose so. Whatever you can hear and pick up. I suppose I play in the same positions just about every other rock guitar player plays in–they all grew up about the same time I did. But it’s just what you do with it, since it’s all the same notes in the same positions. All the people I’ve talked to learned basically the same way. There’s nothing special. I’ve never considered myself that much of a guitar player. It’s been an uphill fight for us with the total non-recognition of the band. So we’ve been doing it our own way for a long while. And I’ve learned a lot from Brad, because he’s a little more schooled than I am, and he’s learned from me, because of my roughness. So it’s been good playing with him for those times when he’ll start being more innovative than I will, and it will make me turn around and push harder. There’s no stagnancy with him, because he’s always on the move.
So you like working with another guitarist?
With Brad, because he keeps moving along. He’s written some good songs, and he definitely has a different style and outlook on music than I do. But the basic things are the same, so it balances and works well. That’s one reason why we’ve stayed together and been really happy with the way the band is going.
Do you think you and Brad work in a similar way to Ron Wood and Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones, where one guitarist keeps the rhythm, and the other plays off that?
I don’t know how they work; I’ve never met them. I really don’t know how they do it. With us, it depends on whose song it is, what the riff is, and things like that. Brad will come up with a riff–on top of the riff that I write–and it might end up being the catch phrase of the song. That kind of stuff always happens. Or, he’ll take a lead naturally, because he knows that’s where I’ll leave it open. There’s never a problem of who’s going to play a lead where. I don’t think we even actively discuss who’s going to play what. The only reason I’m captioned the lead guitar player is because I write many of the songs–so the press is going to pick up on that. But actually, onstage, I may take the lead more in starting songs or something like that, but basically we play the same amount of lead onstage. They probably see me up there singing with Steven, and that’s why they say that.
Do you play much acoustic guitar?
I have one, and I just leave it around the living room for a conversation piece. It’s too limited for me, although I like to play around with it. The last time I went to Jamaica, I took one along and wrote some songs using it–because if that’s the only guitar around, you’re going to play it. I made myself do that, and I came up with quite a variety of songs.
Do you practice?
Yes, but I go through phases. A lot of times I don’t even want to look at the guitar, but other times I’ll sit down and play for hours. Sometimes I’ll get up at four in the morning and play for eight hours. I’ll go down to my basement and probably write something, because I really don’t get off too much on practising. I have drums and a bass down in my basement studio, and some of the tapes I’ve gotten out of there have been totally insane. But I learn a great deal by doing that, because I can eventually get the sound I want–I can sit down there and mess around with it. I wrote all the songs from Draw The Line down there. So I’ll present the band with a tape, and they can take it or leave it. If it catches Steven’s ear–and he can come up with some lyrics–then we’ll make it work. The same way with the other guys: They’ll come up with tunes, and we’ll get together and work out the parts. Take, for instance, ‘Bright Light Fright’ [Draw The Line]–I brought it to them complete with words and everything. It wasn’t totally done, and I said, “Do you want to do it or not?” They said no, so I had to coerce them into doing it.
Are there any particular solos which you have recorded that you like better than others?
Well, I basically like all of them. And if not, I have Jack Douglas [Aerosmith’s producer] fix it. If I don’t like something, I’ll work on it until I get it right. But I’m pretty much satisfied with my licks. There are a few I don’t like, but usually I can come up with something. I’m happy I can come up with something that is unique enough so that I like it and would enjoy hearing it more than once. I’ve written songs where I felt like, “Thank you, but I don’t want to hear it again.” In my solos on our first album, I can hear how stiff they were and how much I’ve changed. But I don’t listen to those much– that was five or six years ago, so what can you expect?
Do you feel your playing changes when you move to the studio from the stage?
Oh yes, definitely. You’re in a totally different atmosphere when you’re in the studio. What I try to do live is feel as free as I do in the studio, and it’s hard to do that when you’re concentrating on the show. A big part of our show is the energy–convey-ing the energy and that’s not too conducive to accurate guitar playing. I mean, there are people who play great live, but you’ll just see them standing there. So you have to strike a balance. I could stand in front of my amp and use a small Fender and play my ass off, but I don’t think it would be as much for the crowd or for me. Once in a while, if you catch me on a good night, I’ll play my ass off, but that’s how the band is set up. A lot of people have complained about the band, because they’ll see us on a “bad” night; they say it’s bad because we don’t play a lot of songs like we did on the records. There are a number of recorded leads which, if I sat down and tried to learn them, I still wouldn’t get them right. And that’s no lie–it’s a fit of inspiration. And you do something, and then you have to sit down and learn the thing–and I still won’t get it right. On the other hand, it might be something that I want to change because I’ve heard it enough.
Do you like your performance on the California Jam 2 album?
Yes, it was okay. But I don’t like most of the live recordings we’ve gotten, probably because of what I’ve already said–the energy thing is different when you’re sitting there listening to it as opposed to being in the audience or being onstage.
What about the Sgt. Pepper’s album?
I liked that a lot. I was amazed that [producer] George Martin let me do it, be-cause we didn’t even rehearse the song ‘Come Together’, and we didn’t even listen to the album. All I did was remember how it used to sound when the Beatles did it, and the other guys listened to it a little bit, just to get the bass down. We just went into the studio and started playing it. And about the tenth time through, I said to George, “Listen, what do you want?”–because I would play it halfway straight and then I’d play all these different kinds of weird things. And Martin said, “Do whatever you want you’re doing fine.” I didn’t know what the hell he had in mind, and he left all that stuff on there. Some of it I like, and some of it I don’t–but it’s all live. I did it with the B.C. Rich, and he left it pretty much the way it was. So I liked it for that. It reminds me a little bit of the first Jeff Beck solo album, Truth [Epic, BN 26413]. It was fun working with George Martin, but I was expecting him to come up with a lot more songs. Apparently, however, he liked what he heard. And I have to admit, we were flattered that he dug it. We finally took the best performance, which we got on about the twelfth take.
Do you have any desire to put out your own guitar album?
Yes. I was going to do it last year, but Draw The Line took too long to finish. I was writing a lot of stuff in my basement, and I was ready to do it. The only reason I’d do a solo album–even though I’d probably have everybody in the band on it–is just to have complete control. But I do pretty much what I want with Aerosmith–I do a solo album every time I do an Aerosmith album. Everybody does it. If I come up with enough material and songs over the course of time, I’ll put one out. I was talking about doing the album with my manager, and he said, “Well, when do you want to bring it out?” And I said, “No, it’s just the opposite: It’ll be ready to come out when it’s done.” So over the years I’ll probably put something to-gether. I’m going to call it Guitar Wars. I’ll probably do it in my basement. I have a Scully [138 Hurd Ave., Bridgeport, CN 06604] 8-track–a 30 ips machine–a Scully 2-track, an Audiotronix [Box 84, Mentor, OH 44060] board, and big JBL cabinets biamped with a 22-band equalizer. It’s all on remote control, so I can play the drums or something and control it myself. And I have a 3-channel cueing system. It’s a good studio, and I can do records down there if I want.
Do you feel that your playing is constantly improving?
Definitely. As far as Draw The Line goes, that was a hard album to make. It took us a year to finish, because we had car accidents and a lot of physical abuse. It was a long album to do–and we heard too much of it, and we were too into it. We did some tracks in different studios, so it was all spread out and wasn’t as tight as I would have liked. But I think our best playing has been on Rocks. It really stands out. There’s a lot of playing on Draw The Line that you can’t hear. But you’ll notice a difference on Live Bootleg, because we play a lot of songs off of Draw The Line, and you’ll hear how much crisper they now sound.
What are some special things you do that other guitarists might not do?
Well, I don’t like to brag, but I do hold the North American Conference record for “highest thrown strats” and also for the “most smashed”–five in one show. Sometimes, I play two guitars. I have my Rich on my back–all plugged in and everything– and while I’m using the Strat, I’ll leave it there. Also, I have this switching box with LED lights, and I have about five guitars plugged into it, so whichever switch is hit, I can pick up the corresponding guitar. Now I’m working on playing all five guitars at once.
© Steven Rosen, Guitar Player, 1979