Aerosmith guitarist Perry gets Les Paul award at NAMM

(Jesse Grant/ Getty Images for NAMM)

It’s little wonder Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry was the 2017 recipient of the Les Paul award at NAMM, the annual music and technology convention, held in Anaheim, California, at the weekend.

At the NAMM TEC Awards, Hollywood Vampires bandmate and actor Johnny Depp presented Mr. Perry with the honor, calling him “his hero” and “the reason I picked up the guitar in the first place.” Alice Cooper, who co-founded the band with Mr. Depp, joined them onstage for a few songs, much to the delight of attendees.

Mr. Perry, 66, talked exclusively with The Washington Times about the honor.

Question: In previous years Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson and Neil Young were award recipients. What does receiving this mean to you?

Answer: I was a little taken aback at all the heavy hitters who have also gotten this. It really hit me how prestigious it is to be on this list as a recipient. My good buddy Slash has also received it. I was very excited to be recognized in this way.

Q: Do you like playing intimate venues?

A: I like both [large and small], though the smaller places are more fun. We are all music fans to start with, and I prefer to see guys play up close. Of course, I remember the pre-Woodstock days when some of these bands that we love made their names as superstars in 500- to 1,000-seaters. There is a reason for that.

With all the bells and whistles that go along with huge arenas, there’s no kidding around in a smaller venue …. You are hearing what the musician is hearing. That’s as good as it gets.

Q: What’s the creative process like with the Vampires?

A: Well, we are all friends and we do hang out together. Alice asked me to come and sit in and play on the album. It was like, “C’mon, twist my arm.” I have known Alice for years, and Johnny has gotten to be one of my best friends. We have jammed in his studio and worked on a lot of my solo stuff. The vibe was so relaxed and laid back.

The theme of the record was paying homage to the musicians that have passed away. It was a lot of fun to play; there are so many great songs. I love all that music. It was like being in someone’s living room and there is a microphone there. Johnny’s studio is his cave.

It was one of the least stressful experiences in my career. Absolutely no pressure, with no nagging from a record company, just putting down whatever I could to help the project along.

Q: And when they asked you to go on the road …

A: It was like, of course, are you kidding me? The next thing I know we were off and running. It’s really about doing what we love to do. Playing those classic songs and breathing new life into them is just great.

Q: Will there be any new songs?

A: Alice has a new record coming out. We are talking about doing another tour next year. It’s really about lining everybody up; between Johnny’s schedule and Alice’s, and me with Aerosmith.

But considering all the miles all of us have, it’s not like there is a lot of baggage. As long as we have guitars and amps, we are good to go.

It’s not like Aerosmith — that’s a mighty machine, but trying to steer it, it’s not exactly fast on its feet.

Q: You are from Portugal, yes?

A: My uncle had a Portuguese guitar [which] looks like a ukulele. It was homemade. Every Christmas, he would take it out from behind the couch and play a few Portuguese folk songs. That was my first exposure to a stringed instrument with frets. I was always fascinated with it, as far back as I can remember.

It obviously had a huge impact on me. I would love to know more about my background, considering how much time we spend in Brazil. We are going back there to tour.

Q: How has Aerosmith has stayed together for over four decades?

A: It’s interesting, you learn so much about people and human nature, especially when you work so closely like that. [Aerosmith lead singer] Steven Tyler and I probably, more than any of the other guys, would still go on an adventure every now and then together away from the band. It doesn’t have anything to do with music.

We have the same taste as far as adrenaline rushes. Probably what we love doing the most is scuba diving. Going in the ocean [has] been a common theme in our relationship for years.

While our tastes have changed [and have] both done solo things and work with other people … we both recognize that we do our best work when we are together. And that proves itself to be true, almost every time we play live.

I don’t know when and if we will do another record, but I know that when we go out to tour, there is something so new and fresh about revisiting songs that we wrote 30 years ago. You start to realize that people don’t change very much in the way they think and create. In some ways, we are closer than we would ever be to our families.

On the road, we have gone through some pretty strange times [such as] planes getting grounded or being stuck in a snowstorm in North Dakota. We are out there, seeing and doing things, and experience them together.

That’s why when I stand there and look at the other guys onstage, and we are trying to create excitement, it almost feels like we are playing for each other, and the audience is coming along for the ride. Audiences change so much over the years.

Q: How so?

A: You realize that you are not the same age as your audience. That’s a big one. And once you get over that, if you are lucky enough to keep the band together and play songs, then you can get used to that generation thing that keeps changing.

Music excites me now as it did when I was 19. It’s the same with Steven and the other guys. So it’s the window dressing that goes with it, in staying up with the times.

And you don’t throw clothes away, because you know it’s going to come back in fashion!

By Susan L. Hornik — Special to The Washington Times