It might seem a bit gruesome at first blush, this idea of paying tribute to the dead rock stars who once populated Hollywood’s dens of iniquity as hardcore denizens of the dark. But when legendary Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, erstwhile actor Johnny Depp, and the progenitor of shock rock Alice Cooper teamed up as Hollywood Vampires last year, the mood became far more celebratory than somber.
The Vampires picked their favorite tunes by deceased rock icons, many of whom had been friends – or at least, drinking buddies – back in the day, called a bunch of friends to round out the rhythm section, pulled in a few superstar cameos – some guy named McCartney was one of them – and tracked a glittering hard rock debut.
Jeff Miers spoke to Perry by phone a few weeks back, just as rehearsals for the tour were commencing. Here’s how it went.
Q: Playing the most recent Grammys last February with Hollywood Vampires felt, from the fan’s-eye view, like a victory for guitar-based rock ’n’ roll. We don’t hear much of that at awards shows these days. It cleared the air. How did it feel from your side of the stage?
A: It felt like you described it. Loud and raunchy and really energetic. How much more fun can you have than playing music you believe in with your friends?
Q: You’ve been doing some tracking for a solo album, and I know you’ve been joined by some amazing singers, including Terry Reid and Iggy Pop. When might we expect the album?
A: I always write when I’m on the road, and I always have something to record on, so lots of ideas are born in hotel rooms, or on the bus, or whatever. But the road is the road – the recording studio, when you’re not touring, is an entirely different animal.
This particular collection of songs started out as an instrumental album, but it grew and grew, and being out here in Los Angeles, all of these great singers are in the neighborhood, y’know? And they’re all friends. So this has turned into a really special event. I recently had Robin Zander (Cheap Trick vocalist) in working on a tune, and it’s turning out to be incredible.
I have a lot of material, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with it all. This latest batch of solo stuff – if it sounds like something that will work with Alice in Hollywood Vampires, or if it sounds like something for Aersomith, or if it’s something I’m going to put out on my own – it’s all music that will see the light of day, no question about it. I’m just not sure what form it will all take! (laughs) Times have changed.
Q: A lot of actors like to think that they’re musicians, but Johnny Depp seems to be a different case. When did you first realize that he’s the genuine article, that he can actually play?
A: Do you know the film “Chocolat”? It’s one of my very favorite movies. I’ve watched it an awful lot. In that movie, he plays guitar, and he’s really playing, not miming. Tasty stuff.
Johnny loves music. It’s his passion, it’s his life, maybe even more than acting is. And he’s the kind of person a guy is lucky to call his friend.
Johnny’s also got an incredible guitar collection, and a recording studio where I’ve worked laying stuff down. I was working on some demos at his studio, and he said ‘I don’t think you’ve done your best solo work yet – I think you’re best solo work is still ahead of you.’ That inspired me, incredibly. I really have Johnny to thank for motivating me with this new project. He’s a great guitar player and a great guy.
Q: The version of “Come and Get It,” featuring Paul McCartney, on the Hollywood Vampires album is face-meltingly good stuff. That had to be a pretty special day in the studio.
A: The whole time we’re in the studio together, I’m sitting there remembering being 14 and watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I mean, he’s the reason I’m even doing what I do, y’know? I couldn’t believe it was really happening. Even now, I still can’t believe it. He just comes strolling in like another guy in the band, but … he’s Paul McCartney! (laughs) That was a highlight of my musical life, no question, and the rest of the guys felt the same way.
Q: I have to ask about Aerosmith. I first heard (1976 album) ‘Rocks’ when I was not yet a teenager. The marriage of funk and hard rock changed the way I thought about music. So, of course, I often dream of Aerosmith returning to that initial funkiness that defined the band. Is there hope for the future?
A: After this Vampires tour, we’ll see.
Aerosmith has a few dates booked, and we’re talking about going out on a full tour next year. I’m always hopeful and always open to it. But I take it one day at a time.
Whatever is happening, I play every single day, no matter what. I don’t want to sound morbid, but these days, I take absolutely nothing for granted. I’m anxious to work. Where that takes me – we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hey, I really want to take the opportunity to offer a shout-out to the Buffalo fans. You guys have always been great to us. You were one of the first big markets for Aerosmith, and the support over the years has never waned, and man, I appreciate it more than I can say.
I really hope people will come out to this Hollywood Vampires show – it really is a special band, we have a lot of fun together, and we’ll pay tribute to some of the guys and gals in the music business that didn’t make it to the present day. I promise a kick-ass show!
By Jeff Miers for Buffalo.com