Joe Perry of Aerosmith accepts the Les Paul Award during the TEC Awards at the NAMM Show in Anaheim on Saturday. (Photo by Nick Agro, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The video montage that was played Saturday night just before Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry accepted his Les Paul Award at the 32nd annual NAMM TEC Awards was a valiant attempt to quickly encapsulate the massive career and impact Perry has had on the music industry. Presented to a packed ballroom at the Anaheim Hilton were a lengthy list of prestigious awards, groundbreaking albums and moments in rock history spread over nearly five decades.
The 66-year-old musician and songwriter joins the ranks of guitarists Slash, Pete Townshend, Steve Vai, David Byrne, Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Sting, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and many others who have been honored with the Les Paul Award at NAMM.
The evening, hosted by actor and comedian Sinbad, also celebrated the best in professional audio and sound production, with 31 awards given in the creative and technical categories.
Perry’s thank-you speech was short and sweet, including shout-outs to his wife and kids. Actor Johnny Depp, Perry’s longtime friend and music partner in crime, presented him with the award, humbly admitting that “Joe Perry is the reason I picked up guitar in the first place.”
After setting down his trophy, Perry performed a few songs with the help of Depp, fellow Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford and Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert DeLeo. They were joined by shock rocker Alice Cooper, who plays with Perry and Depp in the band Hollywood Vampires. They blasted through Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” its cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and the Vampires’ original “As Bad As I Am.”
Before the show, Perry sat down for an interview in which he talked about owning more than 600 guitars and the time he first fell in love with a Les Paul guitar.
“I had seen pictures of Jimmy Page and (Eric) Clapton playing them, and then I saw Jeff Beck playing one live, and I sat in front of him in this small place in Boston and watched him play it,” Perry recalled.
“The next day I was determined to get one, and it wasn’t too much longer after that I actually sat down and I had it in my hands and I thought, ‘This doesn’t sound like Jeff Beck.’ That was it. I remember picking it up and it felt incredible.”
Perry had formed a friendship with Les Paul, who died in 2009 at age 94. Paul was a great innovator and a genius performer, Perry said, noting that because Paul played, he had an understanding of what was needed onstage.
“When the first Les Paul came out, everybody looked at it and went, ‘Hmm. Is this going to fly? It isn’t hollow,’’ he said. “Meanwhile you have Leo Fender running neck and neck with Les Paul on the West Coast, and arguably those are the two most influential guys from where I sit in this century because they basically invented a new way for us to express ourselves.
“People had been putting microphones on guitars and figuring stuff out, but no one did it the way they did it. Fender had more like the Henry Ford version, and of course, Les Paul went at it more like the Mercedes-Benz.
“It was as important as Tesla, Edison or Ford or any one of those guys that took technology to another level. So, to have an award that’s named after Les Paul, well, it doesn’t get any better.”
Perry, who said Hollywood Vampires is looking to do some shows and possibly work on a new album in the next year, noted that working with Cooper and Depp, as well as a slew of other famous names on the project, has been great.
“It’s always great to play with guys that are just doing it because they love to play and they have the talent to do it,” he said. “Johnny’s studio is like a living room with recording stuff in it. It’s a great place to hang out, and everyone sits on the couch and talks, drinks and smokes. You start just fooling around on guitar, and the next thing you know, you turn on to record and it’s just such a great vibe working on a record with those guys.”
As for Aerosmith, Perry said, the group is scheduled to get into the studio in February to revamp the live show for its upcoming tour. They’ll be changing up songs in the set, reworking some older material for the international dates and looking to announce some domestic dates soon. Last year, there were several rumors that 2017 would mark the farewell tour for Aerosmith, but Perry said that was mostly just talk.
“We talked about it, and I think someone had a microphone on,” he said. “It’s hard to keep a secret these days. I think the enormity of what it really means to do a farewell tour means that there has to be a last gig, and I can’t picture a last Aerosmith gig. I think that dawned on everyone when it got really close to talking about a farewell tour, so we just kind of shelved it.
“But we are near the end, so who knows. We may get to the end of this run in the States and say, ‘Let’s hang it up.’ I just don’t know. Right now we’re booked solid in Europe and we’re planning on touring the States through next spring, so we’ll see what happens.”