On January 19, 2018 Joe Perry released his latest solo album. Curiously entitled Sweetzerland Manifesto, the record is a hard rocking release featuring the once-coveted Terry Reid, who is best known for his “almost” moment making musical history as the front man of Led Zeppelin. He turned it down due to other commitments, but suggested Page use a vocalist by the name of Robert Plant. Reid’s collaborations read like a who’s who of some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest artists and once Joe Perry knew he was living nearby, he called him up to come sing on the record. Other vocals on the album include Gary Cherone (Extreme), David Johansen (New York Dolls) and Robin Zander (Cheap Trick).
It’s easily Joe Perry’s best solo album, even though it features two instrumentals out of ten altogether, which – let’s admit it – we usually tend to skip over in exchange for fiery, harder rocking tunes, or vocally powerful ballads. And it’s hard to say that, knowing that this was supposed to be an instrumental album. That said, the album has received critical praise from a number of publications. This may be Perry’s proudest moment of his life, partly because he worked on this album with two of his sons, Roman and Tony, but also because he has a new Hollywood Vampires in the works, one that features Alice Cooper on vocals. He will be touring again with the Hollywood Vampires from May 24 to July 25, 2018.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s doing only three shows with “Joe Perry and Friends,” presumably to support the new album, first at the House of Blues in Boston on Wednesday, then coming to the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Thursday and wrapping up in Altantic City on Friday. To say that he couldn’t be busier would be an understatement. But there is a sort of excitement – exhilaration even – in his voice. We talked with him this week in advance of the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom show and here’s what he had to say.
Alright, what’s the story behind the title of your latest solo album, “Sweetzerland Manifesto?”
JP: Okay, well I’ll give you the short version. We were trying to figure out the name of the album and I came up here – to Johnny Depp’s place, on Sweetzer Avenue where he has a recording studio. Johnny has this little enclave here in West Hollywood, and there is a vibe here like nowhere else. Johnny is a musician and a seasoned actor. He’s a really talented artist. Whatever he does he just goes all the way, but I’ve gotta say, he’s a musician first. That said, the vibe here is so creative, even though you’re in the middle of West Hollywood, it’s kind of like a state of mind. There’s writers, movie directors, musicians, painters, comedians – all different kinds of people coming through. And from time to time there’s just nobody here. There’s a vibe here that is just very creative. So the guys that hang out up here, so we kind of call it “Sweetzerland.” So my road manager, John Bionelli suggested Sunset Manifesto and I kind of liked that, but then “Sweetzerland” came up and that sounded perfect because it is a state of mind up here and so that’s kind of what the record represents.
So you’re sort of transferring that (vibe) to the record?
JP: Well, it’s the other way around. I didn’t think of it like that until the record was done. I kind of realized a manifesto is kind of like a statement. Thinking about the record it was a name that just sort of fit. It’s kind of an inside thing, but that’s how it evolved.
Your boys Roman and Tony were both involved on the whole album. What was it like working with your sons?
JP: They both come at it from different directions, you know. Tony’s been in a band with one of his older brothers. They were in a band called TAB the Band. Then they did an album called “Deadbeats.” If they’d kept at it, I think they would’ve been able to make some noise. So, Tony comes at it from being a guitar player and having been on the road and he’s more of an engineer and producer. And Roman plays live and he’s a DJ sometimes. So he comes at it that way. When we get them both in the studio it’s really a riot. They don’t hold anything back and I’ve learned a lot from them through the years.
Well they kind of bring a new generation or a new generation’s perspective to the music, right?
JP: Definitely. Everything from what they’re playing and what they’re listening to, to asking how about this track or what about that riff, or what about this riff?
You wrote an instrumental, “Spanish Sushi,” with them on this record.
JP: Well that, and there are a few songs that aren’t on the CD that won’t come out until the vinyl, and there’s this one that Gary Cherone sang on and another that Chris Robinson sang on. They weren’t done in time to make the CD, but this is going to go on the vinyl which should come out this summer. And one was written with Roman and one was written with Tony. We finished up the music in London when Aerosmith was on tour this last time. We had some days off in London and I rented a studio and I flew these guys over. My manager called up Gary and said, “listen to this track.” I thought it was killer. Then Chris Robinson sang on the other one written with Tony. I came in and said, “don’t change a thing.” So it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot from them.
That goes both ways. Right?
JP: Well, I don’t know if they’ll admit to it…..(laughing)
This is the first time that you’ve done the guest vocalist thing. Why did you select these individuals to be on the record? In particular, David Johansen?
JP: Well with David, we’ve known each other for years, since the beginning. The day I met him was at Max’s Kansas City when we were down there doing a showcase for this record deal and he came into the sound check to meet us. We had the same managers. Then we went to see them play that night in New York. So we go back a long way. Record producer Jack Douglas was living down the street at the time and he’d stick his head in the door and I’m always down here in the studio. And he’d come in just to see what’s going on and he said, “on a couple of these songs maybe David Johansen would be interested in having a go.” So he called him up. We’re all friends and so he came in and sang.
Same with Terry Reid. I remember hearing about him from the late 60s, there was this guy everyone was talking about. Jimmy Page wanted him for Led Zeppelin. Most people don’t really know who he is but they sure remember hearing him sing. He’s got an amazing voice. I didn’t know Terry lived here in Palm Springs. He came out here and that was the first time I met him, but I knew he was an incredible singer and he picked out some songs and
belted them out. So it was that kind of a thing. I just kept playing the tracks and they would pick out a couple that they liked. And I have to say most of them work. The songs they picked were really suited to their style. If I tried to do that again, I don’t know if it would come off the same.
As a follow up to that, what made you select the musicians that will be performing with you on this 3-date “Joe Perry and Friends” run? We talked about Gary Cherone but what about Charlie Ferren? It’s been a long time since you’ve worked together.
JP: Well, we’re doing a show in Boston and in the spirit of the gig, I’ve kind of been moving up the short list of musicians I can play with that I don’t have to start with pretty much from scratch. But when you are working with guys that are of this calibur…they’ve all done studio work and it’s a whole different vibe, the band that plays together. So, whenever I get some time off, I have a list of people I can call and if they can make it, they can make it. This is just part of that. Like David Hull, he’s from Boston. I met him in 1970 when Aerosmith first got together. He was playing with Buddy Miles back then. He played with me on my first three solo records and toured with me. He’s one of the best bass players I know.
When I put this band together I kind of looked around to see who was available to play this. By the same token, the keyboard player is the guy that plays keyboards for Guns & Roses for years and years. He’s going to be on keyboards. We’re bringing a couple guys from here – from the West Coast. But it’s really going to be a fresh Boston kind of show. And since I haven’t done a solo gig in Boston for a long time, with this kind of a record, it seemed perfect to ask Charlie Ferren to come and sit in and sing. So I’m going to do a couple things with him and Brad (Whitford) is going to sit in. Barry Goudreau. There are going to be some other guests coming in too. It’s going to be fun.
How will you select a set list for these shows? Or are we going full-on Jam Band….? No pun intended….
JP: (laughing) No, we’re going to do a few songs. Gary really wants to do “Seasons of Wither.” It’s one of his favorite Aerosmith songs so we’re going to do that, and we’re going to do a couple of songs that Brad and I really locked up on, so there will be three, four or five Aerosmith songs, there will be four or five from the new record, and then some Project stuff. I’m going to do “Let the Music Do the Talking” and we’re going to pick and choose. I have to think that people coming to the show are going to want to hear some of that stuff. We’re going to get up there and kick ass.
Do you think there will ever be a Joe Perry Project reunion?
JP: I don’t know. Well, the thing is Ralph Morman just passed away. I think the original drummer Ronnie Stewart also passed away. So I think this is the closest we’re going to get. It actually is a project when you pull this thing together and you look up the exact definition.
Do you think you’ll release another album with the Hollywood Vampires?
JP: Yes, we just finished writing a new album. Alice (Cooper) is going to be putting some vocals on and it should be out this summer. We’re touring. We’ve got four or five dates in the states starting at the end of May and then we go overseas and I’m hoping (happy?) that a couple of the songs will be done before the tour starts. As soon as I get done with these three shows I’m coming back here and Alice should be here. He’s scheduled to come into the studio. We’ll get it done as soon as we can.
How is it different to play gigs like these upcoming shows versus the Hollywood Vampires?
JP: Alice is probably one of the nicest guys and hardest rocking front men I know and he’s a great entertainer and he’s got an incredible sense of humor. He’s really easy-going and all he wants to do is get up and play. This gives him a chance to really play rock ‘n’ roll outside of the Alice Cooper thing. He still has that image. It’s never going to go away. If we take a little of that off of him…because we talk about the Yardbirds all the time, about how much that band influenced us. But he’s got that Alice Cooper persona. That’s also him. He brings a little bit of that to the vibe – and really, he’s the original Hollywood Vampire. So he’s ready for anything and he’s great. Johnny Depp is like playing with an old friend. Greg, who plays with Alice, is probably one of the best drummers that I know. Tommy Henriksen, who plays with Alice is also one of the main songwriters so me, him and Johnny wrote most of the record. In fact, after the show at the Roxy here, where I showcased my solo record, the next day, I went back in the studio and started working on the Vampires record. In a month we had about 10-12 songs. So it’s been nonstop.
It must be hard to switch gears like that.
JP: Well yeah, I had to make an adjustment to make it a little darker because that’s a Vampires thing. But that’s what keeps it exciting. A little harder rocker and a little bit darker is the best way I can put it. I think the record goes down a little different.
How did your health scare (during a performance with the Hollywood Vampires) change your outlook about life?
JP: Definitely. I realized there’s only so many dates I’m going to play. There’s only so many of this and that I’m going to do and I want to make the most of all of it. If anything else, that was the main thing. I’m anxious to see how this finishes out so I’m sticking around.
by Lisa Martineau for New Hampshire