Joe Perry just added “author” to his ever-expanding list of artistic endeavors. The co-founder of Aerosmith, and the lead guitarist of his own solo project, decided that it was time to finally share his side of the story. The esteemed guitarist has gone through a variety of record labels, management deals, and turmoil with his four founding bandmates — he even left Aerosmith for a stint in the late ‘70s to pursue his own band, the Joe Perry Project. Despite the ups and downs, Perry has made a lucrative career doing what he loves — playing guitar and creating music. Armed with a lifetime of knowledge about the ins-and-outs of the music industry, the rocker has recently churned out a rock and roll autobiography with the help of David Ritz titled Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith.
GRAMMY Pro caught up with Perry to chat about his recently released New York Times bestselling book in which he tackles themes such as bad management deals (the band fired their manager of 12 years, Tim Collins, in 1996) and shares insight into how Aerosmith has managed to stay together all these years. Perry also told us about his creative process in the studio and why he sets aside time to write music every single day, whether he’s working on a new album or not.
Q: Tell us about writing your autobiography. What made you decide it was the right time?
I grew up thinking you wrote an autobiography when you were retired; when your career was over, you sat back and wrote your memoirs. Obviously that whole paradigm has changed. I just felt like the band’s 40th anniversary was coming up, we were working on our last record for Sony, there were a lot of changes going on in the business world as far as recording and the way things were going there. It was kind of the end of an era but also the start of another. … Everybody in the band will tell you a different story if they ever write their books, but at least this is my take on the whole thing.
Q: What inspired you to tell your story?
A lot of the stuff that is written about in the book Walk This Way came out lopsided because it was a very complicated time with our ex-manager [Tim Collins] at that point. I think that a lot of people would be surprised at how out of wack things got at that point, considering the chronic success we were achieving in spite of what was going on behind the scenes. I mean he worked out great when we first got together, but he kind of stayed in the same place and we were growing. It just didn’t work out anymore. … My relationship with Steven [Tyler], with the other guys, with management, you don’t have to be a rock and roll fan to appreciate some of the hardships and the hard times that I had to go through. And that was one of the reasons I wanted to write the book. So there were a lot of things in there that I think people can relate to, especially growing up in that time.
Q: As somebody who has been in a band for so many years, through a lot of ups and downs, what is your advice on how to maintain the band relationship?
Keep the professional stuff on the table but don’t take it home with you. If you’ve got personal issues, don’t let it get in the way of your professional stuff. If you’ve got something that’s going that is really good on a professional level, don’t let it get in the way by taking it home and sitting around with it. The main thing is just talk about it and air it out and get it out of the way. That is what ended up happening with us. We ended up being kind of isolated from each other and we let it happen. Because of what we had lost with Aerosmith in the ‘70s, I personally was reluctant to follow my instincts and I think that was one of the hardest things that I had to deal with.
Q: What are you focusing on now that you are off tour with Aerosmith for a bit?
I’ve always, since I could afford one, had some kind of recording device. I always loved recording. It’s kind of ironic that my parents gave me a tape recorder instead of a guitar. It was kind of like putting the cart before the horse because I really needed the guitar but I love recording, I love the whole process, I love hearing the music back. I’ll always be recording. I have some songs right now that could be brought right up to the level they need to be and I have a bunch of ideas. I am going to be recording at some point. But right now, I need a break baby! I’ve been going and going and going. [My wife] Billie has been with me side by side, getting up at five in the morning and helping me get through this book tour and pushing this thing. I’m probably only going to do this once so I’m going to do it right. It’s been a project that really took a lot more. Neither one of us thought it would be this intense. We’re closing in on it but in the meantime, I’m going to press the record button on my phone and keep coming up with licks. And then when I get in the studio, I’ll start lying some stuff down. It’s what I do. It’s right up there with riding my horses or tinkering with my motorcycles or lying on the beach. I have to write. It’s part of my thing.
Q: What is some of your favorite gear right now?
Well right now, I have a 20 year old strat. It’s kind of a copy of the old Dick Dale era Stratocasters. It’s like a gold sparkle. It plays beautifully. And also, there is a guy out in California who hand makes guitars. There are a lot of guys making good stuff but he’s really got the touch. His name is Gabriel and the guitars are called Echopark and his guitars have a certain magic to them that I haven’t felt in a long time from a boutique guitar maker. So I’ve been playing his guitars as well as two Gibsons, and I fall back on the Marshalls and the Vox amps when I’m on the road.
Q: How has your songwriting process changed since you and Tyler first started writing together?
I think that my writing thing with Steven is a lot more on and off than it used to be. I think as far as my own writing goes, it’s stayed pretty much the same. It still starts off with something that catches my ear and then I’ll bring it up to the next level. … I’ll have something and then I’m writing for Aerosmith and then I’ll play it for Steven and see if it’s something he gets or doesn’t. If he hears something that he can wrap a melody around, we’ll go for it. And that’s how it’s always been. In some ways it’s stayed the same but we’ve all kind of gone off and we’re living in different lives. Steven is going to go off and do his first solo album. I kind of record more where I will set aside a few hours every day, make sure I play, make sure I have the tape recorder going and just keep creating.
Perry recently released his first collection of holiday songs, Joe Perry’s Merry Christmas. The EP, featuring four Christmas classics, is out now.
By Nicole Pajer for GRAMMYPro.com