At any given Aerosmith show, Joe Perry can usually be spotted with a Les Paul dangling around his neck. The legendary guitarist is such a Les Paul fan that on top of playing a range of varieties of the guitar over the decades, he also has a signature model, the Joe Perry 1959 Les Paul.
Perry recently made headlines for something other than his music: a new book. ROCKS: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith tells his life story and the ups and downs of rocking with one of the biggest bands in the world. In the following quotes, Perry talks about his new book and the first moment he heard a guitar sing.
On the guitar that’s on the cover of his book, ROCKS: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith , as told to Gibson.com:
No, the guitar on the cover is one of my ‘59s, but it’s not the ’59. It’s the one that I take on the road with me. Several months ago Gibson did a run of copies of that original tobacco burst ’59. They did an amazing job of getting it down to the last scratch. They spent two days with me taking pictures of it–measuring everything you could measure, tape-recording it, everything. In fact, when I got some of the first issues of it, I had brought the original ’59 on the road, and I had my guitar tech hand me one or the other on-stage, without my knowing which was which. And it was almost impossible for me to tell the difference. Practically speaking, in the heat of the gig, Icouldn’t tell the difference.
On “Movin’ Out,” the first song he wrote with Steven Tyler, as told to Rock Cellar Magazine :
Yeah. It did put us on the path. It was really an exercise in learning how to write together and seeing how that worked. Up until then we hasn’t written together. The original songs we had were basically songs that Steven had from his other bands before that. He had a notebook with some songs in them and some of those showed up on the first and second albums. He was a couple of years older than us and had been playing professionally for five years at that point.
On hearing the guitar for the first time, as told to MusicRadar.com :
The first time I heard a guitar was when my uncle played. He had a homemade instrument – it was shaped like a ukulele but sounded like a guitar – that I remember he used to pull out around the holidays to play Portuguese folk songs on it. That was my first exposure to that type of instrument. He let me play it and put my hands on it, and it just felt good. It felt comfortable. Then, later on, I got a Silvertone. The action on that was unbelievable. It had to be a half an inch across the neck. If there was ever a guitar designed to turn you off from playing guitar, it was that one. It hurt so much to play, to have to press down those heavy strings.
When you have that calling, you do the best with what you’ve got. At that point, when you have that calling, you do the best with what you’ve got. That was when I first fell in love with it. Then hearing the teenagers play in their band in the kitchen next door, playing rockabilly stuff, that’s when I first started hearing rock ’n’ roll, hearing it on the radio, and realizing that it was pretty much based on one guitar.
On his favorite Aerosmith songs to play live, as told to Song Facts:
“Toys in the Attic.” And also “Rats in the Cellar.” I don’t know if that counts as a big song, but I like it because we play it different every night. There’s kind of a jam at the end and it’s really up to the band to make it good or great – it just changes from night to night. That’s the real basis of what the band is: reading the audience and seeing if we can really get them off with some of our 30 years of experience. So it’s kind of a vehicle for that. We have four or five songs like that that we throw in there, but they’re not as well known. But “Rats in the Cellar” is pretty close to that.
The other ones we play pretty much the way that they were written, and we pretty much stick to that format because that’s what people are expecting to hear. I think they would be disappointed if we didn’t play it that way. I don’t see any reason to play “Dream On” reggae, you know what I mean? We just try to stick to what people would expect.
But then there are some songs that have these places where the band can jam built into them. That’s the same kind of stuff we would have done in clubs back in 1972.
On the importance of a solid live shows, as told to GuitarCenter.com:
Our template has always been playing live, selling the band live and trying to gain fans by playing live. That’s the era we came out of. Back in the day, when we were touring, going into our second, third and fourth records, there were places even in the States where we weren’t well known. We were always touring-we might be selling 12,000 seats in Detroit or Boston, but still be playing clubs in Tampa. So we’d have to go out there and make our bones. That is a deeply ingrained facet within the band-and it’s stayed with us. I don’t look at us as any different than any other band of garage guys.
On whether there are any similarities between writing a book and making an album, as told to ArtistDirect.com :
There’s quite a bit actually. You set out to do an album, and you know it’s going to be the sum of a combination of parts. Whether they’re songs or bits of songs, you’re going to look at it piece by piece. You don’t write an album from the perspective of the whole unless you’re doing an opera, but we’re talking about doing a record. You may write 20 songs, pick the best ones, and then fine tune them. In a book, you get a chronology of what your life is, and then you start filling in the blanks. You pick out the best story to exemplify each part of your life, and you work on it just like you would a song. You go through, edit, and fix it. Then, you put it together. Obviously, the chronology is self-explanatory. Finally, you get this finished work about two weeks before it’s going to come out with the cover and everything after you’ve been doing it in pieces. The one thing that really is the same happens when you finally get the album. It’s all together with the package, the cover, all of the content, and the actual music. It’s the same with the book. You’ve worked on it in pieces for years, literally, and you finally get the complete thing. You almost have to read it like you just picked it up in a bookstore to get a real idea of what it’s like and see how it’s going to strike you because you’ve been working on it in pieces for so long. There are a lot of parallels between them.
On being a grown-up who still rocks, as told to MensHealth.com:
When I was 38 and the band got back together, I went through this stage of “Is this any way for a grown man to make a living—jumping around on the stage in tight pants and long hair?” Then I’d put on an AC/DC record and go, “Yup, still gives me goose bumps.” Chuck Berry? “Yup, still gets me hot.” It’s such a cliché… that rock ‘n’ roll keeps you young, but not being afraid to feel the rock ‘n’ roll energy truly pervades your life. You’re not trapped by that thing that says, “You’re too old to rock.” That means I’m not too old to do a lot of things. I’m not too old to chase my wife around like a teenager, because that’s how I feel. When I plug in my guitar and play it really loud, loud enough to deafen most people, that’s my shot of adrenaline, and there’s nothing like it. That’s what it’s always been for me—to be the flame the tribe dances around.
On what gives a riff real staying power, or turns it into a classic, as told to Gibson.com:
I think it’s something people can sort of sing along to. It depends on who it is, but for the average fan, who are really the people you’re playing for, it’s something that’s memorable. Take “Walk This Way” as an example. Even in the solo, there are certain phrases that are important to keep in there, because they’re part of the song. Your ear is expecting to hear that, just as your ear expects to hear the vocal melody. As a guitar player, when you listen back, say, to The Ventures, or to Duane Eddy–those were really simple riffs, from a guitar player’s point of view. One of the greatest examples is the original Batman theme song. It’s just three notes, but if you hum that, everyone recognizes it, or at least everyone who grew up in that era does. The same is true of the theme for Bonanza. Those are really simple riffs, but they’re so unique. They hang right in there.
On his top three albums in the Aerosmith catalog, as told to BostonMagazine.com :
Night in the Ruts ; that was the one where I left before it was finished. I think it would’ve gotten more notice if we had been able to tour behind that as the original band. Rocks, we were at our peak creatively; we were just warming up to Rocks when we did Toys in the Attic, and Rocks was just kind of the payoff. And I have to say that the blues record (Honkin’ on Bobo), that was just unfettered fun making that record. We put every bit of creativity into that record, and that’s one of the records I like to listen to; and I don’t listen to our stuff that often, but that’s one I do.
By Anne Erickson for Gibson