I spoke on the phone with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry in October 2009, on the eve of the release of his fifth solo album Have Guitar Will Travel, which came at a sticky time for the band. Aerosmith fell apart two months earlier after Steven Tyler fell off the stage and broke his leg during a show at the Sturgis biker festival. A lot of verbal blows were traded in the public, and lawyers got involved. The riveting soap opera was detailed in my book, Strange Days. As for the solo album, it was great. Perry enlisted a German singer named Hagen, whom Perry’s wife had discovered on Youtube, and I was fortunate to see their gig at the Viper Room. Such simpler times.
Do you get a sense of accomplishment with this record, that you’ve succeeded in putting out an album at a time when you haven’t been able to do it with Aerosmith for quite some time?
Well yeah, I kinda look back at it and I almost scratch my head because everything fell together so well. Obviously every bit of my energy was to do the Aerosmith record, and when all the things which were obviously out of my control pulled the rug out from under that record, the next day we were working on the solo record. Finding Hagen on Youtube, my wife just stumbling across that. I’d been wanting to put a Joe Perry Project together with some local guys for a few years, just so I’d have a band. If people would say, Well if you wanna do this charity or do this gig here, I’d have a few guys that I could just call and say, Are you available? I made those kinds of calls only it was like, Do you wanna make a record with me tomorrow? And they were there. I had most of the songs already demoed. Some were Aerosmith and some were for some future solo project. I had the material mostly written. It was really just a matter of finding a drummer, which took some time. It all just kinda fell together. Literally, the record was recorded and almost all mixed almost to the day of the start of the Aerosmith tour [June 10]. It was a pretty synchronistic thing. You just kinda look around and go, How did that happen? When Aerosmith had the first break [a few weeks later] because of Steven hurting himself, rather than just sit around for a week I was able to have everybody get together and we got a head start on rehearsing the band for live shows. I always planned on doing live shows after the Aerosmith tour was done. So we got a jump-start on that. Then the second time, when the tour got canceled [Aug. 13], we were already way ahead of ourselves with the Project.
So you’ve actually benefited from Aerosmith’s misfortune?
It’s a double-edged sword. I’m still really bummed out about having to cancel the Aerosmith tour, because it was such an amazing lineup. We were jamming with the guys in ZZ Top, and it was really building up to be an amazing tour. My heart’s still broken about that, but you can’t go back. What’s done is done. I’m really happy about the way things have worked out. I just have the artistic need to keep recording. I was ready to go, and it was a matter of just switching lanes.
Is “Do You Wonder?” one of the songs eyed for the next Aerosmith record?
Actually, that was one. That song has been around for about 10 years without lyrics. It had been put on deck as a potential Aerosmith song. For some reason — other people obviously would have been needed to put their parts on there — it didn’t hook up. I’ve waited for Steven many times, and for some reason he didn’t add anything to it. It never went any farther than that. I said, Well if there’s not gonna be an Aerosmith record I might as well use it. Billie [Joe’s wife] wrote a set of lyrics one night. She’s an artist, she’s a photographer, a poet. I had written a couple of sets of lyrics over the years for it. I had even considered putting it on the last solo record, because it’s been around for 10 years, but I was still kinda holding back, hoping it would get on an Aerosmith record. It’s frustration. It’s just too good of a song to have lying ‘round. And then when Hagen started singing it and putting his take on the lyric, it was just right.
What other songs were Aerosmith rejects?
I hate to say “rejects” . . . I played probably a third of the songs. There was “Slingshot,” “Freedom,” “Heaven and Hell,” and a couple of other songs that had no lyrics at that point that I played for them. They had chorus lines but no verses, and that kind of thing. At that point I had about half the songs that I’d played for the band and obviously Steven, and they didn’t go anywhere.
You’re leaving a lot of money on the table by putting these songs on an indie release rather than an Aerosmith album. “Do You Wonder?” could have been a huge Aerosmith song.
Yeah, it could have been, if there was an Aerosmith to record it, if it ever had people that actually believed in it. But that’s been the story for the last 10 years. I haven’t written a song with Steven alone for the last 10 years. I’m down in my studio every day, writing, and for some reason he wants to write with people like Mark Hudson and whatever. I haven’t actually sat down with him. I finally got him to come down for one day, and we did it like the old way and it was encouraging because we came up with some good stuff. Basically we used to write songs — he would play the drums and put a microphone in front of him, and I would play guitar and record riffs. We’d come up with this stuff. And later he started playing keyboards because he could play drums on the keyboard and we would write songs like that. But for some reason, it just started 10 years ago, we never wrote again, no matter what kind of situation . . . I can’t explain it. All I know is that you can hear the result of my work, the energy that’s behind Honkin’ on Bobo to these two solo records. I don’t see anything, at least from my end, that couldn’t have been on an Aerosmith record. But without his input, it’s just not that way anymore.
Have you had feedback from your Aerosmith bandmates?
Yeah. I’ve gotten pretty positive feedback from Brad and Tom. Joey came to see one of our shows. I don’t know if he at that point had heard the record. I played it for Brad and Tom, and I think they were more positive about what I’ve been doing overall. Brad, I wanted him to hear it, as another guitar player because that’s where we really rub shoulders, and he thought it was some of the best stuff I had done. I really appreciated that, to get a compliment from somebody that I’ve worked with so close for so many years.
How about Steven?
I don’t know if Steven’s heard the record. I really don’t know if he’s even heard the single. I don’t even know if he even listened to the last one all the way through. He said that he liked a couple of the songs on it, so I don’t know.
When was the last time you two spoke?
The last time we were singing harmony together at Sturgis [Aug. 5].
There’s been nothing since then?
We get emails from his managers. In fact, we got one email that said, right after we got back to Boston and the email said I’ve talked to everybody important and I just want to rest. Nobody in the band has gotten a phone call. Let him rest. We get emails from his managers on occasion.
Is this the end of the road?
I don’t know. I really can’t say. I’m an eternal optimist. We’ve been through some pretty thin times and some pretty thick times, and there have been periods when Steven and I for no reason other than just to get some space have not talked to each other for months. Then we get back together and things mesh. That part of it isn’t unusual, but at this point “hiatus” kinda means everybody goes off and does what they wanna do. And I believe that that makes a stronger band, at least when it’s a big machine like Aerosmith. You’ve gotta get out of that bubble and bring something back in. During the last break Brad went out and played with that Jimi Hendrix tribute tour and came back like a ball of fire. His guitar playing moved to a whole new level. Going off and doing side projects is really important when you’re working with guys for years and years and years. That’s why we started using outside songwriters. I always thought that I’d never have time to do solo things and do Aerosmith. But I finally realized that I can do both. I find that it adds to the sum total of what Aerosmith is when people bring that back in.
This is such a great record and it would be great for you to take it on the road for 18 months, and play around the world. You don’t want to cut that short, do you?
Actually, I’m planning a tour through November. I’ve got about nine gigs that cover New York City … Cleveland, Chicago, Canada. We have a tour that we’re solidifying right now. I had already figured that the gigs before the holidays would be for promotion. But because we’ve got such a head start there’s gonna be regular get-out-there-and-play gigs. Then we’re gonna be doing a full-blown legitimate tour — not that these aren’t — starting in January. I wrote the songs with the idea of taking this on the road. The last record was more demos that we got polished to the point of being a record without as much thought to being a live record. But this one, I purposely massaged the songs thinking how they would sound to people that had never heard them before, or had just maybe heard the record once or twice, to be the backbone of a tour. But this record is just the backbone. We’re doing some of the Project songs from the ’80s, we’re doing some Aerosmith songs, we’re doing some covers, and that will expand. It’s all about the tour and it’s all about getting out and playing live.
How long will you be on the road for?
As the ball starts rolling, just the way it did with the last one: Once people heard I was putting the Project back together, we started getting offers. Then when people heard the record, we got more offers. Then when I put the promotion band together, we got more offers. I think the same thing is gonna start to happen, once people start to hear the band and hear the record, the offers that we’ll be getting for the January-February tour will start to expand. One way or another we’ll be playing wherever we can set up some amps.
Will this be in North America and the rest of the world?
I’ll tell ya. The requests I’ve been getting from the message boards and Tweeter (sic) and all that stuff, it’s probably equal numbers from all over the world. Places that Aerosmith has played overseas and places we haven’t. Certainly a lot of places that Aerosmith hasn’t played in the United States because we’ve had to kinda trim the amount of dates we were doing during the tours, some of the so-called secondary markets. But in my book they’re all just as important as the next. Chicago’s just as important as Rockford. There are thousands of kids that wanna see rock ‘n’ roll. It’s really a matter of time, and this band will be able to play a lot more gigs in the course of a week than, say, Aerosmith.
We’ll go probably January, February, March, and then we’ll see what’s going on. I’ve been talking to some different people about some different ideas. It’s the flexibility of being able to try different things. The gig that we did at the Mirage over the weekend with Slash was definitely a lot of fun and it was a new way to bring music to the fans. It was Slash and his basic band, and bringing up other people, other solo artists. We’re talking about doing different things. The core of the Project, that’s my band and we’ll see where it leads. There’s certainly another Joe Perry Project record I’ve been writing. And now that I know what Hagen’s capable of, after working with him on this, I’ll be kinda tuning in sonically to what he can do. The next one will be another jump ahead, and that’s gonna happen sooner than later.
There’s not going to be an Aerosmith tour or record next year, I imagine? [NOTE: Not until 2010 and 2012, respectively.]
I don’t know. Like I said, I’m an eternal optimist . . . I really don’t know at this point. I’m not stopping, that’s all I know, and I’m gonna do whatever I can do and have fun doing it. That’s the main thing. Top of the list is the heartbreak I feel about canceling the tour and the fans that were hoping to see this tour, and of course the crews and their families, and the guys in the bands and all that. But the fans that plunked down their hard-earned dollars that wanted to come to the shows and planned their time around it, frankly it breaks my heart. That’s the state of things and all I can say is, speaking for myself, I’m wide open. I’m out there and playing better than I’ve played in a long time. I’m inspired. I’m doing some of these other side projects, and I’m looking forward to doing more. I can definitely say that I’m not saying “No” to an Aerosmith record or something, or tour or whatever. But looking at the lay of the land, I wouldn’t count on it anytime soon, like within the next three or four months. I think we need more time to get everybody healthy and the whole thing, and see if Steven wants to be part of the band again.
You could take Hagen out with Aerosmith!?
Ummm, right now, I just wanna take Hagen around the world with this Project, and we’ll see. I really don’t know. I can’t speak for the other guys and I can’t speak for him.
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