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Joe Perry Interview: Iconic Guitarist on His Relationship with Steven Tyler and His Memoir, "Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith"

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Image attributed to Joe Perry

Joe Perry

Massachusetts native Anthony Joseph (Joe) Perry formed a group called The Jam Band. After meeting Steven Tyler, Perry and Tom Hamilton, joined by Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer, would go on to form Aerosmith. The band had a string of hit records during the mid-1970s with albums Toys in the Attic and Rocks and hit singles “Dream On, “Same Old Song and Dance,” “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way.”

During this time, Perry and Tyler became known as the “Toxic Twins” for their notorious hard partying and drug use. Perry quit Aerosmith in 1979, formed his own band called The Joe Perry Project, released Let the Music Do the Talking, and then rejoined the group in 1984. Authored by Stephen Davis, Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith was released in 1997. Aerosmith’s first number one single, 1998’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” was written by Diane Warren and appeared on the soundtrack to the hit film Armageddon.

“As far as I know, Steven has read the book, from what I have gathered. Actually he texted me and said he read the first four chapters and really liked it. He said the packaging was very good as well as the pictures and art and all that stuff. Those are the kinds of things he would notice. That’s the best information I can give you.”

Aerosmith’s success continued in the 2000s, and their latest album released in 2012 was titled Music from Another Dimension! Perry was married to Alyssa Jerret from 1975 to 1982, and together they had a son, Adrian. He has been married to Billie Paulette Montgomery since 1985. They have two children together, Tony and Roman, and she has a son from a previous relationship, Aaron.

Perry penned his memoir (with contributor David Ritz), Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith, which was released October 7, 2014. In the book, Perry describes his life in the rock and roll world with the iconic band Aerosmith, his love/hate relationship with lead singer Steven Tyler, his two marriages and several tumultuous years of drug abuse.

Joe Perry: Hey, Melissa. Where are you?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Birmingham, Alabama. I have a tiny accent in case you can’t tell (laughs).

Joe Perry: Just a little bit (laughs). I’m in Los Angeles, but you might be noticing sort of a drift toward a Boston accent, you know.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I do hear that just slightly, Joe. I enjoyed the book!

Joe Perry: Well, thank you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Steven says that he will not read the book. What’s the story?

Joe Perry: As far as I know, Steven has read the book, from what I have gathered. Actually he texted me and said he read the first four chapters and really liked it. He said the packaging was very good as well as the pictures and art and all that stuff. Those are the kinds of things he would notice. That’s the best information I can give you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that there were some misconceptions in the 1997 book, Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, and that you wanted to set the record straight in your book.

Joe Perry: It wasn’t just the misconceptions. It was that over the years, certain things from interviews had been taken out of context. I hate to call them legends because it puts too much of an importance on what Aerosmith is. We’re really just a bunch of entertainers. I mean, how much importance is it, really? But in the Aerosmith “legend,” there have definitely been stories that have been misinterpreted, some have been blown out of proportion, and others that were really relevant to our story have been totally skimmed over.

The reason I have trouble with the Walk This Way book is because the author, Stephen Davis, was told by our last manager, Tim Collins, that unless he was able to edit the book first before the band got to see it, he wouldn’t let him have any access to the band, so Stephen basically took that deal. I don’t know if I would’ve done that, but I didn’t find this out until much later. In fact, that was one of the very many reasons why we fired that manager. The book was already set up to be released, and it was too late to go back and re-write it because we were working on a new album, and that’s an all-consuming thing.

We basically didn’t pay much attention to the overall texture of the book. When things reached a peak, and we found out about that deal, we fired Tim. I said, “Listen. I need to do at least a chapter at the end that explains why we fired the guy.” This guy did what no one else did or could which was get all five guys sober coming out of the 70s. Everybody gets sober on their own, but Tim helped lead the way, but in the meantime, he’s maneuvering all this stuff behind our backs, so some of the stories in Walk This Way are accurate, but there are a lot of people that have been left out of the book.

Tim was made out to be this Svengali type guy that was this sobriety guy for rock and roll, and he was getting off on this whole power trip and all this control. We wanted people to be able to stand back and see what was wrong with that, so I did a chapter at the end with the author and tried to explain. Walk This Way should’ve been pulled, but it was too late, so it was what it was. It was entertaining, and there are some nice fluff stories in it. Much of the deep stuff was left out. Anyway, that’s my issue with that book. There might even be some redundancy between some stories in Walk That Way and some of the stuff in my book, but not as much as there are more truths and how we were as people and families on that level.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it painful for you to write about your first marriage because there was so much turmoil and codependency going on?

Joe Perry: Yeah. It was. It was really hard. There were definitely instances when I felt like … it was hard for both my wife Billie and me to open up some of those doors and have it out there in the world. I couldn’t have written this book twenty years ago because the kids were too young, and we didn’t want them to read some of that stuff or hear about it. Now they’re old enough to understand it.

My youngest graduated from BU this year. They know everything that has gone on. They also grew up on the road and have seen both sides of it. They’ve seen the glamour and have seen the arguments. I think they got a really good education as far as the entertainment business goes, especially the rock and roll part. But yeah, it was tough talking about some of that stuff and having to open up some of those memories and relive them.

One of the hardest things was when I read the audiobook. I had to read the whole book from front to back as I’m telling the story and putting as much of my soul into it as I could, and I felt no one else could tell the story the way I could. These people on audiobooks are professionals and do a great job, but when I did a couple of pages just to see if it would hold up to the standards of Simon & Schuster, they were really happy that I was going to do it. That was really hard, but I didn’t think anyone else was really qualified to read the story, so I felt like I had to do it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I imagine it was also difficult to relive your stint in rehab for painkillers a few years ago.

Joe Perry: Yep. I kept putting off the knee thing, and finally I did the surgery, and right after that, it got infected. Frankly, I think it got infected during surgery. That’s the general consensus, and I guess that’s a real problem with that kind of surgery because you’re wide open there, and there are so many germs floating around. Nine months later, I had to go back in and was wondering why it wasn’t any better. It just kept getting swollen.

I had this blood test, and they said, “Listen. You’d better get that thing fixed right away or else it’s going to spread, and then you could get blood poisoning.” It was a pretty traumatic time, and I didn’t like having to deal with the pain aspect of it. It was certainly a hassle having to go there for the last bit to get off those painkillers.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Steven has said that his huge ego comes from “lead singer’s disease.” You probably only sing a couple of songs every Aerosmith show. Have you ever wanted to just grab the mic more and belt some out?

Joe Perry: Oh yeah. I did all the singing on my next to last solo album. The majority of my songwriting is written on a platform for a lead singer, but over the years I’ve become more and more prolific in my songwriting, and when you have a singer like Steven, it’s just sort of hard to take the microphone.

I like to sing, and I’m definitely finding my voice the older I get. There are certain lyrics I feel like I just have to sing myself like “Out Go the Lights,” which was on the last Aerosmith album (Music from Another Dimension!). The lyrics I write are always close to my heart, so there are some I just have to sing myself. Anyway, yeah, I do like to grab the microphone once in a while (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is your relationship with Steven now?

Joe Perry: It’s pretty much what it is. You can love your brother, but you don’t have to like him. We have our ups and downs. He’ll say stuff in the press, and I’ll think, “What the hell is he talking about?” Next time I see him, it’s all hugs and kisses. We know the band is bigger than our ups and downs. If anything, it has been a learning process in how to deal with each other’s personalities. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write the book because people hear stuff about Joe and Steven not getting along.

Somebody just asked me if the band was still together a couple of weeks ago, so there’s all kinds of stuff floating around out there. It has been one of the things that have made it hard to keep together for forty years. There are not too many bands out there that are touring all the time that manage to keep the same guys in the band, the same lineup that was there in 1971. That takes a lot of work. It’s as simple as that. You learn how to adjust, as you get older. You go from being a teenager with no responsibilities to middle aged with wives and girlfriends, and then you become fathers and grandfathers.

We’ve all had that side of our lives, and we’ve had to reconcile that with this rock and roll thing, which is a timeless kind of music. I truly believe it helps keep you young. When we walk on stage together, I look over and see the same guys I saw forty years ago, and there’s no age involved. It’s just about playing and putting on the best show we can for our fans. It’s kind of a unique club to be in, and there are only four other guys in it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think Aerosmith will still be together five years from now?

Joe Perry: Yeah I do … without a doubt. I can’t really say how long the tours are going to be or if there will be another record, but I don’t think we’ve ever looked that far ahead ever in our careers. For better or for worse is how it’s been. The way I feel now is that we’re going to keep doing it until we can’t deliver what the audience is looking for.

I don’t see any signs of it stopping because the last couple of gigs we played are some of the best ones I can remember in the last several years. The band was burnin’ hot, so go figure. We like getting on stage too much to quit.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any regrets that you became a rock star instead of a marine biologist?

Joe Perry: Sometimes I wonder about that, but I’m always trying to figure out how I could’ve done both, and I don’t think that would’ve been possible (laughs). I do what I can to help out though. I’m a big supporter of Sea Shepherds. My wife and I spend a lot of time in Florida, and every year the local divers get together, and they spend the day cleaning the reefs from all the trash that gets thrown overboard. We do things like that. I still get a taste of it and have never lost my fascination with the ocean.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you working on a solo album?

Joe Perry: Well, the book has really taken up more time than I thought it would, but I like to work in the studio. I don’t know how it’s going to come out or when it’s going to come out, but I love being in the studio. In fact, I’m getting ready to head on over and lay down some tracks. It’s just what I do. It’s like being a writer or whatever. You’ve just got to do it. What you do with it is another story. But yeah, it’s part of what I do.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will Aerosmith tour next year?

Joe Perry: I would expect that we’d probably have a meeting sometime in the next two months to talk about the different options. I know that management is putting together some different plans. I have to think we’ll be going out sometime next year.

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