Sing For the Years
by Jay S. Jacobs
Over forty years into their stellar career, Aerosmith is still considered one of America’s top rock bands. With decades of hit records, sold-out tours, two autobiographies, several videos, a singer who extended his stardom on TV’s then-most popular show, and even a roller coaster in Disneyland, Aerosmith is the epitome of rock-and-roll… bigger, stronger, faster.
The group started in 1970 in suburban Boston when guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer, members of a local group called Jam Band, hooked up with Steven Tyler, drummer and singer for another local group called Chain Reaction. Jam Band and Chain Reaction played together and were mutual fans and thought they would be a musical fit. For the first year, the group had a short-lived rhythm guitarist named Ray Tabano, but by 1971 the final piece of the puzzle clicked in with Brad Whitford replacing Tabano. Aerosmith had arrived.
The group had signed with Columbia records by the next year. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1973, and was a moderate hit, though it did include the song “Dream On” that two years later would make the band stars. However, in this first go-around, the song barely charted, peaking at 59 on theBillboard charts. The band’s second album Get Your Wings continued the buzz, but it was the 1975 release of Toys in the Attic which made the band explode. First they had their first top 40 hit with the rock anthem “Sweet Emotion.” On the heels of that, they reissued “Dream On,” which hit the top ten. ”Walk This Way,” another top ten followed off of Toys.
The band followed up with the hit album Rocks and singles “Back in the Saddle” and a cover of the Beatles “Come Together.” However, the band somewhat disintegrated in the late 70s in a haze of alcohol, drugs and crazy partying. Management intervened to help the band get clean, but they left Columbia Records and were pretty much out of the pop culture eye until they were reborn by a very odd circumstance in 1986. Rap pioneers Run-DMC were huge fans of their single then ten-year-old single “Walk This Way.” They decided to cover the song and asked the band to play on it. The merge of rock and rap became a giant hit and reinvigorated Aerosmith’s career.
Aerosmith went to Geffen Records and their 1987 album Permanent Vacation returned the band to the top with three big hits, “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Rag Doll” and “Angel.” The follow-up album Pump was even bigger, spawning “What It Takes,” “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Love in an Elevator” and “The Other Side.” Throughout the 90s the band continued to have huge hits – many of which were ballads, including “Amazing,” “Crazy” and the Armageddon theme “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
In the decade since, Aerosmith never left the public eye, whether it was through Steven Tyler’s three year stint on American Idol or biographies of Tyler and Perry or just hardcore touring. Their most recent tour is hitting theaters on February 26 as Fathom Events will be releasing – for one night only – a concert film from last year’s tour.
A week before the Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014 concert event hit movie theaters for one night only, we were one of a group of media outlets who got to speak with Tom Hamilton and Brad Whitford about Aerosmith’s history and the new film.
Last tour, I noticed a bunch of young fans in the audience. Talk to me about how young people have come to rediscover the group.
Tom Hamilton: That’s really awesome to hear, actually. We’ve been doing a lot of touring in South America and Europe over the past few years. It’s amazing. Down there, our fans are so young. It’s crazy. They hang around us at the hotel and scream and yell when we go in and out. It’s a riot. (laughs) It’s an absolute blast. In the States we have our stalwart fans that are into the various eras of the band, but it’s so great to hear something like that.
Do you think that Steven’s appearance on American Idol helped that too?
Brad Whitford: I think that had a huge impact: Steven being on that TV show. It’s made him an even bigger star than he ever was. (laughs)
Tom Hamilton: It’s funny. It’s not really all that clear. There have been a lot of things we’ve been noticing. It’s not all statistically automatically coming out the way it sounds. We always need to inspire our fans and people, especially you were mentioning kids. That is such a great thing. The idea that they are listening to Toys in the Attic or Rocks and wanting to come see us play. It’s such a pleasure to be able to bring that live, at this point in our career, which is 30 years after we recorded it.
How did Live in Donington 2014 come about? Why did you decide to do it? What do you think of it?
Tom Hamilton: We had a film that came out a few years ago called Rock for the Rising Sun. We had never been on tour there and were very anxious to get over there and bring something for our fans after that horrible, major disaster that they had there. (ed. note: Two concertgoers were killed and others were injured at a 1988 Monsters of Rock show at the venue.) We were there with our fans. We made a DVD out of it. It was pretty successful, very encouraging in terms of finding out that kind of stuff that our fans would love to hear, shows that we think are really classic Aerosmith shows. That was about a short tour. This was about one show. It’s great. People who liked Rock for the Rising Sunwill love this one. Hopefully you’ll see it on Palladia. They’ll be playing it. I think it’s just going to be awesome. It’s Donington.
At this point in your career how much of a priority is new music? I mean, are you guys writing new music? Do you foresee any new music in the soon future?
Brad Whitford: That’s interesting. We’re not currently in the studio or anything. We’re not quite sure when we might get back in the studio. Right now Steven is working on a solo album that he’s been wanting to do for the last 20 years. I think a good deal of inspiration may come out of that. He may want to continue to write. Maybe at some point this year we might get into the studio and record some new music. Currently no plans. Our plan right now is we’re preparing for tour this summer.
I read recently that Joe likes to have spontaneity and improv in the music whereas Steven likes to be pretty much note perfect the same each night. Is that true? What is that dynamic like? Where does that puts you guys in the mix?
Tom Hamilton: That’s at the core. The dynamic of the band is Joe. He’s very ballsy. He really plays from the hip. He gets an idea, and it pops right out in the singers. Then sometimes Steven is wishing, “Why isn’t he playing the chords under that spot?” Like the album. It just comes out with each jam. It’s awesome.
Brad Whitford: Joe’s a big fan of the kind of concerts we used to see as kids. We had bands like The Cream and Jimi Hendrix. A lot more impromptu stuff that would happen on stage. It made it very exciting. Joe’s a big fan of that approach. There is an element to Joe’s playing sometimes that will represent that.
I was intrigued by Joe’s comment about people enjoying classic Aerosmith shows. Do you guys have stuff in the vaults that you might one day go back and think about releasing some of these vintage and classic shows maybe?
Tom Hamilton: It’s funny, we have a pretty much an album’s worth of that that I think has just been gradually posted over the last 20 years on the internet. It has some demos of some songs that we were really looking forward to using in some of our great songs. They had a really good one called “Meltdown,” and a really great one called “Dime a Dance Romance.” Nice ethereal stuff. Over the years it just wound up getting people making an extra copy for themselves at the studio. Now you can find it online.
Do you think either that stuff or entire concerts you think you might want to dig into?
Tom Hamilton: I would love to continue digging into that material. We did that on an album we put out two years ago called Legendary Child. That’s from that era. We were pretty happy with how we finished it for From Another Dimensionalbum. If we get good at that, maybe it will create an avenue for some of these things to get finished and hit an Aerosmith album.
You’re getting ready to tour this year. As you guys tour year after year obviously there’s a certain number of songs that Aerosmith has to play or you won’t go home with all your limbs intact. How much room is there to add that deep track or two? What kind of discussions do you have in order to make that happen?
Brad Whitford: That is an ongoing conversation, especially about deep tracks. We’re hoping to extract a few more deep tracks, especially for this summer. We’re eager to pull some stuff out of the hat that we haven’t played, or maybe never played, or only played a few times. We think it’s time to do that. We feel we need to do it. It’s just time. There’s a lot of great songs we don’t get out and represent to the crowd. I think they’re ready and we’re ready to do that. Hopefully we’re successful in doing that this year.
Could elaborate on some of the elements that made the particular performance at Donington in the film so magical?
Tom Hamilton: It’s the set list that we played there, right Brad?
Brad Whitford: Yeah.
Tom Hamilton: It was just a night where everything just really set in for the band. The band was so tight that night, yet we could relax and just have fun. Get off on the insane crowd there. Man. Anything you remember on that, Brad? Finish us up.
Brad Whitford: Donington always held a special place for bands of all types. Just to be invited to play at Donington has always been special. It just had a magic about it. We were excited just to be there.
Tom Hamilton: Yeah, it’s a really legendary name in Britain.
Brad Whitford: It didn’t dawn on us right away or we didn’t plan right away that we were going to be making a film out of it. It’s just … To be able to capture that moment like we did was great because it does hold a special place for all us rock and rollers.
Tom Hamilton: We should mention that we had planned to film the show and got one of the best rock video, film directors around, named Dick Carruthers. He’s from England. He does a great job from that English point of view about rock bands. It’s a neat thing as far as our history goes. Anyway, that’s another reason that makes it a special DVD. It’s a night in the tour, but it’s also something that’s really filmed and interpreted beautifully. The sound is awesome. The band played really well that night.
We’ve seen so many changes in the music industry over the years, especially one of the biggest ones being the rise of social media. It changes. Which one would you say has had the biggest effect on Aerosmith overall?
Brad Whitford: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I don’t know which one. Social media in general has just become such a huge way to connect with your fans, to market. Really, connection with the fans and having their instantaneous feedback really has just become invaluable for us. To understand what they like, what they don’t like, what they want to hear. It’s just huge. I couldn’t single out one of them really.
What have been your opinions of some of the recent Aerosmith books that have come out? Joe Perry’s has come out most recently. Of course Steven did a book a couple of years back. What was your guys take on both of those titles?
Tom Hamilton: I think Joe’s book was a big success. Really, well written, depicting the story from his point of view. It’s very authentic. It’s for people who really are interested, and want to learn the history of the band from the viewpoint of somebody that experienced it. Steven’s book is fun to read, but it’s also all over the place. It’s not really that concise, but it’s fun to read.
Brad Whitford: Yeah, I would have to agree that my favorite book was Joe’s book. I thought it was extremely well done. To me, there was more passion and romance in that book, the narrative of his story and his desire to do this thing. When he talked about growing up in Hopedale, Mass. (laughs) Just the struggle just to get your hands on a guitar and live out this dream. It makes for an incredible story because he did it. He did it, and he did it in a very big way. I just thought it was extremely well written. It was definitely my favorite book about Aerosmith to this point.
Many of your Columbia era titles were re-released on vinyl for record store day. What do you think of this vinyl resurgence, and do you feel like there’s going to be any plans to do the same with any of your Geffen albums?
Tom Hamilton: It’s something you usually let the record company know you’d like to do it. Then, we’ll say, from then on it has to occur to them. Yeah, it’s so cool, the vinyl thing. Obviously, it’s not the main way of people getting music, but it’s such a great way to get it. People are discovering that, wow, you can actually hold the thing and read about it while you listen to it. It’s a different experience. It’s a more physical experience where you’re a little closer to the original vibe of the recording.
Brad Whitford: I think it’s great. I’m so glad that it happened. It seems to be growing just at an incredible rate. It’s funny because when this whole digital revolution started it seemed to be so cool. Oh, gosh, it was almost like you could hear more on the CDs. There was more information, and that seemed to be very cool. These days when I listen to the vinyl, I hear the differences. It’s really quite remarkable. I didn’t really hear it back then. You’re hearing more information on the CD, but something happened to the sound quality. The vinyl today is so much richer. Maybe there isn’t as much information on it, but the vibe and the sound is there. It’s pretty obvious to a lot of these younger fans who are just eating up the vinyl. It’s quite obvious. You listen to it back to back, you really hear the difference.
Tom Hamilton: It’s just a neat thing. I like the digital side too. It’s great that we have both. It’s neat that there are these people who are discovering that it’s interesting to relate to your music the way you do when you play an LP versus a CD or on your phone or whatever. We’ll see what happens with it.
You guys originally got together back in 1970. Tom, you met Joe and hooked up with Steven and Joey and soon Brad. Did you guys all know that you were in the presence of a special group of musicians? Did you have any inkling that you could still be possibly working together and playing together all these years later?
Tom Hamilton: (laughs) That’s funny, Joe and I were playing as teenagers for years before Aerosmith. Funny.
Brad Whitford: Man, there’s just no way we could have imagined this far down the line still being out there being an important musical act. Absolutely no way we could have imagined that. In those days we were living day to day. There were a lot of just huge moments for us back then. The first time we heard ourselves on the radio and stuff. To imagine hearing yourself on the radio 10 years later or 15 years later or 20 years later was not even the thought.(laughs) No way.
Tom Hamilton: I will say something though. Joe and I, we played in bands every summer up there. It was this enchanted summer lake area where all the kids from Boston and New York would come up. I lived up there in the country. It was great getting together with Joe every summer and putting a band together. Then doing it the next year with a different name and the next year with a different name.
Somewhere in there, Steven, who is also a summer kid from up there, would come up with his band. He had a band called the Strangers. Then he changed it a little bit, and they were called the Chain Reaction. They were unbelievable. It was the first time I’d ever seen Steven perform. He’d been playing up there at this place called the Barn, but traditionally Joe and I were too young to be allowed there. (laughs) They were playing, so we would listen from the outside.
If there was a big event Steven would come up. They were an amazing band. They didn’t really have any originals, but wow. When I first saw them play it blew me away. Then every summer, I think, Steven got frustrated and restless and would change the band. Then he’d do it again the following year and then the following year. Eventually he reached a dead end with it and decided he needed to break out of the way he’d been trying to do it.
That’s when he saw Joe and I play at the Barn ironically. He said, “These guys, they’re pretty sloppy and loud, but man, they really play with energy. This could be fun.” (laughs) He’s like, shape that into something. Finally, Joe and Steven got together a few times. Joe and I talked about it. Steven at that point was playing drums in his band. He figured we wanted him to be the drummer. We’re like, “Hey, Steven, don’t worry about playing the drums. You can stand up from now on.” Then we got Joey. Anyway, yeah, when things got especially married up between Steven and Joe, there was a good feeling that we could do what we wanted, depending on how hard we worked at it.
You guys have made your name in a string of major hits, and you play many of them in this show. How do you keep those big songs fresh for yourself after so many years?
Tom Hamilton: You get a new audience every night, so that’s fresh. That affects how you feel as you play these songs. All these songs, you can play them one of two ways. You can either play them good or you can play them really good or you can play them bad. Every night you’re just trying as hard as you can to play that song the best you’ve ever played it. I guess it’s in the mindset.
Brad Whitford: It’s easy to play a good song. (laughs) We have a bunch of these great rock and roll riffs. Some stretch a little bit out of the rock mainstream, but they’re all really great songs. It makes it very easy to play them and to play them well. They just have a lot of energy. They’re songs that we’ve all heard many times on the radio or in our cars. You just go back, and you revisit it. They’re just fun to do so it’s not a problem to play it well.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but in the press release you guys mention the mud and rain on the day of the show. Talk a little bit about what the atmosphere was like that day.
Tom Hamilton: Oh, man. One thing about Donington, every time we’ve been there, it’s been probably the funkiest, most earthy audience band situation on the tour. Usually the crowd has been there for a few days, and it’s been raining. There are guitars out. The last two times we played there, it rained all day long and into the opening act. Who was it? I forget. One of the opening acts is out there and it’s raining. Then, we always seem to luck out and it stops raining to a reasonable amount. We’re lucky that way. The audience gets a particular aroma, between the mud and the people who just felt it was too far to go to the porti-cans. Whatever bodily fluids were happening makes up the dirt. (laughs) It’s great. Oh my god. It smells like you’re on a farm.
Brad Whitford: There’s so many different bands on that show. Then the crowd is so appreciative of everything they hear. It’s a really eclectic group of fans. They’re there to hear it all. It’s great because back where all the artists are, you see people you haven’t seen in a year or two years. So many friends from other bands and stuff. It’s a great little reunion as well. It makes it a lot of fun when you’re up on stage and all these guys from other bands are standing in the wings watching. It’s really fun.
Tom Hamilton: Brad, did you happen to see the guy with the moobs [ed. note:man boobs] that night?
Brad Whitford: No.
Tom Hamilton: Down near the end of the ramp. He was way out into the crowd. He tried to reach out deeper into the audience. There was this guy down there with huge moobs. He was flopping them around, exposing himself. Actually, it was a guy. Very strange behavior, but it was hilarious. He was having a great time.
Who would have thought that the bad boys of Boston would get an Orlando, Florida theme park ride. If Disney said, “Hey, we want you guys to pick a second ride and a song to drive it,” what would each of you guys choose?
Tom Hamilton: Oh my God. Maybe one of those ones where you go way the hell up in a tower and then drop down. That’s what Tower of Terror does. I don’t know. I love roller coasters. Imagine us when you put the band together, these 20-some year olds imagining that some day, (laughs) having a roller coaster. That’s an interesting thing to hope for when you’re trying to make it. You think about women. You think about money. You think about fame. You don’t necessarily expect a roller coaster to come along.
What song would pick though?
Tom Hamilton: Oh, man. “Back in the Saddle.”
Brad Whitford: I think “Back in the Saddle.” The next ride should be a holographic experience where you’re right on stage with the band. Something like that would be awesome.
Tom Hamilton: That would be really cool. Speaking of that. Brad and I were doing the same shows for people who want to see it. We’re having these little Q&A sessions, and people can jam with us for a few minutes if they want. Going to be fun, Brad.
Brad Whitford: About as close as you’ll get to getting on the stage. It won’t be on the stage, but it will be close. You’ll be playing with us.
When you guys do a film performance like this, does it change your attitude going in or your approach when you know you’re being filmed for the big screen?
Tom Hamilton: Yeah, you want to look as good as you can and still be okay with being a rocker and rough around the edges like we’re supposed to be.
Brad Whitford: You kind of forget though. The best approach is to forget the cameras are there and just do it the way we do it every show. We try and deliver our best performance always. I don’t think we approach it too much differently other than there’s certainly a lot of planning and stuff before about where cameras are going to be and all that stuff, but then once you’re up there you forget about it.
When you guys finished the film, obviously you get one shot at this. When you’re finished with it, was the band involved with much overdubbing or the mixing and editing of the film when it was finished?
Tom Hamilton: Not me. Did you do any overdubbing, Brad? I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody did. There’s none.
Brad Whitford: No, it’s completely live. There were absolutely no fixes on it.
You’ve influenced several generations now. Obviously the business has changed completely since you guys started. What advice do you give to the young bands and the young players both on learning the business so you’re not taken advantage of and on the creative side?
Tom Hamilton: One thing that I’ve never done before that I’ve done in the last year or so is mentor a person, a teenager who is soon going to Berkeley. She started early working on her singing and her writing. I had a song that I had written that really came out sounding like a girl should sing it. (laughs) It definitely was not a candidate for an Aerosmith song. We developed that song and made a demo of it. During that process she learned a hell of a lot. She met some people that are very good people to know in Boston that have connections in L.A. that she can pursue as her career builds. That was a good feeling.
Brad Whitford: I think you said it in your question. It’s really about the best music is music that’s always truth and true to your gut. That’s something that just translates. People get that. They understand it on maybe another level. When it comes from the heart, and you’re singing about something dear to you or important to you, it’s the only way to go. Trends are trends. (laughs) They come and go. So yeah, it’s about being true to yourself and your musical self. That’s going to be your best path, whether it’s to super stardom or just playing your local venues or whatever it turns out to be. The best path there is just to be true to yourself.
I hope this isn’t too personal, but I have been sober for about ten years, and I was just curious how sobriety has been a positive thing for Aerosmith and how it’s helped you become a better band.
Tom Hamilton: We had an experience in the late 70s where the band fell apart over a period of three, four years. The influence of drugs was huge on it. Later on we got the band back together. Everybody realized that some of the stuff that we were doing was costing us having this wonderful band. We had a manager that actually did a very courageous thing. This is in the books. He became determined that everybody in the band was going to get clean right away, no matter what the amount was they were using. He made it seem the only choice at that point, the crossroads that we were at. It was an intense situation, but it really was a major part of the band having a resurgence. Doing all this stuff as a band and meeting as a band and talking about stuff. Relationships and talking and talking. It was something that really imprinted on us. We can only see it as being positive for us and contributing to what we have now.
It’s incredible that you guys made it out because a lot of people don’t, especially in the rock music. We’ve heard of so many overdose deaths and things like that. I just think it’s incredible to see where you are today is fantastic. I think it gives a lot of people hope. Thank you.
Tom Hamilton: We’ll try our hardest, but don’t forget we’re humans too.
You guys have been such a classic band for such a long time. Over time have you ever felt the need to modify your music style to keep up with changing times and to appeal to young crowds?
Tom Hamilton: I don’t know. That’s not really one thing you’re describing. That’s part of a process where you generally look around like that. The thing is, is when new things come along, we’re affected by it the way everybody else is affected by it. You’re presented with it. Does it appeal to you or not? A lot of times it’s very full, these different eras of computer music we’re in now and guitar music and R&B. The way these things cycle is something we’ve been able to check out because we’ve been around for a century. We have our 100th anniversary next week on Tuesday if you’d like to come.
Brad Whitford: I think the closest we came to maybe an experience like that was when the opportunity came up with Rick Rubin and we did the track with Run DMC. That just kind of happened. That was a natural evolution of the music scene that we were lucky to be part of, bringing the rock and rap together. We’ve always tried to stay true to our musical roots. Consciously thinking about reaching an audience is usually the wrong way to go. Songs need to come from wherever they’ve always come from. When you try to write or adapt, can sometimes get in the way. You just have to continue to write and hopefully it reaches your audience just the way it always has. When we started out we had no audience. We just wrote the music we loved, and we learned that other people loved it to. That’s the way to go.
Tom Hamilton: Yeah, that first album you get, it’s like a honeymoon album. You get to play the songs that you’ve been playing live for the last year or two. You record them, and they have all that vibe. Then two years later you have to start thinking about another album. You don’t really get the opportunity to do that anymore. Usually there’s the writing, the pre-production and the production. Then you play the song after you put it out. Whereas on your first album you get to play the material before you put it out, so you can really create your sound and how you want to play, how to you want to be seen.
Looking back at your career, how do you guys feel about the whole Geffen era?
Brad Whitford: The Geffen era was actually huge for us. When we started working with John Kalodner, who had a huge impact on the music we were writing. He wanted us to step out of our comfort zone and try composing with some other writers. It turned out to be hugely successful for us. The Geffen era really brought us back into the mainstream.
Tom Hamilton: That era was also the heyday of MTV and video making. I literally went from a situation of mowing my lawn one day in 1983, freaking out because this MTV thing was exploding. People were making little films to go along with their songs. It was happening, and I was thinking, “Wow, we’re never going to experience that.” Sure enough, that was probably a year before the band got back together. Eventually we jumped in there and had that experience of making a record and making a video to go with it. It’s a whole new avenue of just reaching out and inspiring your fans.
With this being released in the theaters, is there any concern about the spirit of the live performance being lost in the translation when it’s show in theaters?
Tom Hamilton: Not if it’s loud enough. No, it’s just great. It sounds so good. Live albums for a lot of my life have always been like, “Okay, I love them because I love what the band is playing, but I wish they sounded as strong as a studio album can sound.” We can do that now. It’s one of the amazing things about digital recordings is you can jack that level up so that when you watch it and when you listen to it, it’s hot and powerful and accurate.
Brad Whitford: Yeah, it’s a very accurate representation. You see it exactly as it happened. There’s not a single thing that was fixed on it. It is live as it happens. That comes across. No gimmicks.
It occurs to me, with talk about books a little earlier today, we’re talking to the two guys who haven’t written Aerosmith books. When are yours coming?
Tom Hamilton: (laughs) They say everybody on earth has at least one book in them. I feel actually a lot of feelings that I should figure out how to do that. I’d like to try actually writing it myself. I’m learning about what that process is, what it is and how it’s done. I enjoy writing. I don’t know. We’ll see. I have songs and demos of songs that I dream about some band playing whether Aerosmith gets to them or not. It’s a little hopeful excitement for me.
Brad Whitford: I don’t know. I think the subject’s been pretty well documented.(chuckles) I don’t know if another book about it would … I don’t know. I have no plans myself to be writing any books about Aerosmith in the near future.
The other thing in memory lane for you guys is Aerosmith has an anniversary every hour of any given day. This year it is 40 for Toys in the Attic, which was obviously a big one. What is your 2015 perspective on what that album meant, what it was like making it and everything like that?
Tom Hamilton: It was the first album where myself, and I think the band itself, felt really experienced in the studio. How to use the studio and better ways to arrange your music. We were able to do that on Toys in the Attic. I just remember wanting to play better than I ever had on a record. That one andRocks, it was the same thing. Everybody, Brad and I, were putting songs in there. Brad came with “Last Child.” Then I had a song called “Sick as a Dog” that are both awesome rockers.
Brad Whitford: Our first album was very easy for us because we had all the material ready. It was just a matter of recording it. The second album became a challenge. The record company didn’t really believe in us anymore because we sold so little of our first album. (laughs) We started Toys in the Attic. We started to figure the process out, and the creative juices were really flowing. We were coming up with great material. It was a really, really fun project for us. Jack Douglas and his production was absolutely invaluable. We really started to develop a style of putting together the music. Jack came up with some absolutely classic mixes and productions of this stuff that still amazes me when I listen to it. I’m very, very proud of that record.
Tom Hamilton: It was kind of a sweet spot that we hit.
Brad Whitford: Definitely.
Following up on that idea of the 40th anniversary of Toys, a lot of groups are out there playing their full albums, front to back, during concerts coinciding with an anniversary. Just curious if that idea appeals to you for Toys or any of the other albums? Do you see Aerosmith ever doing anything like that?
Tom Hamilton: It’s neat to think about those anniversaries and those important milestones in time. But I just don’t really think about it that much.(laughs) I don’t know. I guess I’m a little casual about that one.
Brad Whitford: I think it would be fun to do. I’d love to do that, maybe make a more intimate setting and do Toys and Rocks and invite some of our friends from the music industry who claim to have been influenced. Have people sit in and join us on playing back some of that stuff. I think it would be really cool.
Tom Hamilton: That is an awesome idea. Write that one down, Brad.
Brad Whitford: Yeah, I’ve got it. (They both laugh.)
Sounds like it would make for a good DVD.
Tom Hamilton: Ah, man. It would. The way we use the effects in the studio of that record, the stuff that Jack came, ideas of his and Steven’s and Joe’s about sonic experimentation and all that. It was really harder making records back then. It is now too, but we were riding a wave of recording technology getting better when we did Toys in the Attic. If you listen to the sound of Get Your Wings, and then you listen to the sound of Toys in the Attic, you’ll see how much progress there was in just a few years in recording technology and our own personal technology in terms of our playing it, the engineers and everything.
What do you guys think accounts for this increasing popularity of live concerts coming to movie theaters in general? I know U2 has done it, Peter Gabriel has done it, the Rolling Stones have done it, and now you guys are doing it.
Tom Hamilton: You know what? I didn’t really realize that, or it didn’t dawn on me that there is a lot of that. I think it’s just that in the last few years, where the sound of them is so much stronger. It’s not like somebody set up a few mics to record a show one night. I mean, we record absolutely constantly when we play. It’s just a given right now. It’s just always on record. (laughs)
Brad Whitford: Yeah. You know what? It’s actually a great way to relive the concert. We do our best when it’s a live performance to make it have the visual impact and the sonic impact that it has. When we do something like this, put it on DVD or play it in the theater, you do get a chance to revisit the mix. That allows you the opportunity to really make it sparkle. Sometimes stuff live can get lost or cluttered. In this particular show, you’re hearing it exactly as it happened. There’s no over-dubs. Nothing’s been fixed on it or repaired. It’s just been sonically enhanced. If you weren’t there and you go see this in the theater, you’re going to see it just as good as it could be possibly represented to you.
Tom Hamilton: That’s very enlightening to hear that you’re noticing an increasing trend. I wasn’t aware of that. That’s very interesting. We have such an amount of really beautifully recorded Aerosmith shows going from the present back to 20 years ago; we’ve just been recording shows constantly. Obviously some day we can go through some of that. That would take a long time. That’s stuff we can put out for people to check out and put some really great digitals with it and some interesting comments from the band on it. I can see why people are enjoying it as a theater experience because you can go in there. You can listen to it really loud, and nobody’s blabbing to you while you’re trying to listen to it. You’re really much more immersed at it than you can be at home unless you’re absolutely by yourself. Particularly, when they do whatever they do to get mentally and spiritually prepared for a rock show. Get that done, only in Colorado where it’s not against the law. Then you go in and just have that intensity.
The Boston music scene was so vibrant in the 60s, 70s and 80s with bands like you and The Standells and J. Geils Band and later things like The Cars and Boston. What was it like to be part of that music scene, and what do you think it is about the city that spawns musicians?
Tom Hamilton: There’s tons of students there from all over the world, especially now. So many people now are playing an instrument, playing guitar or something. That was much more rare back then.
Brad Whitford: Yeah, it was a melting pot. I think that had a lot to do with that because you had so many young people there. People right at the age of discovering… so many college students. Thousands, thousands, tens of thousands, all discovering about life and about what they were going to do and what they really liked and didn’t like. We came out of that. Certainly not out of college. (laugh) None of us were … We didn’t have any real big college experiences, other than performing for the students. That was a great experience. We played at BU a lot, rehearsed at BU. We met people from all over the place starting out in Boston. It was just a great place for it to happen. I really can’t put my finger on anything other than that. It happened. It was a great music scene. Boston is still huge. The Cars, you’ll never not hear the Cars on the radio.
Tom Hamilton: Remember the Stone Phoenix coffeehouse, Brad?
Brad Whitford: Yeah.
Tom Hamilton: There was this place. It had a couple of different names like a lot of these places. I think the Unicorn or something like that. We used to go there to hear this band called the Modern Lovers. It was Jonathan Richman. Jonathan Richman is this very quirky but fun to watch singer and writer. We used to see those guys play. One of the guys, the drummer, was in the Cars. [ed. note: David Robinson] The keyboard player is a very accomplished producer now. He’s done a lot of big records.
Brad Whitford: Jerry? [ed. note: Jerry Harrison, who went on to be a member of Talking Heads.]
Tom Hamilton: It was neat seeing these people. Billy Squier. He came out. What was the band he was in before that, Brad? Ah, shoot. [ed. note: The band was called Piper.]
Brad Whitford: Oh, gosh.
Tom Hamilton: A really good band. You would think, “Okay, these guys are going to be the next ones out of Boston.” It wound up being him making a record on his own and finding a different band, I think. You couldn’t really play originals in clubs back then in Boston. If you played in those places, they wanted you to play top 40 covers. The people would come, hear the songs that they like and hang around and drink. Later on we were playing in places like that, but at the beginning we had to go anywhere we could do a combination of our favorite songs plus a smattering of ours as they get developed.
Brad Whitford: Yeah, which meant we didn’t play a lot in the Boston area.(laughs) We had a booking agent that would get a lot of work outside of Boston. It allowed us to play a lot more of our own music, because we were right in the middle of that “You’ve got to play the top 40,” which we couldn’t do, we didn’t want to do, and we didn’t know the songs. (laughs) We could do ours songs that we knew. We knew lots of Stones and Zeppelin and Yardbirds. That’s what we wanted to do.
Tom Hamilton: We used to play at the Navy Club in Boston. It was such a great gig because you would go over there, they would take you in the kitchen at a big table and feed you until you’re stuffed. We would play our songs and a mixture of Yardbirds and Zeppelin and Stones and blues songs and stuff. They would just dance their asses off. These guys must have been people who just got on shore leave or something. That was a fun gig. We used to play our originals there. They didn’t care as long as they could dance. This is Joe Perry talking, “As long as they can dance, they’re open to hearing a strange song or a new song.”
Brad Whitford: As long as there was girls to dance with.
Tom Hamilton: Exactly.
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