Give Perry a guitar and stories just flow

As Aerosmith fires up for its Dunedin concert next week, the band's axeman talks guitars, survival and sauce to Shane Gilchrist.

Aerosmith's lead singer Steven Tyler (left) and guitarist Joe Perry. Photo / AP
Aerosmith's lead singer Steven Tyler (left) and guitarist Joe Perry. Photo / AP

Of all the many instruments owned by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, there is one in particular that might just serve as an analogy for his career.

It's a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (serial number 9-0663 for you guitar geeks). Like its owner, the guitar has been around. It has more than a few scrapes and scratches.

Perry first got it in the 1970s, but had to sell it in the early 1980s after Aerosmith's internal struggles, fuelled by a combination of incessant touring and substance abuse, most notably by lead singer Steven Tyler, came to a head. Perry and fellow guitarist Brad Whitford left, though rejoined in the mid 80s after Tyler completed rehab.

And, after being owned by many others, including Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, the Gibson was returned to Perry in 2000.

Reportedly relenting after many phone-calls from the Aerosmith founder, Slash presented Perry with the guitar on his 50th birthday.

For those unfamiliar with Gibson's most famous model, it's a guitar favoured for its ability to sustain.

In that, it's not unlike Perry.

"There were definitely some times that were really hard," Perry reflects via phone from Los Angeles.

"But the main reason we got together was to play music and entertain people, whether it was 50 people or 50,000. It was also about finding the right guys to play with and taking it day by day.

Those days now stretch way back through 40-plus years of often tumultuous times and career revivals. With the help of rap group Run-D.M.C.'s chart-topping 1986 cover of Walk This Way, a song Aerosmith had recorded 11 years earlier, Perry and company made a successful comeback with 1987 album Permanent Vacation.

They then followed it up with 1989 album Pump , which included the singles Love in an Elevator and Janie's Got a Gun. At last count, Aerosmith has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide, courtesy of a mix of the riff-heavy material of their early albums like 1975's Toys In The Attic and power ballads such as Dream On, from the band's 1973 self-titled debut and 1998 hit single I Don't Want to Miss a Thing.

Aerosmith released latest album Music to Another Dimension last year, but Perry suggests the band will be digging deeper into their back catalogue in Dunedin next week.

"I know there are people out there who are going to want to hear stuff from the new album but the great majority - especially in a place we've never played before - will want to hear some of the songs they consider classics by us. So that's what we will be playing.

"We can sit around a rehearsal room and play stuff for ourselves all we want but the fans are the ones we are there for.

"We are there to entertain them. And when they are entertained, so are we. We get energy back."

Perry and fellow "Toxic Twin" Tyler will be inducted into the United States Songwriters Hall of Fame in June. Perry's name pops up on many a "best guitarist" list with the likes of Slash and Metallica's James Hetfield citing him as an influence. Perry has also recorded several solo albums and soundtracks.

Celebrating his 63rd birthday this year, Perry has other interests ranging from an antique cannon to his own line of sauces.

Yes, sauces. In 2003, Perry started food company Joe Perry's Rock Your World Hot Sauces, which includes products such as BoneYard Brew and Mango Peach Tango.

His explanation: "Well, if I hadn't had to eat road food for so many years I might not have got into the sauce business."

But when he's not concocting some spicy condiment, Perry is likely to be found at a guitar shop. At last count, he owned more than 600 guitars.

"I have a friend ... he has the best collection of 1930s-era acoustic guitars out of anyone I know.

"They all sound so amazing because of their age and the way they are built. I borrowed some from him for the last album.

"The sound is so rich it just compels you to want to play things you might never have played. It's a fascinating thing.

"That's why I like to pick up different guitars. They inspire more riffs, more ways to tell a story with a song."


Music profile

Who: Joe Perry of Aerosmith
When and where: Playing Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, on Wednesday.

- Otago Daily Times

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