In Aerosmith, Martin Huxley chronicles the fall and the rise of rock's greatest band. Read about the origins of mega rockstars Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Brad Whitford, and Joey Kramer--from the group's near break-up to their path of success that would eventually lead to them to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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About the Author
Martin Huxley is the author of Nine Inch Nails, Aerosmith, and AC/DC, all for St. Martin's Press. He lives in New York City.
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The Fall and the Rise of Rock's Greatest Band
By Martin Huxley
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1995 Scott Schinder
All rights reserved.
EAT THE RICH
On August 16, 1991, Columbia Records — the flagship label of Sony Music, the world's largest music-entertainment conglomerate — put the brakes on several months' worth of heated music-industry speculation by announcing the re-signing of Aerosmith. The deal, which would return the band to the label that was the scene of its groundbreaking commercial triumphs during the 1970s, immediately set entertainment-biz tongues fluttering. And with good reason.
Even in a business built on extravagance and overkill, one in which superstar record deals have scaled increasingly outlandish heights of financial excess, the new Aerosmith-Sony arrangement was a remarkable one. Although no financial specifics were officially disclosed, the six-album deal is worth a reported $30 million — imposing figures even by inflated nineties standards. Even more impressive was the fact that the contract wouldn't even take effect for several more years, since the band still owed at least two more studio albums to Geffen Records, the company that had helped engineer the band's multiplatinum late-eighties comeback.
In other words, Sony was paying megabucks, up front, for the privilege of releasing new Aerosmith product beginning in 1998 or so. By that time, Steven Tyler, the band's oldest member, would be fifty years old, and Brad Whitford, the youngest, would be forty-six.
Not bad for a band whose career had, just a few years earlier, been written off by most of the music industry as a hopelessly drug-devastated disaster area. In the space of two decades, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer had, against all conventional logic, succumbed to and survived virtually every imaginable rock-star pitfall, squandered untold millions on drugs, alcohol, and all manner of personal and professional indulgences, and somehow emerged from the ordeal miraculously intact.
The first decade of Aerosmith's recording career had seen the group spectacularly claw its way to the top of the rock world and fall from grace in equally epic fashion, collapsing in a bitter, drug-clouded haze that eventually left frontman Tyler and guitarist Perry, the band's visual and musical core, creatively bankrupt and financially strapped. Yet, with the original Aerosmith lineup's re-formation in the mid-eighties, the group miraculously pulled itself together to reemerge not only clean and sober, but bigger and — in the eyes and ears of many — better than ever.
"Our story was basically that we had it all, and we pissed it all away," Joe Perry said, looking back at the band's exploits from a nineties perspective. An all-too-common story in the temptation-filled rock world. The difference in Aerosmith's case is that they lost everything and somehow won it back.
"We believed that anything worth doing was worth overdoing," Steven Tyler has said, and indeed, Aerosmith's personal and professional excesses effectively torpedoed the band's career. Now, they were reaping the bounty of a comeback that was equally over-the-top.
Under the circumstances, the line "You've got to lose to know how to win," from the band's immortal anthem "Dream On," had a distinctly resonant ring....CHAPTER 2
"In my mind I was always a rock star," Steven Tyler has said more than once, and that observation helps put his success into perspective. Indeed, if there's one consistent theme in Tyler's career, it's that relentless self-belief that's always driven him, even when his other vices left him at rock bottom.
It was only natural that music would be the vehicle for Steven's natural drive. Born Steven Tallarico in New York City on March 26, 1948 (though he's sometimes given his year of birth as 1952), he grew up in a middleclass family headed by his father, Victor Tallarico, a Juilliard-trained classical pianist who'd performed at Carnegie Hall and who earned his living teaching music in New York City's public school system. A generation earlier, Victor's grandfather Giovanni was a cellist who'd performed in chamber ensembles in some of Manhattan's ritziest hotel ballrooms during the 1920s.
"I grew up under the piano," Tyler recalled in a 1990 interview with Musician magazine. "My father talked to me with his fingers, playing Debussy and Beethoven. He didn't talk to me much one-to-one as a human being, but I'm glad he didn't. That's where my emotion comes from."
Emotion was something that young Steven possessed plenty of. During a less-than-stellar academic career at Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, New York, the budding drummer and singer — who was frequently beaten up by bigger kids who called him "Nigger Lips" in honor of his already prominent mouth — displayed the same curious combination of intelligence, imagination, and lack of discipline that's sent many an educational career down the rock 'n' roll road.
With a distinct aversion to authority and a pronounced penchant for mischief, Steven was well on his way to low-level juvenile delinquency, joining a local gang called the Green Mountain Boys. ("We were the Robin Hoods of Yonkers," he later recalled.) By his early teens, he'd discovered marijuana and a variety of other forbidden substances — still novel pursuits for a suburban high-school student during the first half of the sixties.
It was just that sort of extracurricular activity that eventually got Steven thrown out of Roosevelt High. "They put a narcotics agent in our ceramics class, see," he told Rock magazine. "He had the best weed around. He used to turn us on during lunchtime." Steven and his friends didn't learn that their new classmate was an undercover Putnam County deputy sheriff until a squad car showed up in the Tallarico family's driveway and the cops handcuffed the budding pothead right in front of his parents.
The bust landed Steven in court, where — with the sort of persuasive panache that would serve him well later in life — he sweet-talked the judge into reducing the charges and letting him off with a misdemeanor. The whole sordid affair got Steven expelled from Roosevelt High, and he ended his formal education at Quintano's, a private school for creative but unruly kids.
In a 1975 interview with Circus magazine, Tyler described Quintano's as "a school for young artists, the kind of school you pay an awful lot of money to go but where you don't have to show up. I went to school three days out of five and wound up most of the time in the park with the chickie-doos. So I passed that with flying colors. That was the extent of my schooling."
As a teen, Steven spent his summers in the rural environs of Sunapee, New Hampshire, where his parents owned and operated Trow-Rico Lodge, a 360-acre summer resort. It was in Sunapee that he began channeling his creative impulses into performing in comic skits during Saturday-night talent shows at Trow-Rico and, more significantly, as drummer in his dad's Lester Lanin–style swing band, with whom Steven played at a more upstate local hotel, the Sunapee Lodge.
But any thoughts the young Tallarico may have had about a career as a swing-band drummer went straight out the window when the British Invasion hit American shores. Inspired by the Beatles and the wave of U.K. guitar bands that had followed them onto the U.S. pop charts, he formed his first "serious" group, the Strangeurs, sometime in 1964. With sixteen-year-old Steven doubling on drums and lead vocals, the Strangeurs began life as a typical mid-sixties cover combo, specializing in renditions of material by such contemporary Brit combos as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Yardbirds. When a similarly-named Manhattan band surfaced, Tallarico's combo briefly amended their moniker to Thee Strangeurs, before settling on the snappier handle Chain Reaction. Along with the new name came an influx of original material, written by Steven in collaboration with the band's keyboardist, Don Solomon.
Chain Reaction diligently worked the small-time club circuit through New York and New England, plying their stylishly derivative, anglophilic pop-rock and reportedly playing their self-appointed rock-star roles to the hilt. But the stylishly attired quintet's attempts at translating its modest club-level success into a recording career proved frustrating. A pair of quietly released singles — "The Sun"/"When I Needed You" (for the Date label), and "You Should Have Been Here Yesterday"/"Ever-Loving Man" (on Verve) — went nowhere.
The Tallarico composition "When I Needed You," recorded October 5, 1966, at CBS Studios in New York, later resurfaced on Aerosmith's 1991 retrospective boxed set Pandora's Box. The track, a fairly straightforward pop offering with some mild trendy psychedelic touches, gives some insight into Chain Reaction's accessible but overly imitative style. On listening to the song nearly a quarter century after its creation, Tyler recalled "how excited I was about being in an actual recording band. It was a total dream come true. The other side of it is that it's a pretty lame song. I never got a cent."
Early in his musical endeavors, the teenaged Tallarico discovered a second home in the fertile musical community of New York's Greenwich Village. It wasn't long before the middleclass misfit was spending most of his free time in the Village, where he enthusiastically embraced the chemical, sexual, and musical freedoms that the burgeoning scene had to offer.
"We'd leave Westchester four o'clock Friday afternoon and take the subway down and spend all night there," Tyler recalled in a Circus interview. "We'd buy a bottle of Rock Rye, sit in the park and get faced, and walk the street like everybody else. I used to stuff my face at the Tin Angel, went to the Night Owl, saw the Spoonful there, the Fugs. I played at the Bitter End, the Bizarre and the Cafe Wha? ..."
In the course of his adventures in the Village, Tallarico fell in with the members of the "baroque-pop" group the Left Banke, who'd scored a massive hit with their 1967 debut single "Walk Away Renee," but were now foundering for direction without their original songwriting mastermind Michael Brown. While the Left Banke's chart clout had waned considerably since their initial triumph, their influence on the ambitious Tallarico — who ended up singing backup on "Desiree" and "Dark is the Bark," both on the band's 1968 album The Left Banke Too — was immediate and indelible.
"They had a hit under their belt, a million-seller nationwide, and they were just the laziest mothers ever. ... I played a couple of gigs with them, and watched them flush themselves down the toilet," he later recalled. "I'll never forget being in their apartment one day and one of them saying, 'What's the date today? Are we recording tonight? What are we going to record?' It turned out they were. 'Don't worry, we'll come up with something.' I couldn't believe they were taking it so lightly. I remember thinking, 'There's got to be a better way of doing this.'"
Though his experience with the Left Banke further strengthened Tallarico's career resolve, success continued to elude Chain Reaction even as their original repertoire and stage act grew more professional and streamlined.
The group even got to play occasional high-profile gigs opening for the likes of the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and — perhaps most significantly — the last-gasp 1968 lineup of the Yardbirds, in which guitarist Jimmy Page was road-testing the rudiments of the heavy-metal style he'd soon perfect with Led Zeppelin. Chain Reaction opened four shows for the 1968-model Yardbirds, including a March 30 concert at New York's Anderson Theater, which was recorded and eventually released as the legendary Live Yardbirds album (which was deleted soon after its 1971 release when Page threatened litigation).
But these scattered scraps of encouragement weren't enough to sustain Chain Reaction's dwindling momentum, and the band eventually fell apart. Tallarico and writing partner Solomon formed a new, short-lived outfit, William Proud, which similarly failed to improve their fortunes. In the summer of 1969, frustrated with his inability to crack the New York big time, Tallarico hitchhiked to his parents' place in Sunapee, little suspecting what fate had in store for him. ...CHAPTER 3
ONE WAY STREET
Like his future bandmate Tallarico, Joe Perry — born Anthony Joseph Perry on September 10, 1950, in Lawrence, Massachusetts — hailed from a musically inclined middle-class family. But, for all of his parents' attempts to interest him in classical training, Joe had his sights firmly set on earthier musical pursuits. He'd been attracted to rock 'n' roll since his early childhood, but, as with so many others of his generation, it was the arrival of the Beatles that awakened him to the possibilities of playing electric guitar. After an unenthusiastic stab at high school and a similarly unsuccessful stint in prep school, Perry gave up on mainstream education. He spent the next two years working a frustrating minimum-wage factory job, before deciding to try his luck in New Hampshire, where his parents, too, had a summer home.
"I can remember when I was younger, a certain feeling would happen when I would turn music on and it would take me away, make me feel good," Perry recalled in a 1980 Creem interview. "I can remember when I was working in this factory after dropping out of prep school. I'd wake up in the morning and I wouldn't drink any coffee or take any speed, I'd just put on Ten Years After's 'Goin' Home,' and I'd be up and moving for the rest of the day. Ever since, I've always wanted to do what they did, and have it in my head and be able to control it."
In New Hampshire, Perry worked a variety of part-time jobs, including one washing dishes in an ice-cream parlor where Tallarico and his fellow Chain Reaction members were frequent customers (and rather obnoxious, unruly ones at that). He also met and befriended a blond-haired local bassist named Tom Hamilton, who possessed the distinction of having been arrested in Sunapee's first-ever acid bust.
Thomas William Hamilton was born on the last day of 1951 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His father's career as a civilian Air Force employee meant that the Hamilton family moved frequently during Tom's childhood. By the time the family settled in New Hampshire, Tom was a rabid Beatlemaniac, eventually joining the Mosquitos, a high-school combo whose entomological handle made clear their admiration for the Fab Four.
By 1966, Hamilton and Perry formed a combo with the self-effacing handle Pipe Dream, which by the end of the decade had evolved into the harder-edged, blues-based Jam Band, a rough and raunchy outfit specializing in covers of tunes by the likes of the Yardbirds, Cream, Ten Years After, and the MC5. Though something less than a professional package, the Jam Band embodied an anarchic blend of energy, speed, volume, and sheer unbridled craziness.
It was exactly those qualities that impressed Steven Tallarico after Perry invited him to one of the Jam Band's gigs at a Sunapee club called The Barn, where Chain Reaction had often played and where the Jam Band was virtually the house group. To the enthusiastic but relatively unworldly Perry and Hamilton, the more experienced Tallarico, with his cocksure attitude, fashionable Carnaby Street threads and streetwise career drive, was a Pro, or as close to one as they were likely to come.
"Steven sure looked like a rock star, and he definitely acted like one," Perry recalls, "so we just assumed he already was one."
"I mean, Steven had already put out a record, for God's sake," adds Hamilton. "He was the real thing. That was the ultimate to us."
"Steven knew how to keep things tight," Perry affirms. "We didn't have a clue about discipline. For us the whole thing was all about feel. So we needed each other."
If Perry and Hamilton saw in Tallarico the focus and professionalism that they lacked, Tallarico, while not completely sold on the pair's relatively primitive technique, was mightily impressed with the Jam Band's ragged energy, as well as a sullen, "Fuck it" attitude that Tallarico found appealing after years of playing in eager-to-please pop combos.
"I'd been playing in bands for something like seven years at this point," the singer recalled recently. "And we were always trying to get ahead, trying to rehearse and sound professional. But then I go to see the Jam Band, and it blew me away. I wasn't expecting too much. Then they got up there and did 'Rattlesnake Shake' by Fleetwood Mac. And I said to myself, 'That's it. These guys suck — they can't even tune their instruments. But they have a great groove going that's better than any fuck I've ever had.' I just knew that if I could show them a little of what I knew, with the looseness and balls that they showed up there, then we'd really have something."
Excerpted from Aerosmith by Martin Huxley. Copyright © 1995 Scott Schinder. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Eat the Rich,
2. Movin' Out,
3. One Way Street,
4. Dream On,
5. Make it,
6. Same Old Song and Dance,
7. Walk This Way,
8. Back in the Saddle,
10. Critical Mass,
11. Push Comes to Shove,
12. Sight for Sore Eyes,
13. No Surprize,
15. Going Down,
16. Jig Is Up,
17. Get it Up,
18. Monkey on my Back,
19. Magic Touch,
20. Gypsy Boots,
21. Don't Get Mad, Get Even,
22. The Hand That Feeds,
23. Gotta Love It,
24. Shut up and Dance,
25. What it Takes (Discography),
About the Author,