Aerosmith - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Aerosmith, the archetypal American hard rock band, plays a hard, fierce, sexually charged version of ‘60s blues-based rock that shaped the sound of the rock genre in the ‘70s. The Boston band is enormously popular both as a live and recording act, with twenty-five gold, eighteen platinum and twelve multi-platinum albums to its credit. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Aerosmith became true video stars on MTV. The band still consists of the same five people who recorded the band’s debut album in 1972.
Steven Tyler (born Steven Tallarico March 26, 1948) first started playing rock and roll in 1964 in summer resort Sunapee, New Hampshire as the drummer for The Strangeurs, a band that played a combination of originals and British Invasion covers. After changing its name to Chain Reaction, the band recorded two singles in 1966 and opened English blues greats The Yardbirds’ New York engagement in 1967.
Guitarist Joe Perry (born September 10, 1950) and bassist Tom Hamilton (born December 31, 1951) had an improvisational blues-rock jam band called Pipe Dream, also based in Sunapee. Pipe Dream shared a bill with Chain Reaction at a Sunapee club one night in 1969 and Pipe Dream’s performance of “Rattlesnake Shake” awed Tyler. He vowed to form a new band.
Singer Tyler, lead guitarist Perry and bassist Hamilton formed the first lineup of Aerosmith in 1970 with guitarist Ray “Crazy Raymond” Tabano and his friend, drummer Joey Kramer (born June 21, 1950). Tyler and Perry formed a creative partnership that would write Aerosmith’s classic material. Kramer had come up with the band name “Aerosmith” when still in high school and before there was a band, so it is appropriate that Aerosmith’s first show took place at Nipmuc Regional High School in Mendon, Massachusetts in the fall of 1970. The band members shared an apartment on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, eating little and playing on and around the Boston University campus.
Tabano left the band in 1971. Brad Whitford (born February 23, 1952), formerly of Teapot Dome, replaced him as rhythm guitarist. Aerosmith’s live campaign and communal poverty paid off in summer 1972 when CBS Records boss Clive Davis saw the band play at Max’s Kansas City, the Manhattan hangout of Andy Warhol’s entourage and NYC proto-punks. Davis signed Aerosmith to Columbia and the band entered Intermedia Sound in Boston to record its debut, Aerosmith (1973 Columbia). The album was popular in the Boston area and included the (at first) regionally popular single “Dream On.” Aerosmith toured throughout 1973 to promote the album, opening for The Kinks, among others.
Tyler is a gaunt, androgynous frontman with a massive pair of lips whose resemblance to Mick Jagger has often been noted by the press. Aerosmith, like their hard rock contemporaries, the New York Dolls, were therefore sometimes derided as “Stones clones.” The band went to the Record Plant in New York City to record the second LP, Get Your Wings (1974 Columbia), which reached gold sales in early 1975. Toys in the Attic (1975 Columbia), with the huge songs “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way,” and the title track, reached Billboard’s top twenty when it was released. By this point, Aerosmith was headlining stadiums and had become one of the United States’ most popular live bands. Rocks (1976 Columbia), featuring “Back in the Saddle,” quickly went platinum and remains a fan favorite. Rolling Stone gave the cover of its August 26, 1976 issue to an image of Tyler shirtless in bed. In November, Columbia re-released “Dream On” as a single and it went to #3.
Illustrator Al Hirschfeld caricatured the band on the cover of Draw the Line (1977 Columbia), recorded in isolation in upstate New York. Aerosmith’s members, particularly Tyler and Perry, were reportedly at the height of their vacuum-like substance consumption during the sessions and the album was received with disappointment by some critics and fans. Listening to Draw the Line today, it’s the darkest, heaviest album in Aerosmith’s catalog. Aerosmith next appeared in the ill-advised Beatles tribute movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and contributed a cover of “Come Together,” recorded by Beatles producer George Martin to the soundtrack. Billed as “Dr. J. Jones and The Interns,” Aerosmith played a club date at the Starwood in Los Angeles before returning to stadiums that summer; Dr. Jones and the Interns closed the tour with another club date at Boston’s Paradise. In lieu of a new studio album for 1978, Aerosmith released the live double-album Live! Bootleg (1978 Columbia).
Perry and Tyler’s relationship had deteriorated to the point where the two creative leaders of the band were hardly speaking to one another and Perry left Aerosmith in 1979 to lead his own band, The Joe Perry Project. Guitarist Jimmy Crespo replaced him in the middle of recording Night in the Ruts (1979 Columbia). Brad Whitford followed Perry out of the band in 1980, the year of Greatest Hits’ release. Tyler was badly injured in a 1981 motorcycle crash and Aerosmith issued nothing until Rock in a Hard Place (1982 Columbia), introducing guitarist Rick Dufay in Whitford’s spot. Aerosmith toured with its two new guitarists until February 14, 1984, when Perry and Whitford attended Aerosmith’s Boston show and reconciled with the others backstage.
Two months later, the five original members of Aerosmith announced they would reunite and signed a new deal with Geffen Records. A lengthy tour followed, then Done with Mirrors (1985 Geffen). Run-DMC, the first rap group to achieve mainstream pop success, covered “Walk This Way” on their classic Raising Hell at the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin, who brought in Perry and Tyler to perform on the track. The song and its accompanying video (which depicted Aerosmith and Run-DMC playing the song as if in competition with one another) were enormously popular and an early instance of rap-rock crossover.
By the time of the triple-platinum selling Permanent Vacation (1987 Geffen), Aerosmith’s members were, they said, living drug-free. The ballad “Angel” went to #3 on the singles chart. Following the success of the remade “Walk This Way,” MTV made video stars out of Aerosmith, as they had been radio stars in the previous decade. Vacation’s immortal “Dude (Looks like a Lady)” spawned a popular video, as did “Love in an Elevator” and “Janie’s Got a Gun” from Pump (1989 Geffen). The video for the latter was still in very heavy rotation on MTV when labelmates Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” video appeared late in 1991. Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page joined Aerosmith onstage in London in August 1990.
Columbia released a box set documenting its portion of Aerosmith’s catalog, Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia). Aerosmith signed a new deal with Sony Music, now Columbia’s parent company, that year. Get A Grip (1993 Geffen), the band’s last release on Geffen, went quintuple-platinum. The album extended Aerosmith’s MTV hegemony with a trilogy of videos featuring Alicia Silverstone and Steven’s daughter Liv Tyler. “Cryin’,” “Crazy” and “Amazing,” were all hit singles too. Nine Lives (1997 Columbia) featured the fine, horn-laden single “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees).”
Aerosmith was part of the halftime act at Superbowl XXXV in January 2001. That March, Aerosmith released a new studio album, Just Push Play (2001 Columbia), just before the band was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 19. Honkin’ on Bobo (2004 Columbia) followed. In 2005, the University of Massachusetts awarded Steven Tyler an honorary doctorate and Aerosmith released the live album Rockin’ the Joint (2005 Columbia), recorded in 2002. Hamilton was treated for throat cancer in 2006 and missed Aerosmith’s tour that year. Tyler advocated the establishment of a United States Department of Peace in a Washington, DC rally in February 2007, the same month Hamilton returned to performing with Aerosmith. In June 2008, the video game Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was released and it is said that a new studio album is coming soon.