Aerosmith interview with Dante Bonutto – all pics by Ross Halfin

“When I’m not playing l have to try and keep myself busy, and I hate it. Why kid myself that I’m going to be a good boy! I’m a guitar player and that’s what I should be doing. “ – Jimmy Crespo, Aerosmith.

“What’s the rock star look? You’re looking at it!” – Rick Dufay, Aerosmith

For this outfit, formed in New Hampshire in the summer of 1970, rock’n’roll isn’t simply something that happens onstage. Rather -and without wishing to sound melo-dramatic – it’s a way of life, an uncontrived attitude and air embracing everything from mode of attire (casually draped scarves are BIG in this band) to a sleepless, us-against-the-world look guaranteed to explore the nostrils of petty authority figures and humdrum nine-to-fivers.

Simply, Aerosmith play Rock and Roll because it’s the natural thing to do. The reason why at the end of 1980, though beset with problems and under pressure to produce a follow-up to the excellent ‘Night in the Ruts’ LP, the chose to breach the curtain in a number of East Coast dives. New York’s ultra-sleazy Privates club included.

Imagine the surprise of your soaraway correspondent on the spot purely by chance, as five elegantly wasted figures followed Humble Pie onstage around 2am and proceeded to soften up those in attendance with some copious chord-play.
Clearly, the band were alive and well-as-could-be-expected, but worrying tales, smacking heavily of heresy and hokum, soon began to filter through on the rock’n’roll grapevine. One pointed to a final split, another, more alarmingly, to vocalist Steven Tyler having cancer of the throat but when ‘Rock In A Hard Place’, the band’s eighth album, finally surfaced in September’82, some three years after ‘NITR’, it was clear that neither story was true and that Aerosmith were still very much in the removal business-roofs that is.

Founder member/guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford by this time split with the ranks, but their replacements, Jimmy Crespo and Paris born Rick Dufay, joining in October ’79 and December ’91 respectively, seemed to have matters well in hand.

With heavy rock being essentially a guitar-orientated music, you’d expect a complete overhaul in the rhythm’n’lead dept. to drastically alter a band’s sound. But, as far as Aerosmith are concerned, this hasn’t proved the case, their prolonged absence from the scene making it possible for Crespo, in particular, to be absorbed into the ranks with a minimum amount of upheaval.

As well as collaborating with Tyler on the original material, he’s responsible for virtually all the guitars on the album (Dufay plays rhythm on one track and Whitford, who went his own way in the early stages of recording, provides a similar service on ‘Lightning Strikes’), yet the final product retains that distinctive Aerosmith feel. The scathing, saw-tooth guitar, the maverick lead and beneath that near-lazy, syncopated swagger (actually the result of much hard graft), all brought to life by Jack Douglas who hallmarked the production.

It’s definitely Aerosmith, at times definitively so, and while at first certain aspects – the early-hours say of ‘Push Comes To Shove’, the delicate balance of ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’- proved hard to come to terms with – it’s an album that continued to throw up new, often subtle, delights.

Clearly there was no shortage of studio flair, but what about on stage? Aerosmith’s US appeal, after all, was largely forged through back-to-back touring so how would the Crespo/Dufay alliance stand up live? And would long-standing ‘Smith fans accept them, anyway?

This was a super, superstar band in the present day Journey sense of the word and despite recent (apparent) inactivity, their presence in the hotel induced a certain starry-eyed gaze amongst the younger members of staff, one of whom can barely believe he’s been invited to the show by Tyler himself. The rock’n’roll circus has come to town…

Though only on road some two and a half weeks, concentrating on the more out of the way places along the east coast, tales had already been drifting back of across the boards sell-outs, kids being mugged for their tickets with baseball bats and police being summoned to calm things down. Fortunately, however, there’s no over-the-top chicanery tonight, though inside the halt, a large Wembley/NEC-style superstructure, the atmosphere is explosive, ready to blow…

The houselights dim, the swirling ‘shower scene’ music from ‘Psycho’ rattles the PA and thousands of hoisted lighters signal the band’s presence on the darkened stage. Any second now and… in an instant the lights are up and the Hitchcockian preamble cremated in a fireball of sound discernible as the opening strains of ‘Back In The Saddle’, now very much a statement of intent; confirmation that the bit firmly clenched once more.

For the rest of the set, past-album fodder such as ’Big Ten Inch Record’, ‘Walk This Way’, ‘Sweet Emotion’, ‘Milkcow Blues’, ‘Reefer Headed’ Woman’ and (of course) ’Dream On’, with everyone singing in unison, mingles with material from the current album. ‘Jailbait’ and ‘Lightning Strikes’ coming across best in the surprising absence of ‘Push Comes to Shove’ and ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’.

It is, however, early days. The backdrop has yet to arrive and the presentation of the songs is being chopped and changed all the time, though it’s instantly clear that the arrival of Crespo and Dufay has tightened the band considerably and given an extra punch to the sound with no noticeable drop in spontaneity close-to-the-edge excitement – very much the Aerosmith trademark.

Original members Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums), work closely together, unflappable to a tee, while Crespo, finding himself in the Aerosmith ranks largely through the influence of one Richie Supa (a friend of Tylers’s who wrote
‘Lightning Strikes’), having previously recorded two albums with RCA band Flame, handles most of the leadwork, a relatively sedate foil to firecracker Dufay, introduced to Tyler and co by Jack Douglas, producer of his 1980 (digitally recorded) solo album ‘Tender Loving Abuse’.

Situated behind Crespo, stage-left, is another new face, that of keyboard man Bobby Mayo. A Yonker’s contemporary of Tyler and Kramer who’s previously seen action with both Frampton and Foreigner, he’s classed as a ‘sideman-and-a-half, earning high praise from the band for scorning the dramatic synth and concentrating his digits on rock’n’roll piano.

Altogether an impressive line-up, the new blood and the old blending together in a heady, heavy brew, though in terms of sheer onstage charisma, it’s Tyler who steals the honours by a stylish long neck.

At an earlier gig he’d collapsed towards the end of the set (over-indulgence rearing its ugly head again) but on this occasion it’s alI systems go as, exuding ragamuffin chic, he casts his waif-like frame about the stage and, employing the scarf-infested mike-stand as an extra limb, leads the band through a final, tearaway ‘Toys In The Attic’ before bringing them back for the inevitable ’Train Kept A Rollin’’.

And now. . . the interview! In the dressing room after the gig Tyler’s attitude to the whole affair is so casual that I half expect to be left wearing a trench in the
Carpet. But once back at the hotel it isn’t long before four-fifths of the band – Tyler, Hamilton, Crespo and Dufay, the latter nursing a bottle of champagne – are assembled in my room, the designated interview site.

Kramer, for some reason, never materialises but it barely matters as Tyler (aka Tallerico), reposing cross-legged on the bed, proves in talkative mood… so what’s the story behind ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’?

Tyler: “lt was just a dream I had, yet people hear ‘hooved’ and fur’ and they think it’s the devil, my first meeting with him,”

It sounds like there’s some sort of creature involved, though…

Tyler: “Yes there is, it’s a Pegasus, a unicorn Pegasus. When I woke up l put the whole thing down.. . it took a long time to write that number.”

Crespo: “It had a whole development – first off I wrote the song at my apartment in New York and l wasn’t really thinking of using it, it was just something that I dug. I thought maybe I’d put it on the next record as an instrumental piece, for like a minute, y’know, and then I played the basic chord structure to Steven, he dug it, lived with it for a couple of months and came up with a poem that knocks the shit out of me. The lyrics came a couple of days later.”

Will if eventually be added to the set?

Crespo:  “Oh yeah, it’s gonna be hot shit. . . we’re working on a way of doing it with a whole staging thing: It’s a special song.

Dufay: “Right now we’re just getting into the groove of playing; we’ve only done five, six, seven gigs and the shit’s got to come together on that one.”

And what about ‘Push Comes To Shove?

Tyler: “I’d love to do it, but the girl part, that’s falsetto….”

Dufay (shaking head): “It’s a risky business.”

Tyler: “We’ll have to get in some chick singers.”

Why did you bring in Jack Douglas to put the final touches to ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ when you started the album with Tony Bongiovi as producer?

Tyler: “The thing is Tony could put every thing down, and he did it good, but it wasn’t personal enough. It was just coming out like another new-wave thing. Then he stopped showing up because we wanted to take more time than the average band. So we decided to jack it in and I went overt o see Douglas who was happening again. He’d done John Lennon’s album and he was just getting over his death…”

Why wasn’t he involved with ‘Night in The Ruts’?

Tyler: “Well, he’d worked on Joe Perry’s album and had just had enough of the whole thing. It didn’t work out between he and Joe, and we wanted to try somebody new anyhow. He said: ‘Well F**k it then!’ and our egos were just inflated enough for us to say: ‘Well, F*** you too!’ So we split and got Gary Lyons in to produce ‘Night in the Ruts’ which I think is a great album.”

Why did Joe Perry leave the band?

Tyler: “Well, for a start Joe didn’t leave the band… he was at odds with the rest of the band generally on how we should conduct ourselves. We’d slowed down touring which he didn’t like. Actually, he’d been thinking about doing his own thing for a long time – at first he was going to do it within the context of the band but then things started to get pretty heated, y’know.

“He chose to make a big stink – which resulted in him being gone, and he did it at the wrong time. The record business was going through a slide.,

Tyler: “And there were a lot of outside influences causing that whole trip that should never have been. When it’s a band it’s a band, it’s the boys… and then I heard he was doing three or four Aerosmith tunes in his live show. How does he expect to pull that off? I have trouble doing them!”

And what about Brad Whitford?

Hamilton: “We were getting ready to do one of the basic tracks for the new albumin New York and he just called from the airport in Boston saying he wasn’t coming -period.”

Tyler: “Again it was due to outside influences. I’m not going to say what but I’m sure you’re reading things into this (what I’m reading into this and the Perry situation is the female influence, but remember I said that) It’s hard for me to believe that they can let other people run their lives.”

Do you think the band’s long absence from the scene was a healthy thing?

Tyler: “Oh yeah, to sit back and take a look around is real good for a group, especially one that went to the magnitude we did. We played so many places in the US it was overkill – when I had my accident (he lost a heel while riding a bike wearing moccasins) we were on the road for eight to nine months at a time hitting all the biggest places. It’s only us, Presley and The Who who’ve sold out Pontiac Stadium (Detroit), we were doing such gig undo gigs it was ridiculous.”

Was there ever a point over the past three years when Aerosmith ceased to exist?

Tyler: “No, never. Even when I was hospitalised the band were still rehearsing and sending me up cassettes and I would play them on my Sony by the bed with the nurses telling me to turn that shit off.”

How was ‘Rock In A Hard Place’ been received by the US media?

Hamilton: “Well, surprisingly so…”

Tyler: “Yeah, it’s starting to worry me. We were always a band that got shit reviews and were never played on the radio.”

Why do you think there’s been this change of heart?

Tyler: “Well, I guess since we left there hasn’t really been any good rock’n’roll. We’ve been missed. I don’t want to get big-headed about it but I love a good rock’n’roIl show, y’know with people getting up and kicking ass, and I’m not talking about Heavy Metal where everyone drivels and drools when they’re playing E-minor.”

So you wouldn’t define Aerosmith as a HM band then?

Tyler: “No, I think our music is more rock’n’roll. But heavy and aggressive like it should be.”

What’s the band’s financial position at the moment?

“We’re committing most of what we earn to the stage set, a video for ‘Lightning Strikes’ we’ve already done and another video we intend to do using a new kind of 3-D system that some big Hollywood studios have put millions of dollars into. From what Steven tells me, you just sit there and things come out of the screen at you.”

Tyler: “And you have to duck! . . .The offer that we’re getting on this 3D is that it will go with a trailer for Jaws III which should be out in the summer.”

Hamilton: “And supposedly the next ‘Star Wars’ movie will use this system.”

Tyler: “Let me tell you, the movies are never going to be the same again. It’s unreal!”
There seemed to be a feeling that you weren’t overly concerned with Britain and British audiences when you toured here in ‘76. Is that fair comment?

Hamilton: “Playing England was a lot like when we first started in New York because both places have been hearing the best for years and they’re not easily impressed. A lot of our style is patterned after English bands, when we went there, we felt resistance from the audiences and the press. I don’t know, maybe we didn’t smile enough.”

Surprise, surprise, Aerosmith do care about this country. Very much so, in fact. If I were you I’d forget about the ‘76 UK tour and the notorious 65-minute Hammersmith set and recall instead the band’s performance the following year at The Reading Festival, an altogether happier showing, or better still look forward to late summer/early winter next year when, after probable visits to Australia and Japan, Aerosmith hope to return to these shores, perhaps slotting in a second Reading appearance.

“That place was crazy, it was a sea of people,” recollects Tyler, road manager Joe Baptista entering with the news that it’s now three o’clock and as we’ve all got planes to catch the next day wouldn’t it be a good idea, etc.. . There’s just time for a last question, the one I’ve always wanted to ask. Where the hell did they find the Aerosmith name?

“It was the name of a band Joey was in,” says Hamilton. “They rehearsed in a Yonkers basement but they never played.”

“It’s really just a name,” adds Tyler. “We sat around for months coming up with different ideas. We were The Hookers for a while, then Spike Jones, we had a shit load of names but nothing made sense. If you’re The Hookers you should come out looking like whores, y’know. So when we came across Aerosmith it was great – it doesn’t mean a thing!”

It has connotations, though, and it’s now associated with a certain look…

“Oh yeah, Perry has an Aerosmith face and so does he (Dufay) and this guy here (Crespo). In fact, the first time I saw Jimmy, I said: ‘Shit, there’s a guy who should be in Aerosmith!'”

“Don’t tell my mother I’ve got an Aerosmith face, will you,” says Dufay, clearly concerned. He should worry. He might have ended up in The Hookers…

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