With Aerosmith being such a successful, long lasting, and interesting band of modern times, I was quite curious as to what guitarist and songwriter Joe Perry’s life story would be like. Perry, 64, is refreshingly honest, introspective and thorough in this 371 page book. Many interesting and life spanning photos are included.
Perry takes us back to his childhood in Hopedale, Massachusetts, a small town in the Eastern region of the state. There’s ample information about his family, which played a big role in his life. Perry father’s side was Portuguese and his mother’s was Italian. Neither was at all musical, with Joe’s father being an accountant and his mother being a high school gym teacher. They were supportive, both morally and financially, during Perry’s formative years as he ambitiously pursued his musical goals. This essentially began through Perry having neighbors with teenage boys that played guitar. Hearing and seeing them lured him in to a lifelong love affair with guitars and rock and roll. The same occurred for Perry with the Beatles when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in ‘64, which served as a major catalyst for his longing to be in a band. Blues based rock was what became Perry’s muse, with Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac being a prime influence.
Perry goes into detail of how he had an attention deficit disorder growing up, which seriously inhibited his ability to succeed in school. Another major issue was that Perry refused to cut what was considered his long hair to conform to the school’s code, which led to much strife. Perry found solace and great intrigue in the waters and mountains of Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, where the Perry family retreated to. 133 miles from Hopedale, it was, and still is, Perry’s favorite place. He fell so in love with the waters there that he wanted to become a marine biologist for several years.
Rather than going to college, Perry worked in a factory, which he hated. It was at this time that he had a group called The Jam Band, which featured bassist Tom Hamilton. Perry was very hungry and determined to make it, and asked Hamilton to move with him to Boston, forty miles away, to try their hand at starting a new band in the city. It was at this time that the most pivotal occurrence happened for Perry, which was meeting singer and drummer Steven Tyler in Sunapee, New Hampshire, where the Jam Band frequently played. Tyler, 66, real name Tallarico, who hailed from Yonkers, New York, didn’t initially get along all that well with Perry. However, they became increasingly drawn to each other and realized that something positive was underfoot between them. With Tyler being very extroverted and Perry quite introverted, they were opposites in this way and others. But musically, they seriously clicked, and Perry invited Tyler to join him and Hamilton in Boston for their new band, yet to be assembled. Tyler did so after a short while, with drummer Joey Kramer and co guitarist Ray Tabano, a childhood friend of Tyler’s that Tyler insisted on bringing into the band, completing the lineup. After several months, Tabano proved to be less reliable and dedicated to the band than needed, and was replaced by Brad Whitford.
The book goes on to tell the gradual rise of the band, much due to the guidance and help of the late Frank Connelly, a major concert promoter in Boston and a father figure to everyone in the group, especially Perry. As the band’s star rose, so did drug and alcohol consumption by the band, and particularly of Perry and Tyler, its main songwriters. Their relationship could be very volatile, and Perry’s wife Elyssa Jerret, who was a friend of Tyler’s since they were young, exacerbated things, as she was viewed as a troublemaker by the rest of the band. In ‘79, after a major argument backstage in Cleveland between Tyler and Perry following Elyssa throwing a glass of milk at Terry Hamilton, Tom’s wife, Perry left the band. The book details the struggles of Perry starting over with his own band, The Joe Perry Project. While he was full of energy and free of the turmoil of Aerosmith, he was going back to being a club band and financially struggling, as was Aerosmith with Joe’s replacement, Jimmy Crespo, and a strung out Tyler.
A hugely positive turning point came in ‘83, when Perry met his future wife Billie Montgomery on the set of his music video ‘Black Velvet Pants.’ They began a romance soon after, and married in ‘85. They’re still a very happy couple with two children together, named Roman and Tony. (Perry and Jerret also have a son, named Adrian.) Perry explains how much of a grounding force Billie is, and how key she’s been to his true recovery from drug and alcohol dependency. In ‘84, Perry reconciled with Tyler and rejoined the band.
Another subject addressed in some length is the manager that Perry had as a solo artist and then brought with him to Aerosmith, Tim Collins. Collins was a major factor in resurrecting their career and in insisting the whole band get sober, which may have saved their lives. On a very negative side though, he also played head games with them and was a control freak. Ultimately the bad outweighed the good, and In ‘96 the band voted to let him go.
The ups, downs, and drama never cease with the band, according to Perry, and his tales of it all certainly make for compelling reading. The band has remained popular through the present, and continue to tour with vigor. It’s been 44 years since they began, and Perry looks objectively back with a hard, cold eye, which is how it should be. I highly recommend this book.
Joe Perry with David Ritz Online