Aerosmith has been around since the dawn of spandex. Or at least since the Seventies. But it hasn’t always been a band of treacherous, lecherous rock & roll. Not, at least, when it lost guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, both of whom temporarily quit the Boston band to pursue other interests. What drove those two key members to leave during Aerosmith’s heyday, and what favorable winds rose up to bring them back? Sit tight for rock history 101?
In 1972, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer signed a $125,000 deal with Columbia Records. Following the January 1973 release of their self-titled debut, Aerosmith toured extensively and stirred up some good reviews, but largely slipped under the radar of mainstream media. Albums number two and three — Get Your Wings and Toys in the Attic — created a buzz at the top of the charts with ground-breaking rock anthems like “Walk This Way,” “Sweet Emotion,” and “Same Old Song and Dance.”
Frontman Steven Tyler scored a cover shot on his hometown paper, The Boston Phoenix, with a headline that read, “Boston’s Biggest Export.” Aerosmith also proved to be the loudest, proudest, and highest-grossing Boston product when it released Rocks in 1976. That album, touted as the band’s best yet, catapulted Aerosmith into the national touring circuit, where drugs, alcohol, and temptation ran rampant. And that, not surprisingly, is where the trouble started.
Three grueling years and mediocre albums later, Joe Perry left Aerosmith, partly due to internal tension and partly due to solo rumblings. Perry didn’t grieve for long – within a year The Joe Perry Project had released its first album for Columbia Records: Let the Music Do the Talking. Selling more than 250,000 copies worldwide, Perry’s solo debut allowed him to take the stage with a new backing band and to open a six-week tour for national chart toppers Heart.
Two relatively disappointing efforts followed. By 1983, stress and substance abuse had torn apart the Joe Perry Project.
Meanwhile, the Aerosmith skyscraper was crumbling quickly. Following in Perry’s footsteps, guitarist Brad Whitford ditched the squabbling band and promptly formed Whitford/St.Holmes with Derek St. Holmes, formerly of The Ted Nugent Band. That group’s first and only album debuted in August and quickly slipped into pop culture oblivion. After an ill-fated collaboration with “Solid Gold,” Whitford dusted off Perry’s phone number and delivered a cameo performance at several Joe Perry Project gigs.
On Valentine’s Day 1984, the prodigal Perry and Whitford slipped backstage to visit Aerosmith after a show at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. Two months later Aerosmith announced the boomerang that shook rock & roll. Joe Perry told Rolling Stone magazine the band reunited for the sheer “pleasure [of] playing together.” And Brad Whitford said, “We crawled out from under our problems and got in touch with ourselves.”
That grasp was weak, however. Shortly after the launch of Aerosmith’s triumphant “Back in the Saddle” tour, Tyler collapsed on stage, thereby fueling speculation that the band members had not kicked their lingering drug and alcohol problems. Following the 1985 release of Done With Mirrors, Tyler and Perry completed drug rehabilitation programs and finally facilitated a healTHy boomerang for the whole band.
One year later, rap group Run D.M.C. invited Aerosmith to collaborate on a cover of the classic “Walk this Way.” Suddenly, MTV loved the washed-up Boston boys, and young hard rockers across the nation were clamoring to purchase the 1987 smash hit Permanent Vacation. The rest of Aerosmith’s history — from the irreverent “Love in an Elevator” to the gushy “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — has demonstrated how one boomerang can drastically alter a group’s potential for rehabilitation, introspection, and renewed success. Not to mention millions of dollars in touring, sponsorship, and sales revenue.
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