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Mr. Aerosmith goes it alone
Joe Perry lets his voice do the talking
BY TED DROZDOWSKI

To rock-and-roll fans, Joe Perryís half the front line of Aerosmith, a position heís held since founding the group with Steven Tyler in New Hampshire in 1970 and moving to Boston to achieve fame. To Aerosmith fans, Perryís the groupís rock-and-roll soul ó a strong, silent, guitar-slinging bad-ass whoís always let the music do the talking. All the same, Perry spoke to us about his debut solo album, a slide-fueled slam-and-soothe affair with the no-frills title Joe Perry that comes out this Tuesday on Columbia. Nobodyís going to call him the new Dylan after hearing the discís dozen numbers, which are dominated by love songs and instrumentals, but the power and the craftsmanship of his playing are transfixing.

Holding court in his well-appointed South Shore home studio, the Boneyard, the soft-spoken Perry talks about guitars, songwriting, romance, album making, Aerosmith, and his newly discovered true singing voice. Heís always sung harmony with Tyler, and he took the lead for a few vocal tracks on Aerosmithís 2004 blues tribute, Honkiní on Bobo (Columbia), but when he last stepped outside the group ó from 1979 to 1984 with his Joe Perry Project ó it was with vocalist Charlie Farren. This time, he not only sings all his lyrics, he plays everything on Joe Perry except drums and keyboards.

Q: Given Steven Tylerís proclivity for writing smash ballads and being in the spotlight, many Aerosmith fans thought heíd be the first band member with a solo album.

A: Heís talked about it, but Iím always in the studio writing and recording. In fact, the song "Ten Years" I wrote 10 years ago for my wife Billieís and my tenth anniversary. Thatís how far back some of these songs go. A lot started as licks that were recorded and sitting on a shelf saying, "Finish me!" Sometimes those licks are run by the band and end up being the basis for an Aerosmith song, but out of 20 ideas, we might use three and the rest sit there.

I have favorite ideas and riffs that Iíll drop on a mini disc so I can take them with me. And when I get a spare minute, Iíll come down here and bring one of them up to the level of a song. Two or three years ago, I realized I had a big pile of instrumental music Iíd written that never got used for songs. I thought, "If I run off the road on my Harley and Iím dead, Billieís gonna have nothing to put out ó just a bunch of guitar licks. I should finish some." Because theyíre not really songs until you get a vocal on them.

When the band took a year off, it felt like the time to finish this stuff. And when I started mixing, what was written six months or a year ago felt more immediate to me. So I wrote "Shakiní My Cage" and "Push Comes to Shove" and "Lonely." I put the last guitar tracks down in December.

Q: Youíve always been a band player ó someone who feeds off the energy of other musicians to get inspired. What was it like playing all the tracks yourself?

A: Paul, the engineer, was also the drummer, and we brought a keyboard player in for some overdubs for about three hours, but otherwise it was me. Itís funny, because we have a "making of" video in the CD package as well as a Dolby 5.1 mix on the B-side and two U-Mix-It cuts, "Push Comes to Shove" and the instrumental "Mercy," that fans can remix on their computers. Paul and I worked together so long that it got kind of boring, so we had to do little things to liven the video up. We used home movies from the road, and I did a bit where I played both parts of a band fight.

For most of the songs, Iíd have an idea for a riff and Paul and I would work up a drum loop Iíd use as a springboard for working out the arrangement. Then Iíd usually put bass down to flesh it out, then a vocal or a guitar. Once I figured out where the vocal would go and had the chorus worked up, Paul would play real drums and Iíd get deeper into the guitars.

Thereís a certain feel that happens when musicians do all their own tracks. I could hear it when McCartney did it or when Stevie Wonder played drums on his own songs. I noticed I played the bass with the same kind of attack I have on guitar. Itís like youíre in a band and have tremendous rapport. "Wow! I can read the other guyís mind!" It sounds like Iíve been playing with him for nearly 45 years, since I started playing when I was 12.

Q: If thereís any sound thatís a signature on this album, itís ripping slide guitar. How did you get into playing slide?

A: The first time I saw anybody play slide was Jeff Beck, who played in standard tuning. The guy I really saw rip it up in open tuning was Johnny Winter. He had his big Firebird going through four Fender Twin Reverb amps and it was great. Heís always been a big influence. Iíve studied Ry Cooder and Muddy Waters. Ron Wood is a great electric slide player. Theyíre all part of my vocabulary. I love to play slide and lap steel. Iíve had a few goes at pedal steel, but itís a hard instrument. Iíve even had a pedal steel made with just six strings, but itís a whole different animal.

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Issue Date: April 29 - May 5, 2005
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