Heavy Load: Joe Perry

If Steven Tyler is the lips, then Joe Perry has always been the balls of Aerosmith. Born in Massachusetts on September 10, 1950, the guitarist was key to the Bostonians’ mid-70s breakout, the louche swagger of his lead style prompting spiritual successor Slash to dub him “one of the great wham-bam players”.

Famously, Aerosmith’s affairs grew messy, but Perry emerged largely unscathed from the chaos of this fastest-living band, finding sobriety in the mid-80s, embarking on an enduring marriage, and reaching back through the haze to write a surprisingly lucid new autobiography.

Which part of your autobiography did you find hardest to write?

Revisiting the hard times. And then making the decision about whether to include them. Y’know, do I want to air my dirty laundry? The hardest years to address were when our manager [Tim Collins] was with us. We got sober and we saw success… and meanwhile, he was trying to undermine the whole thing.

**Do you know how Steven [Tyler] feels about his portrayal? **

I’ve heard from second-party sources that he’s not too happy with the book. That’s all. I haven’t talked to him since it came out.

What’s your greatest fear?

That they’re gonna mishandle this Ebola thing. The [influenza] pandemic of 1918 killed more people than World War I, and the potential for that happening again is right around the corner. I worry for my family and for my grandkids, and I’m not sure politicians have it at the top of their list.

Do you remember being broke?

Oh yeah. That feeling, it never leaves you, even after you’ve made it and money is not an issue. When the tax people put a note on your door that says you gotta be out of your house in two weeks – I remember those days well.

Where do you stand politically?

Let’s just put it this way. I love America. I love the culture. I love the freedom that it stands for. But I don’t like the politics. I don’t feel the people are represented the way they should be. So many things that made America great have been kinda stepped on by politicians. Politics is a business. First thing they do when they get into office is figure out how they’re gonna get re-elected.

What would you have as your final meal?

I really like lobster. Chilli with lobster is really good. There’s a great place in Massachusetts where they make lobster rolls, so I’d probably go for that. But I have no intention of eating my final meal for a long time.

If reincarnation exists, what do you think you deserve to come back as?

I’d like to be either some kind of predatory bird, or some kind of whale, like a porpoise or a killer whale. I think they’re much smarter than people give them credit for. They have a way of communicating; they have a whole society. They’re a lot more advanced in their environment than we are.

Do you think Aerosmith have ever made a bad album?

Done With Mirrors, as far as I’m concerned, is our least inspired record. But I’ve heard fans really like it, so I’m not gonna stand here and tell ’em: “No, it sucks”. We had to do that record to get to the next one, so it served its purpose. I just don’t think it’s up to the standard of some of our others.

What were you like at school?

I was pretty much a loner. I wasn’t a wise-guy. I didn’t cause trouble. I realised early on that the less noise you made, the less attention you’d attract. So I could go off and do what I wanted and be left alone, as long as I kept a low profile. I knew from the start that I wasn’t gonna stay in that town. I mean, it’s a beautiful little town… but I just knew there was something out there for me.

What was your biggest waste of money?

I suppose I spent more money on clothes than I could have. But what’s the point of working for it if you don’t spend it? I mean, from the outside, you could say that spending money on drugs is a waste, but it’s what I wanted at the time. Steven has said stuff like: “I’ve spent $64 million on drugs”. There’s no fucking way in the world you could spend that much money on drugs and still be alive. It makes a good headline, but practically speaking, that was probably a very small portion of where we spent our money.

What’s the secret of success?

I think it’s being realistic about what you have; what you can bring to the party. Success is finding what you really love to do. If you can make a living doing what you love, that to me is success. Whatever job you have, if you feel you’ve accomplished something and made the world a bit better that day, that’s the most you can hope for. And that makes for a full life, I think.

What’s the worst physical pain you’ve ever been in?

When my right knee was injured [in 2009]. It was an annoyance most of the time, but near the end, when I had to get it replaced, there were times when it was pretty much agony. But I still had to walk out on stage and put on the best show I could. Then the therapy after… that was surprisingly painful.

How do you want to be remembered?

As a good father, having taken care of my wife and kids. After that, as a good entertainer. That people walked away from our shows feeling a little bit better.

Rocks: My Life In And Out Of Aerosmith is out now via Simon & Schuster.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.