Aerosmith interview: the truth about the chaos, the coke, and the cleaning up

(Image credit: KMazur / Getty Images)

In 2002, Ben Mitchell spoke to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. In this no-holds-barred Q&A, which remained unpublished for many years, he tries to get to the bottom of the many myths and salacious stories surrounding the band.

Is it true that you once opened a show with the song that you usually played last, thought that you’d finished and walked off?

Steven Tyler: No. What we have done is played the same song twice in a show. It didn’t happen very often, but this was the early days

You played the same song twice in a row?

ST: Oh no, that would have made us blithering idiots. We were just drug addicts.

Joe Perry: We probably went on without a setlist because we were late and just muddled through.

Steven, were you aware there was a rumour that you and Joey [Kramer, Aerosmith drummer] were gay when Aerosmith were starting out?

ST: Me and Joey Kramer? The drummer? Where did you hear that?

It’s in the book.

ST: In what book?

Walk This Way [official band autobiography first published in 1997]. Joey says there was some talk about you two being more than friends because you were so close.

ST: Joey Kramer? Did you read that, Joe?

JP: No [laughs]. Maybe because they had the same apartment but they definitely weren’t gay.

ST: [Quite animated] Maybe, but i really don’t remember… that’s the damnedest fucking thing, man.

Steven, why does the tattoo on you arm say “Ma Kin” and not “Mama Kin”?

ST: They couldn’t fit it on. Besides, just Ma Kin looked better.

Was the song originally called Ma Kin?

ST: No. Are you taking the piss out of me, darling?

JP: He was still so young and skinny then; that’s all the room you’ve got. I think it shows how much faith and belief he had in what was going on, which is great.

Joe, after you did a load of heroin during your wedding [Perry married first wife Elyssa Jerret in 1975] how close did you come to being sick on the wedding cake?

ST: Sick from his wedding cake?

On his wedding cake.

JP: I was a very fastidious junkie…

ST: Were you even there for the wedding cake?

JP: You were with me. I don’t remember throwing up from it, though the thought had crossed my mind. At that point it took a lot to get nauseous; it becomes part of your system and you don’t throw up unless you get something that’s different or stronger or a little out of the ordinary.

Didn’t your first wife once bite you on the face?

JP: She did. You can get into some pretty amazing fights if you set your mind to it and you use any tool at your disposal. I’ve still got the scar [rubs chin]. It’s around here somewhere.

Steven, is it true that you bought a necklace for your first wife [Cyrinda Foxe, who Tyler married in 1978] and presented it to her by positioning it on your cock?

ST: [In English accent] My cock! It was a bracelet but yes I did. A double surprise for her, I might add.

Steven, did you really get so out of it during the making of Draw The Line [1977] that you managed to see triple?

ST: Why yes I did! Can someone see triple? No, but I would see double and I’d be so stoned on valium and muscle relaxers that you can barely walk, your eyes cross and you can’t uncross them. So I would just go [claps hand over right eye], “Oh yeah!” I can remember driving like that. It’s survival. Whatever it takes to get through. One of the things about addiction was we became so fucking good at getting high.

Did you ever have a drug dealer on the Aerosmith payroll?

JP: No. We wouldn’t pay somebody to do that. There was nobody you’d actually sit down with and go, “You can be our dealer,” but certainly there were people who ended up working for us that had connections.

When you did the Sgt. Pepper movie [underwhelming 1978 musical in which Aerosmith plays the Future Villain Band] were you as drunk as you look?

JP: That was our first experience of making movies. It was incredible. I remember looking out of my dressing room and there were these two production assistants talking to each other on their walkie-talkies and they were standing back-to-back within six feet of each other, trying to figure out where the spring water is or something. It struck me as being absurdly extravagant and thats when I realised how much money gets wasted. It was fun but, yeah, we were pretty drunk most of the time.

ST: Everybody was ripped.

JP: I’ve got to get a copy of that movie for my kids.

Joe, how did you feel when you got a room service bill for $80,000 in 1979?

JP: Pretty fucking disgruntled. I wasn’t quibbling about the fact I got it but the fact that they [Aerosmith’s management at the time] said I didn’t have the money to pay it. That really pissed me off.

Over what period of time did you rack up that bill?

JP: Over the course of a year. It’s easy to spend that much on room service, you know what I mean? We always had parties and you didn’t buy booze by the bottle; you bought it by the case.

Is it correct that Dude (Looks Like a Lady) [1987] was inspired by Vince Neil out of Motley Crue?

ST: It was all of them. They got into a limousine after a show to go to a club in New York. I said, “Come in my car”, they jumped in and every other word was “dude”. They were way ahead of their time. It was hilarious to me.

JP: They were from The Valley, man. Thats how they talk.

Was it tough touring with Guns N’ Roses [in 1988] when you’d just cleaned up?

ST: No, they were great. That was one of the most fun tours that we had. We pulled in so many people.

JP: It was good. It was great seeing them taking off too, because that’s the most exciting point in a band’s career. You’re trying to make it, you’re trying to break through here, break through there, and all of a sudden something happens and the word’s out and you’re the newest, hottest thing. No matter what you accomplish down the road, whatever next hurdle you get to, there’s nothing like that first time in your life when people are finally showing up. That’s what that tour was for them; they went from being an opening act to a headliner.

Did you see them very often?

ST: That whole thing about us telling them they couldn’t drink backstage, that was never said. What happened was the first night I brought them into my dressing room and we were going over something. There was a guy in the band I used to get my heroin from named…

JP: Izzy.

ST: Izzy Stradlin. We’d just gotten sober so I simply told those guys, “This is my dressing room”. They’re like, “Yeah? No shit.” I said, “Well, if you whip out a bindle of coke I’m going to have to leave my own dressing room. Please don’t do that kind of thing around me.” That was it. Then it was printed that that we banned them from drinking. Never.

Didn’t you buy them all luggage?

JP: We did. At the end of the tour we usually give the opening act some kind of memento.

ST: That was so they could lock their shit up and no one could get in. We teach them all the good tricks.

Which Aerosmith album are you least fond of?

JP: I don’t know if Done With Mirrors was one of our best ones.

ST: Have you listened to that record?

JP: Not in a while.

ST: There’s four or five songs that… there’s a bunch that are weird but it’s just a different side of us. I used to think Night in the Ruts was not so great but there’s some good stuff on there.

JP: There definitely a couple of good things on Mirrors, but if I had to pick one that’s it.

ST: Yeah. It lacks continuity.

And which is the best?

ST: It’s hard to say. You stick around long enough you don’t even know what you’re about. You listen to the old stuff, you look how far you came…

How about Rocks?

ST: Rocks was good.

So what are you going to go for?

JP: Live! Bootleg.

ST: Pump.

I read somewhere that you ate a ton of carrots on the Pump tour.

ST: Well, we had a juicer. We were way into that. Our palms and the bottom of our feet went orange.

JP: It’s like anything else. You just do it to extreme.

Can you visualise an area that all the cocaine you’ve done would fill?

ST: Yeah, it’s incredible excess. A swimming pool filled to the top with blow would be about right.

Did you two go through a stage when you’d argue about absolutely anything?

ST: We still do! What else are you going to do? Count your money?

JP: When it comes to the band we still have our own ideas. That’s what it’s about. When you don’t have different points of view you don’t have anything to bounce shit off and then it becomes very bland and boring. I’m sure that The Edge and Bono sit there and go at it, but thats what gives it the power, the energy, that you don’t get with just one guy. When it comes down to the real shit like what kind of gun oil to use we agree on pretty much everything.

How many guns have you got, Joe?

JP: Not that many. Probably about 50.

That seems like quite a few.

JP: Not relatively speaking when you start meeting people that are into it. We know guys who have hundreds. For me its about quality not quantity.

Whats your favourite gun?

JP: Right now I have a customised .45. That’s really nice.

Do you subscribe to Soldier of Fortune magazine?

JP: No, that let’s you know where the nearest war is if you’ve got the urge to join up. I’m more into Shotgun News and Small Arms Review.

Are you into knives too?

ST: The deal is we both grew up in the country and it’s just a normal thing [pulls out a flick knife]. I use this to open my fan mail.

JP: I love them because they’re tools, and that’s all they are. Check this out [pulls out a knife]. This is from a guy that Steven and I know in Hawaii. It’s called an assisted flick; you just touch it and it opens. It’s left-handed too because I’m left-handed. That’s just a gorgeous piece of machinery.

Do you think that you are America’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band?

ST: Fuck yeah! [laughs]. No, I think we’re having a good time doing it and we’ve been successful.

JP: Some nights when we’re playing and we’re rocking out we definitely are the best. Then there’s other nights when I think we’re not. On any given night there’s a lot of great rock bands. I don’t know.

ST: If Aerosmith is a comet ripping through the sky there’s a trail of roadkill but we’re still here. So what does that say?