For Joe Perry, quitting Aerosmith in 1979 was something that would’ve happened even if his then-wife Elyssa Jerret hadn’t poured a glass of milk over bassist Tom Hamilton’s wife, Terry Cohen, backstage at the World Series Of Rock in Cleveland. Elyssa had already proven unpopular within the Aerosmith camp, and with Steven Tyler in particular, whose dislike was spelled out within a few particularly scathing lines in the band's 1975 hit Sweet Emotion. But it was when Cohen threw a barb at Jerret backstage that hell really broke loose. Culminating in Tyler telling Perry to "control his woman", the row caused a furore between the band members so severe that it led directly to Perry’s departure, but the way the guitarist sees it, it had been a long time coming.
“If I’d stayed in the band, the same thing would have happened,” Perry told Classic Rock’s Dave Everley. “There would have had to be a dose of reality [for things to change]. I would had to have woken up sober and gone: “I need to take some time off.” We were playing stadiums, headlining all these huge shows. We could have taken a vacation, then reassembled and come back together. But we were so used to doing this tour-album-tour-album thing, it drove us into the ground.”
It was during a period of heavy substance abuse for the band, and a time when their relationships were as rocky as anything they could come up with in the studio. “The best thing I could have done was leave at that point and let everything mellow out,” recalled Perry.
The guitarist put out three albums as The Joe Perry Project between 1980 and 1983 but, as much as he enjoyed being back on the road in a low-pressure environment, he missed being in Aerosmith. “I missed the guys, I loved the guys, but there was so much clutter and so much other stuff that went along with it… But I was out there, just playing, having a good time. I was in a relationship in the 70s [Perry and Elyssa divorced in 1982], so I got a chance to go out and run wild in a way that I didn’t in those early years. And I realised that it wasn’t all it cracked up to be.”
It was his second wife Billie who prompted his return to the band, asking Perry why he wasn’t in the group anymore and making him see the reasons behind his leaving didn’t stack up. “I realised it was just a lot of fucking bullshit. Billie was the one who said: “Why don’t you give Steven a call. I don’t know why you guys aren’t playing together.” So I picked up the phone and called Steven. Billie called it as she saw it, and she still does. I lean on her incredibly.”
Perry returned to Aerosmith in 1984, and after taking a few years to hit their stride again, they would become bigger than ever.