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Why I love Aerosmith, by Slash

Slash onstage with Aerosmith
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images)

Back in 2005, we asked Velvet Revolver if they'd edit Classic Rock for an issue, and they agreed. Matt Sorum asked us to break down the best drummers in rock music, Scott Weiland wanted to talk about David Bowie, and Slash? Slash told us all about his love for Aerosmith

Were Aerosmith the first rock band you loved? 

Not the first, no. When I was a kid living in England I was raised on the Rolling Stones and The Who – those were my dad’s bands. They were the closest thing I had to anarchy at the time. You know, The Beatles were cute and lovable, but The Who were so loud and brash, in-your-face, fucking slamming power chords! 

How did you discover Aerosmith? 

When I moved to the States, aged 13 or 14, I started rediscovering music for myself. I was chasing this girl who was twice my age. When I finally got into her apartment, she played me Rocks for the first time. And that record just fucking transformed my whole life. It almost felt like it was written for me. Once I heard that, all of a sudden I understood what life was about. It was this loud, riff-heavy, screaming thing with this really sexy groove. That record just fucking spoke to me so directly. 

Is that the record that inspired you to start playing guitar? 

I’m not sure if I started playing because of that record, but it was certainly around that time. Certainly one of the first riffs I wanted to learn was Back In The Saddle. I think I was 15. when I started playing guitar, and I first heard Rocks a year or so before that. 

What was so exciting about Aerosmith back then? 

For me it was all about the music, not their image or lifestyle. I really didn’t start to look at bands from an image point of view until later on. I used to meet a lot of rock stars as a kid, because my parents were part of that scene, so it wasn’t a big deal to me. It was only later, when I started seeing rock’n’roll magazines, that I really paid any attention to image. But I knew they looked great. They just looked fucking nasty. 

Joe Perry was the coolest looking guitar player, Steve Tyler looked completely manic. You know, the Stones were cool, but they were my dad’s band. Aerosmith were my band.

Describe the first time you ever heard them. 

I remember hearing Walk This Way on the radio. I vaguely remember liking that song but I wasn’t aware of who Aerosmith were. Then the Rocks album turned me upside down. I got hold of that – this was at a time when I didn’t have any money at all, so to buy a whole record was a big thing. Next I got Live! Bootleg because it had all their big songs. I love that record. That to me is the quintessential live rock’n’roll album of all time. It’s amazing. From there I got every single Aerosmith record. 

When did you first see them live? 

In 1978 at the World Music Festival – two days, 15 to 20 bands a day. Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick were headlining the first day, Aerosmith and Van Halen the second day. And Aerosmith were fucking horrible! There was only one song in the set that I actually recognised! It was just a huge barrage of noise. It was disappointing for me – I was expecting them to be more professional. 

They were probably on drugs

Oh, I’m sure they were. But back then I had no idea about what the band was about. I didn’t know that, at that point, a good Aerosmith show was a rare occurrence. Van Halen totally blew them away! But I was so innocent. I remember watching Steve Tyler fall over on stage and thinking: “Wow, the guy must be really clumsy”. I had no idea drugs were involved. 

It was only when Joe Perry left the band [in 1979] that I realised. There was a lot of talk at that point about their drug problems. And it really bummed me out. I couldn’t fathom the concept of a band like that breaking up over something so stupid. When Keith Moon died, I understood why The Who split up. When John Bonham died Jimmy Page said: “We cannot continue as Led Zep without John”. That I could understand. But when Aerosmith broke up it broke my heart.

But surely the drug thing was part of the allure, part of the glamour? 

Well, the thing is, I’d come from that kind of background anyway. I was exposed to a lot of drugs and all that malarkey from a young age. So it was really their music and their attitude that appealed to me. Later on when I started my own bands they were always whisky-drinking, pot-smoking, acid-taking kind of bands. All that kind of shit. But I don’t think I fully grasped the problems Aerosmith had until I started doing heroin myself. 

They ended up making some pretty awful records, didn’t they? 

No! Just one. They made an album without Joe or Brad [Whitford, guitarist]: Rock In A Hard Place. It had some good songs, but it didn’t sound right. And that was it. After that they were finished for a long time. 

When GN’R toured with Aerosmith did you get a chance to express your devotion? 

Not really. It wasn’t like that. Guns was a pretty rowdy bunch of guys, and Aerosmith kept their distance. We didn’t really hang out, because they had this no-alcohol, no-chemical rule: if you were near them you weren’t allowed to have any booze on you, you couldn’t be all fucked up. But I did get to know the guys. They became really good friends. 

They had an amazing comeback in the 90s. Were you still a fan at that point? 

From that point on, nothing they did interested me. I would wait for the record to come out and listen to it, but it never had the edge that Rocks did. Not even Draw The Line was quite the same. There’s something about Rocks. The way it sounds, the way it was recorded. It was perfect timing. They were taking just the right drugs. They had a certain kind of swagger – they’d just started tasting success from Toys In The Attic, and they made this really intense hard rock record. 

Which are the ‘right’ drugs? 

A combination of coke and heroin. I think they’d found a really nice, comfortable chemical balance. When you start doing a lot of drugs, until it becomes a crutch you’re having a good time and you’re feeling creative. But heroin is a ‘slow’ drug. 

Can you make a driving rock’n’roll record on heroin? 

Yeah! Everybody’s done it. It just doesn’t last forever. It gets you eventually.