Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry may be sober many years over at this point, but he still likes his sauce—hot sauce, that is. Perry has just released his second batch, Mango Tango Peach Hot Sauce, which, according to Emeril “Kick It Up a Notch” Lagasse, rates about a 60 on a 100-point hotness scale. The guitar god, whose late ‘60s pre-Aerosmith group was dubbed The Jam Band, has been busy with a side project, a record label and, yeah, he’s still making music with that little Boston quintet that told the world to “Dream On” 32 years ago this January.
Do you still feel like it’s 1972, where every show you have to go out and prove something? Or have you proven it and you’re simply delivering what’s expected?
I think you have to give them a little bit of both. They want a certain amount of comfort, that’s why they’re there. They want to feel safe and they want to be taken away from their everyday lives but on the other hand, they want you to push the edge a little bit. So you have to basically do a skeleton set, play the hits that people are going to walk away feeling really good about but then you want to play a few obscure things.
When you left Aerosmith temporarily back in 1979, you commented that you were “tired of playing big halls and have no desire to go back to those caverns.”
At that point, it was so ritualized, it didn’t matter who was on the stage. Four bands a week would go into the Boston Garden and rock shows were a dime a dozen. Everybody had their own show and laser lights and stuff. There was no real feel to it. There was just no thrill in it anymore.
You’ve said, “If you make a song too long or the guitar break is too long, it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s good but I don’t want to hear it again.’” How do you know where the balance is?
It’s not all about chops. It’s learning what works. Sometimes the simplest lick is what works best as opposed to some complicated, super technical, beyondo guitar lick. It’s not about technique, it’s about feel.
Honkin’ on Bobo, the recent blues covers album, seemed to be a lot more about “feel” and a lot of fun for you guys. Why do it now?
A lot of times when you’re in high school, you read the classics but you really read CliffNotes; you don’t actually read the classics. I think that’s what I did when I started playing rock. I listened to Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters but I didn’t really get how important they were. When I went back, I really rediscovered and really appreciated what those artists had to offer.
You said at one point, “Our objective isn’t to sell 10 million records, it’s to get 10 million people to hear the record.”
There are decisions we’ve made recently, ones that we probably wouldn’t have made 20 years ago, like having our song in a commercial. But because it’s a different time and a different era, you have to go with the flow and it’s not such a bad thing to have a song in a car commercial. I mean, millions of people will hear your sound that normally wouldn’t hear it. How can you say no to that? Rock and roll is a lot more mainstream than it used to be. It’s not the anarchistic self-expression that it used to be.
You’ve won Grammys, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, have a great family, toured the world, played to millions of people. Has anything eluded you?
The high point of my career would be to sit in and play with Dylan sometime. Sit in with him would be fine but to play and do a tour with him and play in his band, that… that would be great.