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Aerosmith – Sing for the Years

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Aerosmith Rock Donington 2014

Aerosmith Rock Donington 2014


Sing For the Years

by Jay S. Jacobs

Over forty years into their stellar career, Aerosmith is still considered one of America’s top rock bands. With decades of hit records, sold-out tours, two autobiographies, several videos, a singer who extended his stardom on TV’s then-most popular show, and even a roller coaster in Disneyland, Aerosmith is the epitome of rock-and-roll… bigger, stronger, faster.

The group started in 1970 in suburban Boston when guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer, members of a local group called Jam Band, hooked up with Steven Tyler, drummer and singer for another local group called Chain Reaction. Jam Band and Chain Reaction played together and were mutual fans and thought they would be a musical fit. For the first year, the group had a short-lived rhythm guitarist named Ray Tabano, but by 1971 the final piece of the puzzle clicked in with Brad Whitford replacing Tabano. Aerosmith had arrived.

The group had signed with Columbia records by the next year. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1973, and was a moderate hit, though it did include the song “Dream On” that two years later would make the band stars. However, in this first go-around, the song barely charted, peaking at 59 on the Billboard charts. The band’s second album Get Your Wings continued the buzz, but it was the 1975 release of Toys in the Attic which made the band explode. First they had their first top 40 hit with the rock anthem “Sweet Emotion.”  On the heels of that, they reissued “Dream On,” which hit the top ten.  ”Walk This Way,” another top ten, followed off of Toys.

The band followed up with the hit album Rocks and singles “Back in the Saddle” and a cover of the Beatles “Come Together.” However, the band somewhat disintegrated in the late 70s in a haze of alcohol, drugs and crazy partying. Management intervened to help the band get clean, but they left Columbia Records and were pretty much out of the pop culture eye until they were reborn by a very odd circumstance in 1986. Rap pioneers Run-DMC were huge fans of their single then ten-year-old single “Walk This Way.” They decided to cover the song and asked the band to play on it. The merge of rock and rap became a giant hit and reinvigorated Aerosmith’s career.

Aerosmith went to Geffen Records and their 1987 album Permanent Vacation returned the band to the top with three big hits, “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Rag Doll” and “Angel.” The follow-up album Pump was even bigger, spawning “What It Takes,” “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Love in an Elevator” and “The Other Side.” Throughout the 90s the band continued to have huge hits – many of which were ballads, including “Amazing,” “Crazy” and the Armageddon theme “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

In the decade since, Aerosmith never left the public eye, whether it was through Steven Tyler’s three year stint on American Idol or autobiographies of Tyler and Perry or just hardcore touring. Their most recent tour is hitting theaters on February 26 as Fathom Events will be releasing – for one night only – a concert film from last year’s tour.

A week before the Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014 concert event hit movie theaters for one night only, we were one of a group of media outlets who got to speak with Tom Hamilton and Brad Whitford about Aerosmith’s history and the new film.

Last tour, I noticed a bunch of young fans in the audience. Talk to me about how young people have come to rediscover the group.

Tom Hamilton: That’s really awesome to hear, actually. We’ve been doing a lot of touring in South America and Europe over the past few years. It’s amazing. Down there, our fans are so young. It’s crazy. They hang around us at the hotel and scream and yell when we go in and out. It’s a riot. (laughs) It’s an absolute blast. In the States we have our stalwart fans that are into the various eras of the band, but it’s so great to hear something like that.

Do you think that Steven’s appearance on American Idol helped that too?

Brad Whitford: I think that had a huge impact: Steven being on that TV show. It’s made him an even bigger star than he ever was. (laughs)

Tom Hamilton: It’s funny. It’s not really all that clear. There have been a lot of things we’ve been noticing. It’s not all statistically automatically coming out the way it sounds. We always need to inspire our fans and people, especially you were mentioning kids. That is such a great thing. The idea that they are listening to Toys in the Attic or Rocks and wanting to come see us play. It’s such a pleasure to be able to bring that live, at this point in our career, which is 30 years after we recorded it.

How did Live in Donington 2014 come about? Why did you decide to do it? What do you think of it?

Tom Hamilton: We had a film that came out a few years ago called Rock for the Rising Sun. We had never been on tour there and were very anxious to get over there and bring something for our fans after that horrible, major disaster that they had there. (ed. note: Two concertgoers were killed and others were injured at a 1988 Monsters of Rock show at the venue.) We were there with our fans. We made a DVD out of it. It was pretty successful, very encouraging in terms of finding out that kind of stuff that our fans would love to hear, shows that we think are really classic Aerosmith shows. That was about a short tour. This was about one show. It’s great. People who liked Rock for the Rising Sun will love this one. Hopefully you’ll see it on Palladia. They’ll be playing it. I think it’s just going to be awesome. It’s Donington.

At this point in your career how much of a priority is new music? I mean, are you guys writing new music? Do you foresee any new music in the soon future?

Brad Whitford: That’s interesting. We’re not currently in the studio or anything. We’re not quite sure when we might get back in the studio. Right now Steven is working on a solo album that he’s been wanting to do for the last 20 years. I think a good deal of inspiration may come out of that. He may want to continue to write. Maybe at some point this year we might get into the studio and record some new music. Currently no plans. Our plan right now is we’re preparing for tour this summer.

I read recently that Joe likes to have spontaneity and improv in the music whereas Steven likes to be pretty much note perfect the same each night. Is that true? What is that dynamic like? Where does that puts you guys in the mix?

Tom Hamilton: That’s at the core. The dynamic of the band is Joe. He’s very ballsy. He really plays from the hip. He gets an idea, and it pops right out in the singers. Then sometimes Steven is wishing, “Why isn’t he playing the chords under that spot?” Like the album. It just comes out with each jam. It’s awesome.

Brad Whitford: Joe’s a big fan of the kind of concerts we used to see as kids. We had bands like The Cream and Jimi Hendrix. A lot more impromptu stuff that would happen on stage. It made it very exciting. Joe’s a big fan of that approach. There is an element to Joe’s playing sometimes that will represent that.

I was intrigued by Joe’s comment about people enjoying classic Aerosmith shows. Do you guys have stuff in the vaults that you might one day go back and think about releasing some of these vintage and classic shows maybe?

Tom Hamilton: It’s funny, we have a pretty much an album’s worth of that that I think has just been gradually posted over the last 20 years on the internet. It has some demos of some songs that we were really looking forward to using in some of our great songs. They had a really good one called “Meltdown,” and a really great one called “Dime a Dance Romance.” Nice ethereal stuff. Over the years it just wound up getting people making an extra copy for themselves at the studio. Now you can find it online.

Do you think either that stuff or entire concerts you think you might want to dig into?

Tom Hamilton: I would love to continue digging into that material. We did that on an album we put out two years ago called Legendary Child. That’s from that era. We were pretty happy with how we finished it for From Another Dimension album. If we get good at that, maybe it will create an avenue for some of these things to get finished and hit an Aerosmith album.

You’re getting ready to tour this year. As you guys tour year after year obviously there’s a certain number of songs that Aerosmith has to play or you won’t go home with all your limbs intact. How much room is there to add that deep track or two? What kind of discussions do you have in order to make that happen?

Brad Whitford: That is an ongoing conversation, especially about deep tracks. We’re hoping to extract a few more deep tracks, especially for this summer. We’re eager to pull some stuff out of the hat that we haven’t played, or maybe never played, or only played a few times. We think it’s time to do that. We feel we need to do it. It’s just time. There’s a lot of great songs we don’t get out and represent to the crowd. I think they’re ready and we’re ready to do that. Hopefully we’re successful in doing that this year.

Could elaborate on some of the elements that made the particular performance at Donington in the film so magical?

Tom Hamilton: It’s the set list that we played there, right Brad?

Brad Whitford: Yeah.

Tom Hamilton: It was just a night where everything just really set in for the band. The band was so tight that night, yet we could relax and just have fun. Get off on the insane crowd there. Man. Anything you remember on that, Brad? Finish us up.

Brad Whitford: Donington always held a special place for bands of all types. Just to be invited to play at Donington has always been special. It just had a magic about it. We were excited just to be there.

Tom Hamilton: Yeah, it’s a really legendary name in Britain.

Brad Whitford: It didn’t dawn on us right away or we didn’t plan right away that we were going to be making a film out of it. It’s just … To be able to capture that moment like we did was great because it does hold a special place for all us rock and rollers.

Tom Hamilton: We should mention that we had planned to film the show and got one of the best rock video, film directors around, named Dick Carruthers. He’s from England. He does a great job from that English point of view about rock bands. It’s a neat thing as far as our history goes. Anyway, that’s another reason that makes it a special DVD. It’s a night in the tour, but it’s also something that’s really filmed and interpreted beautifully. The sound is awesome. The band played really well that night.

We’ve seen so many changes in the music industry over the years, especially one of the biggest ones being the rise of social media. It changes. Which one would you say has had the biggest effect on Aerosmith overall?

Brad Whitford: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I don’t know which one. Social media in general has just become such a huge way to connect with your fans, to market. Really, connection with the fans and having their instantaneous feedback really has just become invaluable for us. To understand what they like, what they don’t like, what they want to hear. It’s just huge. I couldn’t single out one of them really.

What have been your opinions of some of the recent Aerosmith books that have come out? Joe Perry’s has come out most recently. Of course Steven did a book a couple of years back. What was your guys take on both of those titles?

Tom Hamilton: I think Joe’s book was a big success. Really, well written, depicting the story from his point of view. It’s very authentic. It’s for people who really are interested, and want to learn the history of the band from the viewpoint of somebody that experienced it. Steven’s book is fun to read, but it’s also all over the place. It’s not really that concise, but it’s fun to read.

Brad Whitford: Yeah, I would have to agree that my favorite book was Joe’s book. I thought it was extremely well done. To me, there was more passion and romance in that book, the narrative of his story and his desire to do this thing. When he talked about growing up in Hopedale, Mass. (laughs) Just the struggle just to get your hands on a guitar and live out this dream. It makes for an incredible story because he did it. He did it, and he did it in a very big way. I just thought it was extremely well written. It was definitely my favorite book about Aerosmith to this point.

Many of your Columbia era titles were re-released on vinyl for record store day. What do you think of this vinyl resurgence, and do you feel like there’s going to be any plans to do the same with any of your Geffen albums?

Tom Hamilton: It’s something you usually let the record company know you’d like to do it. Then, we’ll say, from then on it has to occur to them. Yeah, it’s so cool, the vinyl thing. Obviously, it’s not the main way of people getting music, but it’s such a great way to get it. People are discovering that, wow, you can actually hold the thing and read about it while you listen to it. It’s a different experience. It’s a more physical experience where you’re a little closer to the original vibe of the recording.

Brad Whitford: I think it’s great. I’m so glad that it happened. It seems to be growing just at an incredible rate. It’s funny because when this whole digital revolution started it seemed to be so cool. Oh, gosh, it was almost like you could hear more on the CDs. There was more information, and that seemed to be very cool. These days when I listen to the vinyl, I hear the differences. It’s really quite remarkable. I didn’t really hear it back then. You’re hearing more information on the CD, but something happened to the sound quality. The vinyl today is so much richer. Maybe there isn’t as much information on it, but the vibe and the sound is there. It’s pretty obvious to a lot of these younger fans who are just eating up the vinyl. It’s quite obvious. You listen to it back to back, you really hear the difference.