Last week, Aerosmith had finally achieved commercial and critical success that had avoided them…
Draw the Line (1977)
After the release of Rocks, Aerosmith was riding high… on drugs, fame, money, and sometimes even music. But the question remained if they could maintain their success. Guitarist Brad Whitford said, “We had a new album to make… and so the pressure was definitely on. We wanted to do a remote recording, out of the normal studio grind.”
The band relocated to The Cenacle, which was located on a remote 100 acres in Westchester County, New York. Most recently, The Cenacle had been a nunnery, with dorms, libraries, and chapels. “The Cenacle was now owned by a psychiatrist,” bassist Tom Hamilton said. “[He] wanted it to become a treatment center for disturbed adolescents. Instead, he got us.”
The band was becoming increasingly reliant on Whitford, Hamilton, and drummer Joey Kramer. The trio had been working with producer Jack Douglas for a month in Boston before relocating to The Cenacle. The band was fresh off the road without resting and they had no ideas. The idea was floated about doing a cover album, but that was scrapped. After a while, guitarist Joe Perry showed up with his wife Elyssa, and a trunk full loaded semi-automatic weapons, and disappeared into their room for three days. Singer Steven Tyler showed up soon after, and he disappeared as well. “It was a rough period, because the band was split in two,” Hamilton said. “Brad, Joey, and I would work all evening, rehearsing, tightening up. Steven and Joe wouldn’t come down until midnight. Heavy drug use was in the picture now… We had some fun there, but no one was too happy.”
They tried to spread out the recording across the grounds instead of doing the sessions in one room together. The drums were set up in the chapel, Whitford was in a living room, Perry was in a walk-in fire place. Tyler’s vocal booth was built in a second-floor bedroom, but they weren’t allowed to put nails in the wall, so they had to build rooms within rooms. Hamilton said, “They laid down a lot of cable and we recorded in the chapel and various other rooms of the big house.”
“One night Joe came down to play with us,” Whitford said. “He said he wanted to practice the slide guitar part for the track that became ‘Draw the Line’, but he was way out of it, slurring, nose running. But he wanted us to lay down some rhythms so he could play over it. After ten minutes, he staggered to the nearest bathroom a puked his guts out. Then he came back, played for an hour, went back up to his room, and we didn’t see him for five days.”
The band, especially Perry and Tyler, were becoming increasingly unhinged. They had built a shooting range in the attic of the building, and would blowup cymbals with shotguns. New York Dolls vocalist David Johansen was bringing in heroin from the city. If that wasn’t enough, the psychiatrist owner would show up unannounced, wearing long flowing capes.
“One morning at 5 am Steven wanted to shoot some rifles, so he and I went all the way to the end of the yard and set up some cans,” Kramer said. “He started to line up so he was shooting toward the house. I said, ‘Steven, you’ve been up for three days, you can’t even talk, why do you want to shoot?’ but he wanted to shoot. He loads up the rifle, lies in the grass, and he’s aiming, aiming, aiming… that’s when I heard him snoring. He’d passed out. I picked him up, threw him over my shoulder, carried him up to the house and put him bed.”
“I was stoned on pharmaceutical drugs,” Tyler said. “much stronger than street drugs, which is why that period is blackout stuff.”
Despite the madness, they did manage to get some work done. ”Draw the Line”, “I Wanna Know Why”, and “Get It Up” were the only songs that Perry and Tyler together. “A lot of people had input into that record because Steven and I had stopped giving a fuck,” Perry said.
Hamilton, Kramer, and Tyler wrote “Kings and Queens”, which Whitford played lead guitar on. It was released as a single after the album’s chart performance was already over. Whitford and Tyler wrote “The Hand That Feeds”, which Perry said, “which I didn’t even play on because I’d stayed in bed the day, they recorded it and Brad played great on it anyway.”
The band was hobbling along and seemed to be unable to finish enough material for an album. “Sight for Sore Eyes” was cobbled together from parts of Tyler’s and Perry’s ideas, and then was completed by Douglas and with some help from David Johansen. The band also fell back and their old faithful of filling out the album with cover songs. The band recorded “Milk Cow Blues” which was written by bluesman Kokomo Arnold in 1934, which had previously had versions recorded by Elvis Presley and the Kinks (not together, that would be weird). They also recorded Otis Rush’s “All Your Love”, but that stayed in the vault until 1991, when it was released as part of Pandora’s Box.
I was way into the energy of the Sex Pistols, which I thought was another important thing from England that we should absorb,” Perry said. “That’s where ‘Bright Light Fright’ came from. We’d work all night and crash at dawn, when the only thing on TV was the good morning news. I brought [the song] to the band, complete with words and everything, ready to go. They didn’t like it… They said no. Jack talked them into it.”
As was becoming tradition, the album was delayed and the band had to go on tour because of prior commitments. Much of the blame is put on Tyler for not completing the lyrics and vocals, but Tyler retorts that there were no vocals or lyrics because there was no music. While going on tour, the band was a disaster. Their show at the Cleveland Stadium was voted the worst show of the year by local radio listeners, Perry was throwing monitors in the audience, and they were carrying chainsaws on tour to destroy hotel rooms. Tyler was buying extension cords so that when he threw TVs out of hotel windows, they would explode when they landed in the pool. Then, the band went back to Europe, where Tyler was ripping out Perry’s cables on stage because Perry was playing too loud, and they had to milk a literal goat backstage if they wanted milk for their coffee. Tyler passed out on stage after three songs in Germany, and forced the eventual cancellation of the rest of the European dates. “I was sick the whole,” Kramer said. “I started to think seriously about what I was doing, and I wanted to go home.”
The band attempted to resume the fall leg of the 1977 tour, but in Philadelphia, threw and M-80 at the stage during the encore. It went off mid-air in front of their faces. “Steven’s holding his eye and yelling he can’t see. Joe’s right hand is spurting blood. [They] got a police escort to the hospital,” Whitford said. “Later I called my wife and found myself crying. I hadn’t cried in years.”
Eventually, the band returned to the Record Plant in New York to finished the album. “This was supposed to be a huge album for us, a big follow up to our best work. ‘Draw the Line’ was released as a single that fall and didn’t make the Top 40,” Tyler said. “The album was released in December, in time for Christmas, just as we got off the road.”
Six months and a half million dollars later, Draw the Line was finished. It sold a million and a half in the first six weeks, then dropped out of sight. Rolling Stone called it “a truly horrendous record”. “We didn’t want to be told what to do and we had lost respect for anyone else’s advice. Our attitude cost us half a million dollars,” Perry said. “The focus was completely gone. Listen to Draw the Line and you can hear the music get cloudy… We had car accidents, physical abuse, breakdowns, exhaustion. We were fried, what can I say?”
The benefit of buying these with allowances more than a decade after their release, and with no internet, I had no idea how these were regarded at the time of their release. I think the album is fine, I like it quite a bit. It is a bit scattershot, but it’s still a fun listen.
Live! Bootleg (1978) / Sgt Pepper’s Movie (1978)
Aerosmith was going back onto the touring grind, but management and the band had opposing ideas on how to make that happen. Management decided that the band needed to do large festivals that would give them enough money to leave them time to deal with their issues. However, the band felt that the big shows were too big, and they were losing touch with their audience. At the big festivals, they couldn’t see any fan, they were too far away. So, the decision was made to have a hybrid tour where they would do both. What could go wrong?
This is Aerosmith, so a lot.
The band hired Mark Radice as a touring keyboardist and back up vocalist. Radice was signed to RCA Records at the age of seven. He worked with many, many, many artists in addition to his solo work. I’m not going to listen them, but I will tell you that between 2005 and 2011 he wrote over 50 songs for the Muppets and 160 songs for Sesame Street.
“Mark Radice was a shy kid, pretty young,” Hamilton said. “Joe Perry’s singing wasn’t as good as it is now, his harmonies weren’t dependable, and often Joe wouldn’t show up at the mike to sing them anyway. Steven would get mad… Steven was in a rage all the time.”
Management spent $200,000 ($798,736.20 in 2020 dollars) to pay NFL Films to film their concert at Texxas Jam ’78, which was later released as a home video. “I look at that stuff to remind myself hos sick I was,” Tyler said. “I had to be carried to the stage. I remember saying sometime in ’78, ‘it’s never gonna happen to me. I’ll never lose my fortune.’ I had a million dollars by ’78. I told everyone I was damned if it was gonna happen to me. ‘I’m not gonna be like those fuckin’ idiots, never happen to me…’ AND IT HAPPENED!”
Live! Bootleg came out in the fall of 1978, and it was intended to mock the poor quality of bootlegs, with three different color schemes, which was Tyler’s Idea. The era was full of double live albums, and in what is probably a pretty misguided idea, the band released a live album cobbled together from multiple sources and multiple audio qualities and was intended to sound shitty, like a real bootleg. Columbia was not pleased, but released the album despite the fact they thought the band was over after Draw the Line.
The band toured behind the album… and I can’t think of a band ever touring behind a live album, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention. It was widely speculated that Radice was going to be the only person to survive the tour. Tyler had a seizure from injecting too much cocaine, Perry was reinjuring his hand from the Philadelphia incident because he had to keep playing and wouldn’t let it heal, and Whitford was in the middle of a divorce. As the tour limped on, in Fort Wayne, Indiana 30 fans were arrested for possession. Tyler referred to the police as “gestapo” and “scumbags” from the stage, and offered to post bail for any of the fans. 28 fans took them up on it, and the band paid out $4,200 bail and fines.
The tour was also in support of their most recent single, a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together”. Beatles producer George Martin flew to New York to record the band for the single, which would be used in the upcoming Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film. Martin knew Aerosmith loved Jeff Beck, so to get a quick recording from them, he told them that Jeff Beck was playing across town. The band rushed through and played it live in two takes, Martin took the tapes while Aerosmith went to the club, but there was no Jeff Beck.
The band had ended up agreeing to be in the film. “There was a lot of Beatles revival stuff in the air back then,” Tyler said. “I don’t remember why, but we did it, probably because it gave us a chance to work with George Martin.”
“The Sgt. Pepper movie? Are you kidding? It was a disaster. A real debacle,” Kramer said. “The only ones to get any airplay out of it were us and Earth, Wind and Fire, who did a great version of ‘Got to Get You into My Life’.”
“When the soundtrack came out, the industry joke was that it was the first album to be shipped platinum and returned double platinum,” Perry said. “But it didn’t matter because the whole project was in such jaw-droppingly bad taste that the movie bombed and almost everyone was rewarded with career devastation.”
Night in the Ruts (1979)
After the relative flop of Draw the Line the label, and the band, were looking for a scapegoat. Despite starting their follow up with Douglas producing, most of the blame fell to him. At the same time, the band was about to fracture and it appeared management was starting to take advantage of the situation.
“We had a very big, very rare, financial meeting with [Manager David] Krebs,” Perry said. “He says to me, ‘Well, Joe, actually you’re in debt to the band for room service.” Perry was then handed a bill for $80,000. “He gave everybody a list. Each of us owed some money… I got really pissed at this, because after the third album I was always questioning Krebs about how much we were making.” When Perry asked about what could be done, Krebs suggested he do a solo album and pay off the “room service” debt with the advance. So, Perry agreed to do a solo album, but at that time he had no plan to leave the group.
As was becoming tradition, the band started work on the album, but had to halt recording to go on pre-scheduled tour dates. The big hold up, again, was Tyler’s lack of lyrics and hence lack of vocals. “We’d worked on the album, but we couldn’t finish it,” Hamilton said. “[We had] twenty-five huge festivals… that we couldn’t cancel out on without devastation. It was the most frustration we’d ever faced.”
The tour would be the last gasp for the band with Joe Perry. While on tour, he was approached by local Boston singer Ralph Mormon who asked him if he knew of anyone looking for a singer, and Perry replied, “Yeah, me.”
On July 28, 1979, after a headlining show in Cleveland, everyone had had enough. On the recent shows, there had been an ongoing tit-for-tat between Tyler and Perry. Tyler would do something to piss of Perry, Perry would cold shoulder him on stage, Perry would not sing his vocals and play extremely loud. Tyler would get even more angry, and do or say something to push Perry away. “By the end of this particular night, I remember Steven was over the top, he was so angry,” Hamilton said. “We came off stage and went right into the trailer and we were freaked at Joe and started yelling at him. And then Joe’s answer was, ‘Well, maybe I should leave the band then,’ and Steven said, ‘Yeah, well, maybe you fuckin’ should.’ And the rest of us stood there, basically agreeing with Steven, and then Joe stormed out.”
“I wouldn’t even change in the dressing room because they were screaming and throwing shit,” Whitford said. “I’d just get my bag and go. Total insanity, and no part for me to play in it. Being in Aerosmith was like walking into a dogfight and both dogs bite you.”
“There was all this fighting and bad energy going on,” Perry said. “It was the long hot summer of ’79. We’re in New York, living in hotels, with no work getting done because we’d recorded all the tracks live in the studio and had no lead vocals… Then we had to go back on the road before the album was done, because we needed the money. We heard rumors that the album we were working on would never come out… I was dissatisfied with Krebs, said ‘Fuck this’, went back to Boston. I was tired of all the fighting.”
The band set out to find a replacement for Perry, and at first auditioned former Scorpions and UFO guitarist Michael Schenker, who shared management with Aerosmith. Schenker arrived at the studio, and immediately began making outrageous demands and stating he was taking over the band, and gave Tyler his jacket to hang up. Someone said something to Schenker to piss him off, and he stormed out. For what it’s worth, Ozzy Osbourne said the same of Schenker when he was initially going to replace Randy Rhoads, he made outrageous demands including his own private jet.
The band settled on Jimmy Crespo, whose band Flame was signed to RCA, but soon after had broken up. He was then a highly sought-after session musician, working with Meat Loaf and Stevie Nicks prior to joining Aerosmith. Crespo would be a full member of the band, and they would also get some session help from Tyler’s old friend Richie Supa. Perry’s guitar remained on the tracks he worked on, which was most of it.
Night in the Ruts was released in November 1979, and was not a hit. The band was obviously struggling for material during this time, because in an album of nine songs, three of them are cover songs. “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (The Shangri-Las), “Reefer Headed Woman” (Jazz Gillum), and “Think About It” (The Yardbirds). “Remember” was the only single released from the album, and features The Shangri-La’s Mary Weiss on backing vocals.
Thea album is front loaded with Tyler/Perry compositions. Beginning with “No Surprize”, which details the band’s humble beginnings, and “Chiquita”, which is about a woman obsessed with a man’s drugs, or is high or something. I don’t know. It’s Aerosmith. It’s a 95% chance it’s about substance abuse or sex.
“Mia” was written by Tyler as lullaby for his daughter Mia Tyler, and it’s probably my favorite Aerosmith balled. I didn’t talk about it, but Mia was the product of the marriage between Cyrinda Foxe, who was David Johansen’s wife that Tyler stole, because Foxe was tired of living in poverty with Johansen. Also, Perry’s wife Elyssa attacked Foxe when Foxe was 8 months pregnant. If you didn’t already know, Mia Tyler is a plus size model and actress, and I think she has been on reality shows in the past.
Management released a statement a month before the album was released, announcing Perry’s split for the band. It seems counterproductive to potentially torpedo the album before it’s released.
One thing about buying these as cheap cassettes, they didn’t include any credits of any kind so I had no idea about the lineup changes. Regardless, it’s one of my favorite Aerosmith albums, even though it’s making was contentious and disastrous. There’s something about the hectic, off the cuff sound that appeals to me.
“I didn’t feel great about leaving Aerosmith before the album was finished,” Perry said. “At the time, I thought Ruts would be the last real Aerosmith album, and I told people I wasn’t happy with the way it sounded because I hadn’t been there for the mix.”
“If Joe had come to the studio instead of being home with his other band, he might’ve had more to say about the album,” Tyler said.
Greatest Hits (1980)
I don’t usually talk about hits albums because everyone knows that they are for school children and housewives, but when I bought this it was my first exposure to their cover of “Come Together”. It was released in 1980, and then re-released in 1997 with 7 extra tracks, and as of this writing it has gone eleven times platinum.
“Two in the morning. I’m in the Star Market supermarket near my house in Chestnut Hill,” Perry said. “Totally fucked up. A kid comes up to me and goes, ‘Mr. Perry, would you mind signing this?’ My eyes swim into focus. He’s holding somebody’s album. The cover’s red. I didn’t know why he wanted me to sign it. I ask what it is and he goes, ‘Dude, it’s your new record!’… That’s how out of the loop I was.”
To be continued next week…