Artist Spotlight: Aerosmith 1973-1993 (or; A Field Guide on How to Squander Goodwill) [Part 4 of 5]

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.

When last we left the bad boys from Boston, guitarist Joe Perry had struck out on his own after years of drug abuse and he and singer Steven Tyler being at each other’s throats..

The Joe Perry Project – Let the Music Do the Talking (1980) / The Joe Perry Project – I’ve Got the Rock N Rolls Again (1981)

Prior to the release of Aerosmith’s Night in the Ruts, The Joe Perry Project played their first show at Boston College. Tyler showed up to say hello, but didn’t stay to watch the concert. Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford did stay for the whole show, however. Whitford said, “People kept coming up to me and saying, ‘When are you guys getting back together?’ I just told them, ‘When Steven and Joe bury the hatchets. Nothing I can even do’.”

After about 10 shows, Columbia Records signed The Project, but they were uneasy because of how unreliable Aerosmith had become in recent years. But the band, including singer Ralph Morman, drummer, Ronnie Stewart, and bassist David Hull (who would go on as a temporary replacement for Tom Hamilton when he was battling throat cancer in the early 2000’s), cut the principal tracks in five days, and had the album completed and released in 6 weeks and under budget.

“I wrote the riff on ‘Let the Music Do the Talking’ when I was still in Aerosmith,” Perry said. “It stuck to me like flypaper. The title of the song had to do with how sick I was of talking about Aerosmith.” You can hear that Morman doesn’t sound like Tyler, but I think it’s definitely what he’s reaching for.

If you think that Columbia being home to both Aerosmith and The Joe Perry Project is a conflict of interest, have I got news for you. You’re right! Let the Music Do the Talking sold just under 250,000 copies, which is nothing to sneeze at, but Aerosmith’s management and Columbia Records did everything they could to squash the album to get Perry back into Aerosmith.

Perry was enjoying his new touring group, he was glad to be out on the road, except for vocalist Mormon. His substance abuse was already so out of control, that more than half the time he didn’t show up, and if he did, he was terrible on stage. Perry was also finding that without Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford backing him up, he couldn’t afford to have an off night on stage himself. At the end of The Project’s US tour, the band found itself stranded in Austin after the gig there was cancelled. “I was sick from abuse and the band started to call apart,” Perry said. “For a week, I gave them a little money and they spent their time getting drunk at Willie Nelson’s club. Meanwhile in Boston, some heroin dealers had left a note on my Jeep parked in front of my house. It basically said: Pay up of we’ll break your legs.”

Meanwhile, the sniping between the two camps carried on in the press unhindered. Perry said he was embarrassed to play old Aerosmith songs, and the band was afraid to take chances. “The thing that Joe said that hurt the most was that Aerosmith was ready for the eighties,” Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton said. “It hurt so much because it was true.”

Perry reassembled the band, but with new singer Charlie Farren, who was also a guitarist. Perry was happy to have another guitar player to play off of. The band recorded I’ve Got the Rock N Rolls Again, which was released by Columbia and sank without a trace. The Project was dropped from Columbia while they were out opening for ZZ Top and Heart.

I don’t think the album is any good, but it does have “South Station Blues”, with vocals by Perry, which is a great track that was thankfully included on Aerosmith’s Pandora’s Box.

Whitford / St. Holmes (1981)

Meanwhile, Whitford was suffering his own dissatisfaction. “Nothing was going on and I was bored and very frustrated,” he said. “Aerosmith was in chaos, with Steven in and out of drugs and rehab… I got together with my friend Derek St. Holmes who I met when he was singing with Ted Nugent’s band. Derek was in a similar situation to mine, between albums with Ted, and one afternoon we started to write songs in my house in Walpole. Suddenly, I felt better. So great to be working, doing things… So, we got together, went down to Atlanta where Derek lived, and cut an album’s worth of songs in about two weeks. This is how sane people make an album.”

Whitford / St. Holmes was also released on Columbia, this was just a side project and not a fracture in the band… yet. I’ve never heard the album, it’s not readily available, but “Sharpshooter” was also featured on Aerosmith’s Pandora’s Box. In 2015 Whitford / St. Holmes reunited for a new album and a short 10 date tour.

Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

Over in Aero-Land, things were still disintegrating quickly. While the tour for Night in the Ruts was cancelled, the band did tour behind Greatest Hits. Guess what? It was a disaster! If you liked the films The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure these Aerosmith tours would’ve been right up your alley.

Aerosmith was nervous, but not because of new guitar player Jimmy Crespo. Crespo was doing a great job of holding his own, but Steven Tyler was a complete mess. Often times he was forgetting lyrics, he would slump against the drum riser, one time falling into the crowd. Another instance occurred when the band was playing “Reefer Headed Woman”, and Tyler collapsed. The band continued playing, obviously thinking this was old hat by now, but Tyler couldn’t pick himself up. He was carried off by roadies, and the tour was postponed for a week.

As the cycle continues, sunrise, sunset, the band began pre-production on the next album. Work had already begun at the Power Station in New York, and the band was returning from a break.

“Jimmy was a trained musician, a stickler for getting things precise. I found it hard to work with that attitude,” Whitford said. “Meanwhile, Steven was well into one of his periods on heroin. Some night they would basically wheel him into the studio and prop him up on a couch and hope something would happen. The insanity was driving me crazy… I drove to the airport in Boston and was about to get on the shuttle to La Guardia when I felt something tear inside my head. I said to myself: I can’t do this anymore.”

“We ended up erasing the stuff that Brad did,” drummer Joey Kramer said. “Me, Tom, and Jimmy Crespo did all the tracks. I actually got to express myself a little, which hadn’t happened before. I was writing songs, doing production work.”

“I thought [Crespo] was a brilliant musician and a very good writer,” Hamilton said. “Steven wrote some good stuff with him, but I could see all along that what Steven wanted was to write with [Perry].”

After $1.5 million and two years, finally in September 1982, Rock in a Hard Place was released. Reviews were mixed, at best, but frankly it’s not great. The band is really trying, but they don’t have much of anything in the line of chemistry. “Lightning Strikes” was the first single, which did not chart. I will go to bat for “Jailbait”, though, as it is just a rough a tumble rock song.

Prior to the release of the album, the band knew they were going to have to find a guitar replacement for Whitford. The band settled on Rick Dufay, who ended up being credited on the album even though he didn’t play on it. Where Crespo was the professional musician, Dufay was the unhinged opposite.

We need another guy so we could go out on the road when the record came out,” Tyler said. “Rick Dufay was a friend of Jack’s [Douglas, producer], a guitar player, a total asshole. And we loved him. Rick just defined what a fuckin’ asshole is. He would come up and spit in my face… He’d been in a mental institution, broke out of his cell, jumped out a third story window and survived. I used to make him tell me this story over and over. ‘How high were you? Weren’t you afraid you were gonna kill yourself?’ … ‘Yeah, but the birds were calling me’.”

“Dufay didn’t give a shit because for him it was an image thing,” Kramer said. “Rick would fix his hair onstage, his guitar just hanging there loose and ringing, while Jimmy’s playing his fuckin’ heart out. It drove Jimmy to drugs.”

Aerosmith limped on, with Tyler becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. As if that were possible. At the end of the tour, Tyler went back into rehab.

But, by the fall of 1982, Whitford had joined The Joe Perry Project.

The Joe Perry Project – Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker (1983)

Whitford started working with The Project on the road, but soon, the whole thing fell apart. Perry couldn’t afford to pay the musicians what they were worth, and the group ended.

During this time, Perry met up with a young manager name Tim Collins. Collins would be responsible for Aerosmith’s later success in the 90’s, but for now he managed to get Joe Perry to go to rehab and dry out by calling his mother.

After getting clean, Perry assembled an all-new version of The Project. With new guidance, he was signed by MCA Records, and released Once a Rocker Always a Rocker. It’s awful, and he looks really glam because he had split from his wife and was living with a hairdresser.

On the supporting tour, while playing in Canada, The Project found themselves playing 20 miles away from where Aerosmith were playing. Perry went there and hung out with the band back stage. “I grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels and drove over to meet the guys, thinking how weird it was that I’d been out of Aerosmith for four years,” Perry said. “I went in the dressing room. There was Dufay, Crespo, all the guys. It was low-key. We drank a little, and I split. I never saw Crespo play. It was weird to think of those two other guitar players, but it wasn’t strong enough to make me go back.”

MCA ended up dropping Perry, but the tour went on. All the while, Collins had made it his mission to get Aerosmith back together. “Something occurred to me,” Perry recalled. “Elyssa [Perry’s former wife] isn’t around anymore. What is it I have against Steve? What was it I had against Tom? And it dawned on me. I love the guys in the band. What happened to my band?”

When the tour ended, Collins and Perry flew back east to put the band back together.