As the hard-rocking guitarist and songwriter with legendary band Aerosmith, Joe Perry has lived the rock’n’roll dream, but he could have been a big fish in a different pond.
When he was a child, he dreamed of being a marine biologist, not a rock star.
“Music wasn’t my first choice, not really. I went along for the ride and made a living at it,” Perry explains.
“I always thought I would be a marine biologist.”
It’s late on a Friday night. He’s at his family’s property outside Boston and has spent the day sleeping, he confesses down the phone.
He still loves the ocean and is a certified diver, but Perry, 62, has certainly made a living out of music.
With Aerosmith, he has sold more than 140 million albums worldwide.
Aerosmith first formed in the late 1960s, the combination of Steve Tyler’s band, Chain Reaction, and Perry’s group, Jam Band.
As a teen, Perry, who appears to have always had cheekbones you could cut steak with, worked in an icecream parlour and Tyler was a regular customer.
After releasing their first self-titled album in 1973, it was in the 1980s that Aerosmith truly became a global phenomenon with their crossover hit, the reworked version of Walk This Way with rappers Run DMC.
Aerosmith fans were nicknamed “the blue army” because of their fondness for denim jackets and jeans and the band’s songs were 80s radio staples – Janie’s Got A Gun, Love In An Elevator, Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Livin’ On the Edge, Dream On, Sweet Emotion, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing and more.
With their success came excess and the group was marred by struggles with drug addiction.
In his autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You, Tyler revealed that their ninth album, 1987’s Permanent Vacation, was the first album the band made sober.
Perry and Tyler were tagged the “toxic twins” because of their hard partying ways and the band was collectively known as “the bad boys from Boston”.
Tyler recently claimed that he probably “snorted half of Peru” and estimates he spent about US$4 million on drugs at the height of his partying days.
He also described the band as like a “marriage that breaks up but falls in love again”. It could be argued that spats between alpha males Tyler and Perry over the decades they’ve been in a band together are much like that of any couple who have known each other for 40 years.
During a backstage argument in Cleveland in 1979, Perry’s wife threw a glass of milk at bassist Tom Hamilton’s wife.
Perry left the band and released his first album, Let The Music Do the Talking, as the Joe Perry Project, before returning to the Aerosmith fold.
The band nearly broke up in 2009 after Tyler fell off stage in South Dakota and pulled out of an upcoming tour. Perry publicly mused about auditioning a replacement frontman, before a truce was reached.
Most recently, tensions flared between the pair in late 2010, when Tyler become a judge on TV talent show American Idol. Perry was reportedly unhappy that Tyler had not consulted the rest of the band, who “found out on the internet like everyone else”.
Nevertheless, the move certainly invigorated Aerosmith’s profile and gained the group a new generation of fans.
“We’re brothers,” Perry says breezily now.
Aerosmith chose Dunedin as the site of their one-off and first New Zealand show next month in part because of film trilogy The Lord of the Rings which starred Tyler’s daughter, Liv, as elf maiden Arwen Undomiel.
“We’re fascinated by what we’ve seen in the movies and documentaries of the New Zealand countryside. The Lord of the Rings is incredible. I’m excited about seeing the landscapes for myself. There’s nowhere else like that in the world. I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.”
The Global Warming Tour is to promote their new and long-awaited album, Music From Another Dimension!
Oh, and the Global Warming title refers to a “very sexy, hot thing”, Tyler has said.
Released last November, Music From Another Dimension! is the fruit of more than six years of songwriting efforts and was recorded live in the studio.
When I ask Perry his thoughts on releasing the album, he chuckles.
“Oh yeah, it’s a great feeling. It’s been a long time coming for some of the songs.”
I’m intrigued by the Perry-penned track Freedom Fighter, which features background vocals by none other than Johnny Depp.
“I was watching YouTube at 4 in the morning and saw this article on a documentary film-maker in the middle of a war and the song was born. We usually don’t go much into politics . . . but we are spectators watching what is happening in the world.”
It may not be political, but Aerosmith’s 1989 hit, Love in an Elevator, was also inspired by a true story.
Tyler was staying in a hotel which had a hot tub on the roof. He and his lady friend put on bathing suits and went into the elevator to go up to the roof and the rest is musical history.
While Tyler might find love in elevators, Perry has long said that he prefers monogamy.
Out of the blue, Perry asks me my age, discovers I’m a child of the 80s and before I know it we’re chatting well beyond our appointed time.
Perry is left-handed, but plays right-handed and enjoys a good baritone guitar. He is self-taught.
His first album was The Yardbirds Greatest Hits. He recalls a gig in Texas in the 1970s when he ended up naked on stage.
He loves spicy food, especially hot sauce. He even has his own successful brand of hot sauces called, naturally, Rock Your World.
After we’ve been chatting for 35 minutes, my daughter, 4, seated at the table beside me colouring in, asks for a drink and Perry, charmingly, hears her and says: “Quick, go get her a drink. I’ll wait here.”
There’s a moment when I’m at the other end of the kitchen getting the drink, with Perry left dangling on the phone, when I wonder how many other bona-fide rock legends would have said the same thing.
Perhaps Perry’s in a reflective mood, as he is currently working on his autobiography. He announced the news to fans via Twitter in February and it is due for release in November.
Although he has long been requested to write such a book, he only recently felt the time was right.
“I really want it to be as good as it can be. It’s my story, but it’s also my story with Aerosmith the two go together.
“A lot of people just want to know who said what and who did what. They don’t have any idea what it was like growing up . . . four young guys getting together and having that musical energy and exploring it. The places we’ve ended up that I never knew back then we’d ever get to see.
“The book is a lot of work, much more than I thought it would be. I’m writing it for the people I care about.”
He has had a lot of amazing experiences, been fortunate to meet great people, perform many gigs and release many classic records, but when asked what he considers to be his greatest achievement, Perry pauses thoughtfully before replying.
“Keeping the band together. . . surviving for this length of time.”
Aerosmith are at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, on Wednesday, April 24. Support from Wolfmother, Head Like A Hole, Diva Demolition and The Dead Daisies.
Tickets, $129- $249 from ticketdirect.co.nz.