“First of all, aren’t those things supposed to be saved for movie stars?” asks Steven Tyler. “But I guess they’re not the only ones who do great things.”
No, and the committee that selects who gets the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
nowadays, well, let’s say that they don’t want to miss a thing — a great thing — in any medium. And to contemporary Walk-watchers, it’s no surprise that a veteran rock band such as Aerosmith
would be getting a star Feb. 14 when the celebrity that directly preceded it in earning this honor was Pink. Tyler is of a generation that still has some of the associations that Ray Davies did when the Kinks recorded “Celluloid Heroes” in the early ’70s, singing about roaming the boulevard and coming across names including Valentino, Garbo and Lugosi. But Aerosmith
is hardly an outlier anymore; if anything, the Walk of Fame has been overdue to have the group walk that way.
Tyler has a confession to make. At one point when the subject came up, he thought his band already had a star. These mistakes are easy to make when you’re already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Grammy Hall of Fame, etc. He had it confused with something else, over on Sunset Boulevard.
“This surprised me,” he says. “I always thought that we had our star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
, and it was the f—ing Guitar Center.” Aerosmith participated in a handprint ceremony for the flagship store’s “RockWalk” many years back. “So there you have it. I don’t know what I was on, then.”
He may or may not be kidding about the confusion, but Tyler is serious about taking the honor seriously at this point. “When you think back to when you started driving yourself to the Jewish center [in the group’s native Boston] to play shows, it’s pretty f—ing crazy. And [the star honor] is not a small shot, by any means. It is pretty fabulous.”
Bass player Tom Hamilton will tell you this was not on the bucket list. “The only things I knew to expect from being in a band and making it were girls, money and fame,” he says. “Oh, and being on ‘American Bandstand.’ I never expected videos, digital recordings, playing in Russia or having a roller coaster at Disney World — never mind a star on Hollywood Boulevard.”
Brad Whitford is also chuffed, but slightly concerned about placement. “I was there not long ago walking around there looking at all the stars, and you just always really associate that part of Hollywood with Hollywood — with Clark Gable and Judy Garland — and at some point they started to slide in people like us,” the guitarist chuckles. “It’s cool as another way to celebrate our legacy, and another way to kind of live past your normal life span. … But they’ve run out of room on the main thoroughfare, haven’t they? They’re going up side streets now, so I wonder where we’ll end up.”
Not to worry: When fans come to witness the induction at 11:30 a.m. today, they’ll be headed to a prime piece of real estate on the boulevard — 6752 Hollywood Blvd. — in front of the Musicians Institute, guaranteeing Aerosmith the chance to be worshipped as gods day and night by aspiring shredders for untold decades to come.
The star ceremony will be the first chance Los Angeles fans have had to see the band in the flesh in a while. Soon, they’ll be able to see a lot more of them, if they can take a 50-minute flight or five-hour drive to Las Vegas. On April 6, the “Deuces Are Wild” show opens at the Park Theater at Park MGM, with multi-media elements, elaborate production design, a historical focus and an intimate setting putting it well apart from any touring shows the faithful have seen in the past.
Says guitarist Joe Perry: “You can look at it as an opportunity to play a smaller version of your regular show in an intimate seating, or look at it as a way to present the heart and soul of the band’s essence with added elements that you wouldn’t ever have been able to do in a one-night-only setting. We are choosing to do the latter. When we played seven nights in a row at the Budokan in Tokyo, it took the show to another level. We got so comfortable on the same stage every night, and that was without the extra production a Vegas residency will allow.”
“People are going to feel Joe Perry’s sweat,” Tyler promises, or threatens. “We will be right there within them,” thanks to the ramp that extends into the Park’s floor area. “I just love it. I didn’t like [that intimacy] early on, because truthfully, if you played in a small place, that meant your albums weren’t selling, right?”
But no one will mistake the Park for the clubs Aerosmith was playing from 1970 through ’73. “When people walk in, before we play, there’ll be 45 minutes of an Aerosmith experience from [Hollywood visual-effects house] Pixomondo, which does shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ — they’re gonna be throwing down with Aerosmith.”
Audio-wise, Tyler recently had a meeting in Boston with Giles Martin, who did the sound design for Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed “Love” show in Vegas. The idea is to create sophisticated live surround sound, as well as some mash-ups you might hear before the show or in interludes. There might even be historical dialogue: “I think Giles has some fabulous outtakes from us talking when we were all 27 in the studio. … But he has to keep it more relevant. It’s not going to be like ‘Love,’ because they’re dead and we’re still alive.”
Says Hamilton: “It’s not only about production design — it’s about expanding how we can present our music. We can have horns, strings, background singers and quadraphonic effects that can take our musical ideas throughout the theater.”
Just don’t expect Tyler to strap himself into any Lady Gaga-style harnesses. “Is that what she does?” he asks. “I can neither confirm nor deny. No, I don’t fly over the audience. Homey don’t play that.”
Aerosmith fans had occasion to take a trip down melody lane recently when news reports broke the story that the band’s original early ’70s touring van — a custom-painted 1964 Intl. Harvester Metro, considered lost for 45 years — had been discovered rusting away in the woods in western Massachusetts. This was enough of a find to wind up the subject of an episode of the History channel’s “American Pickers.”
“I believe in the venue where we’re playing, we’re going to try and sell T-shirts of it,” says drummer Joey Kramer. (If all goes according to plan, you’ll also be able to buy cups of his signature Rockin’ and Roastin’ coffee, a business he’s been developing for six years, his logo a familiar sight now to LAX travelers as well as Bostonians.)
All of this is taking place in advance of the group’s 50th anniversary, which won’t come till next year. “I think we have something that we’re talking about planned for when the calendar turns 2020,” says Kramer. “I don’t want to divulge that yet, but there’s definitely something that’s going to happen there.”
Aerosmith is the only major rock band in history to cross the five-decade point with its classic lineup intact. For decades, its only real competition for that kind of bizarrely odds-defying longevity has been ZZ Top, which only has three members to keep together, not five. Fans who know that the band members have been prone to combativeness over the decades can only laugh and marvel at the unlikeliness of this, a feat rather not unlike the idea of Keith Richards outliving his cleaner-living peers. Truth be told, Aerosmith once seemed unlikely to ever turn 10, let alone 20, 30, 40 or the big five-oh. The members haven’t spent that entire lifespan together. There was the big scare of ’79, extending well into the ’80s, when Perry went solo and the group got down to three original members. They’ve mostly kept it together since their MTV-era comeback with the “Pump” album, but with the strong personalities involved, no one has ever made big bets on Aerosmith’s future longevity. It just turns out that they should have.
If you scroll through the news archives back to 2016, you’ll see that there was widespread talk of a farewell tour. Tensions had grown, as Tyler worked as a judge on “American Idol” and made a solo album, and bristled as the group publicly raised the proposition of a fill-in vocalist after an injury and its aftermath came between them. So when the swan song tour came up, it seemed like their best hope of getting it together to go out again. But something happened in the past three years, to where the group is playing live again out of celebration, not resignation. Now, nobody is using the F-word.
“We have tabled that idea that wrapping it up,” says Whitford. “It just doesn’t sit well with us, so we swept it away. We all feel like we want to keep on working and don’t have a good reason to stop. So if people still want to come out and see us, we’re going to be there, until one of the arms falls off or people stop buying tickets.” Kramer agrees. “I don’t think that we’ll ever stop touring until something devastating happens. There was really no reason to do that [farewell tour]. It was something that we were thinking about, but everybody was in a different mindset then, and now everybody is re-excited and re-ignited about doing this. And we’ve had a change in management, which has been a really positive step for us,” he adds, referring to Larry Rudolph, who has been a leading force in the Vegas residency. “He’s a brilliant guy but also a really nice guy. And everybody in the band likes him.” That helps? “It sure does,” the drummer laughs.
Tyler is even more blunt when he looks back at all that goodbye talk from a few years ago. “It was something that we were talked to about by managers and other people: Why don’t you go out and call it a farewell tour? Everybody knows that if they call the tour a farewell tour, that you’re gonna sell out every night because you think people are gonna come and see you. Unless you’re KISS, and this is their eighth farewell tour. And I always said to the band, ‘I will never do that.’ It’s a f—ing embarrassment.
“Unless I have a stroke, or something happens to someone where it’s like, you know, ‘THIS is going to leave a scar,’ or someone doesn’t want to be on tour, for as long as I can sing, I will always go on tour. Because even when I walk out on tour with a country band [when he was promoting his solo album], the audience goes apeshit. I hold my mic up in the air, and it feels so good. It feels good to know that your band and you have made a type of music that billions of people have listened to and loved. And that band that made that music is still around, and to me, it’s an honor.”
Aerosmith did end up smoothing out the differences and touring again in 2017, but in 2018, it only did one festival gig. So when the band members booked a single show at the Super Bowl Music Fest in Atlanta two nights before their beloved New England Patriots played in the big game, that meant intense rehearsals, to make sure a group whose members are all in the 66-to-70 age range would be in the same fighting trim as nearly a half-century ago.
“When we finished rehearsal,” says Tyler, “I went over to Brad and I said, ‘Man, I’ve just gotta tell you, I’m so honored to be in a band with you. You played so f—ing good today.’ And I was kind of tearing up and all that shit. I had said to ’em, ‘We gotta practice, because this one is for the Super Bowl — even though it’s Bud Lite [and not the actual halftime show, which the group did back in 2001], it’s a lot of f—ing bucks, and we gotta be good. Post Malone’s going on in front of us. And we gotta represent.’ And you know what, man, instead of waiting for that night to do it, we did it in rehearsal, and they f—ing played so good.”
So how does he keep his girlish figure, as it were? “Being on tour, it’s such a workout,” Tyler says. “I’ve been working out every day of my life for the last 50 years.” He doesn’t mean that literally, necessarily: “Sure, I go on vacation, but the muscle memory of going on stage has kept my body [youthful]. When I look at my body naked in the mirror, it’s the same body I had when I was 26, 27. I’m not quite that skinny, but it’s the same thing. And I love that about the band. Tom looks f—ing great. Joe looks like a rock star; he’s skinny as can be. Brad is a little skinny blink. And Joey…” He pauses, deciding how far to go in busting some chops. “Joey likes to eat. Hey, I can say that. You know what? He’s married, and they go out to eat at night. I’ve been married twice. I get that game.”
Tyler, clearly, is deep into candor as well as chops-busting, and has historically said enough risible things to the press to give a hundred less understanding publicists heart attacks. Has that penchant to lay everything out, which is shared to a large degree by the other band members, been a benefit in their longevity?
“I think it’s more fun to be honest,” says Tyler. “You know, it freaks people out. Because everyone’s a f—ing liar! I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it or not, but all your friends and everybody around you — they may have certain ways of saying things, but it’s still a lie. I think the whole band has learned that it’s more fun to tell the truth, whether it’s about a manager or Joey growing an ass.”
But, he digresses. “Being with the band that we started out with, that’s the glory of it. And getting this star — and someone special is giving it to us!” Who’s the designated presenter? Tyler is about to blurt out a name, in his fashion, when a member of his team rushes into his line of sight to physically stop him from saying anything else.
This year’s residency is a much cozier situation than a tour, but Tyler says he’s determined to go out on the road in 2020, as unwelcome as travel is at this late stage in their career.
“Because this is our 50th anniversary, what better thing to do?” the singer asks rhetorically. “Joe and I talked about this. I still feel, as dumb as it sounds, like I’ve got something to prove. Because I’ve gone on tours and seen lead singers completely let themselves go. You can’t even recognize them anymore. And they’re playing the song 10 times too fast. That hurts me. But with Aerosmith, man, Joe Perry is a rock god, and, he plays like one. We’re playing all the songs in their original times. Unheard of. Oh, excuse me, and the original keys, too. That’s why I’m a little hoarse. … Do you ski?”
Pardon me? “Do you ski?” he repeats. “Well, can you imagine in your mind — just try to, and if you can’t, just do it anyway — that you’re 80, and you kind of walk hunched over, but when you get on those skis and you go down the mountain, you can ski like a motherf—er. At 80. You’re gonna f—ing go, ‘Holy shit! I can do this!’ And you get the same feeling you got the first time you played, when you weren’t sure you could but you did, and we got an encore.”
The skiing analogy is over, and Tyler has mentally transported himself back to a Boston club. “I remember when we never got encores. Then we wised up and put ‘Mama Kin” for the encore.”
One career-transforming life lesson at a time, then and now.
Tyler is lost in a reverie. A crush, even. “I love my band,” he declares. “I should get a T-shirt: ‘My f—ing band is better than your band.’”