Aerosmith has been rocking the world since 1970. As if that weren't remarkable enough a feat, against all odds the legendary band is still comprised of its original members: vocalist Steven Tyler, guitarist Joe Perry, guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer.
On Wednesday, Aerosmith starts a summer tour in St. Louis. Beginning 21, they'll be joined by ZZ Top in a hit-filled double bill sure to please classic rock fans. (Whitford, who is recovering from surgery, will join the tour in progress. Until then, guitarist Bobby Schneck will fill in).
Hamilton talked to Hitfix from his Boston-area home about the tour, how the band almost lost it all and the one book you'll never see him write.
Q: Next year is Aerosmith's 40th anniversary. Did you ever think it would last this long?
A: It shouldn't be allowed. Now with Obama in there, they'll do some kind of consumer protection thing (laughs). Yeah, I'm at a point in my life when I hear people say that it all goes by really fast and I remember hearing people say that when I was in my youth and I would say, you know, an hour is still an hour. Meanwhile, now an hour feels like five minutes. Yeah, everything seems to speed up and, for me, it makes me focus because there are still so many things to accomplish with this band, as a band and as individuals.
Q: The new tour starts June 10. Do you still get excited the night before? Is it like going back to school?
A: It is. The thing is when you start a tour, obviously you haven' t been playing those songs every other night so you have to concentrate more on the arrangement themselves and the details of what you're playing until you get completely up and running. You can't assume, "Oh, we're going to play 'Ragdoll.' Yeah, okay, I don't need to work on that. For God's sake, I've played that 500 times." And then you're up there going, "Oh my God! Is the next verse coming up or is it the bridge? Crap! Why didn't I practice?"
Q: So you're got to wait awhile for muscle memory to kick in.
A: Yeah and it always does. But it's good to have it actually kick in before the first show.
Q: What do you think is the key to staying sane on the road? To passing the 22 hours a day that you're not on stage?
A: The part that I like... We've been fortunate enough to use a charter plane for a while. I love those nights where it's the band and a few of our crew people on the plane. That's when you just really feel the camaraderie. How lucky are we to be able to be sitting in this thing? Instead of looking up at the airplanes, we're in the plane, going to the next gig. ...but I'll tell you something else, busses are great too. We're usually broken up, it's usually a couple of guys in their own busses and then maybe three of us with some other people in the plane, but there are times when we're going to some remote area altogether and I like it; it's cool.
Q: You're going on the road with ZZ Top. What excites you about going out with them?
A: Well, what excites me about going out with them and I think everybody else in the band is they have so many damn good songs. We've toured with bands in the past that might have had more of a newness factor or a coolness factor, but they'd get up there and have a couple of songs that the audience is really into and then the rest of it would kind of be not that exciting and I could see it on the faces of the crowd.
You go out and watch the opening act and how they're going over. The audience can be cruel. If it's not a band that has a lot of good songs, they're going to let you know that they're tolerating you until Aerosmith goes on. But those guys, they're going to get up there and every song they play, the crowd's going to get energized and it's really going to be a lot of fun.
Q: What song never gets old for you to play live?
A: I have to say "Living on the Edge." I'm actually a little bit on the fence for that one for the tour. That song has that ethereal thing and you can just milk so much emotion out of it and then I love playing "Back in the Saddle." It's still a challenge for me. That main rift is a weird rift, that's very Joe Perry. (laughs) It's a powerful song, but it's got a lot of subtleties and little things that have to feel right.
Q: My former boss at Billboard was a long time observer of the band and one day he said to me, "The thing about Aerosmith is they are locked in a dance they can not get out of."
A: (laughs) It's, you know...sometimes I sit and think about how it can get very volatile and how there's a crisis every other day, but I think it would be comical if this band ever got to the point where we made some announcement that we were breaking up the band because it's too late to do that.
Q: You did split for awhile.
A: It wasn't a full break up. It was a sort of broken in half kind of thing. Steven and Joey and I kept going and Joe and Brad each went out and each did their own solo things and sort of wallowed around for three years doing that. It was a very good lesson for us to learn. We were lucky that we were able to get back together and not only start making good albums again, but still be together. I still can think back to those years where we all realized we had this amazing thing that so many people would, you know, give their left foot to have and it's worth keeping. We blew it and lost it for a few years, but we got to go catch it again and we remember that.
Q: What is going on with the new album? When will we see it?
A: I know, really... We did about six to eight weeks of really intense work in like February and March and we started out knowing that we were going on the road. At that point, we didn't know it was going to be June; we thought it might be sooner. Some of us just said "let's see what we can pull off. Let's just get it going and pound away and see what we can get done." Right around the same time we finalized the agreement with Brendan O'Brien, who's an awesome producer that we've wanted to work with for a long time. He actually mixed our "Get a Grip" album. He runs a super tight schedule and we're kind of, you know, we're kind of slow. We have our moments. There can be a period of a little bit of drifting.
We took about 10 songs and got them all arranged and the pre-production pretty much done on them and we were ready to go down to New York and record... but Steven got an ear infection and that turned into a lung infection and that put the schedule back to where Brendan had to take off. So, you know, we're going to go out and tour and then we'll come back and finish this thing off.
Q: Steven has an autobiography coming out called "Do the Voices in my Head Bother You?" Do you have a book in you?
A: I do like to write and I've written stuff for the website and stuff here and there, so yeah, if I was to do a book, it would not be another "Gee I was so fucked up and now I'm okay."
Q: What would it be?
A: It would be more about the raw fun and inspiration of being these teenagers that were really dreaming about doing something and, all of sudden; it just sort of flowed into it. When you're in high school...I was accepted at a couple of schools, I was going to take a drama program, but I had this desire to do the band thing that was really strong. It was something that just kind of happened...
It's funny now, people will come up to me with their 13- or 14- year- old kid and say, "Well, he really wants to be a musician. He's working really hard at it but I told him you gotta have something to fall back on." And ask me if that's how I did it. [And I say] "Well, you don't really have a Plan B, you know. If you have a Plan B, you're going to kill Plan A." They get this look on their face like "Why the hell did you just say that?" (laughs).