Classic 1970's Toys
Aerosmith is an American rock band whose existence has spanned four decades. They have experienced a bewildering series of high and low points, going from being broke to filling arenas, and then back to being broke again. But they're still together and they still rock hard - even if they now do it clean and sober.
The genesis of Aerosmith began in late 1969 in Sunapee, New Hampshire. Guitarist Joe Perry was working at a local restaurant called the Anchorage and occasionally jammed after-hours with a friend, bassist Tom Hamilton, in a group called The Jam Band. Steven Tallarico was a young drummer and singer trying to make it in the music business in New York, but at this time was spending his summer in Sunapee as his family had for years. By chance he met up with Perry and was invited to watch the Jam Band rehearse. What Tallarico heard gave him pause, and by the next summer, he had hitchhiked back from New York to join the boys in their band. Deciding to take their music to a bigger-city venue, the three moved to Boston, sharing an apartment near the Boston University Campus. Steven's friend Ray Tabano was brought in from New York to play rhythm guitar, and drummer Joey Kramer dropped out of Berklee School of Music to be in the band. Steven Tallarico changed his name to Steven Tyler; the group also got a new name, thanks to drummer Kramer - a rock group name which he'd been sitting on since high school: Aerosmith.
Although inexperienced and not yet masters of their instruments, Aerosmith gave it everything they had, rehearsing constantly and writing new material. During the rest of 1970 and early '71 the group played anywhere they could, from high school dances to civic halls. One way they attempted to get their name out was to set up and play outside the Bostun U. student union at lunchime; it didn't help their careers, but it almost certainly got them the attention of college girls. One way Aerosmith stood out from other local bands is that they refused to be a 'house band' for any of the local clubs - they had seen what effect a weekly gig grind had done to other good bands, and although it worked for some (Van Halen being an example in L.A.) they knew it wasn't for them. It was at this time that Tabano was replaced with 19-year-old Brad Whitford, already a very skilled guitar player. This lineup would be stay together, with occasional breaks, for the next 35 years.
The band's first real break came when they were forced to find new rehearsal space, in Boston's Fenway Theater. The venue's owner, impressed with the group's burgeoning talent, introduced them to 'Father' Frank Connelly, a local music promotor. Connelly liked what he heard, and became their manager; he immediately put the boys on salary (taking them off the knife-edge of poverty on which they'd been living) and started shopping their names around the New York music scene. Connelly formed a partnership with the management team of Steve Leber and David Krebs, and the band was given a chance to play before record company executives. Fortunately, they were able to sway Clive Davis, president of Columbia Records, to give them a recording deal worth $125,000.
The band was excited - and nervous - to be in the recording studio for the first time, but they were ready. The group had been working up songs for some time, including a slower rock ballad that built to a powerful climax, very much along the lines of similar arena-rock anthems of the time such as "Stairway to Heaven" or "Free Bird". "Dream On" was released in summer of '73 and became a huge hit within Boston and the surrounding area... but not so much everywhere else.
The problem was that Columbia Records was focusing all its efforts on another home-grown talent, Bruce Springsteen; virtually nothing was left over for Aerosmith, who needed a marketing push to make their name known across the United States. Undaunted, the group began touring in earnest, taking their music out to the kids themselves. On the strength of "Dream On" the group got several top area gigs in music festivals and larger venues, and as time went on they spread out further and further around the country. The song, along with others on the self-titled first Aerosmith album, began to appear on radio stations nationwide. Despite some odd pairings on some concert dates (such as opening for John McLaughlin's jazz-fusion group Vahavishnu Orchestra), the band did well on the road and continued to gain fans with each date.
Get Your Wings, the group's second album, was released in spring of 1974; it spawned a single, "Same Old Song and Dance," which did poorly. The album itself only reached #100 on the Billboard chart; but the thing was, it stayed on the lower end of the chart for months on end. The group was continuing their heavy touring rotation, opening for other hard-rock bands like Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath, and even headlined some second-tier venues. Get Your Wings eventually sold half a million copies that year, and it appeared that the band's probation period was over. By year's end the band was at the top of their form and confident; after all, they had a gold record under their belts. Their next effort, they promised each other, would be the big one.
Toys in the Attic became a multi-million-selling album, one of the best-selling rock albums of the decade. It featured singles such as "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion," which entered heavy rotation on radio stations around the country. Aerosmith had become a top-tier stadium-filling band, alongside the likes of Led Zeppelin and The Who. The group toured relentlessly throughout 1975, selling out concert venues and enjoying their arrival at the top. A fourth album, Rocks, was quickly recorded and released early the next year to capitalize on the group's phenomenal success. It too sold millions of copies within a short time, although it didn't feature any singles reaching higher than #21 on the charts ("Last Child").
Aerosmith had always been a band that worked hard and played hard. After several years and reaching the pinnacle of their profession, the band members were drug-addled and worn out. They had toured almost non-stop for years; the band members' egos clashed; the drug abuse became rampant; even their wives quarreled. Still, realizing they needed to keep it together, the group went back to rehearsals to write and record their upcoming fifth album, Draw the Line. But things went badly; by the summer of '77, the new album still wasn't finished, and tour season was beginning. The group went back out on the road amid problems and conflicts. Steven, one of the worst substance abusers in the group, often passed out onstage; an accident brought the proceedings to a halt when a fan threw a firework on stage in Philadelphia, injuring Steven and Joe. Unable to tour, the group was able to finish Draw the Line and the album quickly reached #11 on the charts.
The summer of 1978 saw Aerosmith touring again, even though the drug abuse and quarreling continued; they continued to play enormous arena and festival gigs despite their internal problems. The group even appeared as bad guys in the abortive Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film, alongside the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton (though the less said about the movie, the better). By the spring of the next year, though, things were spiralling out of control. Rehearsals for the group's sixth album, Night in the Ruts, went badly; months passed with little work done and no money coming in. Since the band didn't have an album to promote, they were pulled from a lucrative summer tour - and the individual members found themselves in financial straits.
Things came to a head in the summer of '79. Two of the guys' wives had gotten into an argument, causing the band members to fight among themselves. Joe Perry quit the group and went back to Boston, exhausted and burned out. Joe's departure forced the group to cancel an upcoming fall tour and look for a new guitarist, putting the band in further financial hardship. Joe, in debt to the band, quickly formed a new group, The Joe Perry Project, and began playing gigs in the Boston area. Although guitarist Jimmy Crespo was hired to take Joe's place, fate struck again in autumn of 1980 when Steven had a near-fatal motorcyle accident.
Aerosmith - what remained of the group, anyway - could only sit and watch as younger bands took their place as the kings of rock and roll. Steven was forced to recuperate at home for nearly a year; Joe, having left the group entirely, was living on the road and trying to get his own band going, with no success. Even Brad Whitford quit the group. He was disgusted at the events that had created the band's downfall (at least, the ones that could be controlled) and wanted to work with other musicians. Brad found he couldn't work easily with new guitarist Crespo, and found he simply didn't want to be a part of the group anymore.
It was during this period that the guys hit rock-bottom. Everyone refused to talk to one another; and everyone was broke. Only the drugs continued. Joe, who'd left first, saw his life spiral out of control. Within a short time he was divorced, living in a car, and suffering malnutrition. Something had to be done. In 1984 Joe called Steven at home and the two reconciled their differences. Joe and Brad went around to an Aerosmith gig at the Orpheum in Boston, and after the show everyone agreed that the group had to get back together.
The reunited Aerosmith set about getting themselves back on track. They fired their management, but this wasn't enough; the band was still deeply in debt and had to get out of it somehow. That year they launched their 'Back in the Saddle Tour' to show the world they could still rock. They met with a lot of skepticism; both show promoters and fans remembered how the group would often be too stoned to perform, and Aerosmith knew they could only overcome such attitudes with steady, hard work. The band toured constantly over the next year and were able to pay off their debts; but they knew the best thing for their careers at this point would be to put out a decent-selling album of new material, to show everyone that they had indeed reformed.