Aerosmith without Joe Perry: remembering Rock in a Hard Place

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, JAN. 20, 2013

By Steve Newton

Thirty years ago tomorrow–on January 21, 1983–Aerosmith played the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. That’s no big deal in and of itself; the band has played here countless times. But back in ’83 was the only time the Bad Boys of Boston played here without lead guitarist Joe Perry. Or rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, for that matter.

I’m sure Matt Pike could care less, but for those folks who grew up enraptured by Aerosmith in the ’70s, the loss of its original guitarists was a pretty big deal. In ’82 the band released Rock in a Hard Place, which featured Whitford on only one track (“Lightning Strikes”), and Perry on none at all. The official new members of the band were lead guitarist Jimmy Crespo (formerly of Flame) and rhythm guitarist Rick Dufay.

The Perry-less album wasn’t one of their best, but it did include some memorable tracks in “Lightning Strikes” and “Bitches Brew”, as well as the gnarly remake of Julie London’s “Cry Me a River”.

The same day as that Vancouver gig the Georgia Straight printed my interview with Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton, which I’ll bang out for you now. The most interesting aspects of the conversation, looking back, are when Hamilton refers to the departed Perry. Whenever he says something that doesn’t seem overly complimentary about Smokin’ Joe–or Judas Priest, for that matter!–I’ll insert this: [Snap! Oh no he di-int!]

How has the sound of Aerosmith changed with the addition of Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay?

There’s a much better onstage mix, and there’s much more in the way of dynamics, so the audience hears every instrument with better separation and tone. Plus we’ve got a guy with us on keyboards named Bob Mayo, who used to play with Foreigner and Peter Frampton, and he’s also doing some backup vocals. So between him, Jimmy and Steven we’ve got plenty of harmony now, whereas it used to be that the only one in the band that could really sing was Steven. [Snap! Oh no he di-int!]

How does the guitar-playing style of Jimmy Crespo differ from that of your previous lead player, Joe Perry?

Jimmy is a little more calculated and polished, I’d say. One of the things that was great about Joe and not so good about him was that he would just go for it, for whatever came into his head. And if the idea to stop playing was in his head he would do that too. [Snap! Oh no he di-int!]. But Jimmy is real conscious of dynamics and coming down to low volume when the verses call for it.

What about your new rhythm guitarist Rick Dufay? How does his playing compare to that of Brad Whitford?

Well Brad was a rock, I’ll say that. Brad would never make a mistake, and you’d never hear anything coming out of his amp that he hadn’t meant to come out. Rick is also really solid, but sometimes he’ll come out with something that you’re not expecting.

How did you find the new members?

Well Rick did an album, produced by Jack Douglas, called Tender Loving Abuse. Jack sort of snuck him into our practice one day. Jimmy Crespo used to play in a band called Flame, and when that band folded he was doing a lot of studio work. We were introduced to him through a mutual friend, Richie Supa, the person who wrote “Lightning Strikes”. Richie said, “Why don’t you try this guy out?”, so he was one of about six or seven guitarists that we auditioned. He was the third player we saw, and we knew that he was the right one right off. So we let the other guys have their shot, but it was pretty much Jimmy all the way.

How did you come to record the old standard “Cry Me a River” on the new album?

That was Steven’s idea. He was in a record store down in the Village in New York, and he happened to see an old Julie London album. He picked it up and brought it up to the studio and we listened to that one song and started figuring it out–changing the horn and string parts into guitar parts. It went pretty good, so we stuck with it.

Being a member of one of America’s biggest hard rock bands, do you think there are any differences between the heavy American sound and the heavy British sound?

Well, if you’re talking about Aerosmith compared to, say, Judas Priest, I’d say that we’ve got an advantage over them because we know how to play different types of drum beats. [Snap! Oh no he di-int!] When people come to see us on stage, there’s a little bit of humour, and sort of a party atmosphere, whereas with a lot of the heavy bands coming out of England now–and even out of the States–there seems to be a “please take us very seriously” attitude.

I was talking to the bass player for Judas Priest a while back, and he said that he thought the British bands were more guitar-dominated than some of the American ones.

I don’t know, I suppose you could say that. You know, lead solos are great and everything, but they’re only a little part of the song. I don’t know if people are that much into extended solos and guitar acrobatics. There’s a lot of great bands out that have pretty much zip for chops–like the Clash. But it’s what they put across on stage that counts.

Since Aerosmith has been off the road for almost three years now, is it safe to call this one a “comeback” tour?

I don’t like to call it a comeback–I don’t feel that we’ve really been that far away. But I suppose that’s the way we have to look at it, considering that most people figure we had faded into the distance.

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