Tom Hamilton talks Aerosmith without Joe Perry and the new Rock in a Hard Place



By Steve Newton

“Yeah, we’re loud alright,” says Tom Hamilton, bassist for American supergroup Aerosmith. “We’re definitely not any quieter than we used to be–we’re just better sounding.”

Aerosmith has never been known for quietness or subtlety. Theirs is not the kind of music for candlelight dinners and mellow gatherings. What the band is noted for is their ability to sell mass quantities of riff-riddled hard rock records–over 15 million in the ’70s alone–and draw enormous crowds to their shows.

But despite huge successes live and in the studio, Aerosmith ran into personnel problems in 1979 when lead guitarist and co-songwriter Joe Perry left to follow a solo career with the Joe Perry Project. Two years later rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford called it quits and formed the Whitford/St. Holmes Band with Nugent alumnus Derek St. Holmes.

Being essentially a guitar band, it was crucial to the welfare of Aerosmith that they find the right players to fill the holes left by Perry and Whitford. Enter Jimmy Crespo, session player and former lead guitarist for Flame, and rhythm guitarist Rick Dufay, both of whom play on the latest Aerosmith release, Rock in a Hard Place.

Whether or not Crespo and Dufay are the ideal replacements for the former Aerosmith guitarists remains to be seen, and is only a matter of personal opinion, but on Rock and a Hard Place, and tracks such as “Lightning Strikes” and “Bitch’s Brew”, these ears detect a raucous chemistry that–while not outdoing earlier gems like Get Your Wings or Draw the Line–at least captures the basic jagged and edgey rawness that caused the band to be known as “the Stones of the seventies”.

And vocalist Steven Tyler’s hoarse screechings are as outrageous as ever, particularly on his cover version of the fifties standard “Cry Me a River”. Since six of the ten tunes on Rock are Tyler/Crespo compositions, it would also appear that he’s found in Jimmy Crespo the songwriter partner he lost in Joe Perry.

When Tom Hamilton says that Aerosmith is “better sounding”, he’s not only confident about the abilities of its newest members but also about the live sound. The last time Aerosmith played the Coliseum, with opening act AC/DC about four years back, the sound was messy and muddled–it sounded like one big buzz. But Hamilton, during an interview last week, said that the bugs have been worked out of the band’s live sound. Vancouverites can decide for themselves what they think of the new Aerosmith when they play tonight (Friday) with Pat Travers.


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.

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. 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. 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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