Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton says some drugs “just go damn well with music”

1994 MTV Video Music Awards

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 20, 1994

By Steve Newton

When Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton calls from Newport Beach during an afternoon stop on the band’s whirlwind Get a Grip tour, I presume he’ll be playing somewhere in California that night. Wrong-o, Steve-o. He’s doing a gig in Vegas instead.

You can do that when you’ve got your own private jet.

“We’re doin’ the plane thing,” says Hamilton, referring to Aeroforce One, on which the band has already logged more than 150,000 miles during its latest tour. Zipping off to places like Vegas is common for Aerosmith nowadays, even if its members rarely have time to try their luck on the one-armed bandits.

“We played in Reno two nights ago,” says Hamilton, “and I was really hearing the siren song of those neon lights. You know, ‘Come in here and lose your money like a sucker!’ ”

Losing money isn’t something that Aerosmith is good at. Propelled by the Top 40 success of such hits as “Cryin’ ” and the Grammy-winning “Livin’ on the Edge”, its latest release has now vaulted over the 10-million mark in worldwide sales. But besides selling mountains of CDs and tapes, the band has made lucrative inroads in other areas of the entertainment world.

It made history last June as the first major rock band to offer Compuserve subscribers a free download of an unreleased song, an outtake from the Get a Grip sessions. It launched an interactive arcade video game, Revolution X, which sees the band members save the world’s youth from a society without music.

And next year there’s a biography, tentatively titled Walk This Way: The Aerosmith Saga, scheduled for hardcover publication, to be followed by a paperback edition in ’96. The book will be authored by Aerosmith with Stephen Davis, who penned the best-selling Zeppelin tome Hammer of the Gods.

Things could not be going better for Boston’s bad boys of rock, and much of the band’s recent good fortune is due to Vancouver, where Aerosmith recorded its last three albums. Hamilton calls our town “the sexiest city in the Northwest”.

“It’s a combination of an urban vibe and a wilderness vibe up there,” he says. “It’s neat the way the city is just kinda set into the ocean and the forest, ya know. We get off on that. And with the whole Little Mountain thing, there was a real music vibe up there that gave one more exotic layer to the place.”

As well as Get a Grip, Aerosmith—with producer Bruce Fairbairn at the controls—recorded its top-selling Permanent Vacation and Pump albums down at Little Mountain Sound’s old West 7th Avenue studios. Considering the enormous success Aerosmith has had with the Lotusland connection, you’d doubt the band would ever want to fiddle with that partnership. But nothing is cut and dried in the ’smith household.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we’re really talking about the next album,” says Hamilton, “but Bruce himself expressed the opinion that a three-game run is pretty much the creative capacity of a relationship like that.”

Whether Aerosmith continues to use local talent and facilities for its recordings or not, it isn’t likely the group will fizzle away into obscurity anytime soon. It’s been around since 1971, when former Jam Band members Hamilton and lead guitarist Joe Perry joined forces with vocalist Steven Tyler, drummer Joey Kramer, and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford in Sunapee, New Hampshire.

Shortly thereafter, the band moved to Boston, started mixing heavy rock with R&B, picked up a local following with impromptu outdoor gigs, got signed to Columbia Records, and the rest is legend. Hamilton hardly visualized his band closing in on a quarter-century together.

“I didn’t really think about it then,” he says, “and I don’t now. Because of our history, there’s always gonna be a temporary feel to go along with the solid feel. All you can do is just enjoy the fact that it’s real solid right now, and hopefully that it’ll last.”

Aerosmith’s long history includes its fair share of down times, such as when various internal problems led Perry to leave the group in ’79. That was after the band had already achieved widespread popularity with the breakthrough Toys in the Attic and the drug-addled but nonetheless masterful Rocks. At the time, Hamilton wasn’t worried that Perry, a main creative force in the band, might never return to the fold.

“For a while there, I was worried that he would return,” he says. “It’s just one of those signs of the sickness of that whole era for us that I was really glad when the band broke up, because the vibes were so bad and the stuff that was going on with the band was so destructive and irresponsible.”

Much has been made of Tyler and Perry’s previous life-threatening drug habits, but the band’s most visible members—its so-called Toxic Twins—were not the only ones indulging during the overindulgent ’70s.

“I will be the first to admit that I thought up some of my better musical ideas high,” Hamilton confesses. “I mean, when the whole hippie music thing started—‘free your mind and expand your consciousness’—they were basically talking about pot and LSD, and those drugs do have that capacity to really open your perceptions up and just sensitize you. They just go damn well with music. But then as the years went by, people starting bringing in cocaine and heroin and all those other drugs that are incredibly egocentric and destructive and consciousness-closing.”

Conversing on the pros and cons of drug experimentation leads to talk of that biggest of drug bashes, Woodstock—in particular, its 25th anniversary version, which Aerosmith helped draw huge crowds to last August.

“There was a lot of really bad weather and a lot of mud,” Hamilton explains, “but the people were in survival mode—they definitely wanted it to be like some kind of watershed event. I got caught up in that kind of idealistic vibe and really enjoyed it.”

Aerosmith’s next big concert event—at least as far as local fans are concerned—happens this Monday (October 24) at the Pacific Coliseum. Opening that show is Pride & Glory, a southern-rock power trio featuring Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde.

“He’s a great guitar player,” raves Hamilton. “All three of them are really great. They remind me of watchin’ some of the bands from the ’60s, where they’d get up there and jam and everybody’s goin’ crazy on their instrument. It’s really cool.”

Over the years, Aerosmith has shared the stage with some of the world’s top bands, but there’s one particular opening act that stands out in Hamilton’s mind: AC/DC.

“You know, we had no idea who they were, but we’d just be in the dressing room getting ready and we’d hear this incredible beat coming through the wall. It started out with people saying, ‘Wow, have you heard the opening act? I think they might be good.’ Then it was like, ‘Wow, those guys really cook!’ And finally it’s like, ‘Those guys are fuckin’ great!’ The next thing we know, our accountant took off and became their manager, and the rest is history.”

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