America has a proud history
of great singers, classic
songwriters, and brilliant
guitarists. We can hang
with anyone in the known
universe in those categories.
When it comes to epic, game-changing rock
bands, however, the States just can’t compete
with Britain. Even if only the Beatles
and the Stones had invaded, American bands
would still be playing catch-up. But when
the discussion turns to legendary rock groups
from the US of A, you simply must include
a quintet out of Boston called Aerosmith.
With their blend of Stones-y attitude and
streetwise blues-rock chops, these jokers
managed to carve out quite a niche in the
post-Zeppelin world of rock and roll. And,
despite the massive contributions of a great
rhythm section and a charismatic lead singer,
Aerosmith got over in large part thanks to
the guitar playing skills of one Joe Perry.
At an early age, Perry was exposed to rock
and roll architects like Elvis and Chuck Berry.
Later he would worship at the altars of Clapton,
Beck, and Page, all the while developing
his signature rock mojo. Over the course of
several albums and multiple hit singles, Perry
would rise to the top of the ’70s guitar god
heap. He gave us memorable two-guitar
interplay (with longtime cohort Brad Whitford)
on smashes such as “Dream On,”
infectious riffing on “Walk This Way,” kickass
solos all over the Rocks and Toys in the
Attic albums, and—just when everyone had
written him off for dead—he proceeded to
enjoy a whole ’nother career on the gazillion
selling Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get
a Grip records. Damn, dude. Did you not get
the memo that you were supposed to be
retired/gone/six feet under by now?
Joe Perry never got that memo. That may
be because Joe Perry is the quintessential
American rebel rocker. It might have something
to do with the fact that Joe Perry is one
of the all-time badass, shoot-from-the-hip
guitarslingers. Maybe it’s because Joe Perry
is the missing link between Keith Richards
and Jimmy Page. A bold statement, to be
sure, but here’s the evidence:
Perry is an awesome rhythm guitarist.
No matter who else takes a solo onstage,
you watch Perry, his effortless groove and
cool comping are mesmerizing. If someone
lit themselves on fire on that stage, you
would still watch Perry.
He’s fearless about his tones. Never in
danger of settling into a comfort zone, he’ll
go from bridge pickup on a Strat in one tune
to beefy Les Paul tones in the next, to Gretsch
twang, Supro honk, hollowbody howl, and
Dan Armstrong clang, and he’ll get the best
out of all of them. And although he might
flirt with an overly bright Strat or a too-raspy
Supro, he never goes to the tonal dark side.
His tones flat-out rock.
He bends strings the way they were
meant to be bent. People talk about muscular
bends all the time, but Perry really has
muscular bends. If he bends up to a root,
it’s strong and secure. When he bends to the
flat seven, like he does in his “Walk This
Way” and “Sweet Emotion” solos, it’s a crying,
mournful bend. His bending ability also
contributes to his swagger. Although never
arrogant, Perry exudes this cool confidence
that no matter what note he lands on in a
solo, he can bend it up to some bitchin’ pitch.
Then there’s the funk. Perry reeks of the
kind of funk that can’t be taught. It’s the
kind of elusive funk that defies logic and
quantification, you just know it when you
hear it. You hear it when Van Halen brings
it, or the aforementioned Richards or Page,
and you hear it when Perry does it. The huge
pocket, the ability to push and pull a groove
in the coolest way, the zone where upstrokes
and downstrokes have no meaning in the
conventional sense and only serve to provide
one rhythmic gut punch after another,
all the while making it look way too easy. To
paraphrase Cheech and Chong, Joe Perry is
so damn funky that if he moved in next door
to you, your lawn would die.
There are those who would dismiss Perry
as a guy who “pretty much just plays pentatonics.”
There are plenty of solos where it
looks like that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Then you realize how difficult those licks
are to duplicate. The main reason for that
is, once again, rhythmic. How and where
Perry works those box shapes is unique and
singular. When he mixes in his trademark
chromaticism and Stax-approved doublestops,
forget about it. You can’t touch it.
It’s hilarious to say about a guy who
embodies the image of a 100 percent rock
star, but Perry is completely unpretentious.
Watching a gig, you never get the sense that
he has any agenda to his playing. He might
play a tune with no solo whatsoever, then
in the next he’ll solo his brains out. It’s
impressive, but it never seems like he’s trying
to impress anyone. If James Dean played
guitar, he would be Joe Perry.
Perry was gracious with his time after a
recent San Francisco show and talked to GP
about his new record, his old records, and,
with the fate of his classic band up in the
air, how he hopes to play his old tunes in
the new era.
What was your mindset for the
making of Have Guitar, Will
Basically, I wanted to
make this record sound
like it was recorded back in
the old days, from the equipment
we used to the way we used the
equipment. I really wanted to do it as if we
had recorded on tape, but I didn’t have time
to record on tape. So we tracked on the computer
but we didn’t do anything we wouldn’t
have done on tape. That was how we gave
it that old-fashioned grit and feel. I kept hearing
from the fans that they wanted to hear
some real rock and roll, the way it was meant
to be recorded. It was really hard getting a
big machine like Aerosmith to think like that.
That’s one of the things about doing a solo
record that I enjoy. I was able to say, “Look,
we’re going to do it this way and we’re going
to stick to it,” and I didn’t have to get anybody
else to agree with me. I don’t know in
the great scheme of things if people will
really notice the difference, but I think there’s
a sound to this record that I don’t hear that
much these days. Even with some of the socalled
hard rock bands now that are stripped
down and playing basic rock, there’s still
kind of a sheen and a gloss to the songs, and
I wanted to avoid that as much as I could. I
just wanted to get back to some of the rootsy
stuff that you get when you record using vintage
equipment and with the band playing
together. There’s something that happens
when the whole band’s playing and all those
harmonics are lined up. It’s like a witch’s
brew or something.
How did you get the backwards solo on “Heaven
and Hell”? It sounds almost too composed to be a
true backwards solo.
We used Pro Tools, but I did it the way
we would have done it in 1973. You basically
track a forward solo and then listen to
the song backwards. Then you memorize it.
You have to figure out what the timing is
going to be in your head because very often
the beats and the phrasing can get confusing.
You kind of plan ahead where you want
the notes to go and the dynamics of it. This
is the same whether you’re analog or digital,
but obviously it’s a lot quicker in Pro
Tools. If you want it to end high, you need
to start the solo high and so on. It’s hard to
describe. You just have to do it. There are
plug-ins that will do it for you and you can kind of cheat it—throw anything down there
and just reverse it. I didn’t want to do it that
way. I wanted to do it the old way, which
gives it a different vibe. Sometimes it comes
out wrong and you have to do it over again
but when you get it, it has a feel that you
just won’t get if you fake it.
Did you print effects?
Yeah, echoes and reverbs and all those
things—we did them right there in the
moment and recorded them. We made the
decisions right there so when we went to
mix, we only had to mix 16 tracks, not 50.
I’ve made records with Aerosmith where
there were 150 tracks. It was ludicrous. We
couldn’t even get a daily rough mix.
Your version of “Somebody’s Going to Get Their
Head Kicked In Tonight” has that real old-time
rock vibe, like a Buddy Holly or Eddie Cochran kind
of feel. Talk about that tune and the influence
early rock and roll on your music.
There are some basic rhythms and some
basic tempos that I think make up rock and
roll. There’s the Bo Diddley feel, there’s the
Chuck Berry feel, there’s Muddy Waters,
Buddy Holly, Elvis, Gene Vincent—those
rhythms made up a big part of what rock
and roll was. It was hard picking just one
that would exemplify that because I love all
those feels. But I heard Fleetwood Mac do
this particular tune a bunch of times live and
I remember it knocking me out back in ’68 or ’69. I’ve always wanted to cover it, but
for some reason I just never got around to
it on any of my solo records or with Aerosmith.
That particular song and that particular
sound, as with a lot of those rhythms, you’ve
got to play them live. You can’t overdub
guitar and piano and really capture it. It’s
basically just a 12-bar blues sped up. There’s
no real magic to it other than the feel, but
What gear did you use?
I played a Gretsch Roundup—a ’56 or
something—with the old leather binding
around the edge and the letter “G” branded
on it. It probably sounds more like a Gretsch
than any other Gretsch that I have. I used a
Marshall 300 for the slapback. It was an analog
echo that apparently was invented for
Phil Spector back when he was recording. It
sounds just like a tape delay. [Ed. note: For
more info on the Marshall Electronics AR-300
Tape Eliminator, see the sidebar “Joe Perry’s Secret
Sauce” in the May 2005 issue of GP.] The reverb
was my EMT plate, I think it’s the 140, and
I was probably using an old Fender Twin
from the ’50s.
Let’s talk about some of the tones on “Wooden
Ships.” That song has more guitar layers on it.
What’s the guitar with the volume swell that
sounds like it might have a wah wah on it?
I got that sound with an Electro-Harmonix
POG. It’s got about eight sliders that
you can adjust different frequencies with.
Then there’s a slider that brings it in from
the absolute bass all the way to the treble
and as it brings it in, it sounds like this
orchestral effect. I had the thing modified
so that I could move that particular slider
with my foot. It does kind of sound like a
wah but if you listen to it very closely you
can hear it is actually fading in a bunch of
different frequencies. It’s a much richer
sound than a wah. I really like the way that
Did you double track the melody guitar?
Yeah, with a Strat. I had lyrics for that
song but I didn’t think they were strong
enough. I felt like there was enough going
on in the tune that it would hold up as an
instrumental, so I basically reproduced the
melody on the guitar and filled it out by double
The first solo that comes in at 1:25 has a different,
That’s still the Strat, but I plugged into
this MXR Boost/Overdrive pedal. One side
adds about 10dB to the volume of the guitar
and doesn’t add any fuzz. The other
button adds fuzztone. It has a sound of its
own, and if you adjust it right, you can get
a late-’60s, Hendrix-y kind of sound.
Are you picking behind the nut to get those
cool, creepy screech noises?
Exactly. That’s kind of a prelude to the
solo. I wanted to fill something in there and
I didn’t want to use anything but guitar. I
just fooled around a little bit and that sound
popped out and that’s what I used. It was
all organic so I could get that sound live.
Speaking of your live show, your rig on this
tour has three Fender heads, three Marshalls,
and a Fender combo. What do you use each of
I use three of them at once. The others are backups. I always like to have a Marshall
with a little bit more crunch and then something
a little cleaner, which usually turns out
to be some kind of Fender. This tour I’m
using a 50-watt plexi Marshall going through
an 8x10 Marshall bottom. Then I have a
Fender Dual Showman Reverb. I think it
came out the year after they got bought by
CBS, so they still sound really good. They
didn’t start to sound crappy for at least a
couple of years. The Dual Showman cab has
two 15s. I love to record with 10s but obviously
you can only get so much low end out
of a 10" speaker that’s designed for a guitar.
These particular Marshall speakers sound
great but there’s just not enough bottom.
The Dual Showman is on about 4 or 5, so
it’s not very dirty at all, but it does pump
out a lot of bass. So you blend that in with
the Marshall and it sounds great. Then,
somewhere in the middle, is a mid-’50s 3x10
Bandmaster. I have that set about two-thirds
of the way up. When you turn the guitar
down, it’s got that really nice, rich old Fender sound, and when you turn it up, it’s got some
guts. It kind of blends the two other sounds
together. I spent a lot of time working with
the sound guy getting a mix between the
three. I’ll run through my different guitars
and see how they all match up, so that the
Strats sound like Strats, the Teles sound like
Teles, the Les Pauls sound like Les Pauls,
and so on.
There is also a brown Tolex Fender head.
That’s a Tone-Master, one of the very first
that came out. I use that for the airbag [talk
box], which I haven’t gotten around to working
into the set yet, although I used it on a
couple of tracks on the record.
What do you hear when you listen to your solos
from Aerosmith records like Rocks or Toys in the
Back then, I didn’t have the technique of
a lot of the guys that I learned from, at least
I didn’t think I did. So, I basically used a
process of elimination for solos: If it sounded
like something someone else had done, I
wouldn’t do it. Whatever was left, that’s
what the solo was. When I listen back to
some of those, there are some pretty rockin’
solos that don’t lean heavily on the pentatonic
stuff. By self-editing some of those
standard riffs, it kind of forced me into a
place of playing things that were a lot more
Do any solos stand out in your mind?
I’d say “Walk This Way.” That’s a pretty
well known song, but I do like how the lead
keeps that funky kind of feel. I really thought
a lot about that solo, even though I still
didn’t plan a lot of things out. But that’s me
steering away from what I thought were standard
We all know what someone means when they
say, “That’s a Hendrix lick,” or “That’s a Van Halen
lick,” or Jimmy Page or SRV, but no one ever says,
“That’s a Joe Perry lick.” Can you describe what
goes into a Joe Perry lick?
Dynamics. That’s really the key to me. Using dynamics and keeping it as melodic
as possible so it has a reason to live. A bunch
of riffs strung together doesn’t particularly
interest me, whether it’s done by me or
somebody else. It needs to have more than
that. It has to have some inspiration, it has
to have some melody, it has to have a reason
to live. That’s what I go for.
To my ears, the thing that sets your playing
apart is your sense of the groove that’s just incredibly
funky. Where does that come from?
So much of that has to do with the guys
that you’re playing with. If they’re really
holding it down, I can float on top of it and
drive the groove. The groove is the most
important thing to a song. It’s what gets you
to move. All the rest of the music keeps
things interesting so you keep coming back
to it. For me, when I’ve got a rhythm section
that’s really locking in, that can dictate
what I play and how I play it. That’s why so
many of my leads sometimes sound more
like rhythm parts, because that’s what’s getting
me off. My favorite players always did
that and I think a lot of people lost that in
the ’80s. Players in the ’60s, because of their
direct connection with the blues, knew about
that and focused on it. So to me, it’s all about
the rhythm and then playing a few things on
top of it to keep it tasty.
Speaking of treating rhythm parts like solos,
the rhythm guitar breakdown in “Sick As a Dog”
off Rocks is pretty much a solo unto itself. Who
Tom [Hamilton, bassist]. I played bass on
that song for the first half of the song and
Tom played rhythm. Then during the breakdown,
I gave the bass to Steven and I picked
up my guitar and played the lead on the way
You recorded it that way?
We did it live in the studio, just like that.
Whenever we gig that song we do it the same
way. We also did that on a song on Night in the
Ruts. There’s a breakdown and then a lap-steel
solo. I put the guitar around my back,
brought up the lap-steel with a volume pedal,
played the solo, and switched back to the
regular guitar. We did that all right there in
the studio. That’s why I say there’s some
really great playing on Night in the Ruts. It’s
too bad that a lot of those songs never got
played live because that’s the record where
I left the band before it was done.
On that subject, what’s up with Aerosmith
Right now we’re looking for a singer
because I think Steven is planning on taking
a few years off. The rest of us want to
play and we’re thinking about getting somebody
who is a headliner in their own right.
Somebody that basically grew up listening
to the same stuff we did and I don’t have to
explain anything, kind of like when the
Stones went to replace Mick Taylor. Rather
than go out and just get a guy who had great blues chops, they wanted to get somebody
from their neighborhood.
The fans weren’t super receptive to an Aerosmith
without Joe Perry. Do you anticipate a similar
backlash against an Aerosmith with no Steven
Sure. There already is. But at the same
time we have fans who are supportive of the
idea and are suggesting singers to us. Obviously
we’re not putting a super group
together. We already have the four guys. We
just need somebody to sit in with Aerosmith,
whether if it’s going to be for a tour or for
an album and then a tour, and I think it should
be somebody that already has a bag full of
tricks and that people would recognize.
There’s a video on YouTube of Aerosmith jamming
on “The Immigrant Song” with Jimmy Page.
What did you take away from that?
It’s kind of funny. I remember when we
first started rubbing elbows with and playing
with the English guys back in the ’60s
and ’70s. I’d always ask them about their
tone or I’d say, “How did you play that?”
They kept that stuff very close to the vest.
They’d keep their tone secrets to themselves.
I really wanted to know what that
chord is that he plays in “The Immigrant
Song” [sings F# octave line and then C9 stab].
For me, that chord has the kind of mystique
that the first chord on “A Hard Days Night”
has, where you go, “How the hell—what
chord is that?” You can get close, but I don’t
know anybody who really has it down. So
I asked him. Jimmy was very much like,
“You should play it the way you want to
play it.” On the one hand you could go,
“Wow, that’s great. He wants me to play it
my way.” And then on the other hand I
thought, “Well, he’s really not going to give
that chord away.” I asked Jeff Beck about
some of his riffs and he said, “Listen, it’s
all right there on the Les Paul records,” or
“It’s all right there if you listen to Freddie
King.” He’d name three guitar players that
he loves and that’s it. I’d be thinking, “Yeah,
but how did you get from there to here?”
A lot of times they were vague about it
because so much of it is talent and you can’t
describe to somebody what talent is. You
can’t teach somebody that. They were just
born with more of it. All you can do is what
they did: Fool around, practice, and work
at it. When you hear something you like,
remember it, build on it, and incorporate
it into your thing. That’s what I do.
Although Joe Perry is famous for being a gunslinging lead guitarist, it’s his sense
of rhythm that truly sets him apart. In this lesson we’ll examine some of his killer
chord work. Aerosmith fans know, though, that the band’s rhythm sound is the
product of both Perry and co-conspirator Brad Whitford and their interlocking
parts. To really dissect Aerosmith’s twin-guitar assault is beyond the scope of this
lesson—and most of us just play one guitar at a time anyway. So some of these riffs
represent an amalgamation of parts that were originally played by the two guitarists
together, and some are standard tuning approximations of lines that Perry
plays in altered tunings—but all of them are funky and bitchin’, so let’s get the
Ex. 1 is similar to Perry’s awesome line in “Combination” off Rocks. He does a
slinky slide between the 3rd and 4th frets, but I find it easier to hammer both the
G and G#, hit the open A with the pick, and tag the open D with my middle finger.
Obviously, do whatever makes it groove the hardest. Then play the same thing
starting on A, which is also the verse riff.
Ex. 2 recalls the song’s pre-chorus riff, with power chords in place of Perry’s
octaves. This moves around a lot, so make sure you think one step ahead at all
times. Get this one up to speed and, like the song says, you’ll be walkin’ on Gucci
wearin’ Yves Saint Laurent!
Ex. 3 is an approximation of the two chorus guitars. Keep the single notes greasy
and hit the chords hard. You want a ’70s-era classic rock workout? Here ya go.
From the sound of it, Perry plays his dynamic “No More, No More” riff in a some
open-E tuning (E, B, E, B, B, E maybe?), which definitely makes it easier. I’m too lazy
to retune, so Ex. 4 is close enough.
The open tuning also enables Perry to play the
riff in Ex. 5 with one-finger power chords. We’ll just fret ’em, but make sure you
leave out the major 3rd. Also, resist the temptation to play E/G# on the and of beat
four in lieu of the G# that’s written. Some classic Aerosmith progressions (most
notably this one and “Sick As a Dog”) rely on the parallel motion of straight power
chords to work their mojo. Think of Ex. 5 as the second ending to Ex. 4. The second
time through Ex. 4, instead of playing the Badd4, go right to the A.