"We were America's band, we were the garage band that made it really big -- the ultimate party band. We were the guys who you could actually see. Back then in the '70s, it wasn't like Led Zeppelin was out there on the road in America all of the time. The Stones weren't always coming to your town. We were. You could count on us to come by."
-- Joe Perry, quoted in Rolling Stone, 1990
Year in and year out, Aerosmith has been one of the warhorses of rock 'n' roll, even maintaining the same five-man lineup since 1971.
But after coming off tour in 2007, the members of Aerosmith have spent more time with their doctors than their roadies. There was no tour in 2008 as singer Steven Tyler was in rehab for multiple foot surgeries. Also that year, Tyler suffered an ear infection and a bout of pneumonia that sapped efforts to record the long-awaited follow-up to 2001's "Just Push Play" ("Honkin' on Bobo" was a covers album in 2004).
Then, Perry went down with knee surgery. Bassist Tom Hamilton is in remission with throat cancer. The most recent development is that Bobby Schneck will replace guitarist Brad Whitford for part of the tour due to an unspecified surgery.
What was it like for these road warriors to have to take a break?
"It was a break that was not really, 'OK, we're going to take a vacation,' " Perry said. "There were a lot of things we had to take care of. It was not a fun break. We certainly got some rest. There certainly have been some changes. Some things we hoped would be done weren't, like the new record .... So many things lined up positively for the tour. I'm really ready to get back on the road."
Over the years, Aerosmith has offered fans some bang for their buck with the opening act -- Guns N' Roses, Black Crowes, Kid Rock and Kiss, to name a few -- and this tour is no exception, as the Bad Boys from Boston are paired with the formidable ZZ Top.
How did it all come about?
"Got a phone call," says Perry, 'What do you think about ZZ Top?' Let's put it this way: If they were on tour and they had a bunch of stops around New England, I probably would go to see every show. I love Billy [Gibbons'] playing, and what they get out of a three-piece band is phenomenal."
Back in their mid-'70s heyday, this bill was the other way around. Now it's ZZ Top on the undercard.
"Yeah, but this is not that," Perry says. "There's no opener here. It's strictly two bands of equal stature, and we just happen to be going on last."
With no new record to push, Aerosmith has decided to unleash an old one. Into the middle of the set, the band is inserting the entirety of 1975's "Toys in the Attic," one of Aerosmith's most beloved records, featuring the title track, "Walk This Way," "Sweet Emotion" and "Big Ten Inch Record."
The tour is also timed with a new Joe Perry solo record and the release of the video game "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith," sponsor of the tour. So is the real Joe Perry any good at being the Guitar Hero Joe Perry?
"No, I'm not any good at 'Guitar Hero,' " he says. "I might be if I played it. I don't have time to play it, number one, and I've never been a gamer."
But, he adds, "It's an amazing game ... and this is going to be the major way for a long time that bands will get new music out to fans."
At least for now, it's more likely that young people will get turned on to Aerosmith from "Guitar Hero" than switching on a classic-rock station or some video channel.
"I was at a high school function seeing my son perform," Perry says, "and a 10-year-old girl came up and asked for an autograph, and my wife asked her, 'What's your favorite song?' and she said 'Walking in the Sand.' Ten-year-old girl. It was like well, there it is, the songs on the video game are in the same league as the greatest hits album."
The guitarist says that during all the downtime, he never worried that Aerosmith would meet its demise -- "No, not at all. Everyone wants to get out there" -- and even though Tyler and Perry have had their share of flare-ups, the connection is still tight.
"We basically realized we're the brothers we didn't have, like blood brothers," he says. "We're as close as that could be. Sometimes you hate your brother, sometimes you love him. And it's pretty much followed the same path."
Scott Mervis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576.