Aerosmith: The best war stories

NME goes down memory lane with the legendary band ahead of their headline slot at Download Festival next week (June 9-11)

You’ve all heard the one about Steven Tyler and the one-song gig, right? It’s set back in the 70s or 80s, when Tyler and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry were so jacked up on heroin, cocaine and a whole rackful of other narcotics and prescription meds that you couldn’t even spell that they became known as the Toxic Twins.

Anyway, story goes, one night they hit the stage of some arena somewhere and, for some reason, the band start with a song they usually finish the set with. Tyler, blitzed out of his wind machine-wafted mind as usual, finishes the song, says “thank you [insert town name], and goodnight!” and wanders offstage thinking he’s done the whole gig.

Urban myth, sadly.

“Well I remember one show where we got three songs in and Steven lost consciousness for one reason or another,” says bassist Tom Hamilton, wracking his brains in a Munich hotel suite. “Somebody was too fucked up and couldn’t continue the show, but I don’t really remember one where there was only one song.”

“We just got high back then, it was a way of life,” Tyler says. “I might have done a bit more than others, but I have a problem with that. I’m powerless over the drugs that I love because I’m addicted to music, and music is the strongest drug of all.”

And Aerosmith, according to early reports, are about to go cold turkey on rock too. As their Aero-Viderci tour approaches its biggest UK date at Download on June 11, word is that it’s to be their last, a two-to-five-year farewell jaunt (they haven’t decided yet when it’ll finish) straddling their fiftieth anniversary as one of the most debauched, demented, drugged-up and downright brilliant rock bands on the planet.

More on that in a later blog, but with a week to go before they dominate Download with a monumental barrage of classic rock monsters – ‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’, ‘Walk This Way’, ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’, ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’ and a dozen or so massive hits you didn’t even realize were theirs – and with many years of far cleaner living behind them, let’s delve back into Aerosmith’s crazy, crazy nights (sorry, wrong band). We begin, as we mean to go on: flat out on a stage, with unconfirmed substances dribbling out of our noses.

The times Steven Tyler passed out mid-gig

On several occasions, Tyler ended gigs prematurely, unconscious from over-indulgence. What can you remember about those nights?

“Nothing, because I passed out!” Steven barks. “I can remember one time I fell down and my foot kept going like this [shakes foot wildly] and this guy carried me off and I went ‘I just drank too much’. I was embarrassed. I literally couldn’t finish the show… We just got caught up in it. We were too rich, too young, too dumb. That’s all. I just got caught up in it, I loved it. I went too far with it. Joe and I, just to show you, where we were before we even touched one drug, we lived on a lake. We’d take a fish tank and put it upside down, and we’d walk along the bottom of the lake. This is what we did. What’s the difference between that and smoking a joint? Nothing.”

The times Joe Perry employed a cocaine roadie

According to Steven Tyler’s autobiography Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?, Perry would keep a roadie by the side of the stage instructed to give him a toot of coke through a straw whenever he wandered over pretending to need technical assistance. Is that true Joe?

“Yep,” Joe sighs. “We’ve done everything… Stuff happens man, and we’ve done it and managed to survive. We’re really lucky.” Steven’s book claims he spent around $6 million on drugs during his lifetime – how much did you spend? “Sounds a little low to me! It’s really hard to say, I mean I know there were many months were I couldn’t tell you how much I spent back then.”

The time they managed to ditch their drugs… inside a police station

“Did we have run-ins with the law?” says guitarist Brad Whitford. “Of course we did. They were looking for us and we were the perfect models of disrespectful behaviour. Maybe some cannabis in our pocket or maybe some cocaine. We were bad boys. We couldn’t help it really in those days. We were easy targets and we looked like trouble when we walked in the door.”

“We had this one show that we had to drive to,” Tom recalls. “We had all five band members in the car and everybody had a little but of something on them and our manager has leased us this really nice, big, new van. So, here’s these five long-haired guys in this nice car. We’re driving down the New Jersey Turnpike and all of a sudden there’s a police car behind us, pulling us over. Brad was driving. The policeman said ‘Mr Whitford, you don’t have any illegal drugs in your car do you?’ Of course Brad said ‘No’, and the cops said ‘Mr Whitford, would you mind if I looked around in the car a little bit. Brad said ‘No’. So he opened up the door and poked around in the back a little bit, then said ‘Mr Whitford, what’s this marijuana seed doing in your car?’. The band was standing out by the side of the road and another police car’s roaring up. They handcuffed us and searched us. They took us off to jail and handcuffed us to this rail on the wall so we were standing far apart.”

How did you get out of it? “Brad actually had two bags of pot,” Tom continues. “There was a room right adjacent to where we were handcuffed and there was an empty room, lights were off. Steven said ‘Gimme the pot, Gimme the pot’, and he just chucked two bags of pot into this room. Then we waited a while. Then a detective or somebody came down, flicked the lights on and said ‘Okay, time to fingerprint you guys’. So, we all went in one by one to get finger printed and everybody could see where the pot was, but the police didn’t.”

Brad laughs. “We made it to the show. We had to do a gig after all that shit, and there was, like, 12 people.”

The time they had a fight so bad Joe left the band

The Toxic Twins, like some kind of proto-Oasis, have also become renowned for the vicious rows that have caused no end of internal fractures in their (almost) fifty years together. In 1979, backstage at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a row between the partners of the band members spilled over into the band itself. Tom’s partner threw a glass of milk at Joe’s, who went into a rage. Tyler told him to “control your woman”, a pre-gig fight kicked off, more alcohol was consumed during what’s described as the best gig of a very fractious tour and within minutes of coming offstage, Joe was out of the band for the next five years.

“It’s was almost preordained,” he remembers. “It was like one of those things. Its like you’re ambiguous about it, but it’s inevitable and it’s gonna happen, and it kind of felt like that for a good three months before it happened. It was almost like ‘Okay, it’s time’. It was like I was gonna go off in a different direction, and I remember giving interviews saying I don’t think Aerosmith is ready for the 80’s’. At which time, I think it was true. We needed the break, but that was tough.”

The time they had a fight because Steven went off to be an American Idol judge

Aerosmith’s most recent bust-up was barely a few years ago, when Tyler was offered the chance to become a judge on American Idol. Stories about what happened have been varied and contradictory – Tyler claimed he was being thrown out of the band and Perry claimed they thought he was leaving. What actually happened?

“The way we found out wasn’t exactly best,” says Joe. “We were in Vegas, and backstage somebody from the press asked me about it. I said ‘What?’ He’d heard that he’d signed up for it. Steven didn’t come and tell me that he was gonna do it. We talked about it, he said ‘I thought you guys were gonna tell me I couldn’t do it, or, you wouldn’t want me to do it’, and I said ‘Steven, you gotta fucking tell us that shit, you know what I mean. I mean, anyone of us would have done it, had we had the offer, you know what I mean. It’s something new. It’s an adventure. We would’ve supported you, and you just felt like you didn’t want to take that chance’.

Aerosmith

Aerosmith

“But that did set up a paradigm where we kinda had to work around his schedule. So, there was some conflict in there. I know I said some stuff in the press that wasn’t all great about him doing it. But you know, in hindsight I’m glad he did it. I’m glad he got that out of his system. He’s back in the band. The band never broke up. He kinda took front seat for a while. But we sorted it out, we talked about it. It was a little rocky in there. Again, it’s like, we get in the room, we start playing again, things get very clear to everybody.”

Aerosmith will headline the final night of Download Festival 2017, which runs from June 9-11 – find out more information about Download 2017 here.