The devil makes work for idle hands. Except for Steven Tyler and his Aerosmith bandmates, who, in early 1975 while waiting for a supersized delivery of cocaine, used the time wisely, sketching out a song that would spark a rap-rock revolution and open up hip-hop to the masses: ‘Walk This Way’, their collaboration with Queens rap wrecking crew Run-DMC. “We were all waiting for a load of blow to come,” remembers the frontman. “[Guitarist] Joe Perry was on stage and I ran up on stage and jamming with him. Who knew that from jamming with Joe, it would become so big and do what it did?” With this week’s NME celebrating 40 years of hip-hop, we asked Tyler for the inside story on how he made one of its biggest crossover anthems…
“The song started at a soundcheck at HRC in Honolulu. It was a real rhythmical thing. Our drummer Joey Kramer played with a funk band, and was always pushing James Brown. He brought funk to the table. And Joe picked up on it and brought that ‘Walk This Way’ lick. The groove kind of lent itself to rap. It kind of pissed me off at first that they weren’t following the lyrics, but they were following the rhythm. But I would scat, and then write the lyrics in after. I wrote them on the hallway wall. They were so rhythmical that I didn’t have a melody line to follow so it was more [sings] “backstreet lover, going under cover.” I didn’t really know too much about hip-hop at the time. I remember the time: you would get cassettes from DJs, great people, mostly downtown. I’d love to say, ‘I knew what rap was, hell yeah.’ But that’s horseshit. Am I fan of rap now? FROM THE WINDOOOOOOW TO THE WALL, TILL THE SWEAT DRIPS DOWN MY BALLS! It’s fuckin’ great.
Those fuckers Run DMC, none of those guys wanted to do this song at first. They didn’t like it. But it grabbed them because of the rhythm on it. Rick Rubin called me up and said, ‘Would you do a duet with them?’ It was that simple. I think the genius here is in their passion for wanting to do it. In the studio [New York’s Record Plant] when we recorded it, a couple of the Beastie Boys were in there as well, and I remember the fun they were having reciting those lyrics. I thought, ‘Fuck, I’ve never had that much fun with our shit!’ I actually lost the lyrics in the cab from the hotel to the studio. I had a bag in left in the back of the car. I didn’t have any paper in the studio so I thought ‘fuck this’ and wrote them on the studio wall.
“I’m honoured beyond belief [that it started bands fusing rap and rock]. If that wasn’t the case then we wouldn’t be here today. I’ve always prided myself on Aerosmith, the fact we can do ‘Dream On’ and ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’. We had that diversity, part of that’s what kept us alive all these years. We’re not just a genre, hard rock. Would I ever return to hip-hop? I’m sure I could, but right now I’m pretty busy with Aerosmith.”
Steven Tyler was speaking to Pete Cashmore