Nearly four decades after Aerosmith made their debut in Boston, the mega-star rock band is still going strong. Inducted into the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame in 2001, the legendary group has sold more than 100 million albums and hit big with classic songs like "Walk This Way," "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)," "Rag Doll," "Sweet Emotion," "Dream On" and "I Don't Want To Miss A Thang."
"It's really moving to know how many people are out there who love the band and want to see us play," says Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton. "For so many years people have been saying, how have you stayed together so long, and how do you keep doing it? I think it's because we can hear the voices saying, please come and play for us. No matter what's going on in the band, that's going to center us."
One of rock's greatest live attractions, Aerosmith performs on Maui on Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium.
Aerosmith features Brad Whitford (from left), Joe Perry, Stephen Tyler, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer.
"We played on Maui in our early days in the mid-'70s," Hamilton recalls. "There were literally only two or three hotels then; it was just becoming the island to go to. I've never been any place that has the exotic power of Hawaii. We're really excited, glad to be coming."
Time has barely diminished the raw power and passion of these veteran rockers.
"Aerosmith proved that they can rock it like they did in their 20s," praised a Rolling Stone review of their Long Island concert in June. "Steven Tyler's voice sounded crisp, and his energy matched the night's seizure-inducing stage lights, with him scampering across the stage, wielding his mic stand like a mad man."
* Aerosmith performs on Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium. Tickets for reserved seats are $125 and $85; and $65 for general admission and bleacher seating. Applicable fees are added to ticket prices available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. Gates for the stadium will open at 4; showtime is 7 p.m. Parking costs $10, and $20 for premium location. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.
"Steven Tyler and Joe Perry continue to define what rock stars should look and act like onstage," praised an Arizona Republic review in July. "Fans in their late 20s and 30s danced and screamed as the pair performed such classics as "Sweet Emotion," "Walk This Way," "Dream On" and "Train Kept a Rollin'."
"There are a lot of things in life that are very rewarding, but there's a certain feeling I'm used to having that can only be had when I'm up on stage with those guys," Hamilton enthuses. "It's very rare and there's only one way to get it."
Masters of crafting hard rock anthems and memorable power ballads, a few years back Aerosmith produced their best CD in years, "Honkin' on Bobo." Released in 2004, "Honkin'" saw the band return to its roots, exploring a collection of blues songs in their own inimitable way. Rather than simply producing reverential tributes they out-Stoned the Stones, injecting more high octane, gritty rock energy into some classics than we've heard from the English legends in decades.
"We had been thinking about doing a 'blues' album for a long time, and we were just waiting for the right time," Hamilton explains. "It was fun because we chose a list of songs and we would learn one in the morning and record it in the afternoon, and learn another one and try to record it that night. It eliminated the writing process and went quickly. It was just a matter of picking music that everyone thought would be fun to play."
Sounding refreshed and reinvigorated, "Honkin'" includes an incendiary reinvention of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move," a faithful tribute to early Fleetwood Mac on "Stop Messin' Around," and an earth-shattering version of the Big Joe Williams' standard "Baby Please Don't Go."
"We like to think of it ("Baby Please Don't Go") as one of our new standards," he continues. "For the last few years we've been putting it in the show. It's a classic thing that we've been about since we first got together and played songs by the Yardbirds, that had a portion of a song that we called a rave up, where everything is really quiet and it builds up to a frenzy. 'Baby Please Don't Go' had that arrangement."
Fans of early Fleetwood Mac, Hamilton notes: "Joe (Perry) and I used to go see them play at the Boston Tea Party, a '60s-era rock club. They would have a wall of the newest amplifiers and had such energy. Joe and I were really inspired."
Before forming Aerosmith, the two musicians played in a group called the Jam Band, and their cover of Mac's "Rattlesnake Shake" so impressed Steven Taylor he wanted to join them.
"We were high school age and had a series of bands," Hamilton recalls. "I remember the first time I heard Steven play, he was a legend. He had these unbelievable bands in New York and would come and play during the summer and everyone would fight to get to see them. I went one night and it was mesmerizing, why was he not famous yet? Every summer he would come up with different bands, and then he was ready to do something really different, that's why he was attracted to playing with Joe and I."
Since their formation in 1970, Aerosmith has been one of the most popular and, at times, notorious American bands. Featuring Tyler on lead vocals, Perry on lead guitar, Brad Whitford on rhythm guitar, Joey Kramer on drums, and Hamilton on bass, the band released its self-titled debut album in 1973, and went on to produce a string of ground-breaking hard rock albums.
"Once we started doing our first gigs I had no doubt we would make it," he says. "I just knew it was the right band. We fell on our faces a few times, but I never doubted something good would happen."
The group enjoyed major popularity throughout the 1970s, but serious substance abuse contributed to their decline. Perry and Whitford left the group, and between 1979 and 1984 they struggled with lesser success.
Writing in his new autobiography, "Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom," drummer Kramer summed up the years of excess: "All I know is that it's a ***** miracle that none of the five of us are dead."
Reforming in 1984, with the members resolving old differences and ultimately overcoming their addictions, Aerosmith achieved a level of sustained success that eclipsed their 1970s heyday. Performing as the original lineup for the past 23 years they hold the record for the most gold, platinum, and multiplatinum albums sold by an American group.
In the last few years, the band has grappled with some health issues. In early 2006, Tyler underwent throat surgery, and he later received treatment for hepatitis C. The same year Hamilton was diagnosed with throat cancer, and in 2008, Perry required knee replacement surgery.
This year has been particularly challenging for the band. Tour dates with ZZ Top were postponed when Tyler injured a leg while performing in June, then the whole tour was canceled after he fell off stage and broke his shoulder during a concert in South Dakota in early August. Whitford missed some shows because he required surgery after hitting his head exiting his Ferrari. And Hamilton had to bow out because he needed non-invasive surgery for a recurring problem.
Plagued with so many injuries, does he wonder what's next for Aerosmith?
"Oh yeah," he responds chuckling. "It's been a checkered year so far. There have been a lot of frustrations. Maybe it's a barrier we're going through to get us ready for the next phase, and how we're going to function as band in the future. Sometimes things have to fall apart to put them back together in a new way and maybe we're going through that period.
"If you looked up stability in the dictionary there wouldn't be a picture of us. For some reason we're still here, and there's still a lot of people who want to hear us. If that wasn't there I don't think we would be as inspired.
"I think about parallels and how we're a microcosm. It can get pretty chaotic in our band and there's a lot of chaos in the word right now, a lot of intense stuff happening all at the same. It's like a wave and you've just got to be able to stand up and keep going."
Over the years Hamilton has co-composed some of the band's most popular songs, crafting "Sweet Emotion" and "Janie's Got a Gun," with Tyler, and most recently composing "Jaded" from "Just Push Play" with the group's charismatic front man.
"We'll have a meeting, a rehearsal, and everyone will bring in their latest riff, and that's how the songs happened that I wound up co-writing with Steven," he explains. "It's a very competitive atmosphere; you really have to fight your way in, especially as we've expanded the writing to include people outside the band."
Before heading out on their summer tour, Aerosmith began working with producer Brendan O'Brien (known for recordings with Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam) on a new CD.
"We did a bunch of work in the spring," he reports. "We had a two or three month window before we had to get ready to tour, and we knew there was a good chance we wouldn't get a whole album done. We did a lot of rehearsing and got about 10 songs worked up. It was great to get a picture of where we're at creatively and have something to build on.
"I really want this album to be a hard-assed rocker, but I've always like our melodic side too. I think it's going to be an Aerosmith rock album in the classic sense. That's what we're aiming for, and we'll always do something melodic, something for the lovers."
So how does it feel to be a member of one of America's greatest rock bands?
"You know it's really humbling and exciting, but as a day to day thing you forget about it, you're kind of more wrapped up in daily chores," he concludes.
"I still look at the band as these guys like I did when we started. I'm really proud of our history, and it's really challenging because we still feel like we have to prove ourselves and live up to something.
"We still have a lot of creative potential. There are still challenges that we need to take on musically and creatively. I don't think we've finished saying what we have to say by any means."