Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1950, Joseph Anthony Pereira aka Joe Perry, would go on to become one of his generation’s best guitar heroes. The lead guitarist in rock legends Aerosmith, him and vocalist Steven Tyler would come to embody a trans-Atlantic version of the swaggering, hyper-sexualised Rolling Stones duo, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
Owing to undiagnosed learning difficulties and ADHD, the young Perry’s grades in school were failing. His parents took the critical step of pulling him out of school in his local town of Hopedale, Massachusetts, and sent him to boarding school, in the small Southern Vermont town, Saxton’s River. At the time, Perry was deeply unhappy with the move. The new school housed 200 young men who had all come from different metropolitan hubs across the world and had been exposed to the “sex, drugs, and rock n roll” groundswell of the late ’60s.
Little did his parents know, but this decision to send Perry away to school in the hope of securing him good grades was to alter the trajectory of his life, and set him on an altogether different path, one that embodied all the excesses of the late ’60s that his new school peers were so used to.
Retrospectively, Perry told the Burlington Free Press that “after vacations, guys would come back with bits and pieces of different cultures” and “it was a real education for me and not the kind of learning they sent me there for.” His new friends introduced him to countercultural magazines such as The Village Voice and more importantly, the revolutionary new music of the day, including The Beatles.
Perry had been playing the guitar since the age of 10, but this new wave of music galvanised him and made him concentrate on honing his skills and paying more attention to the six-string than he had ever done prior. In 2014 he remembered: “The night The Beatles first played The Ed Sullivan Show, boy, that was something. Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn’t prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night.”
Sitting for hours practising in his room, he would swiftly progress as a guitarist, and, miraculously, he even taught himself to switch from left-handed playing to right-handed. Jimi Hendrix and ‘British Invasion’ bands such as The Who, The Kinks, The Stones and The Yardbirds were just some of his early influences. He recalled: “This band called the Yardbirds had a sound like I had never heard before, they had guitars that sound like nothing I’d ever heard before. The Stones were pushing the edge with distorted guitars. That was a big influence on me.”
After finishing school, Perry moved to Boston with school friend Tom Hamilton in 1969. One thing lead to another, and by 1971 Aerosmith were formed, with Perry as the lead axeman and Hamilton on bass. They released their eponymous debut album in 1973, and the rest was, as they say, history. The band became known for their hard partying lifestyle, and together frontman Tyler and Perry became known as the ‘Toxic Twins’.
Typically, it would all fall apart by the late ’70s, with Perry leaving to form the Joe Perry Project in 1979. For the next few years, Aerosmith was a revolving door of a band with members coming and going, however, by 1985 Perry was back in the fold, and the original lineup were back together. They would release rap-rock progenitor ‘Walk This Way’ with hip-hop duo Run-DMC in 1986 and then would embark on their truly stratospheric run.
In 1987, the band released its ninth studio album, Permanent Vacation, which included the hits ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’ and ‘Angel’. Then two years later they released another hit album, Pump, which contained classics such as ‘Love in an Elevator’ and ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’. Come the release of Pump‘s successor, 1993’s Get a Grip, the band had cemented themselves as rock legends.
By the turn of the millennium, Perry had established himself as one of the coolest axemen around. Somewhat overlooked by the mainstream, his prowess as a guitarist is certain. Join us then, as we list five Aerosmith songs that prove Joe Perry is a certified guitar hero.
Five Aerosmith songs that prove Joe Perry is a genius:
‘Sweet Emotion’ – 1975
1975’s ‘Sweet Emotion’ taken from the band’s third album, Toys in the Attic, is probably best known for its inclusion at the start of Richard Linklater’s 1993 classic Dazed and Confused. Funky as hell, featuring two of Perry’s most iconic riffs, the only way to describe this swaggering classic is ‘riff city’.
Perry’s guitar playing on ‘Sweet Emotion’ oozes cool, and the psychedelic key change in the last minute can be hailed as a sonic precursor to the late ’80s early ’90s Californian alternative scene that spawned Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Technically not the most complex the beauty of this piece is in its effectiveness. On the tune, Perry picks up from where Hendrix left off, and his hard-rocking but funky style on ‘Sweet Emotion’ is legendary.
‘Walk This Way’ – 1986
Sorry to the Aerosmith purists out there, but no list of Perry guitar moves would be complete without the mention of Run-DMC’s 1986 redux of Aerosmith’s 1975 original. Featuring one of Perry’s busiest guitar lines, either version of this tune is great, but the DMC mash-up is pure genius.
Helping to establish the burgeoning genre of rap-rock, which without we’d have no Rage Against the Machine, Perry’s work locks in with the drums and creates a groovy, rhythmic feel, augmenting Tyler’s equally as rhythmic lyrical style that gives the song its brilliant edge. Also, the solo is his most iconic, divebombs and all.
‘Love in an Elevator’ – 1989
Not only is this song Perry at his swaggering best, but this is also the band at one of their pop peak. Marking the moment the band truly announced their resurgence, taken from 1989’s Pump, we get a funky main riff and one of Perry’s more visceral guitar solos.
An ’80s version of Perry, he manages to stay true to his psychedelic and hard-rocking roots but also gives us more of those ubiquitous Motley Crue/Van Halen-esque divebombs of the era, he expertly straddled the old and the new. The solo takes a cacophonous turn with the use of layered textures, chorus and reverse delay. Probably one of his most extended and atmospheric solos, Perry shines on ‘Love in an Elevator’.
‘Livin’ On The Edge’ – 1993
Taken from the band’s smash-hit Get a Grip, on the introspective ‘Livin’ On The Edge, ‘ Perry gives audiences a matching, emotionally driven six-string demonstration. Droning and psychedelic, there’s a middle eastern influence to the notes that you can’t quite put your finger on. The guitar riff at the start sounds more like Jeff Buckley than Aerosmith.
Another cacophonous masterpiece, the dovetailing guitars, build the song up to an almighty crescendo. The riff in the bridge is classic Perry, swaggering and off-beat, it nicely breaks the song’s trajectory up. During the solo, when Perry hits the high notes with a slide, it hits you right in the feels, and gives you one of his most iconic guitar moves.
‘Dream On’ – 1975
One of Aerosmith’s most underrated tracks, and subsequently, one of Perry’s, the melodic guitar line in the introduction is classic and is the most explicit nod to Perry’s psychedelic ’60s heroes. In the intro, there are flecks of The Zombies, Jimi Hendrix and The Yardbirds. It even sounds a bit like the descending progression in Air’s 2000 Virgin Suicides soundtrack ‘Playground Love’. Who knows, maybe that’s where they got their inspiration?
‘Dream On’ is Perry at an emotive highpoint, and his work augments the song’s status as a power ballad.