Joe Perry told BuzzFeed News recently that he wrote his new autobiography, Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith, because he wanted to explore the question “How the hell did we manage to do it?” The “it,” of course, being taking the band he co-founded at age 19 with a group of Three Stooges-loving kids in Massachusetts and turning it into what is often referred to as “America’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band.”
So how did Perry and Co. do it? Here are 10 surprising revelations from Perry’s autobiography that help answer that question — and more — in candid detail:
1. Perry plays guitar backward.
Perry is left-handed, but when he got his first guitar at the age of 12 it came with an instructional record for righties. Not knowing any better, Perry learned to play by listening to that record, and has played right-handed ever since.
2. In Aerosmith’s early days, lead singer Steven Tyler had sticky fingers.
Not long after the band lost an important gig because Tyler stole — of all things — a slide projector, three gun-toting thugs accused him of stealing $2,000 out of their suitcase. Tyler professed his innocence, but a band confidant later told Perry that Tyler had indeed taken the money.
3. One of the band’s biggest early hits, “Sweet Emotion,” featured lyrics by Tyler about his disdain for Perry’s then-wife, Elyssa Jerret.
Tyler believed Jerret was cutting Perry off from the band, but Perry disagrees, and writes in his book that he was playing and composing better than ever before at the time.
4. Perry quit Aerosmith in 1979 after Jerrett threw a glass of milk at the wife of bassist Tom Hamilton.
In Rocks, Perry discusses how the real source of the band’s turmoil wasn’t Perry’s wife, but the members’ refusal to sit down and discuss their problems. He wouldn’t rejoin the band until 1984.
5. In 2009, Tyler blew off a week of songwriting sessions with Perry to secretly fly to England and audition for Led Zeppelin.
Perry asked Tyler for an explanation, but was given many different answers. “One was that he was auditioning only for one show, and then there was another one that was, ‘I really didn’t want to do it anyway,’” Perry told BuzzFeed News.
“I didn’t buy any of it. My trust in him as far as that kind of thing goes is nonexistent. I’ve tried to get a straight answer from him but very often I’ll have a conversation with him and then I’ll find out two minutes later that he’s telling someone just the opposite.”
6. Aerosmith’s career was in trouble after the flop of 1985 album Done With Mirrors, but they made a major comeback with an unlikely rap-rock collaboration.
Producer Rick Ruben called Perry with the revolutionary idea of remaking the Aerosmith classic “Walk This Way” with Run-DMC. Perry, whose son Aaron was a rap fan, was open to the idea. The eventual collaboration became the first hip-hop song to crack Billboard’s top five and relaunched Aerosmith’s career.
7. Perry not only jammed with Kiss on stage, he got to watch backstage as they put on their iconic makeup and costumes.
It happened during a 2003 co-headlining Aerosmith-Kiss tour, and Perry even got to wear the legendary Kiss boots.
8. Perry’s 29-year marriage to second wife Billie Montgomery is one of the longest in rock ‘n’ roll.
Perry admitted that staying married in rock isn’t easy. “But then making any marriage work isn’t easy. Lawyers have groupies. In fact I think it’s probably harder being in some professions because you’re away from home.”
A key to their success is Perry’s having reached a level of success where he can afford to bring his family on the road with him. “Leaving your family for weeks or months at a time can really put some distance between you emotionally,” Perry said.
9. After a show in Detroit when Kid Rock opened for Aerosmith, Rock’s then-girlfriend Pamela Anderson sat on the lap of Perry’s 14-year-old son, Tony, and fed him pizza bite by bite.
Perry, who has four sons including a stepson, was a little taken aback, but didn’t have the heart the interrupt this teenage dream come true.
10. Despite everything, Perry thinks Aerosmith’s swan song is still on the horizon.
“When we walk on stage there’s still that feeling that we’re going to get out there and be the best that we can for the night and give the audience what they deserve,” Perry said. “That helps me surmount a lot of these other issues, and I’ve learned how to deal with it.”
Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith is out Oct. 7 from Simon and Schuster.