Joe Perry Talks About His New Christmas Record, Aerosmith’s Future – Exclusive Interview
When Joe Perry casually tells us that "it's going to be a rock 'n' roll Christmas," he means that quite literally. In 2014, the Aerosmith guitarist fulfilled a lifelong career ambition and recorded a holiday EP, 'Joe Perry's Merry Christmas,' right after finishing promoting his memoir, 'Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith.'
"I was at the end of the book tour, and it found us out here in L.A., and I'm about 20 feet away from a studio," Perry recalls on a recent afternoon. "I thought, 'Well, you know what? We have a couple hours here, and a couple hours there. We should really knock this off, and really see if we can get this done.'"
Recorded in about two weeks, "with real musicians in the studio, just cutting loose," 'Joe Perry's Merry Christmas' is loose and eclectic. An instrumental version of 'Silent Night' features mournful, evocative blues guitar; a vocal-free take on 'White Christmas' -- well, wordless save for some talk-box-aided seasonal greetings -- boasts slightly more raucous riffing.
Perry's take on 'Santa Claus Is Back in Town' is a bluesy shuffle with a gospel-tinged choir and loopy piano. And actor Johnny Depp even pops in to add rhythm guitar to 'Run Run Rudolph,' which preserves the boogie-woogie feel and scorched-earth solos found on Chuck Berry's original version of the song.
Musician-wise, who did you end up working with?
Well, there's the producer and the engineer, his name's Bruce Witkin. I've gotten to know him really well. We've done some other work together. Actually, he's a really good friend of Johnny's. They've been buddies since they were kids. He's just really good in the studio. So, he basically helped with the production, and then we had some horn players and some singers. Let's see, the drummer that played on there [Jack Douglas] was the guy that played with me when I did the [Bob] Dylan song 'Man of Peace' for the charity thing we did a while ago. I met him out here. It was all local people, but this was L.A., so they were all really talented guys and girls.
Did you want Johnny Depp on the EP, or was that a happy coincidence?
It was his studio, so he was dropping in every once in a while to see how it was going. We'd finished that track ['Run Run Rudolph'], the basic track, and we were talking about having another rhythm guitar track on there, and he's a really good guitar player, so it was perfect. We're both big Chuck Berry fans, and Chuck played that song and made it famous. He's the first one I ever heard play it, and it worked out great. So that's Johnny on the other side. If you listen with headphones, you can really hear the two different guitars playing.
When you were recording the EP, were you looking to capture things in a certain way, recording-wise, maybe based on things you loved on holiday recordings in the past?
Well, the two instrumentals, I mean, I think were so well-known, it's almost like you've heard 'em so many times, you can sing along with the lyrics anyway. You really don't need to actually have somebody singing. I think the idea of Christmas, you can put that across instrumentally. The other two are more rock 'n' roll songs, and you really need to hear the lyrics to know what they are. I'm not sure how many people are really familiar with 'Run Run Rudolph' or 'Santa Claus Is Back in Town' which is a [Jerry] Leiber / [Mike] Stoller song. They wrote that for Elvis. That's on his Christmas album.
Did you record any more songs than what are on the EP? Are there any extras?Actually, not for the EP. We didn't have time to get anything else done for that. But what I'm hoping is next year we'll do another batch and add to it and kind of make it a tradition. So we'll keep on putting out Christmas EPs or even albums, by the time we add more songs to it. Maybe take a few off to make room for something else. We'll see. But we've been talking about doing something like that, to make it a tradition.
How long have you been wanting to do something like this? I think I read somewhere that you had wanted Aerosmith to do a holiday record throughout the years.
For years, and years, and years. [Laughs.] Quite a while. I mean, we had talked about doing it and tried to make plans to do it. But it's always been we've always been so busy doing regular Aerosmith stuff, we just never got around to it. It just never got done. It's just how it is, you know? Especially around the holidays. Usually you're either coming off the road or in the middle of making a regular studio album or whatever. We just never had the time to do it.
If you guys ever had the chance to do one, what do you think it would sound like?
I don't know. That's one of the things about making records, you kind of have to wonder. I mean, obviously, it would probably be a variety of different styles, you know? I don't know. The whole idea is to do stuff that's off the beaten track, so it wouldn't sound the same as some of the classics.
Everyone knows the classics, but there are so many cool obscure holiday songs out there.
There are. In fact, I have a friend that every year, he puts out a Christmas blues CD, and I mean, you wouldn't believe how many songs there are that have been put out over the last 60 years by different people. Back in the '40s and the '30s, just different blues songs. He's a musicologist, and he would send out this CD to all his friends every Christmas. Instead of a Christmas card, he'd put one of these together, and it was great because you'd have songs you've never have heard of before. It was really cool. It was kind of in that vein that I wanted to do these songs, you know? Two of them are really familiar, and the other two aren't quite. So it was that kind of vibe.
Growing up, what were some of your favorite holiday songs or artists?
Well, in the early days, when I was a young kid, obviously all the standards. 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,' not the Elvis version, but the standard version. And 'Jingle Bells,' all the ones you hear in the malls. And then, obviously, when I got older I started hearing all these other songs, like I said, the different blues songs, R&B. There's [Phil Spector's] record ['A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector']. I play that all the time.
Do you have any fond memories of playing any holiday shows? Either with Aerosmith or Joe Perry Project?
Well, when the band first got back together, I would say there was a run there of about 10 years where we played New Year's Eve in Boston. It almost got to be a tradition, but then as our families started to get older and the touring got even more intense, it was harder to keep up with the tradition. But we had some shows in Boston that were pretty wild. I remember one we did, I think it was on New Year's or right around New Year's, we had Santa Claus actually come down from the ceiling of the Boston Garden on a Harley-Davidson. That was pretty wild. [Laughs.]
So after the holidays, what do you have on tap? Do you have any firm plans for next year?
Probably taking some time off. I mean, between working on the last Aerosmith album and then touring between recording sessions and then writing the book ... which really took twice as long as we thought it was going to take. We thought it would take about a year, and it really took over two years to get it done. And then the book tour, which took up the last couple of months, and we wound that up about two or three weeks ago. We're looking forward to just taking some time off. I don't know. I may do some solo stuff later on in the year, but next summer I think the band will probably tour again, but that's pretty much it. We haven't decided exactly when yet. Right now we're just taking some time off.
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