Interview By Robert Cavuoto
We are opening up the Rock Vault to bring you oldies but classic interviews courtesy of our contributor Robert Cavuoto. In honor of the holiday season, here’s a doozy with legendary Aersomith axemaster Joe Perry, in support of his Christmas EP a few years ago.
Vault Date: December 11th, 2014
Coming off the heels of his New York Times best-selling memoir, ROCKS: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith this past October, guitar slinger, and bluesman, Joe Perry is back in the saddle with a four-song Christmas EP: Joe Perry’s Merry Christmas.
It’s his first-ever collection of holiday songs features four Christmas classics: “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Run Run Rudolph” with Johnny Depp on rhythm guitar. The EP is available now on iTunes.
I had the good fortune to talk to Joe first-hand about these songs as well as his guitar techniques, his friendship with Johnny Depp, and the status of the next studio CD by him as a solo artist or with Aerosmith.
Robert Cavuoto: What were some of the guitars you used on the EP as you have some great tones with a nice bluesy flair?
Joe Perry: The main guitar that I’ve been using is the one in all the Aerosmith press lately. It’s the left-handed Strat that I made in 2000. When I left Aerosmith to do the Joe Perry Project I created a left handed mongrel guitar that my guitar tech and I put together at the time. I used that guitar for most of my solo dates. When I went back to Aerosmith I packed it up as it sounded so great that I really didn’t want to take it out on the road. I decided to build a new one as close as possible to the original. It has a Fender left-handed Telecaster neck with fat frets and a Warmoth Strat body and Lindy Fralin pickups. It’s a real mongrel. It plays great and is set up really well.
Robert: I like what you did on “White Christmas” with the talk box.
Joe Perry: I’ve had that talk box forever. I made it back in 1974 and course it’s been blown up, trashed and rebuilt with new wiring [laughing]. I can’t say it has all the same pieces. It’s the old story of the hammer that got handed down from generation to generation, except the handle was changed three times and the head four times. [laughing] I still think of it as the original, though!
I wanted to use a real slide guitar but didn’t have that type of time. There were a few things like that which I wanted to try put didn’t get to. All the guitars are just the way that I play it.
Robert: Johnny Depp is a guest guitarist on the EP; tell me about your friendship and what you think of him as a guitarist?
Joe Perry: I’ve been a fan of his acting for a long time. I remember seeing him in the movie Chocolat, where he plays the gypsy guitar player. I was really impressed. You could tell that he was really playing guitar vs. cutting back and forth to a musician. In the movie, he plays a lot of Django Reinhardt stuff. I didn’t know him at the time but remember telling myself that someday I have to get a guitar lesson from him if I meet him since I don’t know any of that type of stuff.
As it turned out about four years later he dropped by the studio when Aerosmith was recorded our last studio record with Jack Douglas. Jack knew him and asked him to come down. We started talking music and guitars and that’s where our friendship started.
When Aerosmith came back from South America, I didn’t have any of studio guitars and needed a nice acoustic to play on the CD so asked him I could borrow one. He took me to his studio where he had 20 or 25 vintage Martins from 1933 and old blues style guitars – one of the nicest collections I’ve seen. He lent me one and I asked him to sing background vocals on “Freedom Fighter.”
I’ve been out here in a LA for a while now since the book tour end and he said I could use his studio so I have been working on some solo stuff in my spare time with what little I have.
I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas CD with Aerosmith; it’s one of those shortlist things that we never got around to doing like a blues CD or a cover CD of rock songs. I had some time and decided to cover a few Christmas songs for an EP and put it out on iTunes. They turned out lot better than I thought they would. Johnny came by to listen and we were planning to do “Run Run Rudolf,” as we are both big Chuck Berry fans. It was the perfect chance to have him lay a rhythm track down alongside mine. It worked great as we were both “Chuck Berry’ing-out”
Robert: Do you think you are better known as songwriter or guitar player?
Joe Perry: Probably a little of both at this point in my career. I’ve had ebbs and flows in my guitar playing but it seems my songwriting is always consistent. Songwriting goes hand in hand with the playing as it’s where you have to shine and get to show off your stuff. That’s the art of it. There are so many licks and riffs out there which can be turned into songs. If you can create something with these riffs, that’s when a great tune happens. Being a guitar player / songwriter is how I would like to be thought of.
Robert: You’re playing is quite a unique and instantly recognizable. What do you consider to be a signature thing you do whether with Aerosmith, your solo band or even on this Christmas EP?
Joe Perry: I think most of it again falls back to songwriting. Just paying attention to the song and what you can do to contribute to it. That’s why I’m always in a battle with Steven [Tyler] about who gets last shot at the track. I always like to put my final guitar parts on after it’s done and he likes to do it the other way around. We always come to a compromise, though.
It’s about fitting something in there that is going to compliment the song and give it another hook that people will remember it by. Those riffs can be so simple but they can be just as important as the vocals.
I always go back and listen to the guys who inspired me so I keep my technique going, to keep my paint pallet always stocked with new and different colors. To keep experimenting and not be the snob guy locked into only playing a ‘59 Les Paul. I’ll play anything! If it works, great, if the guitar isn’t that easy to play or isn’t set up correctly, it makes you work harder. You might get something out of it that you wouldn’t ordinarily get. A place I focus the most on is with my foot pedals because you can do so much with them especially the old ones.
Robert: Do you have a favorite CD of yours that showcases you’re playing, your technique, and your favorite guitar tones?
Joe Perry: I think my second to last solo CD has enough variety on it that would be the one that I would pull out. For that CD I had a lot a time to experiment with different sounds. I did it in my home studio with all my best and favorite instruments. I have a lot of shelves down there with “world instruments” that I collect. I collect any type of instrument that makes noise. I have pump organ and Hurdy Gurdy that I’ve collected over the years. I had the chance to pull out different guitars like my beat-up old Silvertones and antique Gretsch’s from the 50s. I like to use small amps in the studio and I had a lot of time to fool around with everything and it shows the most on that CD.
Robert: Will we see a solo CD or an Aerosmith CD next?
Joe Perry: I’m really not sure, I feel that we just finished the last Aerosmith CD and I learned a lot about making that record as well as what our hardcore fans are looking for. I have six about song for a solo project as I’m always writing and working on new stuff. Whether it’s a solo thing or an Aerosmith thing I’m not sure as we haven’t talked about specifics.
The industry and audience have changed so much plus Steven is doing a solo CD this spring. Sometimes I wonder if it worth doing an album any more or go more in the direction of this EP. We put it together in two and a half weeks; put it up online for people to buy the songs they like or all four. I was thinking why not put out a song at a time and when you get a bunch together, release them as a package. We’ve certainly talked about the different options. From talking with the fans at the book signings, they were handing me vinyl instead of CDs to sign. Maybe going back and do vinyl and also release the songs online. We are wide open now and we’ll decide when we start thinking about putting out new music.
I know we are going back on the road this summer so I’m not sure when we will have the time or be able to make time to get back into the studio. I know we plan on it I just don’t know when.