Local Legend: Joe Perry Has Boston in His Rock 'n' Roll DNA

Guitar hero Joe Perry strolls down memory lane—and Newbury Street—in Boston.

Boston legend Joe Perry may be 67, but there’s no mandatory retirement age in rock ‘n’ roll, and if there was the guitar-slinger would blow by it. Perry co-leads his main band, Aerosmith, and is an essential part of the Alice Cooper-helmed Hollywood Vampires. He just released his fourth solo album, “Sweetzerland Manifesto.” Steeped in blues-rock, he recruited singers Robin Zander (of Cheap Trick), David Johansen, Terry Reid, Chris Robinson (of Black Crowes) and Gary Cherone (of Extreme). Still, Perry has no illusions about the solo career taking off—or taking over.

“It was strictly about making music and having fun,” he says about the album. “No pressure, no expectation about getting on the radio. I just pictured playing the songs live because they’d be a lot of fun to play.” Perry laid claim to classic rock status the old-fashioned way so—ahead of his gig at the House of Blues on April 18—we caught up with him for a chat about how Boston factored into his creative evolution, what he loves about our city, and what the future holds. 

Perry in Brazil

How has Boston changed since Aerosmith lived on Commonwealth Avenue in the ‘70s? 

We grew up in an era that was based around going to see rock ‘n’ roll bands play live. There were a lot more bands and a lot more places to play rock ‘n’ roll. You can still go and listen to all kinds of music, but I think that the scene reflects people’s tastes. Overall, that’s really healthy. One of the things Boston always had—and that hasn’t changed—is that it’s one of the biggest college towns in the country. 

What brought you to Boston initially? 

There were a lot of opportunities to play. The frat houses, the clubs, spreading out into the suburbs—that gave us a really good platform. I think overall the creativity and the vibe of the city is really special. It’s probably the smallest world-class city that I know of. And it’s always retained that. 

Where did you go to eat out? 

The band’s favorite places to eat back then were Newbury Steak House, if we felt flush that week, and the Dugout. 

You’re mostly in L.A. these days. What do you like about coming home? 

There are things that haven’t changed much. Alan Bilzerian has a world-class clothing boutique on Newbury Street and the walk down Newbury Street is always a rush. Walking around Harvard Square always feels the same. Every September, you can’t get around any of the streets because of all the U-Haul trailers— that’s one of the things that makes Boston Boston. I still love it. 

Did the city, and its rough edges, help Aerosmith shape its rock ‘n’ roll identity? 

Well, there was the “Bad Boys from Boston” tag. I always thought it was kind of wrong when the press started calling us that because as far as I was concerned the J. Geils Band were—and still are—one of the best live bands I’d ever seen, hands down. 

How did it feel when Aerosmith started to take off? 

The summer right before it really broke [in 1973], we were an entity, but we were still having trouble making ends meet, paying the rent. Then after the first record was out we played a 2000-seat place outside Boston—I think it was Shrewsbury, some high school—and it was packed. It was like, “Wow, what happened here?” 

In 2016, there was talk of a farewell Aerosmith tour. What’s the plan? 

It sounded good on paper two months before the tour started, but then we said it ain’t gonna happen. We really softened the edges on that one. I’m sure there will be a time when there will be a “last gig,” but I can’t see it right now. The plan is to lay back for a little while and start gearing up again. Our 50th anniversary is in 2020. We may do a festival here and there, but it will start in earnest at the end of 2018. I don’t know what shape it’s going to take. 

Will there be a new Aerosmith record? 

We’ve talked about it. I’m busier now than I’ve been in a long time, putting this solo record out and then looking at a Hollywood Vampires tour this summer. 

Are you hitting the road for your new solo record? 

Yeah, I’d like to if I can find some time. Every song is designed to play live. I’d really like to go out and do a proper two-month tour—but we’ll see.

Jim Sullivan
About the author
As former staff music writer for The Boston Globe and a contributor to myriad publications including The Boston Phoenix ...