Aerosmith: The Early Years
Selling one hundred and fifty million albums during the last five decades, Aerosmith is the best-selling hard rock band in American history. Their two thousand live shows, spanning more than fifty countries have earned them the title “America’s greatest rock and roll band.” The “Bad Boys from Boston” have lived the rock and roll lifestyle that is the stuff of legend.
In 1970, twenty-two-year-old vocalist Steven Tyler, drummer Joey Kramer, and guitarist Ray Tabano joined forces with guitarist Joe Perry and bass player Tom Hamilton to form Aerosmith. Perry and Hamilton had played together in a band named the Jam Band and met Kramer in Boston in 1969. Kramer became the band’s drummer. Steven Tyler was a drummer and backup vocalist in his own band, Chain Reaction, and he and Kramer knew one another.
Later that year, Chain Reaction and Jam Band played at the same show. Afterward, the mutual respect and appreciation they shared for each other’s music led to a proposal by Tyler that they join forces - as long as he would front the band. They agreed and moved into an apartment together in Boston. After considering “The Hookers,” “Spike Jones” and briefly calling themselves “Fox Chase,” they settled on Aerosmith. The name came from Kramer’s love of Harry Nilson’s album “Aerial Ballet.” They played their first gig at Nipmuc Regional High School in Mendon, Massachusetts. By that time, Brad Whitford had replaced guitarist Ray Tabano.
Max’s Kansas City
213 Park Avenue South in New York City: Max’s Kansas City. It’s where everyone wanted to be in the 1960s and early 70s. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Sylvia Tyson, and Emmylou Harris are just some of the musicians who performed there prior to its closing in 1974.
After a string of successful live shows locally, Aerosmith secured a management deal with David Krebs and Steve Leber in 1972. They invited Clive Davis, President of Columbia Records to watch the band perform at Max’s. They paid out of their own pocket to secure a spot on the bill, and it was the best decision they ever made.
Davis was calling for an encore after their set, but the band had nothing left to play. They came back out and played a jam they regularly played, announcing the song to the crowd as “We Don’t Want To Fuck You, Lady, We Just Want To Eat Your Sandwiches.”
Davis went backstage after the encore and told the band “they were going to make it big,” and told Steven Tyler: “you are going to be the biggest star in America” before signing them to a one hundred and twenty thousand dollar contract - an incredible sum at the time.
Their 1979 song, “No Surprize” spells out the details of the event:
Nineteen seventy-one, we all heard the starter’s gun
New York was such a pity but at Max’s Kansas City we won,
We all shot the sh- at the bar / With Johnny O’Toole and his scar,
And then old Clive Davis said he’s surely gonna make us a star,
Just the way you are.
But with all our style, I could see in his eye
That we were going on trial
It was no surprize…
Aerosmith’s self-titled debut album, released in 1973, never climbed higher than one hundred and sixty-sixth on the Billboard Chart. The song “Dream On” reached number fifty-nine on the singles chart. They grew their fan base by touring America with the Kinks, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Sha Na Na, and Mott the Hoople. Radio play eventually drove the album to double platinum status, selling over two million copies.
It was their third album, “Toys In The Attic,” that vaulted them to superstardom. Released in 1975, its popularity put them on par with mega-bands Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Tyler was even compared to Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger for his similar on-stage persona.
“Toys” was an instant success. “Sweet Emotion,” was the band's first top forty hit, and the re-release of “Dream On” hit number six on the charts and was their best charting single of the 1970s. “Walk This Way.” re-released in 1976, reached the top ten in early 1977.
Destined For Fame
It was obvious the group was bound to have success, all they needed was a break. Steven Tyler’s previous band, “Chain Reaction,” played high-profile gigs, opening for The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page. Their 1966 song "When I Needed You" is on Aerosmith's 1991 compilation box set album “Pandora's Box.”
Perry’s band, “Jam Band,” recorded a live album covering eight ambitious tracks, though it likely won’t see an official release due to the quality of the tape used to make the recording:
A – “Rice Pudding” - Jeff Beck
B – “Shape of Things” - Jeff Beck
C – “Red House” - Jimi Hendrix
D – “Let me Love You Baby” - Jeff Beck
A – “Blues Delux” - Jeff Beck
B – “Give me Some Loving” - Spencer Davis
C – “Rambling Rose” - MC5
D – “Milk Cow Blues” - The Kinks
Destined For Drugs
Nicknamed the “Toxic Twins,” Tyler and Perry had insatiable appetites for drugs; they could never get enough. Tyler has spoken out about the scene in the early days with Aerosmith and based on what was going on in the music scene in general, it’s no surprise they were swallowed up in it. In his own words:
“Aerosmith made it from '72 to '79 not necessarily stoned, but beautiful… then we all became very fucked up. There were no such things as rehabs; there were mental institutions..”
“We believed that the road to wisdom was through excess…But it got really bad in the '80s… What happens with using is: It works in the beginning, but it doesn't work in the end. It takes you down. There's nothing but jail, insanity, or death.”
"I loved to get high so much, I fell into the well. I got so clouded up I didn't know what this band was all about, didn't realize how great it was.”
To clarify just how bad it was: In 1975, when his sixteen-year-old girlfriend was in the hospital to give birth to their child, Tyler would snort cocaine off of the bedside table when the doctor and nurses left the room.
He’s now sober; his career is still going strong, and by all accounts, he lives a happy and healthy life.