Walk This Way Still Going Strong After 40 years
Words by Audry Ocañas
Interview by Tamma Hicks
Joe Perry (Guitar)
Tom Hamilton (Bass)
Steven Tyler (Vocals)
Joey Kramer (Drums)
Brad Whitford (Guitar)
Do you know who Aerosmith is? If not, have you been living under a rock? The band began in the early seventies and soon dominated the decade. British bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin had a run for their money when this American band matched them in power, intensity and notoriety. Aerosmith’s philosophy is best expressed by lead vocalist, Steven Tyler: “Kick ass and leave a footprint.”
After the quick rise to fame in the seventies, the band encountered problems such as substance abuse and internal conflict which led to a downward spiral. However, after getting sober and resolving issues at hand, Aerosmith came back with a vengeance in 1987 and reclaimed their rock and roll throne with some of the most passionate and hard-hitting music of their career.
Now, nearly thirty years after that comeback, Aerosmith is still going strong and performing all over the world. The band is currently on tour performing their latest album, Music From Another Dimension!, along with classic hits. Bass player and founding member, Tom Hamilton, sat down with Tamma Hicks to answer a few questions, discuss the Blue Army Tour and their upcoming show in Hidalgo on June 30 at the State Farm Arena.
What was your best moment on stage?
Oh my God, just because of how long we’ve been together, we’ve had so much fun stuff happen on stage. The audience is there to watch the band but they forget the band is up there watching them. So you see so much funny stuff in the audience, it’s really hilarious. Actually, I stuck some iPod touches on the front of my bass and put them on record so on this one song we go out and record the audience. At the same time, the people up front can see the bass and can see their faces on the little screen there. It’s kind of a silly idea but it wound up being a lot of fun. There have been so many amazing moments up there, especially when we play in countries we’ve never been before. Even Hidalgo. When you look at the geography and demographic, it’s a sort of intersection between our North American fans and our South American fans. We’ve been touring in South America more in the last few years and it’s been this feeling of these countries opening up and having more concerts and so there are more opportunities for us to travel down there. And then you have Hidalgo sitting right there as this amazing intersection of our North American, South American and Central American fans. It is a great thing to be part of that cultural event.
STEAM: Well that’s awesome. Your tickets sold out in ten minutes!
Hamilton: Oh my God, I did not know that. Well, geez, now I wish we were playing two nights!
STEAM: So do I!
Is there a country you haven’t played that you’d like to?
Well, it would be pretty amazing to play in China. You know we almost played there a couple years ago but there was some kind of bureaucratic stuff that didn’t work out. I hope that we’ll have that opportunity again in the near future. That would be an amazing experience because we grew up with a country like China being a place where no American band would ever go because they were under a prominent dictatorship, a totalitarian system that would just never allow anything cultural from America. But now, because we’ve stuck it out all these years, that kind of opportunity could come up very soon. Another country I would like to play is Iran. I had this experience in Dubai; there was this woman who organized a press conference we did there and she was from Iran and she told me, “You should really come to Iran to play.” And I said, “Oh that’d be really fun but it’s probably against the law for a band like us to play there,” and she said no, that we had so many fans there. And that was an awesome moment for me. I thought, here is this country where there is so much [tension] between the U.S. and Iran, [I thought] it could never happen. And yet, here’s this person who lives there telling me we have a lot of fans there. The thought of having fans in Iran and China is a great feeling.
Who is the jokester/prankster in Aerosmith?
Oh, Steven [Tyler]. For sure. I mean, everybody in the band loves to laugh. We always used to rush home from rehearsals when we were first starting out so he wouldn’t miss The Three Stooges. He and comedy has always been one of the elements that is a big part of the chemistry of the different personalities in the band. Yeah, we all love a good laugh.
Hamilton battled cancer of the throat and tongue. The bass player had it twice in his throat and underwent chemotherapy and radiation the first time. Surgery was his choice the second time around. Hamilton gave an update on his health on the Worcester/Boston, Massachusetts radio station WAAF.
In that interview I was watching, you look amazing. You look like you’re feeling really good. You’re in remission now, correct?
Yes, correct. I had it in ’06 and again in ’09 and so now, we’re right at the six year point. Generally, when you’re at the five year point, they say you no longer have any more chance of getting cancer than anybody else. My doctor told me I don’t have to go in for these exams but if I want to, I can, and I just said, “I’m coming!” Every few months, I’m going in there because I remember what it was like when I went in 2006. They burned it out of my throat with chemo and radiation. I remember that day where he was examining me [in 09] and he kept pausing in this one place and going back to it. And I just thought, “Oh shit, obviously he sees something in there.” And lo and behold, whether it was a recurrence or an entirely new tumor, there it was. I was in that terrifying situation again. I couldn’t believe it. But I was fortunate that the doctor I went to who got [the tumor] out of there happens to be a guy who is extremely skilled at doing these novel surgical techniques with lasers. Instead of doing the state of the art operation which would have really changed my life, he just went in there and got it out of there without doing any collateral damage. So I was just extremely fortunate. Yes, it was a horrible thing I had to go through and I had it twice but here we are. I’m at a point where I don’t worry about it every day. And I really think this is going to become part of my past and hopefully that’s true.
When you go through radiation, especially when they use a lot of it like they had to do with me, you have repercussions from it going into the future. There are things to deal with but I still get to go onstage and play and be with my band and savor that and I just feel extremely fortunate.
What is the meaning of the Blue Army Tour?
Back in the ‘70s when we started headlining and playing all over the country, we’d pull up to the venue we were playing that night and there’d always be a line of people waiting to get in and they’d invariably be dressed in denim; jeans and denim jackets. So it was like all these people in funky blue uniforms so we started calling our audience the blue army all the way back then. So we decided to pay a tribute and call this the Blue Army Tour.
If you’re a fan of Aerosmith, you always will be and I think we’re just really fortunate that you guys are getting to come down here.
You know, sometimes the most fun shows are in the cities that aren’t the so-called “major markets.” It’s very exciting to play in Los Angeles or in New York City at Madison Square Garden or in London’s O2 Arena but the shows that are really just a blast are the shows like Hidalgo where the fans don’t have a concert every night. And they’re not just excited to see the band, they’re excited about the whole idea of being at a concert in the first place. That makes it so we can go up there and relax and when we relax, the energy really flows and we just have a great time.
I was reading about the tour. It said you guys were going to be doing these deeper cuts off your albums besides your hits. Your favorite was Uncle Salty. Did you talk them into letting you play it this time?
(chuckles) No, not yet. Someday. I have Brad [Whitford] as my ally whenever we’re in that mode where we’re coming up with the set list for the tour. He always says, “Why don’t we play a little salty?” And I’m always like, “Yeah, Brad, go!” But we’ll see, hopefully before too long we’ll put that one in the set. It’s off the album and this year is the 40th anniversary of that album. We probably won’t play the whole record but it might be fun each night to rotate songs in and out of the set. We’re putting more emphasis on that record so we’ll see what happens.
You co-wrote Sweet Emotions and Janie’s Got A Gun. I think those are two of your biggest hits.
Well obviously, Sweet Emotions is one of those songs we’ll always be known for and Janie’s Got A Gun, you know, I see that as more of a Steven [Tyler] song. What happened was when he started to write that song, he started with a chord progression that I had brought in as part of another song I was writing. So he took that and used that as the base for writing . So I really think of that as a Steven song. He started out with this little idea of mine but boy, did he ever bring it home with that one. I remember the day he came into rehearsal and said, “Hey you guys, listen to this.” And he sat down at the keyboard and BANG, presented it as a finished song and we just stood there with our jaws hanging open.
Do you still get that thrill when you go on stage?
Yeah! Well, we’ve been doing it a long time and you might think, “Geez, they’ve been doing this so long, they must be sick of it.” But you’re always progressing on your instrument so you’re enticed by how you can bring progress to a song years after it was written just because you’ve gotten better on your instrument. Therefore, when you get ideas that pop up in your head, you can act on them in the moment and then throw them in the song. So there’s always this minor reinvention process happening even though we play the same arrangement that’s on the record exactly. But everybody’s got little moments where they might plug in a little variation in a riff that the audience might not even pick up on. But it’s great for us because there’s always a way to make a song fresh and a big part of it is a different audience every night. So we’re not in a situation where we go, “Oh my God, we have to play again? Holy crap!” It’s just is a framework and we can go up there and throw out ideas for riffs in that particular framework.
If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? And why?
Well, I was listening to my favorite satellite station and they played that song, , by Paul McCartney. You know, just the way he sings and the way he plays bass…I just think, “God, screw you for being so freaking good!” I just wish for one day I could sing like that guy sings and the way he does it, it must be a blast. There are a lot of challenges still left in music and he’s definitely somebody I’d like to pick his brain.
STEAM: Well I really appreciate talking with you and you taking some time out for us. We’ll be down there screaming our heads off and waving! You won’t know it but we will be!
Hamilton: (laughs) I’ll be up there screaming back!
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