Fame hasn't jaded Aerosmith's attitude
By Naughty Mickie firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Keith Durflinger email@example.com
Unless you've been under a rock, you haven't heard Aerosmith's latest effort "Just Push Play," seen the video for their newest hit,"Jaded," or caught them live in concert. Much of the band's history is easy to find in a slew of magazines and on endless Web sites, but, as usual, I was seeking a different perspective. Instead of chatting with the much sought-after vocalist Steven Tyler or guitarist Joe Perry, I got close-up-and-personal with the quieter axe master, Brad Whitford. Of course, it's often said, "Watch out for the quiet ones." And that just might be right!
Aerosmith began in 1970 when then-drummer Tyler met Perry in an ice cream parlor where Perry scooped. They formed a trio with bassist Tom Hamilton. Tyler stepped in to sing when drummer Joey Kramer came to the band, soon followed by Whitford.
"I was playing in a band of course and some of the guys knew some of the
guys, so I came to hear about this new band Aerosmith," recalls Whitford. "That's about all I knew about it. But we went to play in New Hampshire, I think it was in Sunnape, and that's where Steve's had a summer home for years and years and so does Joe, and Tom lived not far from there. They came to see this band that I was in, Joe and Tom came to watch us play. A week later I got a phone call from Joe and that's really how it
Aerosmith made the rounds on the East Coast club scene, quickly getting signed by Columbia Records and releasing their self-titled debut album in 1973. The group has survived a series of hits and misses, ups and downs and lineup changes, including the loss of Perry and Whitford in 1979 to work on other projects.
"I worked on a couple of different records that didn't do very much," Whitford says about his time away from Aerosmith. "I was on the road a little bit. I did a record with my friend, Derek St. Holmes, it was called 'Whitford/St. Holmes,' that was pretty fun because it was just so much more relaxed than trying to work with Aerosmith. Aerosmith, at that point, was just going nowhere fast. This is a way to keep working and do something and have some fun.''
In 1984, Perry and Whitford visited Aerosmith backstage after a concert in Boston and decided to return to the band. Now, all the original members were ready for more.
"It seemed like the thing to do at time, yeah. It looked like it would work and people were willing to work through some of the stuff, put some of the stuff behind us and get on with playing rock and roll. Didn't have anything better to do at the time,'' Whitford laughs.
The group was on the rebound and despite some setbacks, such as Kramer's car accident and Tyler's knee injury in 1998, they had grabbed more glory. Aerosmith's 1997 tour had earned them $22.3 million and they garnered an MTV Music Video Award in the Best Rock Video category for "Falling in Love (is Hard on the Knees)." Their next hit, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," topped the charts and earned the band another MTV Music Video Award for Best Video From a Film. This past year, fans have welcomed Aerosmith's album "Just Push Play" and clamored to see them on tour.
Whitford's family wasn't very musical when he was growing up.
"My mom maybe played a little piano,'' Whitford says. "My father was a bigger fan than anything. My father was, he must of known somehow, it was one of those weird things of fate or whatever, he bought a couple of guitars, really for me and it just came out of that. I played guitar and I started taking lessons. I played a little bit of piano, I played trumpet for a while, so I knew a little bit about music.''
Whitford's stint at the Berkelee School of Music was cut short after one year because of his success with Aerosmith which led to a lifelong career in music.
In his downtime, Whitford is a big car fan.
"I have hobbies that center a lot around racing and cars," Whitford chirps. "I collect a lot of old cars and I have go-kart track, European-style indoor go-kart racing. Between that and my cars and my children, it's very busy.''
Whitford's children are also into cars. We discuss some of the different automobiles he has and I ask him if he has a favorite.
"Favorite?" Whitford grins. "I don't know that I can pick one. I like them all. I wouldn't want to upset anyone.''
We return to music and I learn that Whitford hasn't been involved in Aerosmith's songwriting for several years.
"We used to write as a band and then it all shifted. Joe and Steve do most of the writing,'' Whitford admits.
Whitford may still add his part if it needs work, "It depends on the song, it's pretty clear cut. Other times it's a lot of experimentation, find something that works, messing around with this.''
Having spent most of his life in the music industry, Whitford has his own take on the current scene.
"I think the really good stuff is, I don't know, the music scene right now is in a very strange place. There's a lot of things about the music scene right now that I've seen over and over again. It's so frigging trendy it just kills me." Whitford pauses, "There was this band on TV last night, I couldn't even wait to see who it was, whether it was Conan or Jay Leno or whoever, I was just surfing and I saw this band, I've never seen them before, and they're just doing the same rock set, the same as all the other rock bands are doing. And some bands have an edge and do something different, but there's a lot of copy, a lot of bands just copy. And then I see something really really great, like incredible music, like Stone Temple Pilots or Black Crowes. To me, these people are like cultural icons. They make incredible music, but they don't get on the radio. They make these fantastic new records and then people don't play it on the radio. I just scratch my head. This is what you should be listening to and studying.
"Radio is another place. It doesn't do the music any service or the people culturally. But that's where we're at," continues Whitford. "There's a lot of good bands out there and there's a lot of people just copying, as usual. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know where it's going. The period right now is very much like the late '50s/early '60s when the Beatles came. It's a period like that, a lot of one-hit wonders, which is what it kind of seems like what's going on now.”
"But do I think someone will come along and make a splash like the Beatles? It can't happen again, at least not now. Something could come along, but I don't think it would be like the Beatles. And I don't know where it would come from either. That whole period there, like all of a sudden, everything that came from England was fucking killer. That's kind of gone away. The only thing that's close is probably Oasis. The world's a smaller place now.''
"But what about the Internet?" I ask.
"I think for a lot of people it's been a great thing," replies Whitford. "A lot of bands can sell their music on the Internet. It's one way to get around the record companies. Other than that, I don't know. I don't use it a lot. I use it sometimes to shop or research or just look at cars. They have plenty of stuff about automobiles on there.''
Whitford has also managed to eke out some time for another project.
"I'm not doing anything musically," Whitford explains. "I've been working with some friends making independent films. I'm looking into producing one of their movies. It's a lot of fun, it's different. But that's about it. This touring with Aerosmith keeps you awfully busy. I can't really do much for about a year and a half.''
"Do you think that Aerosmith's staying power can be attributed to your wide fan base?" I query.
"I think part of it is that," answers Whitford. "I think everybody looks for something solid in their lives and, for some people, the church is on the corner and they know they can go there every Sunday, whatever it is. And for some reason, I think Aerosmith represents that. People love that. I guess it's just the music and the fact that we have been around a longer time than some other bands. There's entire families out there, mom or dad has a war story, 'I saw Aerosmith in '74.' I hear all these war stories.''
"So what do you think is the real key to Aerosmith's longevity?" I prod.
"I don't know. I think if you watch 'Behind the Music' though, you look at all these bands and you see all the stuff that they've split up over, we've done all of that, all of those things. We've had everything from all the drugs, all the booze, all the women, all the breakdowns, all the girlfriends and wives, and all the managers, and every horror story that's on there, we've done it all probably three different times. So we've gotten past some of the bullshit that does cause bands to not be able to get it together." Whitford smiles, "We've worked through all those problems before, so there's nothing to really get in our way.''
Yes, it is those "quiet ones" you need to watch out for-- Whitford,
and Aerosmith, is coming to your town soon.
To find out more about Aerosmith visit www.aerosmith.com and www.aerosmith.net. Also check out www.columbiarecords.com.
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