fb-pixelBack from the brink, Joe Perry rediscovers the joy of playing - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Back from the brink, Joe Perry rediscovers the joy of playing

Joe PerryRoss Halfin

On July 10, 2016, Joe Perry almost became the latest celebrity to prove it’s never too late to die too young. Reportedly, the roller coaster life of the legendary Aerosmith guitarist came to a brief full stop as he collapsed onstage while performing at Coney Island, of all places, with the Hollywood Vampires, a crew of veteran classic rockers including Alice Cooper and fellow traveler Johnny Depp.

“I’ve certainly had a couple other instances where I’ve pushed myself over the edge, but never in such a public way, you know?” says the 67-year-old Perry in a phone interview from West Hollywood. “Certainly we’re seeing more and more people pass from one thing or another, whether it’s age or abuse. And I don’t want to be on that list. So I learned a lot. But also, frankly, I rediscovered the guitar. You know, a lot of things that I took for granted and left behind in this long and varied career, I kind of went back to again.”


The return began casually four years earlier, when Perry befriended Depp, who invited him to camp out at his West Hollywood enclave and make use of his personal recording studio. But after his near suicide-by-rock, Perry finally “buckled down” to finish up “Sweetzerland Manifesto,” a new solo album featuring four different vocalists on eight songs, plus two instrumental numbers.

“I like to think of it as a classic rock record, only it’s brand new,” Perry says, gently dropping his Rs (“a classic rock recahd”) like a true son of Hopedale.

“If I had known what I know now, I could have done it back in 1972. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel but definitely trying to make the wheel as round as I can.”

To celebrate the album’s release, Perry is now embarking on a three-date East Coast tour with Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and Barry Goudreau, formerly of the band Boston, on guitars, and Gary Cherone of Extreme and longtime Perry collaborator Charlie Farren on vocals. On Wednesday, the mini tour arrives at the House of Blues in Aerosmith’s hometown.


“I heard a rumor that [Aerosmith bassist] Tom [Hamilton] might even show up, too, for a couple songs,” Perry says. “So, yeah, it’s going to be a homecoming gig, man.”

For all its nostalgia, the album behind the tour also testifies to where Perry stands now. The title refers to Depp’s compound on Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood, and the album’s grizzled vocals proudly demonstrate that reunions are also in part about aging. Perry says of English hard rock journeyman Terry Reid, who will make a special appearance in Boston, “You can hear every night and every day of his playing in clubs and playing in stadiums and a life lived in the rock ’n’ roll world.”

“I’ve had an interesting sort of career,” Reid admits, speaking by phone from his home in La Quinta, Calif., his Cockney accent unaltered by the desert heat. “I play guitar meself, but I end up with the likes of Mick Taylor, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, and I go, ‘I don’t know; I think I’ll stick to rhythm.’ It sure is a treat when you’ve got an idea of a song and you throw it at somebody as talented as Joe and they throw it back at you in a way that you’re like, ‘Oh, I never quite heard it that way!’ ’’


Vocal shredders like Reid and Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander might seem like natural matches for Perry’s fret-melting mastery, but the casual bluster of punk rock forefather David Johansen sounds equally at home on the album (“We both understand why in music it’s called playing,” says Johansen in an e-mail exchange). Still, the collection’s most arresting track may be a blues-rock rendition of the 1965 folk-rock protest anthem “Eve of Destruction,” with Perry on lead vocals.

“I’ve wanted to cover it almost every decade,’’ Perry says. “I mean, we thought that we’d never see another decade like the ’60s. Well, every decade seems to be some kind of like — I don’t know — we’ve been preaching about Armageddon right around the corner. I mean, why else would there be so many good zombie movies out?”

Perry declines to take that observation deeper into politics, but he happily traces the bluesy sound of the new record full circle, from the British Invasion to the blues’ influence on rap’s “street poetry.” It brings up one of Perry’s proudest moments, when Run-DMC covered Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” a song inspired by Perry’s admiration for New Orleans funk masters the Meters. It may be this rhythmic commitment that has made Aerosmith the most enduring of America’s classic-rock bands.

“We’re just handing the music on, and maybe adding a little bit of something to it, but there’s a long chain here,” Perry says. “I never claimed to be a bluesman, [but] I love it, and it makes me want to move.” Let the well-rounded wheel roll on.



At House of Blues, Boston, April 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets from $45, www.livenation.com

Franklin Soults can be reached at fsoults@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @fsoults.