Upon the band’s induction in 2001, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hilariously declared, “Aerosmith sounds like the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones having a battle of the bands at a low-key dive bar.”
This week, you can catch Aerosmith rocking MGM National Harbor for three nights on Aug. 8, 10 and 13 as part of the band’s “Deuces Are Wild” tour.
“We’ve been doing a residency in Las Vegas for MGM and we’re just trying to bring a little bit of what we’re doing out there at their Las Vegas casino to National Harbor,” guitarist Brad Whitford told WTOP. “There’s a very great piece of video we’ll show everybody that’s a little historical in showing different things over almost 50 years of doing what we do. You get a little bit of insight into each guy in the band. … Then of course we play, which is the easy part.”
What can we expect to hear from the set list?
“We mix up a few things in the set on a daily basis,” Whitford said. “We always do a little bit of stuff we did in the early days and right up to today. Sometimes we change it a little bit, more for ourselves I think than the audience. So we always have a few surprises. Sometimes a song will be like 10 minutes before we go on, like, ‘We’re going to do this song!’ And I’m like, ‘OK, I think I remember this.”
Formed in Boston in 1970 by frontman Steven Tyler, lead guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton, the trio later added drummer Joey Kramer, who came up with the band name, followed by Whitford on rhythm guitar in 1971.
“I didn’t know Joe or Tom, but the guys I was playing with would talk about them,” Whitford said. “In the summer of ’71, we went up to play a show. … That’s when I first met Tom and Joe. About a week later, I got a call from Joe, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Want to hang out?’ We became friends and shortly after he talked about me being in Aerosmith. I said, ‘That’s great, but I don’t know anything about you. When can I come see you play?’ So I went to see them play in Mendon, Massachusetts and I was like, ‘Oh my god, these guys are great!”
What was his first impression of Tyler?
“My first impression was this guy is definitely a rocker,” Whitford said. “He’s always been very conscious of his clothing and appearance. He just looked like a rock star when we were a long way from anything like that! He had a great presence, dressed badass and [was] quite obviously an amazing vocal talent. He’s an incredible musician, he’s got perfect pitch and he really knows how to listen to music and dissect it.”
Meanwhile, he instantly found a kindred spirit in Perry.
“We had an instantaneous chemistry,” Whitfrod said. “It was just one of those things that worked. We didn’t have to really work at it. We just naturally fell into each other’s type of playing and it was easy. … He just has this ability to come up with these badass licks. … He was just coming up with all these amazing riffs, which eventually turned into our first album.”
In 1972, the band landed its first major record deal with Columbia and recorded their self-titled debut album in 1973, which included the iconic ballad “Dream On.”
“At that time, it didn’t feel like it was going to be such a classic that would live for many, many decades. We just knew it was a good song. It’s crazy. That song has just become that kind of tune that’s going to go on forever. Great lyrics, great song with a really cool arrangement, it’s very song-like, it’s not just a jam, very well constructed. We spent a lot of time constructing the guitar parts. … I’m surprised it sounds so good because we were using equipment where some of it was made out of cardboard! … But it’s survived technology and it’s survived on people’s ears. We’re very proud of that one.”
Their sophomore album “Get Your Wings” (1974) included the hit “Same Old Song and Dance,” but it was their third album “Toys in the Attic” (1975) that ranked among Rolling Stone magazine‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, featuring the hit single “Sweet Emotion.”
“That’s Tom Hamilton who came up with all of that music,” Whitford said. “That bass intro is very difficult to play. It sounds quite simple and just kind of rolls along, but I’ve seen other people try to play it and they can’t do it. Even Sting couldn’t get it!”
Whitford himself penned several hits, including “Last Child” on the album “Rocks” (1976) and “Kings and Queens” on the album “Draw the Line” (1977).
“The first time you hear your stuff on the radio, you’re just flipping out,” Whitford said.
By the late ’70s, their hard-living lifestyle took its toll, as Perry left the band in 1979 and Whitford left in 1981. Their album titles fittingly corresponded with the collapse with “Night in the Ruts” (1979) and “Rock in a Hard Place” (1982).
“In that period we had been overworked and overstimulated with the whole drug scene and stuff,” Whitford said. “We were a little shattered there and it was just a little fight that was silly. Joe was like, ‘I gotta get out of here.’ To him, it seemed like things were going downhill. … Joe was working on the Joe Perry Project, which I worked with him on that. … We got back together in ’83 or ’84, the wounds were healed and we said, ‘Let’s just try this again.’ And it worked!”
They reunited for “Done with Mirrors” (1985), an allusion to giving up drugs, but the intended comeback album wasn’t nearly as successful as they had hoped.
Things turned around in 1986 when the band joined Run-D. M. C. for a rap-rock remake of “Walk the Way,” featuring an iconic music video where the two groups smashed down the wall of musical and cultural divides. The jam was, of course, a cover of Aerosmith’s earlier hit “Walk this Way” with that unmistakable guitar.
“That’s just another example of Joe Perry coming up with these licks,” Whitford said. “We had a couple different ideas like, ‘Hey, this part might work with that part,’ and sure enough it did. The next thing you know, we had an afternoon off and Steven came back from seeing ‘Young Frankenstein’ and goes, ‘I got the title for the song! We’re gonna call it ‘Walk This Way,'” which was Mel Brooks’ famous joke from Igor to Gene Wilder.
After that, Aerosmith was cooking with gas. Their next album “Permanent Vacation” (1987) featured “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Rag Doll” and “Angel.”
They closed out the ’80s with another successful album “Pump” (1989), featuring the hit singles “Love in an Elevator,” “What it Takes” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.”
Entering the ’90s, their next album “Get a Grip” (1993) delivered “Livin’ on the Edge,” “Crazy” and “Cryin’,” which featured Alicia Silverstone in the video.
Their next album “Nine Lives” (1997) was a modest success, gaining airplay for several songs with “Pink” and “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees).”
Most memorably, the band captured a new generation with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” on the film soundtrack for “Armageddon” (1998), starring Tyler’s own daughter Liv Tyler. The song reached No. 1 on the pop charts as a crossover hit.
“It’s just great,” Whitford said. “That is just the rush of rushes when your music is played on the radio. And that continues to happen today. When I hear it today, I still get that same vibe and that same feeling. It never goes away.”
Upon the new millennium, their 13th album “Just Push Play” (2001) featured the hit “Jaded,” played at halftime of Super Bowl XXXV. The song ranked among VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’00s, marking their fourth decade of hits.
These days, Aerosmith still tours, having not recorded original music since their albums “Honkin’ on Bobo” (2004) and “Music from Another Dimension!” (2012). Tyler has since been a judge on “American Idol” and recorded his debut solo album “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere” (2016) with country-rock fusion.
But more than the music, Whitford loves the food.
“If Joe Perry invites you over and he’s going to cook, make sure you’re there because he’s a culinary master,” Whitford said. “If Joe’s doing a barbecue or Thanksgiving and he invites you, it’s like, ooh man, you know you’re going to be very happy.”
Find ticket information on the MGM National Harbor website.
Hear our full chat with Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford below.