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When Aerosmith reunited in 1984, five years after the acrimonious departure of founding guitarist Joe Perry, the result was the greatest comeback in rock ’n’ roll history. Following Aerosmith’s culture-shifting, zeitgeist-capturing “Walk This Way” collaboration with then-rising hip-hop duo Run-DMC, which went to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, the group’s ninth studio album, Permanent Vacation, went five times platinum and further solidified their MTV-superstar status some 30 years ago. It also solidified the tumultuous yet enduring artistic partnership of the “Toxic Twins,” aka Perry and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
But there’s an even more enduring partnership in the legendary guitarist’s life: his marriage of almost 35 years to Billie Perry, whom he met in 1983 after he cast her in a music video for his band the Joe Perry Project. (“I still can’t get enough of her,” he gushes sweetly.) Interestingly, Billie hardly knew anything about her husband’s arena-rock past back then, but it was her words of encouragement that led to Aerosmith’s historic reunion. Without Billie, Aerosmith probably never would have gone on to become the most successful American hard rock band of all time, with 150 million albums sold.
“She thought that if I got a break, I could maybe have a career in the business,” Perry tells Yahoo Entertainment with a laugh. “She didn’t really know about the band. She was into underground punk and all that, and she wasn’t into ‘bands with logos.’ But I kept telling her, ‘I had this band, and we played some big shows in the ’70s!’ … Anyway, she was going through a box of my old stuff, and she found Rock Scene, or Circus, one of those [classic rock magazines], and she saw an article in there, and Steven and I were on the cover. And she said, ‘Wow, he really did have a band!’
“Right after that, we were driving in Boston and I think ‘Back in the Saddle’ came on. I said, ‘That’s the band. That’s my band!’ I turned the radio up, so she had heard a couple of the songs, but she didn’t put the two together. … I had been out of [Aerosmith] for, like, three years by then. And she said, ‘Why aren’t you playing with these guys? What’s the matter with it?’ I started thinking, going, ‘I don’t feel as crappy as I did before about the band. Maybe I’ll give Steven a call.’ She definitely pushed me towards it — because she didn’t know what she was getting into, by any means!”
The Perrys have been the ultimate rock ’n’ roll power couple ever since, and Perry, now 67, says that when he collapsed backstage two years ago at a Brooklyn concert with Hollywood Vampires (his supergroup with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp), Billie and his children were his main concern. “I just remember waking up. I think it was a lot harder on the people around me, especially my wife. I feel terrible about that, about having them have to go through that and see that,” he says. Luckily, despite reports that Perry had suffered a cardiac arrest, Perry says it was a mere case of “fatigue and exhaustion,” and he quickly recovered. “I got checked out at the hospital, like every test they could … I checked out OK, I mean, really good. … They thought it was my heart, they thought it was my lungs, and all that checked out.”
Incredibly, Perry returned to the road with Hollywood Vampires in record time — “I think I missed four shows, maybe six or seven days” — and he’s barely taken a break since. “I still feel like there’s ways to make music that I haven’t done yet, and I just keep looking,” he says. Perry’s latest project is another all-star affair, Sweetzerland Manifesto, a blues-rock album featuring vocals by Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, the New York Dolls’ David Johansen, the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, and legendary rock belter Terry Reid, and executive-produced by Johnny Depp at Depp’s home studio. (The album title is a nod to Los Angeles’s Sweetzer Ave., where Depp resides.)
“I can name my own hours,” Perry quips, when asked what he gets out of such side projects. “Aerosmith’s an amazing machine, but the same five guys have been moving it along for close to 50 years; once it’s moving in one direction, it’s kind of hard to steer it. I’d have to say, we’ve missed a lot of rocks, just probably through good fortune and maybe a few good decisions, but getting that machine going can be really hard, getting that up to speed. With these side projects, I like it because I can just pick up and do it.”
But Aerosmith will be back on the road in the fall, and Perry says he’d “really like to put some music together” with his main band, whose last studio album was Music from Another Dimension! in 2012. “Steven and I have talked about it in general, because we both have things going on [Tyler released a country solo album in 2016], but I think there’s some time we’ll carve in there to get together. Even if it’s a couple of songs, it would be good to get something new out, so we’ll see.”
As for Perry’s partnership with Tyler, it may not be as solid as his marriage to Billie, but the two rockers have learned how to coexist despite their issues. “We have had our ups and downs, there’s no doubt about it. I guess over the years we just learned how to direct it in a more positive way and have it work for us, as opposed to constantly going at it,” says Perry. “We probably get along better now than we ever have — but I only see him once every three months, so we get along great!”
Perry reveals that Aerosmith have “used every tool available to man to figure out how to get along” and stay together, including the same sort of group counseling that Metallica attended in their rockumentary, Some Kind of Monster. “That Metallica thing that they did, it was pretty cool that they filmed it and all that, but that was like old news for us at that point,” he chuckles. “Over the years, we’ve had to seek professional help. We grew up together. We were kids, had this idea to do this, and living in an apartment together. You grow up, you know. You have relationships, marriages, kids, so everybody’s interests started to spread out, but the vision of doing the band, we still feel that. But sometimes it’s really hard to reconcile people’s differences, so sometimes you’re going to talk to somebody.
“We haven’t needed that for a while. We should probably be writing books on it now! But I think that’s another thing we’ve outgrown.”
Watch Joe Perry’s full Yahoo Entertainment interview below, in which he discusses Aerosmith’s history and music videography; his relationship with his wife and children, Tyler, and Depp; the future of rock; and the making of Sweetzerland Manifesto.