Since their ‘70s breakthrough, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have received the lion’s share of attention from fans and press alike – and that’s just fine for the band’s guitarist Brad Whitford.
An immensely talented guitarist and gifted songwriter, Whitford is more than comfortable away from the glare of the white hot spotlight but when it comes to the essence of what drives Aerosmith, his standing is irrefutable, his contribution immeasurable.
After years of in-fighting between Tyler and the rest of his band mates, a new CD, Music from Another Dimension and a brand new DVD – Rock for the Rising Sun - the Bad Boys of Boston are clearly back in the saddle - much to the delight of their loyal “Blue Army” fan base.
Brad was kind enough to speak with Rock Cellar for a new interview, which you can enjoy below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The new DVD Rock for the Rising Sun was filmed while the band was touring Japan in the fall of 2011, months after a tsunami, earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown, which devastated the country. In essence by playing that show you were offering a way for people to forget their problems all in the name of loud rock and roll.
Brad Whitford: That’s exactly what we were thinking. We thought the Japanese people needed a little spirit-lifting. The opportunity came up to play shows in Japan and we felt we owed it to our fans over there to show them that despite all the tragedy, let us come over and play for them. Japanese audiences are so great anyway. Our Japanese fans are very unique. When we first went over to Japan in the mid ‘70s it was a very unique experience at that time because the audience was unlike any others we’ve ever experienced .
They would settle down and be just stone quiet and wait for a song to start and listen very intently while we played and maybe they’d sing along. And then they’d graciously applaud at the end of the song and then go quiet again when we kicked into another song.
They did this because they didn’t want to miss anything so that was unlike any concerts we’ve ever played because there wasn’t the usual background din of noise that you get in those big buildings. It was just remarkably quiet. (laughs)
RCM: Playing for a Japanese audience under those conditions must force the band be at the top of your game because they’re really listening.
BW: Oh yeah, you really do have to up your game a little bit because you get the sense that they are really listening and want to hear the music done really well. So that’s unique and I think that set the tone for our relationship with Japanese audiences through the years. That’s reflected on the new DVD too. You can sense how much they appreciate the music and that makes you feel great. They really have a different level of appreciation than other audiences.
RCM: Looking at the set list for the new DVD, it’s not a greatest hits jukebox tour, you’re dipping into some quality deeper cuts like S.O.S. (Too Bad) and Rats in the Cellar. Does that keep it fresh for you?
BW: Yeah. That’s the primary motivation behind doing those deeper cuts. Part of it’s about keeping us on our toes, “We’re gonna do this one, do you remember it?” Then someone might say,”How’s that one start?”
When you haven’t done a song for a while, the first time you play it it’s kind of like the first take in the studio.
You don’t start to over think it. You just dive into it and that’s usually when you get great performances. So yeah, it helps keep our set fresh and a little more interesting. Almost every night when we’re touring we’ll have a basic skeleton of a set and we’ll throw different songs in to change the energy for ourselves. We’re only playing a fraction of our library in our live set so it’s exciting to pull out some of these album cuts that we haven’t played for many years.
RCM: Are there any songs that the band has never played live that you wish you would perform?
BW: Yeah, there’s some that we talk about those kind of things but we still haven’t pulled them out of the freezer yet. (laughs) We always talk about doing Round and Round from Toys in the Attic.
We play the song Somebody from our first album—we always do it in rehearsal and it just kicks butt–but it never makes it to the stage. I think we’ll continue to break out more obscure songs because it’s a lot of fun to play them. A lot of times it’s a challenge to play those as well because you go, “Oh my God, I haven’t played that for a while, how does that one go?” (laughs)
RCM: I’ve always felt that a band of Aerosmith’s caliber should do a tour incorporating the performance of an entire classic ‘70s Aerosmith album. Has that topic been broached?
BW: We talk about it all the time. A couple of tours ago we almost had the whole Toys in the Attic album down pat but the band collectively kind of lost interest in the process. I think it would be a very interesting way to do a show that would set it apart from anything we’ve ever done before. We talk about it, but we just haven’t stepped up to the plate yet.
RCM: Compared to the band’s Seventies heyday, is the 2013 edition of Aerosmith better as a live entity?
BW: I think we’re playing far better than we ever have. It’s really incredibly fun to plan an Aerosmith show now because we do it so well, if I say so myself. (laughs) I think the musicianship in the band has gone up quite a bit and I think with everybody playing a lot better and being a lot more accomplished at their instruments , it’s easier to bring back sort of that original attitude.
Just go out there and play it like you’re playing it for the first time and don’t worry about getting right, it’ll just happen.
RCM: In November of 2012, Aerosmith launched the new studio album, Music from Another Dimension!, with a free show outside of 1325 Commonwealth Avenue, the site of the apartment you shared with the band in the early ’70s. When you think back to those struggling days, what are your most vivid recollections?
BW: I think it was just the struggle. We were committed. We were a committed group. We were living from one show to the next and unable to pay our rent and we were barely eating. The level of commitment we had was great. I see some new young bands that are that way and that gets me excited, it’s like, “Aw man, just go for it!”
That’s what it’s all about. It’s about jumping into a station wagon and driving all over the country.
You just want to play your music. Although we struggled in those early days, I look back really fondly at that period of time. They were great times. We never questioned that we weren’t going to make it. That didn’t come into play in our minds. We were just going for it. We didn’t think about not making it. All we thought about was expanding our audience and just rocking.
RCM: With all the tumult happening a few years back with Steven Tyler wishing to pursue a solo career and band the looking for lead singers, were you worried that Aerosmith was going to fall apart?
BW: I think about that probably on a weekly basis and probably have from the first day of being in Aerosmith because it’s always been a tenuous situation with this band.
It’s volatile and that’s what makes the music so good. It’s all that volatility.
RCM: Did the press amplify the enmity happening within the band when it was reported you were holding auditions for a new singer to replace Steven?
BW: I think the press had a bit of a run with it. We seriously were talking about it. Steven was a little bit tired and fed up with the way things were going. But we just felt like we couldn’t just let the band fall apart. It never went any further than kind of talking about it. We spoke to maybe one or two singers about the idea but that was about as far as it went.
I don’t think anybody in the band was terribly keen about getting in a new lead singer. I think we were all just thinking about survival at that point. We weren’t ready to give up on the band.
RCM: What turned things around for Steven and the rest of the band?
BW: I’m not sure if there was a defining moment. Maybe after the American Idol thing, we did some shows and felt a renewed sense of energy around the band and a new level of commitment. We had a feeling among us of, “We’re gonna do this!
This is a great band. This is what we’re meant to do” kind of thing. It was just pretty obvious we needed to stick together. We felt we had plenty left in us and there was no sense in doing anything else. We’ve had different experiences with people off doing some of their own music here and there and that was fun but it doesn’t come close to the Aerosmith experience.
We realized that our chemistry is so huge. You can’t explain it or put your finger on it, you just know that it works.
RCM: Let me throw out a few Aerosmith songs you co-wrote and allow you to share a story behind their creation. Let’s start with Last Child.
BW: That was really a lick that I had. Steven and I wrote that together. He sat down behind the drums. He’s a drummer and he liked it. That’s where it started. He likes some oddball things sometimes, kind of out of the way riff. This was kind of a funky riff and he sat down on the drums and in short order we created Last Child.
RCM: How about Kings And Queens from the Draw The Line album?
BW: I think I came up with some parts of the basic chord structure. A bunch of us sat down and worked on that. Our producer, Jack Douglas, was a writer on that song, too. I think it’s a classic tune. It’s a very interesting tune. It certainly blows away a lot of other songs, not our songs, but a lot of other material that was created in that era (laughs). It stands heads and shoulders above a lot of other stuff that was being recorded at the time.
RCM: When Aerosmith reunited in the mid-Eighties, how confident were you that it wouldn’t self-destruct again?
BW: Oh I didn’t think it would self-destruct. I don’t know why. There were certainly some incredible low points. But it just seemed like somehow we would get through this. All that stuff then was really just all about getting out of the drug lifestyle. That was really what was in the way at that point. A lot of the creativity just couldn’t happen because people couldn’t think. Your brain has got to be free, you gotta be alive to be able to write and perform music. You’ve got to be healthy. That was dwindling at different rates for each individual (laughs). So it was that process which took quite a while to finally deal with and go through. But somehow we were doing it. We were just doing it. We were doing what we had to do to just try and keep the band together and be able to perform.