Blues Album Makes Aerosmith Feel Like Kids Again

Guitarist says recording LP was surreal, spirit-revitalizing experience.

With nearly two months to go before Aerosmith’s March 30 release date for Honkin’ on Bobo, guitarist Joe Perry swung by Boston radio station WBCN to give DJ Oedipus a private preview of the band’s rollicking take on Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”

Oedipus, a friend of Perry’s family for years, asked if he could play it on the air. Perry resisted at first, realizing that doing so would upset his label and manager. Then, with a smirk, he handed the disc back to the DJ and allowed him to share it with the masses.

“I felt like it was 1972, when you went up to a radio station because you know the DJ, and they put your record on the air,” Perry said.

It wasn’t the only time Aerosmith felt like they had stepped into the way-back machine and emerged in an era before their hair went gray. Many of the blues standards the band recorded for Honkin’ on Bobo were tunes they used to jam on before they had an abundance of original material; behind the boards was producer Jack Douglas, who showed Aerosmith the ropes back in the day (see “Aerosmith Avoid Thinking About The Charts”
).

“After not working with him in the studio since ’79, making the record with Jack was surreal,” Perry said. “There were some times when we’d be rehearsing in the studio, and I’d look up and see him and it would be like a wicked flashback, like 20 years has passed, but not a moment has passed. That was pretty bizarre, but it was great.”

Honkin’ on Bobo features 11 covers of songs by artists including Fisher/Hopkins, Blind Willie McTell, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. There’s also “The Grind,” a slow, ballad-like original which sounds like a duskier “Cryin’.”

“We had that one on the backburner for a couple months before we started this record,” Perry said. “It had that R&B swing to it, so it fit the format of the kind of music we were doing. Some other originals didn’t make the record because we didn’t want anything to be too outside the sound of the rest of the songs.”

The album was originally scheduled to come out late last year, but by July, when Aerosmith hit the road with Kiss, the record wasn’t quite there. Rather than rush its release to coincide with the tour, Aerosmith decided to put Bobo on hold. They also recorded some blues covers live for possible inclusion. While they didn’t end up using any of the live takes, Aerosmith liked the way the songs had
evolved in concert, so they took what they had learned and applied it to the album cuts, recording much of it live in order to recapture their onstage spontaneity.

“Doing that brought back to focus what the strength of this band is, which is playing live,” Perry said. “No matter how we get to it, we have to have some part of the record where the band is playing the songs live. There’s nothing wrong with going in and fooling around with stuff afterwards to embellish it or put more ear candy on it, but for Aerosmith, the strongest record we can make is one where the songs stand on their own, and then we play them with all the fire that we would if we were standing in front of 10,000 people.”

Even if Honkin’ on Bobo doesn’t resonate with the public, Aerosmith will consider the album a glowing success.

“It made us realize why we put up with each other’s sh–, and why we have for so long,” Perry said. “We play so good together. When we’re all down there playing and I hear [drummer] Joey [Kramer] and I listen to what [guitarist] Brad [Whitford] is doing, man, that’s what it’s all about. And it’s like that dream you had when you were 16 years old, where you’re down in your basement and you’re rocking out. Only this time it happens to be my basement, not the basement of my parents.”