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GLITTER, GOLD AND TYLER TOO
by Dennis Metrano
The first time I had heard of Steven Tyler he was sitting in my living room. Maxanne Satori, a disc jockey at WBCN (Boston), had asked me if she and a friend could a drop by my house to watch a new rock 'n' roll TV program from, of all places, Boston's Kenmore Club, a dating bar. After pleasantries, Maxanne and her friend proceeded to drink me out of a bottle of tequila gold while watching the truthfully terrible telecast.
It was a strange experience watching Aerosmith's Tyler viewing himself for the first time on the tube. Steven, an elfin, yet muscular man/child, possessed an immediate charisma. His slightly mascared eyes, bicep bracelets, and foppish clothing failed to belie his street roots toughness. (The mascara could be washed off, but not the tattoo.) And, of course, there was that strong facial resemblance to Mick Jagger, right down to the overbite.
Although everyone else was greatly impressed by the visual and vocal impact of Aerosmith, Tyler was quite disappointed that the band's magic of which he was immensely proud failed to fly out of the television's screen. Indeed, Aerosmith, immediately reminiscent of the legendary Yardbirds with their raucous rave-up driving style, was as even Tyler could see, a little raw around the edges. Understandably, Tyler was doubly disappointed when someone innocently asked him if he styled his stage act after Jagger.
The roots and route of Aerosmith is well known. A collection of punk New York toughs who were forever being thrown out of school. The drug busts. The lonely and grueling months of practicing in the lake region of New Hampshire (where Tyler is now avidly buying up lakeside properties). The endless succession of playing in beer joints and gymnasiums. The working in factories to support their music. But not as well known is just how hard it was for Aerosmith to crossover from being another local phenomenon to a SuperStar national act.
Boston's Columbia Records executives Sal Ingeme, Ed Hynes, and George Ryan early in the game realized that they had an incredible local phenomenon on their hands. "Dream On" (brilliantly re-edited by their then producer Adrian Barber) was the biggest song in the history of contemporary Boston rock. But how to convince Columbia's national brass that Aerosmith was not just another regional rave? Hynes, with immense help from WBCN, Sartori, and WVBF, kept the single and group the hottest thing in New England music by sheer enthusiasm and perseverance. Ingeme took the single "Dream On" and the Album Aerosmith on the road convincing important stations in the Philadelphias, the Buffalos, the Detroits, the Cincinnatis, etc. to give both a chance. Meanwhile, Aerosmith played night after night in the "secondary" markets of major (and minor) industrial cities. The combined efforts created a massive following and sales wherever the band played. Finally, the national Columbians began to believe (with heavy publicity and promotion) the hype of Ingeme and Hynes that Aerosmith was to be the biggest band in the land.
Ingeme, a seasoned music man, who is just as comfortable with a Miles Davis as a Bruce Springsteen or a Barbara Streisand, reflects, "Aerosmith was the most phenomenal act this local branch had ever seen. Ed Hynes and I dropped by the Kenmore Club to catch a local rock `n' roll act that Columbia had signed. We came away convinced that we had just seen the most important act ever in our careers. Our only question was how soon and how much we could help the group. We had never seen a group locally with so much national potential. It was pretty frustrating for a period that columbia and the rest of the nation viewed Aerosmith as little more than a local phenom. But the challenge of knowing what we had and things like the many phone calls from 15-16 year old kids asking what they could do to help the band during their vacations solidified our view that what we were promoting one of the best acts in the nation. And, you know, Aerosmith is still the same, basic kids--yes, one helluva lot richer-I met a few years ago who simply wanted to make the best rock `n' roll they could. And did."
The next time I met Tyler was at a Boston "Summerthing" concert at a suburban racetrack. Although marqueed as the opener for Sha Na Na, Aerosmith was clearly the band to see that night in the eyes of the audience. The group's single "Dream On" was riding high on the charts of WBCN, WVBF, and WRKO. They were selling better than an amazing 1000 units of the album and single in Boston alone. It proved to be the night that Aerosmith got their wings.
The moment that Aerosmith took the stage bedlam broke out. The band's ecstatic brand of fans immediately showered the stage (in a strange show of affection) with some empty, some full tequila and whiskey bottles nearly terminating their idols' lives. Nonetheless, Tyler & Co. missed not a note. Steven pranced and danced about the debris. Joe Perry's dirty guitar overpowered the crowd chaos. The steady, sure bass of Tom Hamilton and power-chord guitar riffing of Brad Whitford remained pulsating and calm. And, as always, the pushing drums of Joey Kramer held all together.
This time the magic was there. Aerosmith's repertoire, stage presence, and professionalism were highly polished and developed from their ragtag Kenmore Club days. They were highly capable of doing R&B, blues, and ballads as well as rockers. Tyler's vocals were an erotic show and tell of raunch `n' roll. Perry's guitar playing had become masterful and in league with his heroes, the English greats--Page, Richards, Clapton, et al. Showmanship-wise, each was dressed in a more outlandish costume than the other. Long flying scarfs, skintight pants, glitter, tailored, puffed-sleeve shirts, and the looks of hometown boys made good were the dress of the day. The drab, by comparison, Sha Na Na stood on the sidelines in artistic amazement and sartorial jealousy. For it was apparent to all that Aerosmith was becoming not only the most popular band in Boston, but also the best. Over 50,000 fans were there to argue the fact and thousand more denied as the State Police blockaded the highway.
Today, Aerosmith--Gold, glitter, and Tyler, too--are seasoned pros with four albums under their buckled belts, Aerosmith, Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic, and Rocks. As a measure of their popularity, Rocks broke at number 5 (with a bullet) in Billboard its first week. They are also each close to becoming millionaires. Each owns a collection of classic cars. Tyler is the proprietor of a lakeside while Perry owns "an Italian villa" in Boston. All own a custom-built recording studio/rehearsal hall in suburban Boston where they and closely associated co-producer Jack Douglas (the man responsible for the slick Alice Cooper, Guess Who, Poco-type sound) created their most musically democratic, most mature, and most successful album, Rocks. They are respected and reviewed by the serious music press and canonized by the prepubescent pop publications. Their music (especially the guitar and bass work of Perry and Hamilton) is considered among the best of their generation rock. And, Tyler, who has shaken much of his earlier posturing and posing, has become one of rock's most able performers.
It's a long way from my living room, but I never did want to squeeze 50,000 or so people into it.