Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. A.K.A the lead singer, lead guitarist and twin creative drivers behind rock supergroup Aerosmith. A.K.A the Toxic Twins. So how did they earn their nickname? Let’s dive into the story.
A Repeating Pattern
Since starting this blog, and pulling together some of the stories of an unforgettable era, Classic Metal Hawk can’t help but notice that there is a certain repetitive pattern cropping up a lot. You’ll recognize it. Band gets together. Works super hard to get a break in the early days. Success follows. Band members succumb to major issues with booze or drugs (or both). Band starts to gradually fall apart, either openly, or behind the scenes. Arguments. Splits. Re-unions. Multiple rehabs.
The Hawk can’t quite decide yet whether to keep writing about these stories with different bands, as they can feel a bit samey. But (spoiler alert) there’s one more on the way right here – I mean, I’ve started so I’ll finish. The Hawk will take it under advisement how many more to put in the pipeline after this.
Today, we’re talking about long-term drug addicts Aerosmith, who followed the above story template to the letter. In fact, it will be easy enough simply to divide this post up into the 3 key stages.
Get together and work super hard to catch that early break? Success follows? Check and check.
Formed in Boston in 1970 from a merger of Steven Tyler’s band Chain Reaction and Joe Perry’s Jam Band, they spent the first couple of years finalizing the line-up, writing music and playing their first gigs in the Boston area. (The name ‘Aerosmith’ was thanks to drummer Joey Kramer, and seems to have been a variation of ‘Aerial Ballet’, an album by Harry Nilsson that Kramer was into at the time.)
They had enough local success early on to attract management in the form of David Krebs and Steve Leber in 1972, and that pairs’ industry contacts led to a gig in front of Columbia Records president Clive Davis. The band had paid out of their own pocket to ensure a place on the venue’s bill for the night, so were not afraid to invest in themselves whilst hoping to get a break. It paid off to the tune of a reported $125,000 deal and a first album release a year later.
The first couple of albums were only moderately successful in terms of sales, but the band kept up a heavy touring schedule and got some decent radio play as well. Not exactly a heavy metal band then or since, they were developing their trademark bluesy rock sound, and weren’t likely to scare anybody off, at least not musically. DJs duly took note.
Their third album, ‘Toys in the Attic’ was the breakout success commercially. It led to a couple of top 10 singles, and established the band as a force to be reckoned with. It also allowed them to grow out of their early reputation as Rolling Stones clones. (Probably an unfair tag anyway – sure the 2 were both rock n roll bands, but if Tyler hadn’t been a spitting image of a young Mick Jagger, it’s unlikely the label would have stuck). One of those singles was ‘Walk This Way’, which was written by Tyler and Perry, and made into a hit by them well before Run DMC got hold if it.
Big Time Boys
Sales of ‘Toys in the Attic’ would, after enough years had passed, approach 10 million US sales. Follow up albums ‘Rocks’ (1976) and ‘Draw the Line (1977) didn’t quite hit the same heights, but were still successful enough, and were at least as influential in terms of establishing Aerosmith as a serious rock outfit. ‘Toys in The Attic’ and ‘Rocks’ have been cited as key influences for some serious Classic Heavy Metal names that followed, including Guns N’ Roses, Motely Crue and Metallica. Even Kurt Cobain was reportedly a ‘Rocks’ fan, and found that record heavily influential for Nirvana.
The touring schedule didn’t let up at any point – a combination of talent, hard work and luck meant they had properly hit the big time.
Band members succumb to major issues with booze or drugs (or both)? Band starts to gradually fall apart, either openly, or behind the scenes. Arguments. Splits.
Oh yeah. In the case of Aerosmith, drugs were the main culprit, and even in the 70s, Tyler and Perry had deservedly already acquired the ‘Toxic Twins’ nickname that would follow them around for years. Classic Metal Hawk has seen various wacky estimates of how much the pair spent on drugs over the years – anything from $6 million to $64 million. However, junkies very rarely keep receipts, so I suppose we’ll never know the exact bill – but make no mistake, it was a big one.
Already in 1973, Tyler had started his infamous relationship with a 16-year-old fan that would get him into so much trouble at the time and in later years. Drug addled and infatuated, he’d thought it sensible to groom her, take her on tour, even propose marriage and children before it all fell apart – with repercussions that continue to this day. Read more about that on The Hawk’s blog here.
At his own wedding in 1975, Joe Perry was high as a kite on heroin. Even then, he’d take anything – pot, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, LSD…
In 1977, Tyler had a penchant for a mix of Valium and muscle relaxants – end result being that he could barely walk and had crossed eyes a great deal of the time. He later developed more of a liking for cocaine.
Before a gig in 1979 in Cleveland, a major bust up occurred backstage when Perry’s wife Elissa threw a glass of milk at the wife of bass player Tom Hamilton. (History does not record whether the women were also partial to drugs, or had taken any that night). Anyway, Tyler confronted Perry about his wife’s errant behaviour, and during the ensuing row, fired him from the band. According to Perry’s telling, it was more a case of ‘You can’t fire me, I quit.’ Whatever.
Perry was a major creative influence, as well as the lead guitar player with a groove the fans loved. His absence was compounded by performance issues for Tyler due to drug abuse. Most days, he would spend the hours before a show getting smashed, leaving managers wondering whether he’d be fit to perform at all. He always was, but at a gig in Portland in 1980, he collapsed on stage and couldn’t get up again. Second Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford followed Perry out of the exit door before long, and audiences dwindled. A motorbike accident in 1981 left Tyler stuck in hospital for 2 months. The writing seemed to be on the wall.
Obviously, the constant drug-addled rowing didn’t make for a happy work environment for anyone. The road crew were sick of it, to the point where they would wipe their own excrement on the band’s food. That’s according to Tyler’s own autobiography, ‘Does the Noise in my Head Bother You?’, where he claims that a crew member confessed years later that they’d been eating s***. The fact that nobody in the band noticed the strange aroma coming from their deli meats at the time may say something about their mental states at the time.
It went on and on. Ronnie James Dio labelled Aerosmith performances as ‘shambolic’ when he supported them with his then new solo band in 1983. Dio needed publicity, sure, but decided to quit that bill before long rather than be associated with Tyler’s failing band.
Re-unions? Multiple rehabs?
Again, check and check. Whitford and Perry re-joined Aerosmith in 1984, 5 years after Perry had first left. (The wheels for this reunion may well have been greased by Perry’s divorce in the meantime from milk-thrower Elissa.) Following the happy reunion, the band must have resolved to clean up and put their drug-addled problems behind them once and for all, right?
Even in the tentative meeting in 1984 to sound out the possible reunion, taking place prior to a gig in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Toxic Twins got high together yet again, with Tyler later collapsing on stage again as a result. So they got back together, but not with any resolution to dry out.
Still, with their ‘classic’ line up back together, they continued to write, record, and perform, but the drugs were a constant thorn in their side, and success was lukewarm at best. Finally, Tyler went into rehab in 1986, shortly followed by the other band members, and after getting clean, managed to lead the band back to the commercial successes they’d enjoyed in the past. The next albums, ‘Permanent Vacation’ (1987) and ‘Pump’ (1989) were both smashes, with no end of famous hit songs included. ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’. ‘Rag Doll’. ‘Love in an Elevator’. ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’. ‘What it takes.’ The list goes on.
Ah, Go On…
But pressure to relapse was intense. Newly clean Aerosmith probably didn’t do themselves any favours by signing fellow addicts Guns N’ Roses as their support act for the Permanent Vacation tour. We shouldn’t joke about addiction of course, but The Hawk can’t help imagining it must have been a bit like Mrs Doyle from that British comedy show, Father Ted a few years ago, except pushing heroin instead of tea and cakes.
They made it through the tour intact though, and in fact, the new sobriety became a fixture for many years. But the demons were never completely banished. There were a number of different rehab entries over the years, and also some complete relapses. For example, a multi-year binge period from 2006 until a further successful rehab in 2009. Then another rehab in 2022 following difficulties with pain medication after surgery.
And it wouldn’t be fair to focus solely on Tyler and Perry. Drummer Joey Kramer has had his own lifelong struggles with addiction, which he sets out in vivid detail in his autobiography, ‘Hit Hard: A story of Hitting Rock Bottom At the Top.’ Incredibly, the foreword to that book was written by none other than Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, whose own history of drug-fuelled debauchery is second to nobody in the world of Classic Heavy Metal. Miraculously, all these guys have made it to later life, and many now have similar reflections on their worst excesses.
Many creatives, even as far back the classic poets of the 18th and 19th centuries, people like John Keats, have argued that drugs are an essential component of the creative process – that they wouldn’t have been able to come up with what they did were it not for being high. That can then lead to anxiety that sobriety could be career threatening. But in reality, the older and now more sober versions of these guys have accepted that it’s not the case.
(Keats himself died aged only 25, though from Tuberculosis rather that drugs, so never got to experience his own later life reflections of sobriety).
It must be said that, in spite of all the addiction stories that have followed them around over the years, Aerosmith have had their fair share of bad luck that (we think) was not drug related – especially Steven Tyler.
He was injured by cherry bombs thrown on stage from the crowd in Philadelphia in 1977, and again by beer bottles (same city) in 1978. Thanks Philly. There was a leg injury on stage in 1999 (the same year that Joey Kramer had his car catch fire at a gas station, inflicting serious burns.) Throat surgery in 2006. Another leg injury in 2009 which led to them canning 7 gigs. Also in 2009, Tyler fell off stage in South Dakota, suffering head and neck injuries and a broken shoulder. The years of constant touring and performing took their toll, with serious knee, leg and foot problems. And of course, it was the painkillers for those chronic conditions that led to the most recent rehab.
Toxically bad luck on top of everything else.
Looking on the Bright Side
Well now, that was a tale of doom and gloom wasn’t it. Get together. Work. Succeed. Succumb. Fall apart. Argue. Split. Re-unite. Rehab. Hope to manage. The Toxic Twins well named. And of course, in charting the story, Classic Metal Hawk has had only very little to say about the music, which is a shame, because there really is some great stuff in the back catalogue. We’ll definitely look at it some more in another post. It’s true that many bands follow the above-mentioned pattern, but each has its own unique story of success and misery combined. Of hitting the highs and plumbing the depths, sometimes even on the same day.
As of this writing, Aerosmith still have a Las Vegas residency, in spite of them being well into their 70s. They are sometimes forced to cancel shows when health issues take too much of a toll. But over 50 years after first forming in Boston, they continue to battle the odds for the fans.
The dynamic in the band is sometimes odd, and there have been endless additional battles over the years – splits, reunions, arguments, legal threats, press briefings. But they’ve somehow held it together, like a dysfunctional family who still can’t bear the thought of life without one another.
50 years is quite something. In writing this post, Classic Metal Hawk was somewhat disconcerted to realize that our play-out video was made fully 25 years ago. It’s enough to make anyone feel old – Steven Tyler isn’t the only one with aches and pains. Anyway, the Hawk isn’t sure this is really Classic Heavy Metal, but it’s been a guilty pleasure for quite some time. At least the music turns the clock back a bit.
Who finds it as exhausting as The Hawk trying to imagine this type of lifestyle? No wonder debauchery levels tend to decline as the starts get older. How do you rate Aerosmith as a music factory in spite of all of the above? Was it a barrier to them being even better?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.