Aerosmith Bask in the Blues

Hard rockers score with classic covers

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Coming off a lucrative decade-long run of power ballads, movie themes and pop singles, Aerosmith didn't have high commercial expectations for their new blues-covers collection, Honkin' on Bobo. So they were as surprised as anyone when it entered the Billboard 200 album chart at Number Five and sold 160,000 copies in its first week, nosing ahead of the other recent rock-star blues project, Eric Clapton's Me and Mr. Johnson.

When Aerosmith tackled blues classics such as "Baby Please Don't Go" and "Road Runner," Steven Tyler says the key was to avoid anything that sounded like a preservation-minded blues tribute: "This is not about a resurgence of the blues. It was us discovering you can do these songs and have a whole lot of fun. It just plain feels good."

The album presented a challenge for the band's label, however. "We knew that we'd have to take our chances on a marketing level," says Will Botwin, president of Columbia Records. "There's loyalty to the band among fans, but there's very little loyalty at radio. To me, this is not a hit-driven record or a video-driven record."

Surprisingly, stations in the "active rock" format are getting good feedback from the first Bobo single, "Baby Please Don't Go." "It definitely stands out as something unique," says Sean Elliott, program director at WLZR-FM in Milwaukee. "People seem pumped that Aerosmith are really rocking again. And the track lends a really cool sound to the radio station."

The album is poised for strong sales well into spring. Aerosmith are currently playing an average of five Bobo tracks at every show on their arena tour, which lasts until late June. Guitarist Joe Perry says they fit perfectly next to Aerosmith's originals. "People think that the blues is just older men," Perry says. "But when they wrote this stuff, a lot of times they were in their twenties and thirties, and they were just trying to get people off in the juke joints.

That's the thing about these songs: They're great vehicles for energy. They've got all the magic that got us into music in the first place, and the album has that crazy X-factor vibe you can't really explain about rock & roll."

Or, as Tyler puts it, "It's like smelling cinnamon in the morning. It can't be denied."