Aerosmith's Joe Perry knows something about getting lost in the moment. It happened for the latest time during the final seconds of his show this week celebrating the release of a new solo album at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, where guitarists Perry, Slash, Johnny Depp and Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots were raging through a supercharged "Train Kept A-Rollin'," a song at the core of Perry's musical life ever since he first heard the Yardbirds' version as a teenager.
"It's one of the best basic fucking guitar riffs in rock & roll," Perry told Rolling Stone the day after his set. It was also a hit for Aerosmith in 1974, and Tuesday night's performance aimed at incorporating the best elements of every take going back to the 1951 original by Tiny Bradshaw. "We hit every fucking version of the E chord that you could imagine," he says. "Everything was screaming; the amps were going. I didn't know what else to do. All of a sudden my guitar was in pieces."
Perry smashed his guitar onstage. "It was a really a nice guitar, and the guy who made it for me was in the front row," Perry says. "That's why I'm feeling bad about it. It was not anything I planned. It was just that the energy was overwhelming."
It was a ferocious finish to a two-hour performance of hard rock and muscular blues ahead of Friday's release of Sweetzerland Manifesto, which features an all-star cast of singers including Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, the New York Dolls' David Johansen and U.K. veteran Terry Reid. Making the album was a long-term project, beginning with a recording of Sixties pop hit "Eve of Destruction" in 2012, but picked up steam last year. It was recorded at Depp's home studio in the Hollywood Hills.
"It's like an enclave that doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the world," Perry says of the studio. "It's like an artists' refuge – he's got writers up there, painters. There are comedians that come up. Oddly enough, not a lot of actors, other than Johnny. It's a place where creativity is probably the most important thing. It's a state of mind almost."
"I love to record. I love to be in the studio. I love to experiment," he adds. "This was just another way to go about it."
While Aerosmith remains at the center of Perry's career, the years between albums from the multi-platinum rock & roll band leave him restless. His solo career first erupted after he quit Aerosmith in 1979 and launched the Joe Perry Project with an album called Let the Music Do the Talking. The title song was a fired up statement from a lead guitarist stepping out on his own and leaving his need for a lead singer behind.
"It was the end of the Seventies," Perry recalled of his abrupt exit from Aerosmith. "We were pretty burned out. We had been busting our asses for eight or nine years, playing everywhere, trying to make it. If we had been a little wiser, we would have just taken a vacation. We just kept going until basically we had a meltdown."
"Let the Music Do the Talking" was an exciting enough song that Aerosmith re-recorded it after Perry returned in 1984, and it was back again at the Roxy as the night's opening salvo, with the guitarist on raging bottleneck. While the original plan for Sweetzerland Manifesto was for Perry to make his first all-instrumental solo album, he found himself drawn once again to some accomplished singers of "gumption and audacity."
"I love rock & roll, and it's tough even for me to hear an instrumental version of the kind of music I like," Perry says. "Once in a while I'll do one. But people want to hear a singer, and I want to hear a singer." His longtime creative partner and onetime "Toxic Twin" in Aerosmith, singer Steven Tyler, "is obviously one of the best to come down the pike."
Co-producing with Bruce Witkin, Perry also had occasional input from Jack Douglas, producer of Aerosmith's career-defining albums in the 1970s. Later in the process, the guitarist's sons – DJ Roman Perry and musician-producer Tony Perry (who mixed the record) – weighed in. "I sit back and listen to what they have to say," the guitarist recalls. "Nobody is as interested anymore in hearing guitar gymnastics. Sometimes a really good riff is enough to carry the day. It's all about the song again. I learned that from my kids."
The album release show was billed as Joe Perry and Friends, and the guitar hero arrived onstage in classic style: layers of chains and scarves, in a tuxedo jacket and dark shades, a streak of white accenting a thick mane of black hair. The band included STP's Dean and Robert DeLeo on guitar and bass, respectively. Later, they were joined on rhythm guitar by Depp (a member of the band Hollywood Vampires with Perry and Alice Cooper).
Standing in for Tyler on a few Aerosmith songs early in the set was Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone, in ragged scarves and headband. Then Perry leaned into the mic: "Were not going to be playing anymore of that shit for a while."
The band jumped into playing the new album in rough order. Reid began with the album's "I'll Do Happiness," a cry of angry love that was dark and bluesy. Like most of the night, the sound was forceful, but not overly polished. "Won't Let Me Go" shook to a bruising rhythm from the DeLeo brothers, leaving room for Perry to unfurl an aching rock solo.
The delivery was serious but never precious, at times coming off like a living room jam session. When Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson showed up bearded and feisty for "Fortunate One," the song was over much too quickly for Perry, who immediately said, "Want to play it again?" And they did.
Robinson joined the album project late, after the CD was already mastered, so his song will be a bonus track exclusive to the deluxe vinyl version of Sweetzerland.
Johansen brought a lip-smacking growl to "I Wanna Roll," standing center-stage in a crisp white shirt, beard and mustache sculpted razor thin, and blew some blues harp on "I'm Going Crazy." He also joked that he knew Perry as a small child: "He said to his mother, 'Mommy, when I grow up, I'm going to be a musician.' His mother said, 'You better make up your mind Joey, because you can't do both.'"
Perry's guitar turned noisy and meditative for the instrumental "Spanish Sushi," supported by some thundering beats from drummer David Goodstein. The crowd included Gene Simmons of Kiss, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and GN'R vets Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum.
Toward the end of the night, Zander delivering biting melodic vocals on two songs, including the vinyl-only "Countryside Boulevard." For the set's encore, he returned to shout the opening lines of the Beatles' "Come Together." Reid and Robinson took turns on the song, stepping back for Perry to take another molten lead.
Later in January, Perry says, he expects to be recording the next Hollywood Vampires album, and tour dates are booked with the band in May and June, with a few scattered U.S. shows. And with Aerosmith in their 38th year, they'll likely to tour again late in 2018, as Perry pushes for another Aerosmith record.
Somewhere in that busy schedule, Perry hopes to perform more one-off solo gigs with his Sweetzerland players. "Who knows if we'll ever get that lineup again? I hope we do," says Perry, the Roxy set still fresh in his mind. "I just hope everybody had as much fun as I did."