Steven Tyler's Sixties Pop Group the Chain Reaction
"English Sounds, American R&B": thus read the business cards dispensed by the Strangeurs, the first group fronted by Steven Tyler. Then known by his family surname Tallarico, the teenage mod wannabe led the band from behind the drum kit on stages throughout Long Island, Greenwich Village and rural New Hampshire, sometimes performing entire sets with a faux British accent. It was a rock star act he perfected while still a student in Yonkers, New York, in the mid-Sixties. "My way of avoiding being beaten up at school was to play drums in a band," he wrote in his memoir, Does the Sound in My Head Bother You. "We would set up in the cafeteria and do a mixer after school. I played 'Wipeout' and sang 'In My Room.' I was skinny and big-lipped and pinheaded. I grew my hair and played the drums in a band, and that was my key to acceptance."
The band originally called themselves the Strangers, but the existence of another New York group with that name forced them to get creative with the spelling. After gigging around the area, they signed with a manager who booked them as openers for acts like the Byrds and the Kingsmen. Their support set at a Beach Boys show in July 1966 earned them an audition at CBS. "We got into some guy's office and he says, 'OK, boys, you can set up in the corner.' So we set up the drums and I sat down and this guy's sitting at his desk, talking calls. He finally looked up and said, 'All right, play,'" Tyler wrote. "He stopped us halfway through and said, 'I'll sign you up for six grand. How about it?' Me, I'm just this stupid, defective kid from Yonkers. I go, 'All right, uh-huh.' And we had a record deal just like that."
The CBS legal team felt their name was still too close to the Strangers, so they opted for Tyler's latest brainwave: the Chain Reaction. "Steven told me that 'chain reaction' meant a continuous flow of high energy, and that's what they were all about," recalled Peter Agosta, the band's early manager in Aerosmith’s autobiography. In August they entered the studio to record their first single, "The Sun." At the controls was journeyman producer Richie Gottehrer, who had previously scaled the charts with "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels and "Hang on Sloopy" by the McCoys. "How excited I was about being in an actual recording band," recalled Tyler. "It was a total dream come true. The other side of it is that it's a pretty lame song. I never got a cent." According to Acosta, the fastidious Tyler significantly delayed the sessions: "'The Sun' took three weeks to record because Steven was a perfectionist and drove everybody crazy. He demanded his own mic, which no had heard of before."
The song, backed by another original called "When I Needed You," failed to trouble the charts. Neither did their follow-up, recorded a month later, "You Should Have Been Here Yesterday." They played a few high-profile gigs, including a spot opening for the Yardbirds at a Connecticut high school, but by June 1967 the Chain Reaction had fizzled out. However, the band's repeated trips to Sunapee, New Hampshire, brought Tyler in contact with a young, long-haired dishwasher working at a local ice cream shop: Joe Perry.