“Street Jesus” began as a twangy lick that guitarist Brad Whitford had been playing for 15 years, bringing to Aerosmith rehearsals and recording as demos, but it never became a song until sessions for Music From Another Dimension! “I just thought it was this great, driving rock lick, that it was so Aerosmith, but nobody ever heard it,” Whitford says. “We would play it sometimes and jam on it quite a bit.”
While on the road with the Experience Hendrix Tour in 2011, Whitford found himself backstage talking with guitar phenoms Robert Randolph and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, dissecting the styles of various blues greats, when the picking style of Albert King came up. From that moment on, the Aerosmith guitarist became obsessed with the technique and started practicing it with that same guitar lick.
Then, during Aerosmith’s sessions last year, singer Steven Tyler heard the guitarist playing it. “He said, ‘What’s that?’ He grabbed it and started playing it on the piano and singing and he started writing,” says Whitford. “I brought in the old lick and it was done. We had it.”
The working title was “Sweet Jesus,” but producer Jack Douglas suggested “Street Jesus.” Tyler went with it, inspired by his frequent sightings of a man well over six feet tall who wanders the streets of Los Angeles dressed as Jesus Christ. In the song, a rushed Tyler sings, “Somebody stole my shoes/ Man, I could smell the booze… After that thief I ran/ Into another man who had no feet.”
“I sat down, put pad to paper and, before you know it, I had a bunch of one-liners or 10-liners about a story like that – about the holes in my shoes and the holes in his hand,” Tyler recalls, “teaching in church what you learn in the street.”
The finished song is the new album’s second-longest track. Tyler compares the tempo and feel to Aerosmith’s “Jailbait” from 1982, but bassist Tom Hamilton looks back further: “Steven nailed the lyric on it. It reminds me of a classic British thing from the Sixties.”