Interview with Joe Perry
This interview was first published in 2004. He wanted to be a marine biologist, like his hero Jacques Cousteau, but got sidetracked playing guitar. That was good for us, and it didn’t turn out too bad for Joe Perry either. At this point, it’s been 40-plus years of kick-ass music with “America’s Greatest Rock and […]
This interview was first published in 2004.
He wanted to be a marine biologist, like his hero Jacques Cousteau, but got sidetracked playing guitar. That was good for us, and it didn’t turn out too bad for Joe Perry either. At this point, it’s been 40-plus years of kick-ass music with “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band,” as Aerosmith has been called, and with his occasional forays down the solo path.
How can you quantify the impact Perry has had on the rock guitar world? Aerosmith has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide — more than 70 million in the U.S. alone. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard or learned to play Joe’s iconic riff in “Walk This Way” yet? Well, maybe Kanye West’s fans, but not too many others.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer made the rounds recently to promote his new autobiography, “Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith,” which surprises with its honesty, and its insight into the mind of both the young Joe Perry — the potential scientist — and the Joe Perry of today — the family man who has somewhat quietly been married to the same pretty girl for 30 years.
Oh, and of course there’s all the classic stories about the making of some of rock’s most revered albums, and the open discussion about the decades of craziness that have been his life on tour as one-half of the “Toxic Twins,” as he and partner-in-crime Steven Tyler were often referred. Certainly there’s no shortage of sex and drugs to go with the rock and roll in Perry’s excellent memoir.
When his publicist contacted me to set up the interview, I was told I had 20 minutes, and was given a list of “talking points,” all of which centered around a section of the book. But when Perry called at the end of what had already been a long day of interviews, he sounded relaxed, and when the conversation turned to guitars, he was in no hurry to end the call.
In our hour-plus conversation we talked about everything from how his bandmates responded to his book, to his early love of the water, to his relationships with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. But Joe really opened up when the discussion turned to effects pedals — he loves to check out new pedals and is on an endless search — and guitars new and old, including plenty of boutique dealers and lesser-known brands that are among his favorites.
And when we hit on amps and mics and live sound and recording techniques, Perry was eager to share, full of details, and seemed to really be in his element. Here’s how our conversation went:
Guitar.com: That’s all right. So how you doin’ tonight?
Perry: I’m pretty good. Where are you?
Guitar.com: I’m in Chicago.
Perry: OK, cool. I just kind of like to know where people are that I’m talking to, so that I can kind of get a picture of that area. Chances are I’ve been there once at least. Chicago, maybe 20. But I like to know where people are. Anyway, so how you doin’ today?
Guitar.com: I’m doin’ good. So you’re having a long day of talking about your book?
Perry: Among other things. Yeah. I’m talking with people I haven’t had a chance to talk to since it came out. I’ve been through the country at breakneck speed, on the book tour, and there’s still so many people, and so many outlets I didn’t get a chance to talk to. There’s only so many hours in the day, and I can’t just get everywhere. So I’m takin’ this time to fill in some of the gaps.
Guitar.com: Sure. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. So you know that I’m the editor of Guitar.com, right?
Guitar.com: Great, because I’m hoping we’ll be able to talk a little guitar, along with the book. So, about the book:I know it was probably a labor of love, and probably some sweat and stress over the past couple years, right?
Perry: Exactly (laughs). At first it sounds like a great idea, and getting the ball rolling was an interesting process, a lot of fun. It basically started with my wife really asking me, “Well, what do you think about doing it?” Because I’ve been thinking about doin’ it for years and years, and I kind of felt like there was never like a point to stop, you know? The way things kind of rolled around, and the timing, and the 40th anniversary of the band, and the last record, and things like that…
Anyway, she probably sensed it was a good time, and when she brought it up, it was like, “Yeah, OK.” And we were both ready. We knew some of the family’s dirty laundry would have to be in there, and we were both ready for it. I don’t think we were totally ready for the impact of it. It was a little hard, but it’s gonna have to be part of the book. And it was just time.
Guitar.com: None of your band members would have been unaware that such a book would come along sooner or later, but how did you approach them about it?
Perry: Well basically I just said, “Hey guys, I’m writin’ a book!” (laughs). “An autobiography.” And that was it. Kind of like, “Joe said he was gonna write a book.” I’m not sure how Steven told us, but we kind of knew he was doing it, I guess. I really don’t remember how he told us. But like everything else, I probably just read about it on the Internet.
Guitar.com: Is that the way it is sometimes?
Guitar.com: But you guys work out your differences and get out there and write some great music and play some great shows, right?
Perry: Yeah. I mean, it’s like, when we get onstage, that last five to 10 minutes before we walk out there, it’s like we all kind of revert to being teenagers again, which is kind of weird, but it happens. And then we’re the band we always wanted to be, only we’re a little bit better than we were last night. And that’s what makes it fun.
Guitar.com: How have they reacted to the book now that it’s been out for awhile?
Perry: Well, Joey thanked me for being truthful. He sent me a text, and said, “Thanks for being truthful.” And Brad said he really liked it. He thought it was really good. And then Steven just sent me a text and said he was at the fourth chapter and he liked it. He liked the book and the texture of it, and all that. He’d written a book, so he could relate to that. But then after that I haven’t heard from him. I’ve heard rumors that he isn’t too happy with it.
Guitar.com: Well, were you real happy with his book?
Perry: No. (laughs).
Perry: But I know where it’s comin’ from, I know the guy. A lot of stuff didn’t come as a surprise. I wasn’t happy about it, but, you know, anyway… Like I said all along, this is just my truth, from my point of view, and it’s my book. Everybody can write their own book the way they want to. Tom can write one, and it can be completely different from mine, you know what I mean? I really can’t say much else about it than that. It is what it is.
Guitar.com: Yeah. Well, really, it’s almost like a couple of brothers each tellin’ their separate story, right?
Perry: Yeah, yeah. That analogy has really surfaced as probably one of the most accurate ones that could be used. It’s had its up and downs like any other family.
Guitar.com: So, your publicist sent me this list of talking points, as they called them — discussion points. And one of them was labeled up “Growing Up Perry” and it talks about you wanting to be a marine biologist when you were young.
Perry: Yeah, that’s true. That was definitely my first… you know, when you’re a kid and people say, “What do you want to be? Do you want to be a policeman? Do you want to be a fireman?” All I can remember is from the start, the first time I put a mask and snorkel on, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Anything that would have brought me close to the ocean or the water. The unknown part of the ocean fascinates me. And I suppose that is the theme that runs all through my life: a big interest in the unknown.
And even throwing my life into being in a rock band, at that time, that was jumping off into the unknown. I had no idea it was gonna last like this. I had been through a number of bands before Aerosmith. Steven had been in five other bands. And then we’d seen bands that had big hits, and then they disappeared. And so it was kind of not a career path you chose for longevity, you know.
But there’s something about the energy and the excitement of it, and also, this feeling that I could add something to it that made me feel like a little more than a fan. I certainly started off as a fan, but I just had this feeling that I could do something — if I got the right guys together, we could do something that hadn’t quite been done before. Certainly taking what we’d learned from being fans, and then adding to it.
Guitar.com: Are you still turned on by the music of the people you listened to when you were a teenager? Are you still turned on by Jeff Beck and Chuck Berry, and all that?
Perry: Definitely. That’s the one advantage that I see in technology is being able to have all those songs at my fingertips. It’s kind of like, with reading, I can have all the classics right there. If I want to read “On The Road” by Kerouac, or “Death in the Afternoon” by Hemingway, it’s right there in my iPad. And if I want to listen to the White album, it’s right there. I don’t want to get into the sound quality at this point, but, it’s right there. And I can carry all that stuff with me. They ’re like touchstones whenever I need inspiration. I still love that music. Probably more than ever.
Guitar.com: I interviewed Jeff Beck a few years ago, and I was very intrigued by the two main influences that he discussed with me: rockabilly and Django Reinhardt.
Perry: That doesn’t surprise me.
Guitar.com: Have you spoken with him about stuff like that?
Perry: A little bit. Not much. When I’m fortunate enough to spend time with those guys, very often we don’t really talk about that so much. I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with Jimmy Page, and we talk more about family, and just day to day stuff. It’s kind of… one of the guitar magazines did a series of articles where they would take one artist and let him interview one of their favorite guys from an earlier generation, or somebody who influenced them.
And it was actually the first time I got to talk to Jimmy about studio stuff. And some of that early Zeppelin stuff — the questions that I’ve always had, or had when I was listening to that music for the first time, and I was actually able to ask him some of that stuff, ’cause that was the setting, the format for the article. So it was real good.
But the one thing I did get from Jeff, was that he said, “It’s all in the Les Paul records.” Somehow the conversation got to some of the influences, and he said, “It’s all there.”
Guitar.com: When you talked to Jimmy, did you talk technical, like, “What kind of amps and mics were you using to get that sound on the first record?”
Perry: A little bit. He was very closed about that. He was very English about that. They’re kind of a little protective. That’s something I’ve found with most of the English guys, when you talk to them about certain sounds that they got in the studio. Some of them are like, “Oh, I don’t quite remember…”
And sometimes I can see that being true, because some of the those records, those early records, they did in a lot of different studios. Apparently — because I have a close friend, in fact I mention him in the book, Henry Smith — worked with them, and he remembers carrying the tapes when they were on the road, and they would go from studio to studio to record the second record. And a lot of it was recorded in different studios around the country.
So I can see how he might not remember some of the stuff. But there were a few things that he did tell me about, like there was a guitar player — I don’t recall his name right now — but an acoustic guitar player that got a really good sound, and Jimmy did some homework and figured out how he got that sound, and then he used that technique to record his acoustic guitar.
But that was pretty much it. It was more about that he started playing at a really early age. And we’ve all seen pictures on the talent show when he was 15 years old, playing. I mean, he’s had a lot of experience. He had a lot of experience when he went in to do his first record for Zeppelin.
Guitar.com: You have a home studio, right?
Perry: Oh yeah.
Guitar.com: Do you like to play around with different settings and different amps, and try different stuff?
Perry: All the time. I’m always fooling around with different things and different instruments, and I especially like playing with world instruments. There’s a great place in New York, it’s run by two old hippies. And they collect instruments from around the world, and they learn how to play them enough so they can show you how it can sound. And there’s some pretty weird stuff out there I never heard of, and I go in there and I’ll get a box — like one time I went in there and I bought like 30 tambourines, because they all sounded so different.
Guitar.com: What’s the name of the store?
Perry: It’s called the Music Inn.
Guitar.com: Cool, I’ve got to check that out next time I’m in New York. So you’re a vintage guitar guy, right?
Perry: Oh yeah.
Guitar.com: Have you got some new acquisitions that you’re excited about?
Perry: Not lately. There’s a guitar maker who lives in the Valley, his name is Gabriel, and he has a company called Echo Park. And he makes some of the finest sounding electric guitars that I’ve heard in a long time. The Gibson Custom Shop, sometimes they turn out great stuff, sometimes it’s average. But lately it has been really, really good.
But this guy Gabriel, every guitar he makes is better than the last. He’s really a gifted luthier. And I’ve developed a close relationship with him where we talk a lot about why certain things sound the way they do, and then I’ll see it next week in a guitar. So, it’s fascinating watching him work his art.
So I haven’t really been… I’ve got everything I need as far as the old stuff. But I’m always looking for new sounds. In fact I’m holding one of his guitars in the cover shot from Guitar Aficionado. That was one of the last one’s he made for me, in the last couple of months. It’s beautiful, and it plays amazing. It plays great, sounds great, and I’d put it up against anything — any of the old stuff.
Guitar.com: These are solid bodies?
Perry: Yeah. Right now he’s startin’ to work on some semi-hollow stuff, but his main thing has been — he really is into the P-90, Les Paul Junior kind of sound. He goes out and finds old wood, matches it up with the right pieces, and then he kind of has the pickups wound, and he matches the pickup with the body of the guitar, and the way it sounds, and the way it feels.
Guitar.com: Have you had a chance to play those live?
Perry: I play them live all the time.
Guitar.com: So you’ve been working with Gabriel for a couple of years.
Perry: Yeah. I met him when we were working on the last Aerosmith record. I think he was friends with Jack [long-time Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas], and he came down and dropped a guitar off. And Brad actually had one of his guitars on the last tour, not the 2014 tour, the tour before that. He actually had one and I got the chance to try it, and I was really impressed with it. We both show up with guitars from different guitar makers, and I was really impressed with it. But I was playing some of my own stuff.
But when I got out here (to Los Angeles), and I got to meet Gabriel, and he brought a couple of his newer pieces down, that’s when I was really impressed. There have been times when I’ve actually just taken a guitar that he’s made me right out of the case and walked on stage with it, and the thing sings.
Guitar.com: I see that he learned from Leo Fender, among others. I’m going to look him up when I’m in L.A… So when you’re recording at home, do you always mic up an amp, or do you use amp simulator plug-ins, like Amplitube, or any of that kind of stuff?
Perry: Whatever I feel is the sound the song needs — hold on a second [we hear sound of helicopter rotors very nearby]. Holy Shit… a couple of Air Force helicopters just flew over at about 300 feet.
Guitar.com: Really? Where are you right now?
Perry: I’m in West Hollywood. And every once in awhile one flies over. I’ve never seen two like that fly over that close. Anyway, you never know what’s going on out there.
But anyway, as far as guitars go, I’ve got enough old ones that fit the bill. You know probably the one thing where I’m always looking for stuff is foot pedals. Old ones and new ones.
There’s always something that you can find in a foot pedal, especially the newer ones where they go in and kind of re-produce some of the old ones, but then they’ll put like a true bypass in there. And it actually can cut down the hum. The old pedals can be very — they may work great in the studio, if you can just stick them in the right corner so you don’t get too much hum. But to use them live, very often you get more hum out of them than anything else.
So some of the more modern pedals — I’m always looking for new stuff, and there are guys out there building great new stuff that are really usable.
Guitar.com: What have you messed around with lately? What’s got you excited?
Perry: Well, there’s one piece of gear that’s made by Duesenberg. It’s actually just a power boost. It’s like half the size of a little stompbox. It’s just got one knob on it, and all it does is add some gain, clean gain. It doesn’t have any tone to it. It just gives your — let’s say if you’re playing a low-output Strat or Tele, and you want to give it a little more guts, you just put that in the line, and it’s got a true bypass. You step on it and it just makes it a little bit louder so that whatever you’re feeding it into, it gives it a little more guts. It’s become a permanent part of my on-stage rig.
Guitar.com: Duesenberg, like the car.
Perry: Yeah. They’re a German company and they’ve been making guitars for quite a few years now, and they’re actually making some really fine instruments now too. I’ve seen everybody from Tom Petty and the guys in Tom Petty’s band playing them, to Bob Dylan. It seems like everybody’s got one, and they’re using them. They’re good guitars, especially for a company like that, that can obviously make — for every guitar Gabriel makes, they can make 10.
But they’re really good guitars. They’re really well-made, the finish is great. The tones are great. They remind me a lot of some of the better examples of an old Gretsch. Because Gretsch was very spotty back in the days. Some of them were beautiful, hand-made, and some of them were kind of dodgy.
But the sound of the Duesenbergs get a little close to that. I mean, they make a lot of different kind of guitars, but I would compare some of their semi-hollowbody things to some of the early Gretsch stuff.
Guitar.com: Cool. So you have a couple of those?
Perry: Yeah. I like those a lot. Those have been really nice.
Guitar.com: A lot of guys have been talking to me lately — back to the pedals — about the gain pedals like you mentioned, with the clean boost. It’s something that I’ve been in need of and have been looking for for awhile. I need to check out some of these pedals you and everybody else are telling me about. They’ve come a long way.
Perry: Yeah. With Duesenberg, everything they do is really high quality. There are other ones out there, but that one in particular seems to work the best with the least amount of hum or anything like that. It really does what it says. It just gives it that little bit of extra boost to whatever you need. If you want to get a little more wah out of your wah, put that before it.
Guitar.com: What kind of wah are you using these days?
Perry: It’s a Cry Baby. Pretty much a standard Hendrix model. But I’ve had it tweaked and had some of the old parts put in there. I have a good friend who is into that stuff, and he’ll take an old pedal and take out some of the cheesier parts, and put in some of the old stuff. And then you’ve got the best of both worlds.
Guitar.com: Yeah. Do you carry around spares?
Perry: I try to (laughs). You know? When I settle on something that works, I definitely get another one built as soon as I can.
Guitar.com: So what else do you have on your pedal board these days?
Perry: Well, let’s see: The Klon — fortunately the guy lives in the Boston area, and Brad and I got some of the first ones he made. He asked us to try them, and God, they’re amazing. I’ve seen everybody from — well, the last time I looked at Jeff’s [Beck] pedal board, which consists of three pedals, one of them is a Klon. It’s a really good power boost. It’s not really a fuzz tone.
It doesn’t really add much tonally to the thing. So like, when you plug into it, it still sounds like a Strat, or a P-90, or a Les Paul, or whatever. It doesn’t really color the sound of the instrument. But it gives you that extra… Basically it’s got a gain control, a tone control, and a volume control. The guy really hit on a formula that works. And that’s my go-to pedal. It’s been in my rack ever since I got the first one.
And then I have other fuzz-tones that I use as well, but that one is in there as a real standard. And then there’s the Memory Man, there’s a couple of different versions of that. I have one of those in there. I use a Whammy pedal, the red one. The first ones that came out, I kind of like the best. The newer ones track a little better, but it doesn’t have — they’re not quite as raunchy as the older ones. So I guess they did another version of the red one, and it’s pretty close to the old ones. But I still use the first or the second one that I got.
And Fulltone makes a really good reproduction of the Echoplex, and I’m always looking for something that’s as close to that as possible, because it’s got tape, it’s mechanical. They don’t travel well on the road. It’s just the nature of it. It’s made really well. It’s not a reflection on the Fulltone, on the build. It’s just that anything with that much mechanical stuff going on, setting up and tearing down, and setting up and tearing it down, it’s just tough keeping it working — whether you’ve got a re-built Echoplex, or one of those Fulltones. I have to say they sound the best for that kind of effect, an echo-repeat thing. I don’t think anything sounds as good as either a re-built Echoplex or a Fulltone, the one with the tape.
Guitar.com: I’m sure you have an Echoplex or two at your home studio, right? The originals?
Perry: Yeah, but I don’t take it on the road. It’s too much trouble. And I probably have four Fulltones, and I don’t bring those out. I probably will on the next tour, because I still haven’t found a foot pedal that gives me that sound that I like. I’ll probably bring one out on the road with me next time. I’ll probably bring two of them (laughs).
Guitar.com: Do you still have any pedals from the beginning of Aerosmith that still work, that you still use for anything?
Perry: Uh… Well, in the studio, that’s where I use the old stuff. Because I can control it a little better. Very often I’ll go directly from the pedal right into the board. And that way you can really hear what the pedal sounds like, and you don’t get that hum that comes along with it, which very often accompanies any kind of a power boost, or anything like that. You get to really hear what the pedal sounds like.
So many fuzz tones and those kind of pedals had a sound to them, you know what I mean? There’s a character to that fuzz. And sometimes it’s really hard to make that work in a live situation, especially when I have to change guitars so often to suit the song.
Sometimes I wish I wrote everything on one guitar, and I could just play it all on one guitar, and have the ease of that. But to really do justice to a song like “Janie’s Got a Gun,” I use the same guitar, with the same tuning, that I recorded it with.
The same goes with probably 50 percent of the songs we play live: The guitar I’m using on stage is the guitar I recorded it with, or something as close to it as I can get. For years and years, after we did “Dude…” — I recorded “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” the rhythm part and the solo part, on an old Gretsch Sparkle Jet. And I brought that on the road with me, because nothing else sounds as good as that. And finally that just took too much of a beating being on the road.
So I’ve been using that guitar with my wife’s picture on it, for “Dude…” because that kind of has a chimey sound to it. It goes with that song. But if I wasn’t using that guitar, I’d probably use a Duesenberg. But that white one with my wife’s picture on it works great. It works great, it plays great, so it’s pretty much a standard for that song.
Guitar.com: How many different guitars do you bring with you on the road these days?
Perry: Probably 20, because “Back in the Saddle” wouldn’t sound right if I didn’t have a six-string bass, you know. So I’ve got to bring a six-string bass, and I’ve got to bring a spare. “Dude Looks Like a Lady” has a certain sound, so I’ve got to bring something that does that.
“Janie’s Got a Gun,” I use the Chet Atkins model Gibson acoustic. And that’s tuned up a half a step, and that gives me that sound that goes with that song, especially for the solo. And that needs a spare.
So it’s kind of like, with the list of songs, over the years, I had to be ready for when they pull a certain song out of the hat, like say, “Monkey on My Back,” and I used a Supro Ozark, and I bring that on the road with me, as well as a spare. So it tends to add up pretty quick, you know.
And plus there are guitars that I like to play, and I just like to have them there, so that I can pull them out once in awhile. But there was one point where I was carrying like 40 or 50 guitars with me, and I was like, “I bring all these guitars with me to play, like, two times?” It’s not worth it. So I’ve kind of stripped it down to the bare essentials.
Guitar.com: What do you like to use when you’re playing slide?
Perry: Well, that’s the Ozark, because it’s kind of a beginner’s guitar, so it’s got a fat neck on it. I doubt it’s even got a truss rod in it. In fact there’s a picture of Hendrix — I think it was the first guitar Hendrix’s father bought for him, back in the — if you look at some really early, early pictures of Jimi, he’s playing one. It’s got one of those kind of horseshoe pickups on it, and the neck is kind of flat. So it really lends itself to playing slide. So I just raised the action a little bit, and I’ve used it on a bunch of songs. The most notable would be “Monkey on My Back,” that little guitar riff. And that’s what I use when I play it live.
Guitar.com: And what amps are you playing through these days?
Perry: Well, after going through a lot of different changes, on stage I use three of the re-issue Marshall stacks, that have been gone through by Voodoo Labs. They went through them and tweaked them a little bit. And then also they did a re-issue of the Bluesbreakers amp, only it’s just the head. It’s about a 30-watt head. I play that through a Marshall 8×10. And then I have one of the Marshall bottoms with 15-inch speakers, just to get a little bit more of that bottom, that 15-inch bottom, mostly for what I send out to the house.
I have a guy who makes boutique amps. His name is [George] Alessandro, he works with Eric Johnson and a bunch of guys. He made me an amp that’s about a five-watt amp, it’s got an 8-inch speaker, and if you’re gonna put a microphone up to one amp, it’s the best one I’ve heard in awhile. So I have that sitting next to all the Marshalls, and I use either a 57 and a Royer ribbon mic, or a combination of the two. And that’s what goes out to the house, pretty much.
Guitar.com: Along with the Marshalls, right? They’re mic’d up too, right?
Perry: A little bit of the Marshalls. He brings in a little bit of the bottom end, from the 15s and the 12s, because the 8-inch speaker has a lot of tone to it, but it can’t reproduce the bottom that well. So he’ll dial in a little bit of the Marshall stuff to kind of round out the sound, but the majority of it is coming from the little speaker.
Perry: Well, the whole thing is, is the smaller the speaker, the more sound is condensed, coming from a smaller place. So when you put a microphone up to it, the mic is gonna pick up more of the whole sound, as opposed to a 15-inch speaker, if you put a microphone up to it, if you put it near the cone, or the middle, it’s gonna sound different than it sounds near the edge.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I see what you’re saying.
Perry: And if you’re gonna use big amps in the studio, you really need to put a microphone up close, a microphone 10 feet away, a microphone 20 feet away, because of the way sound develops. The bass wave might not develop to its full extent until it’s 10 feet away from the amp.
Perry: So you’re not going to get it if you put the microphone right up close to it. But if you have a tiny speaker, everything that’s coming out of that speaker, you can hear it all six inches away. So that’s why some of the fattest, raunchiest sounds you hear on a record come from the smallest amp. When we did Honkin’ on Bobo, I used — hold on, there’s another helicopter — on Honkin’ on Bobo I used a Champ — an old blonde Champ — for the raunch, and then a Epiphone with an 8-inch speaker, a little practice amp. I put the two of those side by side, I put a Royer on both of them, and that’s what I used for most of the Honkin’ on Bobo record.
Guitar.com: That goes back to what Jimmy Page was always saying, and maybe he’s a little cagey about exactly what amp it was, but he always used to say it was like a little Fender Princeton, or some small little amp, right?
Perry: Right. Right. I mean the physics of it make sense, you know what I mean? More sound in a smaller space so the microphone is gonna pick up more of it. You don’t need to put it in a huge room. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just — to me — it’s easier to get that big, fat, raunchy sound out of a small speaker, rather than go through all that…
You hear stories about bands who used to use stacks, in the early days, and they would bring their stage rig into the studio, and you’d go “Holy shit!” How do you…” But then you’d listen back to it, and it doesn’t sound that big. Like I said, you’ve got to kind of mic the whole room to get that big fat sound if you use a big loud amplifier. But if you’re using a little tiny amp, it’s a lot easier to get it, it’s easier to control.
And that’s why I’m a big fan of even using that little five-watt amp to mic, for the live sound, because you’re playing for the microphone, really. You’re not using it for a P.A. It really works. I’ve spent a lot of time, and it took me awhile to figure it out. But I was always wondering why my on-stage sound was better when I used a 10-inch speaker, when I put a microphone on a 10-inch speaker.
Obviously when you get a couple of stacks, and you’re standing there, it sounds great. But when you go out and listen to what’s coming out of the P.A., it doesn’t sound quite as big as you think it does. But then when you put a mic up to a small amp, it’s easier for your sound guy to work with.
I use the stacks mostly for my own sound on stage. It kind of matches up with Joey’s drums — he’s a loud drummer. It kind of matches up, you know. The bottom line is, if you’ve got a good mix on stage, it makes the sound guy’s job a lot easier. He isn’t going to have to push faders up and down and mix you all the time, and push this up and push that up. If you’ve got a good sound on stage, chances are all he has to do is set the faders and let the band play. And he might have to push up maybe a little bit during a solo here or a solo there. But it really makes his job easier, and it just sounds better, all around.
Guitar.com: So do you have some small amps like this mic’d up in your home studio? Is that the way you go usually?
Perry: Yeah. Probably the biggest amp I’ll use downstairs is an AC30, or like a 50-watt — I have a 50-watt Twin Reverb, before it had reverb. The serial number is 006.
Guitar.com: Oh wow.
Perry: So it’s a pretty nice sounding 50-watt. It breaks up a little bit easier than the 100-watt ones like Keith uses. But I kind of like the 50-watt. But those are the biggest amps I’ll use. And chances are I’ll use something smaller. The Champ is usually my go-to amp in the studio.
Guitar.com: Do you have is just sitting there all mic’d up, ready to go all the time?
Perry: Pretty much, unless my son’s been down there. He’s been fooling around. But yeah, it’s pretty much set up that way. I have like three or four amps right in one corner that I use. The other amp that I really like a lot, either new or old, is the AC15. That’s a really nice amp. And I’ve heard that they’re coming out with an AC10. That’s what I’ve heard, and that’s supposed to be a really nice example of like a Class A amp.
Guitar.com: Now with these smaller amps, when you’re recording, do you crank ’em up pretty good?
Perry: Yeah. Well, depending on what I need. If I’m playing a 12-string through it, I definitely don’t want to — you want to be able to hear those strings chime, so you don’t crank it up. And chances are I’ll use a Fender or something like that. A Fender Twin — like a Blackface Twin — or a Bassman, or something like that, and just turn it up just to the point before where it breaks up. I’ll take a little of the bottom out on the tone controls.
That’s the other thing, with some of the amps — Alessandro boutique amps — those sound as close to the old style amps as I’ve heard, where you get a really clean, good sound if you have it at, let’s say, 11 o’clock. But then as soon as you start getting into 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock, it starts to break up. And then it starts to compress. And when you turn it all the way up, it’s probably compressed beyond what you need. So it really has a lot of places you can go, depending on what kind of guitar you’re putting into it.
Guitar.com: Are you typically using 57s to mic these amps, or do you prefer more high-end condenser mics?
Perry: I use the Royer ribbon mics.
Guitar.com: Ribbons, yeah.
Perry: Originally they couldn’t take volume very well, and we’d kind of use them for more like a room mic in the studio. And you definitely couldn’t bring them on the road because they were kind of like an omni-directional mic, and so you’d get a lot of leakage from other sources. But Royer addressed that and they make a ribbon mic that stands up to the road, stands up to the volume. So it’s always a toss up, and usually I use both a 57 and a Royer.
Guitar.com: So are you using Pro Tools, or Logic, or something else? What do you use to record?
Perry: Pro Tools. Pro Tools with the CLASP system that ’s come out in the past three years. Basically it locks up with a tape machine. And in my case I have a Mark III Studer. It’s got all the bells and whistles. It’s hooked up so basically I’m using the tape machine kind of like a piece of outboard gear. We used it on the last record, Music From Another Dimension.
We used the CLASP system on that. I don’t know how long it’s gonna be around. It’s a little prickly to use. It’s kind of a science project hooking it up. But once it’s working it works great because you’re getting to get that tape sound on there before it gets to the computer.
And then of course when you mix down, you mix down on to an API quarter-inch tape. There’s a guy who rebuilds the old ones, and on year at the NAMM show, he brought his best one to the show, and my wife bought it for me for a Christmas present.
Perry: And that’s what I use. Whenever we’re recording in Boston, we use that particular tape machine to mix down on to. It’s great. Nothing sounds like that. So even if you don’t have the benefit of using tape anywhere else in the chain, at least when you mix down to that you’re getting some of that tape in there.
Guitar.com: I had spoken with Brad a few years ago and he talked to me about the way, in a sense, a modern production goes. And what ended up happening would be that you’d come in and lay down a whole bunch of different guitar parts, and not necessarily be totally sure which ones the producer was going to put where. And when you had to go back out on the road, you had to sit down and re-learn what you played. Is that the way it’s been for you? Or was that just a short period of time?
Perry: For me, it’s not so much what the producer is gonna use, it’s like you forget what you played. Aside from the basic riff, stuff that Brad plays and that I play, you play it once and you play it three times, and it gets recorded, and then you move on to the next song, and the next song, and the next song. And it may be six months before you actually are learning the song to play it live, and so you’ve got to go back and listen to it. I still have to go back — let’s say we go back on the road next year, if we decide to put, I don’t know, “Shut Up and Dance,” in the set list. I’m going to have to go back and re-learn that song from top to bottom, because I probably couldn’t hum it to you right now.
For me it’s more a case of, once I throw down a riff or something, or the solo thing, or something you might want to add later, you’ve got to go back and re-visit it to remember what it was.
Guitar.com: Do you ever find that you’ve stumped yourself?
Perry: Yeah, there’s a couple of times I’ve played some solos and I go, “Well, I don’t know if I can reproduce that.” A couple of times. But I’ll sit there and I’ll spend a couple of minutes, and I’ll get it. But I know that there are some songs with some riffs on some of my solo stuff that I’d be hard pressed to remember how I played it. I’d have to sit down and spend some time re-learning it, and figuring it out. Once I figure out where my hands were on the neck then it comes pretty fast because if there’s an easy way to play it, that’s usually the way I played it. (laughs)
Guitar.com: Yeah. I saw in a chat you did online last summer that you had about a half-dozen songs put together for maybe a solo album, or they might end up on an Aerosmith album…
Perry: Well, yeah, I’ve always got things cranking, you know what I mean? That’s why I have a studio. I’ve always loved recording. I’ve always loved that part of it. It’s almost like I’ll record and record, and then when I have enough songs, I’ll put out a record. So I have a few things in the can. And I’m in the middle of trying to figure out what I’m going to do with them.
But I’ll let you know. Right now I’m trying to wrap the book up and finish up some of the interviews I hadn’t been able to make, and get some rest. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past four years and doing a lot of work. So I’m not sure when we’re going to go back out, but it will probably be some time by next summer, so we’ll see.
Guitar.com: Very cool. Well Joe, I appreciate so much the time you’ve spent with me and all the cool guitar stuff we’ve discussed…
Perry: Yeah, that’s why I did the appendix in the book the way I did. That was kind of my wife and I, when we were doing the technical stuff about the book, and John — my road manager , who has got an incredible memory — he basically put that appendix together, with all the equipment and finding the pictures, and finding some of my old roadies.
That’s why we did that at the end, so that a lot of those questions about what some of the guitars were that I played back then in the ’70s, even up ’til now — I think there’s a picture of my latest rig in the appendix. So anyway, that’s why we put it in there. I felt that if it was in the book itself, it would kind of take away from the story, and I wouldn’t be able to talk about the gear as much. So we put it at the end, and if you’re interested in that stuff, you can look it over, and if you’re not, you don’t have to bother with it, you know?
Guitar.com: Absolutely. It is a very in-depth list and detailed explanation of all the gear you’ve used all these years. It’s very cool. So again, thank you so much for your time man. Enjoy hopefully a little bit of a rest in the next few weeks.
Perry: Thanks a lot man. Bye.
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