Joe Perry Revisits His Guitar Roots: Exclusive Interview
David Fishof’s Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, now crossing the quarter-century mark, provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for everyone from novice players to fully proficient musicians. No matter their level of skill (even non-players are welcomed), they have the chance to get valuable face time with their influences and tap in directly to the source of inspiration, something previously available only via stereo speakers or YouTube.
Camp instructors like Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry still find the idea difficult to fathom. “I can’t imagine being able to sit in a room with Jimmy Page,” he tells UCR.
For all of his many accomplishments, Perry is still humble about his playing. “As far as guitar goes, there’s not a lot I can add, except to show people my particular riffs and how I get there,” he says. The information exchange, Perry adds, goes both ways: “Every time I do it, there’s young guys, and I learn a lot from listening to what they’re playing.”
Perry remains keenly interested in the process, with a wealth of information to impart. He also clearly enjoys having the opportunity to do so. Live camps are now resuming after going virtual for the past year and a half. They begin in November in Hollywood, Fla., with Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Steve Morse of Deep Purple and others. Perry will then be joined by Bon Jovi’s Tico Torres and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid for the December installment.
Members of Scorpions will head up a Vegas edition next year, while Heart’s Nancy Wilson will be part of a special female-focused camp at the end of March. Event information is available at the organization's official website. But before all of that kicks off, Perry shares some stories regarding his own growth and development as a player, and key figures who amazed him along the way.
Watch Alvin Lee Perform With Ten Years After
Once you get paid for the first time, you're officially a professional musician.
"If there was anybody that learned by the seat of their pants without any background help, that’s my story. It’s a good lesson that if you keep working at it, you’re going to find your voice as a guitar player. At the very least, you can entertain yourself – which is what you’re trying to do. Every time you play, you learn a new riff or you learn a new song, you’re doing it because you’re sitting in a room alone, chances are. Then if you’re going to go out and play at a party or out on the beach and sing songs that everybody knows, all of that stuff, it’s a personal thing. It’s you and your guitar and whatever it is that you’re learning from. That’s it, man. These days, there’s so many things on YouTube. It’s amazing. Sometimes, I’ll even go back and listen to a guitar solo that Alvin Lee played. I remember sitting in the audience going, “God, how the fuck is he doing that?” Because for about five minutes, he was the fastest guitar player on the planet. That was his thing. But listening to him play now, I know exactly what he’s doing and I can pick it apart. I can probably learn the riff. Because like I said, back when I saw him, I was stunned. I was just getting it together to play chords, goddammit. This guy was tearing it up with that band.
Those are the kind of things – at this point, because of YouTube, it’s amazing how guitar players can really advance themselves to learn the technical stuff and then take it from there. I hear so many demos from kids, really, that have put their time in. They’re playing some great stuff and writing some great songs. Just playing a great guitar solo or learning the different famous guitar songs note for note, that’s great to do. But I think the thing about guitar, as [it is with] any other instrument, it’s always wanting to play that next thing that you’ve always wanted to be able to play. You’ll find yourself, that if you put the time in, you can do it. That’s the thing I try to impress upon the guys, if they have any question about that. You can play just about anything that you can hear if you put the time in – and you can learn it from the internet. It’s pretty amazing. I can’t imagine being able to sit in a room with Jimmy Page, just as an amateur – I hate to say amateur, because it kind of makes it sound like you’re not an all in guitar player. People always say, “Well, I’m just an amateur. I don’t know enough about music.” Well, you know everything about music that you need to know, if you like music.
It’s like, when you’re a painter. It’s not like, “Well, I’m not a painter. I can’t paint as good as blah blah. As soon as you pick up the brush, you’re a painter. And then you’re on the journey. It’s not about how supposedly good people are or what other people think of your painting. It’s all about, you’re on the journey. [As a musician,] once you get paid 10 bucks to play at a party, you’re a guitar player. There’s no question that you’re a professional at that point."
Joe Perry didn't begin playing guitar until his late teens.
"Really, I didn’t get my first electric guitar until I was probably 17 years old – 17 or 18 years old. That’s starting late compared to a lot of guys out there. But you can make up for it in certain ways. Now, it’s like, you can pick up a guitar when you’re 30 years old and if you put in the hours – you can get a teacher or just go on YouTube – and you can advance yourself pretty fast. It’s pretty amazing. I have to get a little more specific, but my parents would not buy me a guitar. They associated that with Rebel Without a Cause, switchblades and greased back hair and that was rock 'n' roll to them. That was it. They tried to [get me interested in other instruments]. I had piano lessons for two years. I took clarinet for about a month. I tried a couple of instruments, but man, it wasn’t the kind of music that made me want to do anything other than put that particular instrument down! But then when I heard rock 'n' roll, I’m going, wait a second!"
Watch Aerosmith Perform at Texxas Jam '78
Aerosmith were not your average band.
"We came in at a very weird time. You have to understand that. We were influenced by the second British Invasion. It wasn’t too long ago that I was standing on the stage in Tokyo with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, just the three of us – and then about 40 guys from other bands were standing over there watching us. It’s kind of weird. We came up at kind of a strange time, because we were influenced by those bands. We were listening to Led Zeppelin III or IV, I’m not sure which one, when we wrote the first song for our first record. So we kind of came up in the middle there, like right in the beginning of the '70s. We really didn’t start peaking – and the music pulled us there – but it wasn’t until '74 or '75 that we started to conquer and become credible, because we’re an American band but we were sounding like an English group. I know that’s why, like in Boston, we were kind of looked at as outsiders. We didn’t really play the clubs in Boston. We played out in the suburbs. We were America’s garage band. That’s kind of how I look at it. We were the band you could come to see and you could relate to, because you couldn’t go to see the [Rolling] Stones or Led Zeppelin every night.
We played all across America and people realized we were actually a different kind of band than Zeppelin or the Stones. Back then, we fell kind of in the cracks. We weren’t the [New York] Dolls. We were a blues-based rock band and we were influenced by those English bands that came over, like the Who, the Yardbirds and we liked what we were hearing, how they were interpreting American music, the American R&B and blues. We got kind of caught in the middle there. We played some of the biggest gigs on record, but it wasn’t Woodstock and it wasn’t Monterey. But, I mean, Cal Jam II, there was something like 400,000 people.
Anyway, finally we burned out and it wasn’t until we got back together and started rolling that people started to see us on TV and see that we weren’t Led Zeppelin and we weren’t the Stones. They actually listened to the music, because we didn’t sound like either one of those bands.
Eddie Van Halen was a revelation. Your band can also be the next Van Halen.
Eddie was a leader for a whole new generation of guitar players and changed guitar playing. His style and everything. It was funny, because when I heard some of his stuff, I said: “Wow, I’ve heard that effect before and I’ve heard that before,” but he’s the one that put it all together and it was new. I thought that Van Halen was an incredible band. David Lee Roth was like the Jimi Hendrix of the mouth and when they were at their peak, they were the best. They were rockin’. My feeling about who is the best, you might see a band tomorrow night in your local club and they’re on the money and you can tell they’re a rock band and they’re rockin’ and the audience is going crazy. They’re the best band in the world that night. The best, the biggest, all of that stuff, it’s all just so arbitrary. People need to label stuff. I think it’s a waste of time. There are bands that you’ve never heard of that when they’re having their night, they are the best – because you’re only as good as your next show."
Watch David Lee Roth Perform With Van Halen
Link Wray was at the door, but the Beatles knocked it down.
"Link Wray, was probably the simplest [player]. Those are the three fuckin’ chords that if you can play them in a row, you’re makin’ progress. The Beatles stopped touring, because people wouldn’t listen to their music when they played live. They were unquestionably one of the best live bands ever, even today. They were a combination of talent that was unbelievable. But what they did was they brought that guitar, that sound, to the forefront – to everybody – because if you weren’t a kid on the edge of your seat watching them on TV, you were an adult watching your kid watch the TV. That scared the shit out of a lot of people, but nothing stopped it. That simple riff that those three chords, then the basic pentatonic thing that Link Wray did? That was banned on the radio. I mean, an instrumental! Because obviously, the people in charge, heard a lot of stuff in there. It’s interesting, when people want to put something else down, like if you don’t hear it that way, they’re trying to get rid of it. It’s hitting something in them too, that they don’t like and they don’t want that woken up, because there is a part of them that had to hear the sexuality of rock 'n' roll and that kind of music with a heavy beat. That’s the thing that fuckin’ freaked them out. The straight society, us vs. them, they couldn’t stand it.
It just shows how fast, when John Lennon made that statement, which he knew what he was talking about. He was right about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. It wasn’t in a demeaning way. He wasn’t trying to create a revolution. All he wanted to do, he just told the truth. It didn’t take long for a lot of those people, who were sitting back going “we hate those guys,” to start the bonfires, burning their stuff, but it showed what a battleground was going on as far music goes and the different generations that were hearing it – which [for me], those were the marching orders for a new generation."
Listen to UCR's Full Interview With Joe Perry