Joe Perry

Groupology

  • Aerosmith
  • The Joe Perry Project

Jurassic

Watch Joe Perry in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous For: Being widely accepted as the lead guitarist in America's greatest and most notorious rock band while allowing Brad Whitford to be more than just a second guitarist. Odd, considering Brad is technically a better player. Being one half of the great Tyler/Perry songwriting team that spawned a string classic rock hits. Joe wanted to be a great guitarist so much, that he essentially willed it to happen. And Joe's guitar work improved significantly over time. Among other things, Joe makes a mean barbecue sauce.

Infamous For: Not playing guitar on large chunks of Get Your Wings — the album featured ace session players, Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter. It is particularly noticeable on the solo on Train Kept a Rollin. Being a sex symbol, and showing his manly chest for the girls. Joe has his shirt off more than most of the perps on COPS. Whether emaciated from heroin or beefed up in his 50s, Joe makes the ladies swoon. Of course, if you have it — even at his age — why not flaunt it? But he backs up his looks with great, ballsy rock and roll attitude and great songs to match. Joe's got the whole package. Drug excess and addiction on par with cats like Steven Tyler, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tommy Bolin. Joe was quite lucky to survive the life of excess that killed many of his contemporaries. Joe has always totally involved himself in his women, and now takes his entire family on the road with him. But in the 70s Joe allowed himself to be lead, and pussy whipped by his first wife. The situation ultimately drove him out Aerosmith after the infamous spilled milk incident at 1979 Cleveland Stadium gig.

Influences

Obvious: Perry makes no secret that Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were his idols. He was also influenced by Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott of Humble Pie. Despite this, the Page influence is more prominent than the others. And like most of his contemporaries, there is also some Bluesbreakers-era Eric Clapton and Peter Green influence.

Not-so-obvious: Joe has been quoted as saying "Aerosmith would never have developed the sound we did if it weren't for the original Fleetwood Mac." Joe was also influenced by Leo Nocentelli of the Meters, and has mentioned that he was "listening to the Meters a lot during the writing of Toys in the Attic, and Rocks." There is also some Catfish Collins, and perhaps Ernie Isley influence on the more funky rhythm side of Joe's playing — James Brown was a huge influence on Aerosmith. Joe later went back and truly digested the actual blues legends that influenced his guitar gods. Guys like Muddy Waters, Blind Willie Johnson, and Otis Rush. There is occasional very slight Hendrix influence. There's also a bit of Chuck Berry. Steven Tyler. All of the members of Aerosmith (except Whitford) were childhood acquaintances of Tyler's, and they all looked up to him because he was a few years older and already an established musician. Joe says: "Steven taught us how to rehearse, how to drill a part until it was really precise."

Strengths

Songwriting. With Perry, the song is king — backed by thunderous riffs that get under your skin.

Riffs, riffs, and more riffs. Did I mention the riffs? Oh yes . . . THE RIFFS!!! Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion, Combination (which Warren DeMartini practically stole for the Round and Round), Back In The Saddle. Perry is one of rock's great riff masters — probably the greatest American riff writer — on par with the likes of Richards, Page, and Joe's Aussie counterpart, Angus Young. There are a lot of similarities between Aerosmith and AC/DC.

Rhythm guitar, Joe is an extremely accomplished rhythm guitarist. He and Brad Whitford rank high on the list of great two guitar teams because of their seamless rhythmic interplay and uncanny ability to blend one another's playing styles (see Guitar Style section below for details).

Attitude. As Joe has said about himself: "Half my style is attitude. What I lack in technique I make up for in attitude. Hell, I've been working on the way I stand for years."

Legendary Solos that extend from his great riffs. If you can't sing the solo on the funky breakdown in either Sweet Emotion or Walk This Way, hang up your dino claws. Perry doesn't have the chops of his idols, but he sure knows how to lay down a solo you'll remember. They are usually tasty and nasty.

Weaknesses

Chops. As in Joe ain't really got 'em. Joe isn't going to wow you with technique, but he makes up for that with balls and riffs and songwriting.

Success — the new drug. There is a growing faction of longtime Aerosmith fans who feel the band has really sold out in recent years. Aerosmith have gone from being a band that was about sex, drugs, and kick ass rock and roll in the 70s, to the kings of the power ballad in the 80s and 90s. They've gone from dino dangerous to horribly mainstream. America's greatest rock band is now about chart hits, Grammys, TV commercials, and Superbowl halftime shows with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. This transition has opened the band up to huge new audiences, but has also alienated many of the band's original fans who would rather Aerosmith just rock out. The shame of it all is that unlike the vast majority of their 70s contemporaries, Aerosmith are still in lean, mean, fighting shape, and quite capable of kicking ass rather than sucking ass.

While most of the ultra commercial direction seems to have come from Tyler, Perry and the rest of the band have to take some responsibility for it too. The Tyler/Perry songwriting team that fueled Aerosmith's initial success has largely given way to a plethora of outside songwriters like Desmond Child, Jim Vallance, Mark Hudson, and Marti Frederiksen. Aerosmith even brought in pop hit maker extrordinare Diane Warren — who wrote I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing — and doing so ensured their placement in the blockbuster soundtrack for the movie Armageddon.

Aerosmith signed a shit deal in the 70s, so their former management, Leiber and Krebs, get half of every Aerosmith dollar until the end of time, but the band obviously has enough money that they can do whatever they want. And what they want to do is make more money. Period. Fortunately for them, John Kalodner presides over the whole enterprise making sure Aerosmith stays commercial enough to extract every possible dime.

Consistency. Joe Perry has been at it for 30 years, and in a career that long, there are bound to be some low musical moments. For example, most people feel the Joe Perry Project was god-awful. There are low moments in the Aerosmith catalog too. The pre-breakup Night in the Ruts, the first comeback album, Done With Mirrors, the overly poppy Just Push Play. Aerosmith's 2004 attempt to get back to their less commercial roots with a blues album, Honkin' On Bobo, is getting mixed reviews at best. And guitarists are griping is that the guitar work on Bobo is terribly sloppy — even by Perry's standards.

Tone

On the early Aerosmith albums, Joe liked treble and lots of it! Joe's 70s era tone was extremely bright, up front, and distorted while Brad Whitford's tone is mixed back and much bassier, the combination of these two sounds produced a massive, sonic wall of guitar.

Like most of his contemporaries and influences, Joe favored EL34 powered Marshall amps in the early days. During Aerosmith's comeback period in the early 80s both Joe and Brad were using the New England-built Bedrock amps. He's also used Vox AC30s, Fender combos, and Wizard amps — which Joe describes as a combination between a Marshall and a Hiwatt. These days Joe's tone has cleaned up considerably. Joe relies a lot less on distortion or fuzz pedals and going for a much more transparent overdriven sound. In recent years, Joe's been using the Gibson Goldtone amps and cabs live. He maintains a huge collection of vintage and new amplifiers in his home studio, The Bone Yard.

As closely associated as Joe has become with the Les Paul, the early Joe Perry tone was primarily achieved using late 60s (big headstock) Stratocasters. These quenched Joe's early thirst for treble, and provided contrast next to Whitford's much darker Les Paul tone. Joe was also one of the first name guitarists to use B.C. Rich and Dan Armstrong (clear Lucite) guitars. But since the Aerosmith reunion of the 80s, Perry has been primarily a Les Paul player. So much so, in fact that Gibson has produced two separate versions of the Joe Perry signature Les Paul — one in the 90s with an active mid boost tone control circuit for imitating a notched wah sound, and a different one in 2003.

The fact is, Joe and Brad have always been gear and tone hounds and Joe has been known to play as many as 14 guitars in one live show! Both Joe and Brad tour with a staggering array of Custom Shop Gibson and Fenders, as well as some one-of-a-kind Gretsch reissues. In the studio, Joe brings a whatever works best for the track approach to his choice of instruments and has used practically every style of electric guitar known to man — as well as employing things like six string bass (Back In The Saddle), lap steel, or anything else he feels a song may call for. The only constant with Joe's gear is that it's always changing.

Which kind of makes it hard to approximate a Joe Perry tone. In general, for the drug-free era Perry sound, the trick is that Joe's tone is a lot cleaner and has far less gain than you'd initially expect. Try a Les Paul straight into a tube amp — preferably a vintage style amp (like a plexi reissue), with EL34s and fewer gain stages than more modern amps. Where possible, keep Gain knob and the preamp distortion out of the equation. Turn up the Volume knob just enough to get the beginnings of warm power-amp distortion and crunch happening and stop. You shouldn't be anywhere near 10 on the volume dial, but if the amp's still too loud, get a Hot Plate, or a Power Brake style attenuator to back down the overall volume. If you must use the amp's master volume control, try not to introduce any of that fizzy pre-amp gain when you do so.

Guitar Style

Perry is a great rock rhythm player who's style is an incredible blend of Keith Richards and Leo Nocentelli. Like Richards before him, Perry carved out an extremely individual and successful style of playing and composing on the instrument. He is also extremely funky! As good a rock rhythm guitarist as Joe is, he is an even better funk rhythm player. That's right, Perry has the funk. This is where I think Joe really comes into his own. If you've never heard Aerosmith do their version of James Brown's Mother Popcorn or Superbad, try to get your hands on them. Tyler was heavily influenced by James Brown and Steve Marriott, and Perry was similarly effected by the nasty ass funk playing of cats like Eddie Hazel, Catfish Collins (Bootsy's brother) Ernie Isley, and even Ike Turner.

Joe uses a very diverse array of 7th, 9th, Sus chords and double stops, along with all the other normal rock inversions and power chords. His use of syncopation and swinging 16th note rhythms are a huge trademark of the Aerosmith sound. In most Aerosmith tunes Brad holds down the bottom end playing root-5th power chords, while Joe outlines the upper chord tones or plays funky stabs and licks up top, they usually play separate complimentary or harmony parts, and only double certain riffs in order to drive them home.

Perry is an unschooled, 70s-style blues-rock lead player. His style comes from his love of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. His contemporaries are guys like Ace Frehley, Angus Young, Pat Travers, Brian Robertson, Scott Gorham, Humble Pie-era Peter Frampton, Ronnie Montrose, and of course, Brad Whitford. And all of these guys had better lead chops than Perry. Joe Perry is all about balls and confidence, and using his songwriting skills to compensate for the flash missing in his playing.

Joe primarily uses the Minor and Major Pentatonic scales both in his songwriting and improv. He's also been known to use Mixolydian in both in his rhythm playing and soloing. One of the trademarks of Joe's phrasing is his use of syncopation in his licks. Like his idol, Jeff Beck, Joe rarely phrases on the downbeat. Instead he plays around the beat — much like a horn player might. This gives Joe's phrasing playing a very characteristic sound. Another Perry trademark are solos that stem from the song riffs. That is, the riff itself becomes the impetus for the the lead phrases that follow.

Perry's slide playing is also often overlooked, and has become more integral to his sound in recent years, Joe has incorporated lap steel and traditional slide into many of Aerosmith's biggest hits.

Joe has always experimented with latest effects whether it was the Talk Box in the seventies or the VG8 or Digitech whammy pedal in the 21st century.

Vibrato:

With Joe, vibrato is kind of a hit or miss proposition. It's kind of like the Hendrix LSD vibrato: extremely ragged. Joe’s gotten more into milking it in recent years.

Joe Perry in Action

Recommended listening

Aerosmith

Profile By Amy Douglas (Queen of the Dinos) and Joe Todaro (Joebuddha). Copyright Dinosaur Rock Guitar ©2004 All rights reserved.