For Aerosmith, a summer of sour notes

Future questioned amid band’s woes

Aerosmith in 1974, from left: Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler (front), and Joey Kramer. Aerosmith in 1974, from left: Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler (front), and Joey Kramer.
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / August 23, 2009

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Aerosmith’s summer of bad luck began when guitarist Brad Whitford banged his head getting out of a car, forcing him to miss the opening dates of the band’s tour in June. A few weeks later, lead singer Steven Tyler hurt his leg performing at the Mohegan Sun Arena, causing seven shows to be postponed. Then bassist Tom Hamilton, who was treated for throat cancer in 2006, missed some dates because of unspecified noninvasive surgery. Finally, on Aug. 5, Tyler fell from the stage in Sturgis, S.D., breaking his shoulder and forcing the rest of the summer tour to be canceled.

Not one show on Aerosmith’s truncated tour was performed with the band’s regular lineup.

Now, after a photo and video of a frail Tyler surfaced last week taken by a fan at a Pembroke liquor store, his broken shoulder in a sling and oversized sunglasses covering most of his gaunt face, the band’s followers, and some people close to the band, can’t help but wonder: Is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-enshrined group - whose median age is 58 - nearing its end?

According to lead guitarist Joe Perry - who posted a series of Twitter messages yesterday addressing the speculation - no. “Aero is Not breaking up!’’ he wrote. Perry said the band is simply on hiatus until Tyler recovers. “We just don’t know how long, I’ve heard 3 to 8 wks just for Shoulder. We want to make cd put out [single] then cd then tour. But it’ll be awhile till he’s 100%. We owe it to our fans, the band’s history and to ourselves to do the best record we can. And everyone that was waiting for us this summer we owe them the great show we can deliver With new songs new set the works. Thanks.’’

But only a few weeks earlier Perry’s tweets had a different tone. He and his wife Billie seemed to isolate Tyler, the band’s frontman, referring to “Aerosmith the band’’ and “vocalist Steven Tyler.’’ On Aug. 15 a Twitter message from Joe Perry said, “I am so sorry about vocalist Steven Tyler having to cancel our Aerosmith Shows. I can’t say I’m sorry enough you guys are great fans to have.’’

Additionally, Tyler’s recent decision to hire a separate management company from the rest of his band mates, the group’s oft-delayed new album, and the litany of problems plaguing its latest tour all fueled talk about Aerosmith’s future.

Members of Aerosmith declined to speak with the Globe for this story. But in an interview with the Globe in May, Perry sounded unsure when a new album might be released. The band had made several announcements since 2006 about having something in the works, and Perry said he was tired of talking about potential release dates only to watch them go by. More recently, in an interview posted on Aerosmith’s website, Perry said, “I think that the band has to look at what it takes to do this gracefully. There’s no reason why the band can’t keep playing until we can’t walk. There’s just no reason. You just have to know that you can’t do certain things anymore. You know, you can’t do somersaults on stage, you can’t do, you know, swing from ropes. But there are other things you can do that are just as entertaining like sing, play.’’

Stephen Davis, coauthor of the 2003 Aerosmith biography “Walk This Way,’’ doesn’t expect there will be any singing, or playing, anytime soon. Davis said sources close to the band have told him there is an internal power struggle taking place.

Tyler, he said, wants to record a solo album, but first Aerosmith must deliver one more album on its contract with Sony. Davis said he has been told Tyler wants to release a quickie album of tracks the band wrote or recorded over the past few years, but never released. But the rest of the band, Davis said, wants to record an album of new material and keep Aerosmith alive in addition to working on side projects. (Perry has a solo album, “Have Guitar, Will Travel,’’ coming out Oct. 13.)

“I think they’re looking at the end of Aerosmith as a touring band, at least for now,’’ Davis said.

The hard rock quintet, formed in Boston in 1970 and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 on the strength of such hits as “Dream On,’’ “Sweet Emotion,’’ and “Crazy,’’ has suffered its share of health issues over its nearly 40-year tenure. Perry’s knee surgeries, Tyler’s throat surgery and hepatitis C diagnosis, and injuries drummer Joey Kramer sustained when his car caught fire at a gas station in Scituate in 1998 all caused setbacks. There has also been the band’s well-documented substance abuse in the early days, but all of them got sober by the late 1980s.

Tim Collins, Aerosmith’s former manager, whom the band fired in 1996 for advancing the contention that some members had relapsed into drug abuse when they insisted they had not, said he ran into Tyler this month in Denver, a few days before the accident in Sturgis. Collins said he and the singer, whom he hadn’t seen in nearly 14 years, “literally kissed and made up.’’ He called the reconciliation “the most healing moment, probably, of my life.’’

“I wouldn’t judge everything just by one picture,’’ Collins said, referring to last week’s photo of Tyler, who is 61.

“These guys have a history of fighting over the years that dates back to the ’70s, so for them to call it quits - I think they’re a little more resilient than that,’’ says Neill Byrnes, a longtime Aerosmith fan and frontman for the Aerosmith tribute band Draw the Line. “The only thing that really concens me is they’re getting a little older and health plays an important role in whether you can perform or not . . . The Stones are a little older than they are and Paul McCartney is still out doing it so they should be able to keep up as long as they’re healthy.’’

If they can, Billboard senior chart manager Keith Caulfield said he believes the band, which has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, is still commercially viable. In 2008 Aerosmith sold 605,000 records, and so far in 2009 it has sold 344,000. (Its last album of all original material, 2001’s “Just Push Play’’ has sold 1.3 million copies). “Granted, that isn’t quite Taylor Swift-like zillion numbers, but for a band that hasn’t released an album in quite a while, that’s still fairly respectable,’’ said Caulfield, who attributes the higher 2008 figure to cross-promotions with the band’s successful video game “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.’’ “I have no idea what their cut [of the game sales] is, but I’m sure it’s lucrative. So even though they aren’t releasing a new studio album, they’re still finding interesting ways to make money, not just being on tour.’’

Their recently canceled tour notwithstanding, Aerosmith excels on the road. “You can count on them to not sell out all their shows but still draw a pretty great crowd,’’ says Caulfield. “They’ve been touring every year, and so it’s not like they’ve turned into recluses. I don’t think it’s the end of the world. They’ll heal up and get back together and get back on the road and hopefully put out a new album.’’

Carter Alan, assistant program director of classic rock station WZLX-FM (100.7), said he saw no evidence of tension between band members backstage at the Aerosmith show at the Comcast Center in June. “As far as getting the album done, I wish they would. But then there’s also the Axl Rose syndrome - you know, the longer you wait, the harder it gets.’’

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