Not the same old song and dance

Aerosmith’s forced hiatus allows guitarist Joe Perry to step out with his own material

Joe Perry in the Boneyard, the studio in his Duxbury home. Joe Perry in the Boneyard, the studio in his Duxbury home. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / October 4, 2009

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DUXBURY - Being in a band for nearly 40 years is not something you plan, says Joe Perry.

“It’s like, what are you going to watch on TV in three weeks?’’ asks the Aerosmith guitarist. “You don’t think about things like that. So the way that everything turned out, it just . . . evolved.’’

Perry, 59, is stretched out on a comfy gray sectional in his family room, in a house chock-full of evidence of the success of that evolution, from MTV moon men trophies on hallway tables to scores of photos with rock ’n’ roll royalty lining the walls of his basement studio, the Boneyard. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-anointed guitarist is attempting to balance a delicate discussion of the recent troubles at his multiplatinum day job with the full-tilt thrill he’s currently getting out of his smaller-scale side gig.

On Tuesday, Perry will release “Have Guitar, Will Travel,’’ his fifth, and strongest, solo album. The record was cooked up in 47 days, mostly at the Boneyard with a clutch of old, good friends as well as his wife Billie’s YouTube discovery, the German vocalist Hagen.

Perry was able to release the album at this precise moment because of an unexpected gap in the Aerosmith schedule created in August, when frontman Steven Tyler fell from a stage in Sturgis, S.D., breaking his shoulder, among other injuries. Although Perry has recently expressed his aggravation over the truncation of the ill-fated tour, saying he hasn’t spoken to Tyler in weeks, he recognizes that “Have Guitar’’ wouldn’t exist in its current form without the forced hiatus.

Which is perhaps why Perry gingerly dances around any problems Tyler may be having beyond medical issues related to the fall. Instead he obliquely references Tyler “not taking care of himself.’’ Asked outright whether that is a veiled reference to Tyler’s sobriety, Perry says: “I just know that he was there for three days at Sturgis staying up all night, and when I watched him walk and I watched him move around I knew he wasn’t as spry as he had been.’’ It’s clear that Perry cares about his friend’s health as well as that of the band’s. He likens the rift to a family squabble, saying you can dearly love a relative but be angry with him and not speak to him but know that eventually things will be OK. (Through his publicist, Tyler declined to speak with the Globe for this story.)

“The band is not breaking up,’’ Perry says. “I think it’s smart to just take some time off.’’

That doesn’t mean Perry isn’t going to play. There’s nothing he likes to do more, and “Have Guitar’’ is providing him with an opportunity to bust out of the same old song and dance.

The 10 tracks cover a lot of ground. There is some overlap with the big, burly, hard rock candy rush of Aerosmith, including the infectious “Do You Wonder?’’ There are also nods to Perry’s beloved fuzzy blues rave-ups, glimpses of psychedelia, and a winding instrumental called “Wooden Ships’’ that showcases Perry’s lyrical guitar work and the interplay among the members of the latest iteration of the Joe Perry Project. While his axe is front and center, “Have Guitar’’ is a song-oriented album, not a shredfest.

“I really, really worked at keeping it simpler than the last one,’’ Perry says of his 2005 self-titled effort, which featured more instrumental layers and exotic guitar tunings. “That always comes back to bite you on the butt, because then you have to lug all those guitars around to play them live. So this one I really made an effort to play everything in standard tuning so, if I had to, I could do the whole album live with two guitars. And I really pictured this being a band record. And I focused more on the lyrics, since the lyrics you don’t have to put in a roadbox.’’

Although “Have Guitar’’ features music that was written as far back as 14 years ago, Perry says all of the lyrics were written in the past six months. Existential themes as they relate to love, life, and the wider world wind their way through the album. “The last record I dedicated to my wife, and it was more like rock ’n’ roll standard love stuff,’’ Perry says. “But this record I was thinking outside instead of inside.’’

He was also thinking about his legacy, he says, wanting to commit some of the “jars and jars’’ of music he had to tape so he wouldn’t be remembered for, as he puts it, “a bunch of guitar riffs’’ but songs.

“I think one of Joe’s great strengths is as a writer, and that’s probably the thing that gets most commonly overlooked,’’ says bassist David Hull, who has known Perry for nearly 40 years playing in the original Joe Perry Project in the late ’70s and with Aerosmith as a fill-in for Tom Hamilton. “The perception is he’s this virtuoso guitar player, the nose cone on the missile of Aerosmith. But a lot of the substance of what the songs are, he’s responsible for.’’

In addition to Hull, the latest incarnation of the Project includes latter-day J. Geils Band drummer Marty Richards, Paul Santo on keys, and Hagen tearing up the vocal parts that Perry doesn’t handle himself. The low-key guitar hero becomes most animated when talking about these guys, most of whom live in and around Boston. He talks in turn about each one’s skills, careful to share credit. “I totally respect everybody else’s talent, and it feels like a real band,’’ says Perry.

That respect is clear when the band performs live. A few days earlier at Fusion 5 in Foxborough, the group played a warm-up gig to a packed house. Although a bit tentative at first, they settled into a groove that brought a grin to Perry’s face as he laid back, watching them solo. The Project set list does feature Aerosmith songs, including a reggae take on “Dream On.’’

On his couch, Perry lights up again when discussing the firming up of the set list, the potential for the Project to tour overseas, and the lining up of gigs this winter, possibly including a date at the House of Blues. He does not seem angry about or preoccupied with the Aerosmith situation.

“This last break was definitely epiphanous, I think for everybody,’’ he says. “We realized how fragile everything is and we should take advantage of the things we need to do. We are getting closer to the end than the beginning. And I know Steven and the other guys feel the same way. So instead of keeping pushing - ‘When’s Steven gonna be better?’ - it’s more like, ‘Let’s take our time. Let’s let everybody get better, but let Steven especially take care of everything he needs to take care of so he can be the old Steven we know and love.’ And then get back in the studio.’’

Until then, he says with a smile, “I’m having a lot of fun, there’s no doubt about it. I’m getting my ya-ya’s out, as they say. The band’s rocking, and I’m really looking forward to doing this. But I’m also looking forward to when Aerosmith gets back together and feels fresh.’’

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